Up the Mighty Fraser

16 April 2019 – Drop that paddle, shuck that life vest — I’m talking street, not river.

No, not the river that tumbles 1,375 km from B.C.’s Mount Robson Provincial Park, down & down to empty into the Pacific via the Strait of Georgia in Vancouver. Yes, the 13.6 km street that runs through Vancouver and neighbouring Burnaby.

Why Fraser Street? Because — like Sophia Street — it’s there, and I’ve never spent any time on it.

I join Fraser at the Kingsway, with a utility-box owl to cheer me on my way.

Right across the street, under that orange awning you can see behind the owl, the grocery store advertises some of its specials in a note taped to the window.

Not-quite-gentrified neighbourhoods, with their independent shops and quirky homes, have a particular kind of streetscape. They teem with juxtapositions.

Guns & gardens, for example …

Followed by a variety of calls to civic activism, one after another. On a post box …

on a utility pole …

and in a convenience store window.

There are homes as well as shops along Fraser, with peaceful gardens glimpsed over weathered fences.

And then — just after a big evangelical church, and just before a compact Hindu temple — I see a side street with a long string of Vancouver Specials. Bonus!

Another 7-8 blocks farther south, I decide to cut over westward toward & through Mountain View Cemetery, making the first of the turns that will eventually bring me back north & home.

And what greets me, on this residential cross-street? Two more Vancouver Specials, one each end of the block. Both comprehensively restored, each in a very different style. The first is cozy-charming, as comfy as a glass of warm milk at bedtime. The second …

is quiet, and austere.

I stand there shaking my head, delighted. Talk about vernacular architecture! Architecture-turned-folk-art!

This once-despised design — boxy, pragmatic, purely utilitarian, churned out in generic quantity — is now, I suspect, the play toy for a new generation of owners. Are you old enough to remember how hippies loved their VW vans, turned them into expressions of their own identity? Something like that seems to be going on with the VS.

Around a corner and another couple of blocks south, I’m about to dive through a hobbit-hole gap in the hedge surrounding Mountain View Cemetery … but I stop. I’m intrigued by the cheerful lady I see cutting strands from the ivy that cascades through the hedge.

“My mother’s name was Ivy,” she explains. “When she died at 95, I decided to include fresh ivy in every bouquet I make. The City told me I can take as much as I want, as long as it’s from the outside of the Cemetery hedge.”

I don’t expect anything inside the Cemetery to be as touching as what I have just experienced on the outside. But I am wrong.

What could be less alike than fresh ivy and a plastic Snoopy? Or a 95-year-old great-grandmother and a toddler? But they are entirely alike in the love of the families who remember them, and have found a visual icon for that love.

Outside the Cemetery again, I nod at the white trilliums in someone’s front garden — my Ontario moment! — and then make one last westward dog-leg toward Main Street.

And, of course, run into another Vancouver Special.

See what I mean about individual expression? People are not intimidated by the VS. They just grab that box, and run with it. Wherever their self-image wants them to go.

Onto Main Street. I am finally heading north.

An owl marked the start of this walk; a pair of ravens mark its final few klicks.

 

 

Eyes on Granville

18 June 2017 – I’m out for the South Granville Art Walk, who could resist, with balloons, hoop-la, wine & cheese & what-have-you up & down the gallery-laden stretch of Granville between W. 15th & W. 6th or so, where the street pretty well becomes the bridge over False Creek.

I walk across from Cambie, virtuously resisting the pull of the Tandem Bike Café enroute, and launch my walk — my Walk! — right at West 15th.

With eyes on Granville, courtesy of the city traffic signal box at the corner. (I think that’s what these boxes house. Anyway, many feature photo-wrap artwork, and I’m all in favour.)

My own eyes equally wide, I start prowling my way north toward the water. Most of the galleries are closer to the water, so I waft in & out of some home décor shops as I go, cruise through Indigo, find everything very classy but resistible … I don’t even reach for my camera until I’m halfway north.

And then it’s for a map.

But a darn classy map.

And, for a newbie like me, darn useful as well.

There I am, I say to myself: I live above the “u” in Vancouver, close to that first short inlet of water (False Creek). At the moment, I am above the “c,” also closing in on False Creek.

Near-ish to that map, just north of West Broadway, I visit Kardosh Projects, with an exhibition of two artists I hadn’t previously known but like a lot, especially the brooding landscapes by Edward Epp.

Then I head down an alley, not expecting much, but look! what a reward.

Very loopy indeed, it’s the back-door silliness of Brian Scott Fine Art, so that’s good fun.

Then it’s on north another block, left turn on West 6th, I visit one good-taste (& very jammed) gallery and then into the building’s central courtyard, because I want to find the pousette gallery, which I know is somewhere upstairs at rooftop level.

So I’m elevator-hunting, but I get waylaid by the building’s architecture. I don’t yet know it bears the sleek name of WSix, I just know I really like the sleek lines — all concrete, copper, steel & strong angles.

 

I admire a door. They’re all identical. They are wonderful.

I tear myself away, get in the elevator — and find I’m admiring the elevator wall.

