Taking the 5th

15 November 2022 – Not “the 5th” as in a self-shielding legal manoeuvre in a US courtroom. Instead, “the 5th” as in bouncing down Vancouver’s West 5th Avenue, wide open to the cultural/commercial fizz erupting on all sides.

Fizz indeed. I’m in the Quebec-to-Alberta stretch running through Mount Pleasant, known (well, in real-estate circles) as “Vancouver’s most desirable mixed-used neighbourhood.”

I am all in favour of mixed-use, aka diversity; I grow either nervous or bored when faced with homogeneity. No fear of that around here! While this cityscape has lost any trace of the millennia-old indigenous use of the land, it bears remaining evidence of early working-class settlers, who used their muscle-power either in their own small enterprises or in service of the industrial needs of the CPR. You still see a few auto-body shops, for e.g., but by now the transition from strong arms to strong brains is well underway.

Emphasis on creative/digital brain power.. all wrapped up in green. Proclaiming eco-sensitivity along with floor space. (Cf. my recent Into The City post.)

This brand new “slats” building between Quebec & Ontario…

offers “a superior location” and boasts its high ratings for walking/transit/biking criteria.

→An aside to explain the cross streets: I’m in a stretch named for the provinces in Confederation at the time of naming. They are slightly out of geographical order and include a territory, but let’s not quibble.

At the intersection of 5th and Ontario, older & newer versions of creativity shimmer at each other from every corner.

North-east corner = PureBread café, one of a handful of Vancouver & Squamish outlets for an artisanal bakery based in Whistler; north-west corner = Catalyze Solutions, a real estate project planning firm; south-west corner = Martha Sturdy Studios. It is the home furnishings/decor outlet for this octogenarian artist/ceramist/jeweller/sculptor who is still active, and whose works have been featured everywhere from Italian Vogue to Architectural Digest.

The aesthetic rust sensibility of her studio…

ricochets midway down the next block, to nature’s own rust on this chain. It locks the courtyard gate beside the heritage brick home of Image Engine (“world-class visual effects for film”).

More nature near the corner of 5th & Manitoba, this time yellow flowers that survived the snow and are still perky as all-get-out.

They sit in front of another artisanal bakery, Terra Breads. Together, they play compare/contrast with high-tech parking and the shiny-new neon-green “2131” building kitty-corner.

Completed last year, says the online promo, it provides office and light industrial space for a number of tenants, including AbCellular Biologics.

All very fancy and brainy and new… but with older art styles as the streetscape context.

Right across the street, this 2019 Vancouver Mural Festival wall…

back on 5th and just west of Manitoba, some grotty-old, unapologetic-old, roof-top graffiti…

and a tad farther west again, two doorways plastered with stickers.

I am not a stickers fan. Don’t get it. Grumble, grumble. But I read these, and… oh all right… some are mildly bemusing. “Scrub out racism not stickers” says one; “dump your porn addicted boyfriend” urges another; and another proclaims “timbit taliban,” which I suspect would confuse the Taliban as much as Tim Hortons.

More mixed-use, as I make my way from Manitoba to Columbia: Maison d’Etre Design Build (surely the world’s best bilingual marketing pun, but I wish they’d kept the accents), and two beauty-devoted outlets, focused respectively on hair salon supplies, and high-end residential flooring.

Almost at Columbia, I’m stopped flat by the elegant, but enigmatic, signage on an otherwise entirely anonymous building:

It only makes sense much later, when some online scuffling around shows me this used to be a Canadian Tire customer pick-up centre.

5th & Columbia is like a case study in past-present-future.

The south-west corner lot is for sale, with this tidy but older home surely doomed. (Note the home immediately beyond — beautifully painted, its owners raking leaves and very much not for sale.)

Facing the for-sale, an already-sold: something new rising up from the ground on the north-west corner, bearing the name Renditions Developments and promising “a new chapter.”

Beyond that, continuing west on 5th, wonderful names for what I fondly hope are wonderfully creative little boutiques — Rad Power Bikes; Hot Sauce Digital Marketing; Adventure Technology; Black & White Zebra. (And somewhere in here, I forget exactly where, the offices for the newspaper Vancouver Is Awesome.)

