Very, Very Vancouver

5 November 2017 – (Twice is my limit. You will not be subjected to “very-very-very.”)

Yesterday evening I’m out in my Serious Weather puffy down parka — the one I thought I’d never wear in balmy old Vancouver — thinking, “Ummmm… it’s cold.” We’re in minus-digits territory on the thermometer.

But, as I stand there in Cathedral Square, hopping gently from foot to foot, I am also thinking, “It’s very beautiful, in a ghostly sort of way.”

A frosty full moon (lower middle of image) glows through the Gingko biloba trees, still golden with late-fall leaves …

and the pond fountains shoot jets of icy light into the air.

 

Appropriate that I find this a ghostly sort of beauty: our small group is waiting for the start of this evening’s “Lost Souls of Gastown” walking tour. (Thanks here to my companion Jim — honorary family, in a complicated way — who came up with the idea.)

It is an excellent tour, using the prism of one (fictional) woman’s experiences to bring a human dimension to key early events — the felling of trees to carve out a raw new frontier town, the coming of the railway, the great fire of 1886, smallpox outbreaks, the Klondike gold rush, and unsolved murders.

I am all the more impressed by my engagement with this story because … I don’t much like Gastown. Like many urban historic areas elsewhere, it became very seedy indeed before being restored and repackaged as a major entertainment & tourist attraction. To my eye, it is now more faux than fact, its embellishments more stage prop than real.

The celebrated Gastown Steam Clock, for example, for all its vintage appearance, was built and installed in the late 1990s. Still, I am charmed to learn that its steam is real — it serves as an essential vent for steam pipes running beneath the streets.

And it looks absolutely wonderful, gloriously atmospheric, in the evening’s misty chill.

Yes, those “period” globe lights are as recent as the Steam Clock. But that one last globe light, in the upper left, touching the roof of the white building? That’s real. It’s our full moon.

The moon stays with us throughout the tour, right down to the last moments in a back alley that runs between restaurant service doors and the railway tracks. It is joined by an equally real owl. He sits patiently on a tree branch overhead, waiting for us to disappear so he can get back to raiding the dumpsters and, perhaps, swoop down on the rat that shot past our feet as we clustered for the final instalment in this saga of 19th-c. lost souls.

Sunday morning brings a whole new magic: bright sunshine & plus-zero temperatures. We bounce down to False Creek for a walk, how could we not?

Into Hinge Park. The ducks are as happy with the day as the passing humans, swimming around or — like Mr. Mallard here — stretching a wing into the (comparative) warmth of the day.

I look across the stream, drawn as I always am by the Rusty Submarine. Drawn also, this time, by its reflection in the stream.

Look closely on the left, you’ll see two adults about to enter it and walk through.

A moment later, I enter from the other end.

And instantly turn into a 4-year-old. First I jump up & down — ra-ta-ta-boom-boom!!! It resonates wonderfully. I giggle.

Then I peer up through one of the sub’s overhead periscopes.

And then more walking, right down to the Village Dock at False Creek’s east end; after that a ferry ride back to Spyglass Dock, my Cambie-Street dock.

I pause a moment under the Cambie bridge supports to enjoy again something I always admire, the John McBridge Community Garden snugged up right there next to the bridge.

It’s just one of many in this city, some (as here) run by a neighbourhood association, some by the City itself, all of them planted out in trim boxes and therefore independent of what lies beneath.

Then I spin about, face the other way, and do a double-take.

I’ve not seen this before! But I admire it already.

And if you are thinking to yourself, “Hmmm, well, my goodness, that’s sure looks a piano bench, a drummer’s throne & a musician’s chair, up there on that bright red stand” … you’d be right.

Is this not wonderful? The City has taken away all the painted pianos for the winter, but here we are with an art installation — 3-Piece Band, by Elisa Yan and Elia Kirby — that wants you to sit right down, you busker you, and make music.

