Yaletown: art & history & life & even buttercups

18 June 2022 – Well, that title is a big promise but the City’s Yaletown Art Walking Tour delivers as promised, yes it does. So lace up your imaginary boots, and away we go.

The loop is just 3 km long, from green-go to red-stop, but it circles us around downtown streets and the north shore of False Creek, with reminders all along the way of the past that informs our present.

This area has been home to indigenous peoples for millennia, and to settlers since the late-ish 19th century. It gained this name after the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) finally crossed the entire country, and then relocated its construction equipment & repair shops from the community of Yale in the Fraser Canyon to the railway’s new western terminus in Vancouver.

This area, therefore, now gentrifying at a bright glossy pace, is built on a history of long maritime use and more recent, but intense, industrial use. Public art references all that history, and picks up on modern concerns.

I walk the loop, but not quite exactly as shown. Since I arrive by Skytrain (“M” on the map), I’m already launched on the tour and skip the Roundhouse Community Centre starting point. That makes me also skip the tour’s first example of public art, but I substitute my own: the Blossom Umbrellas once again blooming in Bill Curtis Plaza next to Skytrain.

After that I do what the tour tells me to do. I make discoveries in the process, since I’ve never before walked this bit of territory just east of the station. First stop, Leaf Pond (aka Big Leaf), at the N/E intersection of Cambie & Pacific Blvd. I think this is the work of Barbara Steinman, but couldn’t quite pin it down.

I move in close. Indeed a leaf, indeed a pond — and I wish I still had the nimble legs to dance me down the leaf’s central vein.

But I don’t! So I prudently admire it from the sidewalk, and walk on.

The next work of art is anonymous — and that’s sort of the point. It is an 8-metre high gear salvaged from the swing span of an earlier Cambie Bridge (1911-1984), mounted here as Ring Geer, in tribute to all the workers and all the bridges that have served this part of town.

A bit farther east, and it’s time to turn south through Coopers Mews, leading me to False Creek. Coopers and the barrels they created were important to the area’s industrial strength, and an installation by the same name, Coopers Mews (by Alan Storey), honours that history.

The punctuation mark for the whole installation — of course — is five wooden barrels.

This brings us to the Seawall along the northern shore of False Creek, just west of the current Cambie Bridge. Surprisingly this art tour does not point out a significant work of art, on the very pillars of the bridge itself.

See? Those blue stripes, titled A False Creek (by Rhonda Weppler & Trevor Mahovsky), mark the 4-6 metre rise in water level now anticipated because of climate change. Even though not part of this walking tour, this installation is featured in another online brochure of public art in the area. It’s worth the click.

Westward ho, everybody, on along the pedestrian path that borders False Creek. For a while, the railing that separates us from the street above is itself a work of art: Lookout (by Christos Dikeakos & Notel Best). Words & phrases remind us of the layers of natural and industrial history that underlie what we enjoy today.

“Million and millions of herring” … “Acres of ducks” … “fish stories” …

Down at the foot of Davie Street, the soaring I-beam towers of Street Light (by Alan Tregebov & Bernie Miller)…

with texts incised into each limestone base that evoke another vignette, another moment, for our imaginations to relive.

Soon after, one of my favourite Seawall signs. Not part of the official tour, of course not, but it’s part of my tour. Pedestrian and cyclist paths run side-by-side, and this sign urges us all to pay attention.

Duly attentive, we walk on. This next installation, running from Davie Street on west to the foot of Drake, is a good example of “I don’t much like it but I’m glad it’s there.” Welcome to the Land of Light (by Henry Tsang) consists of words/phrases in both English and Chinook (a trading jargon of the day), all along the shoreline railing.

No, I don’t much like it as art, but yes I’m glad it’s there — both because public art should have a broader range than my own personal taste, and also because I suspect it’s the kind of work that seeps into your consciousness over time, and enriches you in the process.

Next up, something I do like very much, though I can’t say I understand it. (As if that mattered…) The Proud Youth (by Chen Wenling) came to us courtesy of the Vancouver Biennale. I remember heading for it, that first time, expecting to giggle. Instead, I admired it. Still do.

On again, more installations I love to revisit. We’re taking the long approach, lots of time to anticipate what we’ll see as we follow the curve of David Lam Park.

Track that line of stones to the point where the shoreline veers sharply left. See the circle of rocks? Good. Now track left, past that B&W pedestrian couple, to the circle of pillars topped by a ring . Good.