Corner of 5th & Alberta, a very empty, very space-y, space, announcing “This must be the space.” Tenants yet to arrive.

Kitty-corner, a space already full of tenants: Beaumont Studios — outdoor courtyard; indoor venues available for events; and an artists’ collective of rental studios.

I cross over, walk along the mural, contemplate the humanoid at the end.

Pop-eyed in amazement, as seems fitting, and with hands raised either in horror at recent developments…

or to warm them at the flame of all this new creative energy.

Take your pick.

Behind the Paint

11 August 2022 – There are the murals, and then there are the stories that take you behind the paint on the murals. I’m reminded of this when I join the Mount Pleasant-area mural tours offered this week by Vancouver DeTours, the VMF guided-tour partner.

I already knew the murals; I didn’t know the stories.

For example: big, bold Courage, in an alley I often pass angling down Kingsway near East 11th. I even know, because I can read signage, that it was created in 2021 by Ariel Buxton.

What I don’t know is that she created it in collaboration with Rabble Rousers, a group of young adult mental health advocates, and that it faces a youth mental health facility housed in the building opposite. The powerful one-word main theme is supported by smaller images, each important to the young people involved. A yellow rose, a cactus, a shamrock and, here on the mural’s east edge, an acorn topped by a butterfly.

As we’re being given this background, I notice a tour member waving vigorously. Big smile on his face. I turn. Arms attached to a whole window-full of faces in the building opposite are waving at us. We wave. They wave. Everybody waves some more.

And then we walk on.

On down that same alley, closer now to Watson Street, a 2018 mural by Pakistan-born Sara Khan. It is called Recycled, for reasons that escape me, and flows strong colours and dream-like images across the wall.

We learn that when the sketch went to the City for final approval (many partners, many steps), the reclining male figure was anatomically correct. When he came back, he was a Ken-doll.

Okey-doke. (Many partners, many steps, and the art of the compromise.)

But ever since, again and again, anonymous citizens have crept forth, paint brush in hand…

to restore his manhood.

One of the tours takes us past the 2022 Melanie Jewell mural I showed you in my murals teaser post, From Bach to Bears. Remember?

Now I learn that the bears, while deliberately painted in folk-art style, are much more than (as I called them) “adorable.” Each one represents a member of this Northern Dené artist’s family; together, they resonate with deeper meaning.

This cuddling pair, for example, represent her grandmother and mother.

They loved each other. They were both, one generation apart, survivors of the residential school system. And when Jewell’s grandmother unexpectedly fell ill and was dying, her mother — at the time a small child away at school — could not come home for one last visit.

There are more stories, other places. Happier ones, for example the time requesting shop-owner permission to paint on her back alley wall ultimately led to the City installing lighting in that alley as well. Upshot: the woman finally felt safe going out to her car in that alley late at night — and even had something beautiful to look at.

So by the time I’m trucking back down Kingsway, I have a head full of stories to go with my eyes full of murals.

And then — right there on the sidewalk in front of Budgie’s Burritos — I see one more.

Well, if they say so!

From Bach to Bears

8 August 2022 – Oh my dears, the Bach Festival…

is so last week!

Now we have adorable, and very freshly painted, bears…

to show us that the Vancouver Mural Festival is underway.

Melanie Jewell’s tribute to the peoples, creatures and swirling Northern Lights of the NWT is my first sighting of work in progress…

but I plan to see lots more this week.

The Wisdom of the Raven

7 April 2022 — On the end wall of the Raven Song Community Health Centre, here in town:

I think, some years back, I included this wise observation in a post. But it bears repeating, does it not?

Not that the raven is known only for wisdom.

“Trickster” is the frequent label, so I looked around for some further information about the cultural importance of this physical creature. My happiest discovery was an article on the website of an organization called Raven Reads. The more I read, the more fascinated I was — with both the raven, and this organization.

First, the raven. Specifically, the raven in Haida culture, as reflected in a 2018 article they ran with comments by Eden Robinson about the latest book in his Trickster Trilogy, Trickster Drift.

Robinson points out that while Raven is central to how Haida see the world, he is not thought of as a god per se. “He symbolizes creation, knowledge, prestige as well as the complexity of nature and the subtlety of truth. He also symbolizes the unknown and is there to show that every person sees the world in a different way as another.”

