GOA: Murals, Stained Glass, Urban Myth & Art-Deco Dentistry in Nelson

7 May 2023 – – And now here we are in Nelson, tucked up in a verandah-graced unit in a heritage building just off the busy energy of Baker Street. I’m trying to sort out my memories of Nelson and realize I’m not sure I have any — which is pretty well a sure sign that I don’t. I do remember a visit to the “Hot Rats” (aka Hot Ratulations, aka Ainsworth Hot Springs) back in 1980 or so, when my partner and I visited his sister at her back-to-the-land homestead on the east side of Kootenay Lake. But did we spend time in Nelson?

One shake of the head tells me it doesn’t matter; I am here now. And it is sunny and mild outside, and we are bouncing to explore.

Happy chance lands us in Herridge Lane, running between main-drag Baker and uphill Victoria streets, from roughly where we’re staying until the lane bumps into a mountain and can’t go any farther. Mountains are part of the deal, this is more or less a city terraced up its mountain slopes, and staircases abound. Today, we roam horizontally, not vertically.

Herridge Lane rewards us.

A young man pulls in to park, just as I take a photo of this charming mural wrapping an entire small laneway building, charming because of the way mother & baby animals touch noses at the corners.

Young Man is eyeing us in a friendly but speculative way. We chin-point to the mural. “Love it!!” we say. He beams. “There are lots of murals in this lane, just keep going. And… thanks. This building, this mural, is mine.” We idly ask his business. “Cannabis,” he says. It’s a factual statement, no particular inflection.

He says no more about that, but does tell us about “underground Nelson.” He’s only lived here 7 years, he warns us, he isn’t sure of all this, but… “Apparently the original Nelson is now underground and this Nelson is build on top of it. Dunno… some mud slide, or flood, or something? I heard there used to be underground tours…”

We tuck this away for later investigation. Meanwhile, we stick to what we can see, right here on the surface. This doorway, for example, next to Cannabis Man’s office building, with its evergreens and wildflowers…

and, a block or so farther long, the whole back wall of the Capitol Theatre, with old show ads and additional murals like this one.

Other people chance-met at street crossings encourage us to keep going. “More in the next block!” says one fellow whose pony-tail may be silver-white,but is still thick and shining. He’s more sure of the murals than he is of underground Nelson. “Yeah… heard something like that…”

Ohhh, never mind. What we see right here above ground is plenty, all of it informed by laneway context.

Stickers on a rusty stand pipe…

a duck flying into some gas (hydro?) meters…

leaving behind a whole dancing choreography of artwork, wooden crates & doorway.

Dapper Dan twirls his cane above a pick-up truck…

and Pensive Paul slouches against the wall as he contemplates eternity (or, more likely, the smart phone in his hands).

We veer onto Victoria Street for a while, then rejoin Herridge Lane for the bit we had missed.

It rewards us with this glorious stained-glass greenhouse (built by a man who used to do set-design in Vancouver, we are told by a cheerful fellow clearing brush nearby)…

and then, in Hall St. Plaza where Hall butts into the Lane, with Dancing Woman as happy companion to a couple of Coffee-Break Women (who gave permission to be photographed).

A few blocks checking out Baker Street, where we discover that this 1933 Scandinavian Church is now a dental clinic…

and a smiling young woman climbing the steps tells us, “It almost makes me happy to keep an appointment.”

Across the street, the signboard for AFKO, Association des francophones des Kootenays Ouest…

which is a reminder, as are the diverse skin tones and accents all around us, of the many cultures that call this area home. Prospectors up from the USA in USA in 1886; incorporation in 1897 as Nelson (after a typical fuss about which British Big-Wig name to choose); and more arrivals ever since.

And, of course, before all that, some 10,000 years as home to the Ktunaxa, Saixt and SyiLx indigenous peoples.

A few more murals, an afternoon visit to the #23 streetcar museum on Kootenay Lake…

and a conversation with a life-long Nelson resident, and streetcar museum volunteer. We quiz him about the streetcar, and then about Underground Nelson. He chortles. Some wet patches in the lower reaches of some old buildings, he says; people like to call them underground rivers, but really — dramatic pause — they’re sewers. More laughter.

Ah well. Every city needs an urban myth or two.

We eat splendid thali dishes from a Baker St. South Indian restaurant for dinner, and plan the next day’s GOA. It will take us up-lake to Ainsworth & Kaslo.


    "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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