Those are a pair of sister installations, by Vancouverite Don Vaughan, landscape architect and artist. The first, Waiting for Low Tide

is complemented by the second, Marking High Tide. Vaughan also wrote the short poem incised into that upper ring: “The moon circles the earth and the ocean responds with the rhythm of the tides.”

The rhythm at the moment is such that there is no water to be seen — but yes, the tide washes in and out, and the dance continues.

I promised you buttercups! They’re all over the place at the moment, all that bright cheerful energy smacking your eye at every turn. We’re now climbing the steps up out of David Lam Park back to Pacific Blvd, and buttercups fill the slopes.

I like the sight of that guy over there — back to a tree, at peace in the sunshine with his iPad. Just one more of all the people enjoying this place, in all their different ways.

City pavement now, north side of Pacific Blvd between Homer & Drake. The pavement design is pleasing in and of itself…

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but there’s more to it than contrasting colours & herringbone pattern. This stretch, running along an ancient shoreline & punningly titled Footnotes (by Gwen Boyle), features 57 inset granite markers. Most are just a word or two — “Salmon Weir,” “Mussels,” “Beached,” “Hello,” “Shore Line” — but a few say more.

My favourite: this 1967 poem by poet & novelist (& GG Award-winner) Earle Birney, about a walk he took at the mouth of False Creek.

End of the walk, the loop now looped, we drop into the south plaza of Roundhouse Community Centre. The tour instructs us to notice the installation Terra Nova (by Richard Prince) on both the ground and the wall behind.

There it is. But what I like even more is the life all around it.

Here in the foreground, that man belting along on his tricycle (with walking poles stowed behind), and there in the background, close to the wall, a bride and her attendants, posing for post-wedding photographs.

Art, history, life and buttercups.

Sun + Double Digits

12 February 2022 – It hits 11C this sunny Saturday — double digits, and it’s only mid-February! I break out my summer Tilley (hat), leave my coat behind, and head for False Creek. I am giddy with the promise of spring.

I’m not the only one. “Giddy” pretty well defines the mood all around me for my entire walk.

There are preening Canada geese and munching human youth by this condo water feature just east of the Creek …

and humans of every age lolling, their bodies at ease with the temperature, as they watch balls carom off whirlygigs and springs go spronnnnggggg in this Rube Goldberg sculpture outside Science World. (I am particularly taken with the eclectic style of the little girl on the scooter: lavender princess-ballerina net skirt and a bumblebee helmet.)

The playground next to Science World, with its child-friendly crushed rubber surface, is alive with leaping, squealing youngsters.

An Aquabus sets out to zigzag its way, dock by dock, west to Granville Island …

and four guys keep four basketballs busy on the court under the north-side access ramps to the Cambie Bridge.

I walk on a bit farther, past the western end of Coopers Park where I again note how much “higher-rise” and marina-dense the north side of the Creek is, compared to the south …

then turn back east. Thanks to low tide, Jerry Pethick’s Time Top sculpture is fully visible.

Four shells and one gull: the humans paddle like crazy, but the gull is still in the lead.

Down in its final curve, where False Creek is revealed to be no creek after all, a little girl adds just one more stone to the top of the stack that she has been so carefully constructing — with daddy so patiently standing by as she tests her skills. In the distance, a more exuberant family tableau: everybody is throwing stones into the water, not balancing them.

Two riders are about to pass the electronic eye on the cycle path as it dips behind Science World. When I arrived earlier, a read-out told me that 2790 cyclists used the path yesterday (midnight to midnight), and the current count for today was 800 and change. Now, a few hours later, it has already topped 1700.

Assorted buskers vie for attention. My favourites are these ukulele players, who take turns playing and being part of the audience. A moment ago, the man (right) in the black vest and watch cap was strumming away; now he is tapping his foot and smiling encouragement.

And I head home, also smiling and feeling encouraged. Time to pull out more spring clothing! (Oh, all right, still too soon. But wow, it’s coming.)

Snow‼️

26 December 2021 – Snow in Canada in late December? Hardly worth comment. Let alone even one exclamation mark, not to mention two of them, and in punch-your-eyeball-red at that…

True, but. This is Vancouver’s first snowy Christmas since 2008, and only the fourth in the last 25 years. I know the stats thanks to a news report, but I only have to look out my window for confirmation.

No need to climb 300 metres up the Coast Range mountains today, to catch some snow! It’s right here at sea level. So I go play snow-tourist around False Creek.

