Out the West End

21 August 2021 – “Out”? “Up”? “Into”??? By any preposition, the West End is where I’m headed as I walk north across the Burrard St. Bridge, with False Creek beneath me.

It’s a wonderful bridge, its steel-truss functionality wrapped up in Art Deco flair — all the more wonderful that they bothered with flair, given the bridge opened in 1932, deep in the Depression. And flair abounds. Just look at that ochre-coloured horizontal “gallery” down there, for example …

yes, that’s it.

Stylish as all get out, and purely decorative. It exists solely to hide some of the superstructure.

I’m not here for the bridge; this is just my entry-point to the “West End,” loosely defined as the chunk of Vancouver north of False Creek between Burrard Street and Stanley Park. I’m partly attracted by the promise of a few new murals, as part of this year’s Mural Festival, but, mostly, I’m just enjoying the fact that it’s finally good walking weather. Temperature has dropped; air quality has risen; West End … why not?

First mural hit, practically right off the bridge, just west of Burrard & south of Davie St. in Pantages Lane.

Thank you, artist Christina Boots: LOVE & a flamingo head, out on the restaurant patio.

On down the lane, between Thurlow & Bute by now, and two more heads — strictly B&W, and not a flamingo to be seen, but equally exuberant.

I head north on Bute and, right there at Davie Street, meet yet more faces. A whole line-up of faces.

This time, the faces have names. I’m looking at Elizabeth Hollick’s tribute to jazz greats in a mural that clearly has been here for quite a while. The likenesses are not all that terrific, but you can’t argue with her choice of musicians.

L to R: John Scofield, guitar; Charlie Mingus, bass; Max Roach, drums; Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet; Charlie Parker, sax; Benny Goodman, clarinet; Ella Fitzgerald, vocals; and Dave Brubek, piano. I pause a moment in tribute, but also to remember a cat named Mingus I once knew, and then continue my rambling north-west progress toward English Bay.

North now on Jervis from Davie, and I stop for this aqua butterfly, tacked to a utility pole in the lane.

This is See-em-ia Lane, and I again thank the City for its decision to add a brief fine-print explanation to each laneway sign.

You see? This lane honours Mary See-em-ia, a Matriarch of the Squamish Nation. (Thanks to the fine print, I can also tell you that Pantages Lane back there is named for Peter Pantages, Greek immigrant & restaurateur, and founder of the Vancouver Polar Bear Club. The sign doesn’t add, but Wikipedia does, that he was also nephew of Andrew Pantages, the vaudeville-circuit theatre giant.)

It’s pretty well just a head-swivel from the butterfly on up to the corner of Jervis & Pendrell, and St. Paul’s Anglican Church.

The doors are open (unexpected, in these continuing days of pandemic), and I seize the chance to go inside. It’s a heritage building, the 1905 replacement for the little 1889 church moved onto this site in 1898. The church has evolved with its times, and now embraces the LGBTQ community along with the more bourgeois middle-class of earlier days — and everybody else, for that matter.

A week-day communion service is just ending as I enter. I am struck by this. Today’s walk seems to me a continuation of the “quiet pleasures of the perfectly ordinary” that I celebrated in a recent post, an attitude powerfully expressed by John O’Donohue in a couplet in The Inner History of a Day (from, To Bless the Space Between Us).

He wrote: “We seldom notice how each day is a holy place / Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens.”

The eucharist of the ordinary! It has been all around me, all day — and here is a religious eucharist, to join it.

The rector welcomes me, invites me to stay for the post-communion coffee gathering and is smilingly gracious when I explain that, thank you, I plan to keep on walking. But first, I want him to tell me about this glorious organ, and he is happy to oblige.

Yes! a Casavant. I am a groupie for Casavant Frères, the Quebec company that has been building organs since 1879, and I start squeaking with excitement. Known as Opus 264 and installed in 1906, this one is the oldest extant Casavant in BC. It is not in use today, but I don’t care. It is enough to know it exists and, like its sibling in St. James in the downtown east side, it has been meticulously restored & revoiced and will have a long life yet.

Back out to the street, back to working my way north-west, and here I am at Broughton & Henshaw Lane.

I love everything about this building: its architecture, its community-centre function, its artwork, its welcoming signage. And I love the laneway signage too, you bet, which explains that this lane honours Julia Henshaw — author, botanist, and alpinist.

Eventually I make it to Davie just off Denman, right at Morton Park (home to A-Maze-ing Laughter) and English Bay.

A new tower is rearing up just over there, across the street, with artwork top to toe.

And I can’t tell you anything about it! I don’t weave through enough traffic to snoop around its base for any possible info. I don’t think it’s Mural Festival, and the Festival map is maddeningly vague, so we’ll just have to let the visuals speak for themselves.

One more mural, just a block or so away. This one is indeed a 2021 Festival addition, the work of Coast Salish artist Sinàmkin (Jody Bloomfield). Since he belongs to the Squamish Nation, it is fitting that his mural is right at the Denman end of See-em-ia Lane, which we’ve already learned is named for a matriarch of that Nation.

I turn back. Time to head east once again.

I look up at the neighbourhood banner with appreciation.

To again quote John O’Donohue, the West End has offered me “the eucharist of the ordinary” all day long, and I am grateful.

  • 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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