But, of course (cf. those rules of etiquette), you must play nicely with the other children. Wait your turn. And if there is someone waiting for their own turn after you, don’t play for more than an hour.

This final image is arguably redundant. I have already shown you 3-Piece Band. Here it is again. Please guess why.

Right! Because there’s a cycling pedalling by in the background.

Last night & today, from Steam Clock to cyclist, it is all very, very Vancouver.

 

 

 

 

 

 

False Creek, True Fun

28 September 2016 – Remember the first image in my previous post? Louise & I are hanging over the railing of the Cambie Street bridge, about to cross north to downtown Vancouver, but pausing to watch dragon boats flash through the waters of False Creek below.

Now I am “below.” Where it is a whole other world than the one of pelting cars overhead. Here, immediately right here, is the John McBride Community Garden, complete with its very own … well, I’m not sure what! Not a bird house; perhaps for either bees or butterflies, as the art work suggests?

bee house,JohnMcBridge Community Garden, Wylie & W1st Av.

One gentleman is working away in the larger part of the garden stretching on to the east. He is fully occupied; I do not intrude.

view of John McBride Community Garden eastward along False Creek

On I go eastward, following the road closest to the water. I have done no research, this is a whim, I am simply determined to follow False Creek as much & as long as I can.

So here I am on West 1st Ave, with sleek new condos typically rising on the south side of the street, facing parking lots and occasional disused industrial facilities by the water’s edge to the north.

at W1st Av & Cook

Hoof, hoof, hoof-hoof-hoof — and then a happy surprise: Hinge Park.

I walk in, enchanted as we always are by unexpected delights, pause by one pond to eye what looks like a very playful submarine sculpture ahead.

on Hinge Island, W2nd Av & Columbia

I follow a path to get closer, and discover that, playful or not, this sculpture also earns its keep. It serves as a covered bridge over the stream.

And those portholes frame great views.

inside the 'covered bridge'!

A couple of fellow walkers give me a tip: back up along this path — yes, this one right here — and go see the beaver lodge. When the city rescued a formerly buried stream and created this park from old industrial grounds, assorted wildlife moved in. Including beavers. Whom the parks people didn’t want, and whose lodge the parks people promptly destroyed.

So the beavers built it again. And the parks people said, “Oh, all right.”

beaver lodge #2, Hinge Park

Another tip from the same fellow walkers: visit Habitat Island, just ahead. It’s part of Hinge Park, and accessible across the gravel. (At least at low tide, I’m not sure about high.) Off I go, here’s the gravel — and a view of the city to the east.

gravel walkway to Habitat Island

More tales of wildlife doing what it wants to do, not what the parks people plan: once Habitat Park was created, a heron arrived. And a hump-back whale. (Several people told me the whale story, so I believe it. I trust he got out again.)

Planned wildlife here, or so officialdom hopes. Then again, Purple Martins can be annoyingly picky.

Purple Matin tower, Habitat Island

No problem about wildlife acceptance here! Crows love this dead tree. One loves it enough to bully another back into the air, and away.

ravens being ravens...

Complete contrast to the raucous crows: someone meditating on a rock.

meditation on Habitat Island

By now I’m enjoying wonderful mixed-use trails along False Creek and into a succession of parks. Next up, the Millennium Olympic Village Park, legacy of 2010, when Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics.

Two huge bird sculptures in the park, always a total draw for small children.

in Millennium Olympic Village Park

Also a handsome columnar sculpture, the Olympic Truce Installation, created by Corrine Hunt, who incorporated the artwork of the 2010 medals into her design.

in Millennium Olympic Village Park

In a while I reach Main Street, end of the trails and parks. Right across the street, a big warehouse district. It is  gritty as all get out, but also on my walking agenda, because a number of its buildings feature in the Vancouver Mural Festival.

Aha! I haven’t told you about the VMF, have I? Well, my stay near Main St. coincides very nicely with the  Festival — whose murals are almost all near Main Street as well.