Icicles. A given, in my Toronto winter days, but a rarity here, so I pay attention.

The Chai Wagon is open for business as usual, just off Science World, but the chai-wallah is more bundled up than usual …

and the nearby palm trees have their own winter adornment.

The little footbridge at Olympic Village was upgraded this summer, with — they promised — an improved anti-slip texture underfoot. Hmmm. The sign doesn’t know about that promise. Or doesn’t trust it.

Or perhaps is just a neurotic worrywart by nature.

These women are not worrywarts. They stride onto the bridge full-tilt, and cross without incident.

The welcoming chairs at Spyglass Dock are embracing snow at the moment, not Creek-side flâneurs …

but someone has cleared one of the blossoms in the artwork by Emily Gray that makes this dock so appealing.

I double back under the Cambie bridge ramps, here on the south side. This location — like Toronto’s innovative Underpass Park — is an encouraging example of what we can do with places that are more typically written off as wastelands.

Butterflies on the ramp supports, picnic and table-tennis tables on the ground below — a bright, inviting space where you feel it’s safe to linger.

At my back, the False Creek Energy Centre , hub for the Neighbourhood Energy Utility.

It uses waste thermal energy captured from sewage to provide space heating and hot water to a surprisingly large local area: Southeast False Creek, plus parts of Mount Pleasant, False Creek Flats and Northeast False Creek. “This recycled energy eliminates more than 60% of the greenhouse gas pollution associated with heating buildings,” says a City website. It adds: “The utility is self-funded.”

To the east, on my left, the John McBride Community Garden.

It is low on garden activity at the moment but still a magnet for this mother and child, heads bent in mutual fascination with something they see either before them or in the mind’s eye.

Straight ahead, directly beneath the Cambie Bridge, the Voxel Bridge — a Vancouver Biennale installation this past summer. Not just physical reality, but blockchain-based augmented reality.

Still dazzling on the side pillars and overhead, but surprisingly scuffed and worn underfoot.

This new sign may explain why.

I have to read up about bicycle drifting later, to appreciate the power that goes into the technique, and the problem it could therefore create for artwork.

Fortunately, human feet can safely drift all they want! Mine lead me eastward along West 5th Avenue.

Where, approaching Alberta Street, I pause at this mini-installation along the side wall of Beaumont Studios (“a supportive environment for a wide variety of creative professionals”). She’s your basic Noble Lady in Flowing Robes, isn’t she? But enlivened with colour up & down her body, and very bright turquoise sneakers by her sandalled feet.

Catty-corner at Alberta, a gleaming new facility devoted to butchering beans.

Oh. Got it. Vegan “meat.” I’m amused by the cheeky reassurance of the wall slogan (“Don’t worry, Mount Pleasant…”) …

and, while not about to order any product myself, impressed by the reach of this BC success story.

In just a few years, The Very Good Butchers has gone from Denman Island farmers’ markets, to a Victoria plant-based butchery, to this gleaming new facility and major online activity. Plus a presence in co-ops and markets north/south/east/west Canada and the USA.

Meanwhile, back here in Vancouver, physical me walks on. On east to Manitoba (street, not province — though that would also work). South on Manitoba with a pause at the alley entrance that houses one of my favourite murals.

But it’s not just the mural. Not just William Lam’s skill. It’s the context. Street art, in street context.

After that, I drift on home.

(No artwork is damaged in the drift.)

Micro

9 June 2021 – Sometimes, when you’ve been trotting around a particular area often enough, your ungrateful eye begins to slide right off the macro view. Even when it’s as handsome as this one.

Here we are, south side / east end of False Creek, and just look at it — a macro worthy of the name, from boats to billowing clouds with mountains & condos & Science World tucked in between.

But all that, that macro sweep, is not what I notice.

All my eye wants to notice is this:

these mollusc-encrusted old wooden pilings.

And that’s how the walk goes.

My eye keeps snagging on micro snippets within the larger context.

One of Myfanwy MacLeod’s 18-foot sparrows, for example, in Olympic Village plaza.

Decidedly macro, as sparrows go, but not in terms of the plaza as a whole.

Same thing when I turn down an alley off Manitoba & West 3rd.

Lots going on, I promise you, but all I see is an alley cat …

and a bird’s nest.

Presumably not for the Olympic Village sparrow back there! Though the scale would work, wouldn’t it?

  • 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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