From raven to Raven Reads: what is this organization? “Indigenous and women owned,” it says; founded by Metis (BC/Saskatchewan) entrepreneur Nicole McLaren, it is “the world’s first indigenous subscription box.”

Subscription box? That is what a small book club can become, if its founder is determined to raise awareness, spread knowledge and literature, and support other indigenous businesses (more than $300,000 so far). Subscribe to Raven Reads, and four times a year a literal, physical (and very beautiful) box will be delivered to your doorstep. It will contain a book by an indigenous author, a letter from the author or the box curator, and some giftware items from indigenous businesses & craftspeople. That’s the adult box; there are also children’s boxes, corporate subscriptions, and giftware separately available.

I like everything about this, both the business/advocacy model and the content, and having discovered the organization by accident I am quite delighted to tug your sleeve and make you aware of it as well.

One more image to close with, this one from some homeowner’s fence over on Quebec Street. I can’t guarantee he is a raven, he may be a crow …

or we can simply allow him to “symbolize the unknown.”

Trafalgar!

12 March 2022 – No, no, not Battle of — that event sits several centuries and various oceans distant from my Trafalgar. I’m on a street in the Kitsilano district of Vancouver, not floating around just off Cape Trafalgar, Spain. Mind you, there is water a kilometre or so to the north of us, and by carrying on down Trafalgar, we’ll hit it.

Which is the plan.

We already have a nautical reference point.

Not particularly well made, but so very cheerful. Intriguing, too. Why is this little boat perched on the roof of that front yard lean-to? Surely too high for any resident toddler to see… Ah well, it’s fun for passing adult pedestrians.

More gratuitous fun (always the best kind), another block or so to the north.

Why? But again, why ask? Just enjoy it.

Each little peak shelters its own ornament. In this case, a truck…

but others display everything from shells to toy animals to pretty pebbles to a plastic leprechaun, perhaps specially installed for St. Patrick’s Day.

Sedate good taste comes next: this fine balcony banner with its leaping salmon.

And right after that — side yard of the same Good Taste home, I think — comes another hit of nonsense.

Not that you’d be seriously tempted to ride it, but the draped fairy lights do emphasize that this bicycle is decorative, not functional.

Right at the next intersection, prayer flags and a plaque.

Well-worn flags — just imagine how many thousands of prayers they have fluttered into the breeze by now! And an equally weathered plaque, erected (it says here) in 2013 by “Friends of Siri” — their tribute to long-time resident Siri Kidder Halberg, who “loved to trade books.”

Thus, the little community book exchange these friends have created, right next to the bench.

This resonates for me, in many ways. First, I admire and support take-one/leave-one street libraries. Second, I am a huge fan of author Colin Cotterill‘s novels about the 1970s adventures of another Siri — Dr. Siri Paiboun, “the national and only coroner of the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos” — and indeed I am reading one of them right now (The Merry Misogynist). And, third, when I dive into this little library, I discover an unread novel (This Poison Will Remain) by another of my favourite authors, Fred Vargas. I snap it up.

A few more blocks and we’ve walked as far north as we can go, right into Point Grey Park. Trafalgar finally meets the water — in this case, English Bay.

‘Way out there, some freighters waiting their turn to carry on down Burrard Inlet and unload at the port (yay! supply chain at work!); in close, dozens of Barrow’s goldeneye ducks, obeying no schedule but their own.

Like the ducks, we’re on our own schedule. We turn east, curve with the land mass onto Kitsilano Beach, backed by Kits Park. My favourite swimmer is up there, flutter-kicking like mad.

I do mean up there:

Meet Wind Swimmer, and could she be better named? I see basic credits on the plaque — by sculptor Douglas R. Taylor, installed 1996 — but that’s not the half of it. Ohhh, the adventures she has known.

The prototype created in 1993 and installed in Stanley Park, but smashed by a log; the current version created in a collaboration between the sculptor, the Parks Board and donors (the Auerbachs) and installed on Kits Beach in 1996. Then came the wind storms of August 2015. The swimmer literally took a dive, and was again badly damaged and removed.