So the next portion of this walk is devoted to that warehouse area — which will be part of my next post, devoted to murals.

Which in turn explains why that foray is not part of today’s narrative. Instead, we’ll jump over all that, and pick up again at East 6th & Main. I’m now homeward bound, striding along, but I’m diverted by white letters on a black wall, in the shade of a large tree. I draw close.

neatly stencilled on the wall, E6th St. & Main

I pause. I enjoy the shade. Then I walk on south, back to the East 12th latitude and my Airbnb home.

 

 

Between Mist & Drizzle

20 August 2015 – Tuesday was like that, all mist & drizzle, with the threat of lightening thrown in. The Tuesday Walking Society headed for the lakefront anyway. It was still hot, hence the lake; it threatened rain, hence the Beaches boardwalk area, with Queen St. & its many cafés close by should we need to run for shelter.

First stop, the Beach Community Garden in Ashbridge’s Bay Park. The weather only hazy so far, nothing actually falling on our heads. Phyllis, a community gardener farther north in the city, swaps community-garden lore with a couple of Beach volunteers; I watch a counsellor lead some day-campers to crane their necks at these great, big, ever-so-tall sunflowers.

Wow!

sunflowers in Beach Community Garden

The kiddies are wowed. Even more so when a Monarch butterfly flutters past, right on cue, just as they are being told about butterfly-friendly garden plants.

On we go, into the parkland & trails that thrust into the lake, where we can see just how heavy the mist has become.

Ashbridge's Bay Yacht Club marina

We’re looking back across Ashbridge’s Bay Yacht Club marina toward the Port Lands and east downtown. There ought to be a dramatic city-tower skyline out there… somewhere … Instead, just a few ghostly hints are on view, above the foreground boat & to the left of the bright green trees.

Later, lakeside, we can see how the mist is thickening. This is a minute indent, barely a cove, barely a spit across, yet the far-side rocks are smudged to near-invisibility.

lakeside cove in Ashbridge's Bay Parky

Looping back out of this park, we continue east on its lakefront neighbour, Woodbine Beach. (Each beach blurs into the next, along here — sufficient proof to me why the community should continue to be known as Beaches and not by the newer & presumably tonier name, Beach. But oh, don’t let me start.)

There must be going on 200 volleyball nets strung here each season, pole to pole to pole (to pole to pole to pole…). It’s home to adult recreational beach leagues under the Ontario Volleyball Association, and often has every net in action. Today, not so much, just some adult die-hards, and what look like a few teen groups as well.

Woodbine Beach volleyball

We’re probably somewhere around Kew Beach when we spy this concrete path out across the sand, curving right along water’s edge. But … why?

Then we see the familiar blue symbol and know why, and love it: this path makes the beach wheelchair- (or baby stroller-) accessible. Isn’t that the best?

wheelchair access to the waterfront

And if it looks awfully blank out there, a sure sign of ever-thicker mist, well, not exactly. Even on the clearest days, you can’t see across Lake Ontario, not from here.

But.

But, you should be able to see ducks & Canada geese & a whole flotilla of paddle-boarders who are practically at water’s edge, just beyond the lifeguard station. Instead, they are barely there. They shimmer, they glimmer. Now you see them, now you don’t.

ducks & geese & paddle-boarders in the mist

Once we run out of boardwalk, at the eastern edge of Balmy Beach, we head north to Queen Street and start back west. It proves a well-timed (no, a dumb-lucky) retreat to city streets, since mist thickens to drizzle thickens to, well, not exactly pelting rain, let’s just say extremely insistent drizzle.

We duck into a café. We know how to out-wait the weather: scones & coffee, you bet.

Phyllis keep her umbrella handy as we continue; I snug the big duck bill of my cap lower on my forehead.

A bit farther west on Queen, a burst of defiant nature. Definitely not a planned community garden — let’s call it a vacant-lot garden, an unplanned gift to the community. The metal bars in front add bonus colour.