I do visit the pousette gallery, and it’s worth the visit. It is. I just find I’m more taken by the building that houses it.

Back outside, now on the fourth floor, I pay attention to the exterior catwalk that gives each unit its own direct front door. Vancouver’s relatively benign climate makes this design feature practicable, and how attractive it is.

Especially when, on the top level, you see through to the Coast Range mountains!

Then I also see the staircase. Perfect! I’ll walk down.

It takes me past a watchful dog-in-the-window.

Which reminds me of a photo I took of another dog-in-the-window — one I saw days earlier, over on Oak St. near W 13th.

Are they not unnervingly alike? (Yes, yes, there are also differences, I grant you that.)

My Art Walk began with a traffic signal box; I’m happy to see it can end with one as well.

The official upper-case-W Walk now over, I lower-case-w walk myself south/east toward home.

With a latte stop in the Tandem Bike Café! You knew I would.

Two Jeffs & a Raccoon

14 April 2016 – One Jeff (Blackburn) to paint the raccoon; the other Jeff (Phyllis’ husband) to wave a newspaper article at us that includes the raccoon in its street art photos; and, finally, the raccoon himself.

Whose teeth look like this.

detail, Blackburn raccoon, Spadina & Davenport

(That’s a tease. The rest of him comes later. Be patient.)

The Tuesday Walking Society decides there is no way to build a coherent walk route around all the photos, they are too jump-about for that — but we can at least pick a few as the starting point for our next outing.

Which is why we find ourselves walking up Bedford Rd. north from Bloor, heading for a trio of pieces roughly clustered in the Davenport/Dupont/Spadina area.

Aha, we’re not halfway up Bedford Rd. before we make an unscheduled stop in Taddle Creek Park. You really cannot simply walk past something like this.

public art, Taddle Creek Park

I can’t tell you why a pitcher is the chosen adornment, let alone who created it — no signage — but a bit of snooping seems to suggest there is a water outlet inside the pitcher. Maybe it trickles merrily away, all summer long? This demands a revisit!

Bedford is lined with old Victorian homes, most of them restored and/or renovated, and many of them (perhaps most?) still single family dwellings.

Bedford Rd., Victorian housing

Very pretty indeed, and it’s churlish to point out, as I am about to do, that the gas lamp now sports a light bulb. Humph!

The first of the “official” trio of art works we plan to visit (i.e. ones shown in that newspaper article) comes soon afterward, just north of Davenport & Dupont.

Synethesia RR underpass art, looking north from Dupont up Davenport

You with me? I’m showing you Synesthesia, the artwork Paul Aloisi created to cover the walls of this railway underpass, based on his sound recordings of trains passing overhead. And look, there’s even a stationary freight train on the tracks, to get you in the mood. (Do click on that link; you can then click on a video and hear the trains for yourself.)

I decide I like the way the rusty metalwork adds to the total effect.

Synesthesia west wall

We follow Davenport, closing in on that raccoon.

But first, the even bigger landmark that looms over his head: Casa Loma.

This is the Gothic Revival mansion that very-very-rich financier Sir Henry Pellatt decided to have built for his family, a whim that occupied 300 men from 1911 to 1914. And included gold-plated faucets in the adjacent horse stables …

Casa Loma, from Spadina s. of Davenport

Not surprisingly, the building is now a tourist attraction, run by the city.

Back to the raccoon.

He is one of a growing number of traffic signal boxes that are now huge fun, as well as functional, thanks to the attention of local artists. Jeff Blackburn has wonderfully loopy animals all over the city; this guy is just one of them.

Blackburn's raccoon traffici signal box below Casa Loma

Here he is, genus Procyon in all his urban — & artistically enhanced — glory.

Complete with ringed tail.

back view, same box

Also complete with an impatient pedestrian, who wishes the traffic signal box would just do its job, and give her a green light when she wants one.

On we go, still heading west on Davenport, our target now being the retaining wall just to the north on Bathurst.

Bathurst n. of Davenport, west side

It may all be by one hand, I’m not sure about this, but though the images vary widely the style seems consistent. Kind of 1950s cartoon-y. I think.

detail on the Bathurst wall

This suitably alert-looking owl is right next to the command “Despierta” (Wake Up) — you can see the “T” and “A” on the left.

I’m most amused, though, by an obvious interloper on the scene:

detail on the Bathurst wall

Then again, this may only be amusing if you are familiar with “Tout est possible” — a stencilled slogan that pops up around town.

After that, the walk goes downhill.

Literally, as we start south again, following the incline of the city itself toward the lake.

More wandering-around ensues, with the usual latte/americano stop along the way. Our route takes us past Matt Cohen Park at Bloor W. & Spadina, where we admire the stacks of domino sculptures.

in Matt Cohen Park

Perhaps this fine Canadian author (who died far too young) liked to play dominoes?

in Matt Cohen Park

Eventually Phyllis peels off, to catch her subway north. I keep walking — long enough to decide that, yessir, I will walk all the way home.

Finally home, and a peek at my pedometer, which says 14.5 km. That’s not wildly heroic, but I am pleased.

 

  • 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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