The Art of Quote-Unquote

22 June 2017 – It began with an email from my friend Sally, off kickin’ up her cowgirl heels in Alberta, sharing a quote she read on the washroom wall in the Bear Paw Café in Jasper:

Off to the woods I go

To lose my mind

And find my soul

The washroom scribbler helpfully added attribution: Scottish-American naturalist John Muir (1838-1914),  whose poetry is very findable online. As well as on washroom walls.

All of which got me thinking again about quotations, and how we use them, and respond to them, in public space.

A thought process much stimulated by the tail end of a long walk into/through/out of Stanley Park, ending in downtown Vancouver, where walking companion & friend Frances pointed out some landmark buildings, including the soaring Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel.

It was sufficiently intriguing to pull me back downtown the next day, solo, to look more closely.

Enroute, walking north on Hamilton St., I did a head-snap at this line of text on an otherwise unremarkable little building.

Confession. I originally read the text as: “Unlimited Growth Increases the Dividend.

This is richly ironic, given that artist Kathryn Walter’s 1990 installation is meant to decry rampant capitalism, and honour Del Mar Inn owner George Riste, who refused to sell out to BC Hydro and continued to offer clean accommodation at modest prices.

A major contrast, in scale and price point, with the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel, at Cordova & Burrard!

But look. They have something in common.


This time in two-foot-high letters, Helvetica Bold (I love that detail), the 2010 work of British artist Liam Gillick. Repeated, again and again, between floors 5 & 22, dividing the hotel portion from the 25 additional residential floors above.

A single sentence, wrapping two sides of the structure.

lying on top of a building

the clouds looked no nearer than when I was lying on the street

I really love this, even if the unspaced letters make it hard to read.

Frances & I spent perilous long moments mid-street, puzzling it out. (Changing traffic signals & some vestigial instinct for survival caused us to scurry to the sidewalk in time.) I am more prudent on my return visit.

Safely back home again, I think about another artist who makes brilliant use of text in some of his public pieces — Toronto’s Eldon Garnet. A favourite example: his 1995 Time & A Clock installation on Queen St. East, which includes this adaptation of a Heracleitus quote on the façade of the 1911 bridge over the Don River.

Sometimes, words & images fight it out for supremacy.

Sometimes, though, the fit works perfectly.




Seen / Unseen, with Echoes

16 October 2016 – Truth-in-advertising moment, I’m back in Toronto, but with one last Vancouver post to publish — one last tribute.

Sally & I hit a couple of her favourite north-shore parks. First up, the Maplewood Conservation Area, a bird sanctuary owned by the District of North Vancouver & managed by its Parks Department, but operated by the Wild Bird Trust of British Columbia.

Before any trails, before even the welcoming notice board, there is a large pond. It’s open on one side to the parking lot, overhung by forest on the other. “Come,” says Sally, tugging my arm. “Look!”

I expect bird life, something exotic, I hope.

Not bird life, but still pretty exotic.

Ken Lum, "from shangri-la to shangri-la," 2010


Three shanties, a 2010 sculptural installation by artist Ken Lum, models of three of the many squatters’ shanties that lined the mudflats here during the first half of the 20th century. Left to right, today’s echo of the one-time homes of Malcolm Lowry (who completed Under the Volcano while living here 1940-1954), artist Tom Burrows, & Dr. Paul Spong (who later led Greenpeace’s Save the Whales campaign).

On down to Maplewood Flats. The shanties long gone, no echo (for outsiders) of the political & physical turmoil that brought that era to a close. Just the north-shore waters of the Burrard Inlet, now a protected ecosystem.

Maplewood Flats, Burrard Inlet

We have already read the notice-board October Survey of the birds spotted to date.

bird list to date, Maplewood Conservation Area

Impressive! And frustrating, since we see none of them (beyond the usual gulls).

Something else we don’t see as we move about, an omission for which we are grateful:

trail-side, Msplewood Conservation rea

From Maplewood to Cates Park.

A gate suggests it is now more than an ever-so-Anglo “Cates Park.”

Cates Park / Whey-ah-Wichen

And it is.

This is Cates Park / Whey-ah-Wichen, its management being guided by the 2001 protocol & cultural agreement between the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation & the District of North Vancouver.

We see all around us an even broader “cultural agreement” — the great diversity of ages & ethnic origins happily sharing the space. A group picnic behind us, with grandpa (I assume) playing the accordion; dog-walkers & frisbee-players to one side of us; and on the beach below, a lively toddler with her supportive parents, tackling & conquering a physical challenge.

The unoccupied lifeguard stand is irresistible. Daddy stands protectively close, but lets her clamber up on her own.

first climb the ladder ...

Success. “I’m queen of the castle!” she crows. Mummy & daddy applaud & record the moment.

then pose for mummy & daddy...

Daddy asks permission to join her. She deliberates. Then grants permission.

then graciously share the stage with daddy

“Daddy’s the king!” One little foot shoots straight forward, in utter delight at how wonderful this all is.

Sal & I are still smiling as we finally head off, wandering a path that will wind us down to beach level. But first, the peace, the calm beauty, of the trees. And the resonance, the echo, of the trail name: Malcolm Lowry Trail.

on the Malcolm Lowry Trail

Then the beach. We’ve pulled on our jackets, but the late-afternoon sun still warms our faces & the rocks beneath us.

water level, Cates Park

We prowl a little farther, catch a glimpse of the docks of wealthy private homes just beyond the park boundary.

private docks, adjacent to Cates Park

Back to the car on a different trail through the same woods, granting us another glimpse of another world, this one very tiny & tucked in among tree roots.

geo-cache in Cates Park

Seen, the miniature, physical world; unseen, the geo-cache app that leads players to this spot.

And now I sit in a sunny/cloudy Toronto morning, and Vancouver itself is the echo. A delightful echo.



    "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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