Three years go by… Repair work (largely by the Parks Board), and safety upgrades. In 2018, she is re-installed, finally back home and swimming again.

I like her even better, for knowing all this.

Both/And (Again)

8 March 2022 – I’m walking along West 8th, not a single philosophic thought in mind — in fact my mind pretty well free of any thought, truth be told, perfectly willing to let my feet have all the fun.

And then the street takes me in hand. “Pay attention!” it scolds. “The old both/and of life, right here in front of you, yet again.”

Both the loving beauty of this ornament, tied to a shrub next to the sidewalk …

and the weary decrepitude of the building behind it.

Both a tinder-dry Christmas tree still littering someone’s side yard …

and first daffodils, bursting through the soil right beside it.

And then, one more block down the street, a whole both/and tableau entwined on a single tree branch:

both winter’s lichen & moss, and spring’s urgent new buds.

(Plus, bonus, the constant pleasure of that colour-wrapped building behind, a veteran of the very first Vancouver Mural Festival, in 2016.)

River-Watch

11 January 2022 — The capital-W Weather just keeps piling up. The snow I blogged about late December was followed by more snow and more cold, and then a windstorm combined with king tides that tore up Stanley Park seawall and flooded the Ambleside Park I’d visited just a little earlier that month.

And now plus-zero temperatures and a new multi-day Atmospheric River, due to start … well, any time now.

“Now” being a few hours ago, as I set out to walk east toward home. Ah, but, I am wearing my Seriously Waterproof Coat and my duck boots, and I trust them to keep me safe and pretty well dry. So I am watchful — aware of the grey sky and impending River — but perfectly happy to let my eye snag on tiny details as I walk along, and not particularly care whether I beat the rain home or not.

Here at Yukon & West 8th, it isn’t the motorcycle I notice first …

it’s the butterfly decal someone has stuck to the back of the traffic sign. I don’t care that it’s wrinkled and beginning to peel, I like it a lot.

I pivot east into the alley just south of West 8th, away from the construction for the Broadway Subway Project (an extension of the existing Millennium Line) that keeps pounding along, whatever the weather.

I see this bold taco-shop mural right at the intersection …

but again it’s a detail that draws me in: a delicate line-up of red dots above one of the florets on one of the plants.

I wonder if this is a later, complementary (and complimentary) addition by some other hand, but then see another touch of red in the swirls of ground cover, and decide it is all by the original artist.

Only later, looking at this image, do I see the magic continuity of colour — black/white/red, flowing from the mural across those cars to the red building beyond.

Just east of Alberta there’s full-tilt alleyscape, so much going on I barely register the young woman who walks into frame on the right, checking her messages …

because I’m focused on that mirror up there on the balcony. Looking very pretty, in the midst of a lot of not-pretty.

Just past Columbia, I see the pumpkin-coloured car, who could miss it …

but, really, I’m fascinated by that convex traffic mirror, and the art-nouveau swirls it bestows on tall trees and power lines.

East side of Manitoba, I’ve seen this before but for a change it’s not the H-frame hydro pole that makes me pause …

it’s the haunting mural tucked into the garage on the left. So instead of walking by, I walk in …

and when I turn to the back wall, my curiosity is rewarded — finally! — with this artist’s name.

J. Whitehead, I later learn, is a Saskatchewan-born member of the Cree Nation, a Fine Arts graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design, and now resident in Vancouver. I’ve seen his distinctive work elsewhere, am glad to give you a chance to discover him as well.

Same alley block but closer to Ontario, I once again halt at this battered old garage …

but, this time, it’s the sway-backed roof that pulls me close. I really look at it, at the textures, the colours, the thriving moss on crumbling shingles — the sheer topography of it all.

And then … and then, I’m east of Ontario, on to Quebec, and the end of the alley.

I swerve north to East 8th, away from all those alleyscape details …

into the ordered, aromatic, calm and considered details of a latte at my favourite café.

I make it home, just before the River starts to flow. (And flows still, as I type this. And is expected to continue to flow, right through Thursday.)

Watson in the Rain

30 November 2021 – Raining still, expected to intensify, sombre warnings about the coming 48 hours.

I go out for a walk.