Queen E. vacant lot

At Carlaw, Phyllis hops aboard a streetcar to head home. I keep walking, find myself loitering at Broadview & Queen, mesmerized by another bit of unplanned cityscape. Normally, you don’t register these tangles of stretcar wires — or if you do notice them, you quickly avert your gaze, because that’s all they are: a tangle.

But here, shining against the dark netting that shrouds a building under restoration, the arcs of wire take on pattern & form & beauty. They become an art installation, dancing with the traffic lights & the ebb-flow traffic below.

Queen E at Broadview

 

Not that anybody planned it that way.

I angle north-west through Joel Weeks Park, to take in some art that has very much been planned. Three sculptures here, all by First Nations artists Mary Ann Barkhouse and Michael Belmore.

This one is my favourite — especially today, when we’ve been watching black squirrels all along our walk, in a nut-gathering frenzy.

Joel Weeks Park sculpture

We humans may still be panting with heat, but squirrels know better. Time to start stocking up; fall is coming.

 

 

Summer, Tra-la

4 July 2015 – No gentle morphing from one season to another, around here. Mother Nature flips the switch, and pouf! there you are in a whole new environment.

And so with summer. Warmth is only part of it. There’s an energy, a dance, a dynamic, that says … here we are! Finally.

The city puts on her summer face. We blink at what is added, and also at what is finsished, done, dismantled & trundled away.

More bright Muskoka chairs inviting us to loll in our parks, some red but green ones too. Or perhaps all the green ones  — like these in Berczy Park — are specific additions in honour of the upcoming Pan Am / Parapan Am Games.

new chairs in Berczy Park

Berczy Park, by the way, is up for a stunning transformation. Check it out here.

Other additions to our summer face, also green but definitely not plastic.

Veggies crops in the Moss Park Community Kitchen Garden, for example …

Moss Park Community Kitchen Garden, Sherbourne n. of Queen

and vines smothering path archways in St. James Park.

N/E entrance to St. James Park

Next, as Phyllis & I make our Tuesday way down to Union Station, the joy of what is finally gone, as well as what is now revealed.

Gone the barricades & hoardings & screens that covered the station and filled the street for so long we had forgotten what it was to walk with calm breath and a long view.

Gone!

Now the restored façade of the station itself, a broad new pedestrian plaza in front and, pride of place, the painstakingly restored Victorian clock.

unveiled Union Station Plaza, with its restored clock

Right, still a bit of burnishing going on, that’s fine, we can live with that. And, right, not a clock to rank with some of the medieval glories to be seen in European city squares. But it is ours, it speaks of our history, and it restores dimension to our sense of place.

And, says Phyllis, who walked all around …

Union Station Plaza clock

the four faces show almost exactly the same time!

A few days later I’m on Yonge Street near-ish to Shuter, shaking my head free of the buzz of a a summer foray into the retail levels of the Eaton Centre. (Yikes.)

My vision clears, and look!

painted traffic signal box, Yonge nr Shuter

The first urban pigeons I’ve ever seen that I like.

Another sign of summer, one of this year’s crop of painted traffic signal boxes. Thank you StreetARToronto, thanks for your Out of the Box program; thank you artists. Thank you especially this one, whose signature I read as T4K Bui, but that can’t be right because I can’t find him/her in the artist lists. Thank you anyway.

Some of the artists camouflage the boxes’ contours; others, like this one, make them a feature.

detail of the box

One last image. Very summer 2015, not possible until this year.

May was the official opening of the glorious Islamic gardens between the new (fall 2014) Aga Khan Museum & Ismaili Centre. My earlier visits were all in winter, the gardens shrouded in snow. I could only imagine the summer impact of the 5 reflecting pools in their context of soft gravel, with calm rows of conifers and serviceberry trees.

Earlier today, I went up to Don Mills, to see for myself.

one of 5 reflecting pools, Aga Khan Museum gardens

Consider that your tease, a glimpse of my next post.

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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