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.

  • 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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