Watson runs parallel to Main Street, feels and mostly behaves like a lane but is just slightly too wide for the anonymity of lane-hood. It is officially street width, and requires a name. I do not know which Watson they had in mind; I can only think of clever Holmes barking an exasperated “Watson!” at his befuddled colleague.

So. That voice in my ear, and all this in my eye: drizzle & chilly air & sodden leaves & garbage bins & garbage in and out of bins & hand-lettered notices about missing dogs, cats and oh yes human beings.

But also, here at East 14th: a share-bike rack; Andrea Wan‘s vintage VMF mural (2016) peeking through the foliage; and the literal and emotional warmth of the Main Street JJ Bean café, one of 22 outlets of a fourth-generation Vancouver dynasty that offers quality to customers and better than Fair Trade prices and other support to its suppliers.

And also, one block farther south at East 15th: Phil Phil Studio‘s 2021 VMF mural opposite Heritage Hall; and Heritage Hall itself, currently shrouded for its seismic upgrade and re-roofing project — only the latest stage in a history that began in 1915 and has taken the building from post office to federal agriculture facility to vacant and derelict to restored as a community and cultural centre. I don’t know if it has remained open for events throughout this latest refurbishment, but I do know it will be open December 15-16 (obeying all virus protocols) for Music on Main’s Music for the Winter Solstice.

So much, all around us, that is uncertain, worrisome, just plain sad and wrong.

And all this as well.

Mid-Fall

21 October – Mid-fall in Vancouver.

It’s the season when nature is the biggest litterbug of all…

scattering leaves all over windshields and grassy sidewalk verges…

and across outdoor café tables.

But mid-fall is also still warm enough for couples to sit at one of those outdoor café tables …

and sink into each other’s eyes.

Tucked snugly behind their very own sheet of anti-COVID plastic.

The Moment In Between

16 October 2021 – It has just rained and it will soon rain again, but, meanwhile, there is this moment in between.

I walk back east, in this moment.

A burst of nature’s own autumnal colour blocking on West 8th, climbing the Whole Foods wall near Cambie …

and a cryptic message, one block farther east.

It’s a study in contrasting response to the rain: the paper lies limp & sodden, literally washed out, while the leaves and pavement dazzle & dance in glowing colour.

Over at Alberta St. I angle myself off 8th Avenue, pivoting S/E around this blue-mural’ed building (artist Debra Sparrow, VMF 2020)…

into the alley.

I’d forgotten the march of murals down this alley, discover them again. Right here at the corner, Reclaimed, a 2020 VMF work by Carole Mathys.

There’s more than murals, marching down this alley! I salute the H-frames

and, out at the corner of Manitoba St., take in yet more colour blocking. Red/orange tree; grey building with golden window frames; bright blue utility bin; and a whole swatch of very angry black on the wall beside me.

You’re gone, graffiti! Though I suspect all that black makes a tempting canvas for a new round of aerosol cans.

Just east of Manitoba, a mural style I’ve seen elsewhere (notably around the Native Education College) but so far without an identifying artist name.

This is the alley that keeps on giving.

Approaching Ontario, here’s the back door to a doggie spa, with a so-cute cartoon on the wall and a real live client showing off his latest trim. Just groomed, his owner tells me, and very pleased with himself.

Opposite that, the antithesis of grooming.

Nearing Quebec St. by now, and I finally learn the ID of the artist for this powerful mural just past the Raven Song Community Health Centre parking lot. It’s the VMF 2017 work of “Morik,” as in Russia-born Marat Danilyan.

Out of the alley onto Quebec, pivot N/E past all this ivy, flaming with the impact of fall weather…

onto East 8th, where weather has no impact on the pace of construction. (Though it makes the ground a lot soggier.)

You often see their hard hats among clients at my own favourite café, just a few doors farther east on 8th.

I slide in for a latte.

Herewith an unabashed plug for Melo Patisserie: the refinement of Melo’s French culinary training, with the warmth of his Brazilian heritage. Plus a posy of fresh freesia on every table every day, and a trio of teddy bears in the window.

  • 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"

  • Recent Posts

  • Walk, Talk, Rock… B.C.-style

  • Post Categories

  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 113,927 hits
  • Since 14 August 2014

    Flag Counter
  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,984 other followers
%d bloggers like this: