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…

xm

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.

See. Celebrate

30 October 2021 – See, really see, I keep instructing myself. And then celebrate what I see.

The farther we slide into fall, the more of a challenge that can be. For example, out on a “drizzle walk” mid-week, I see this.

Oh, ick. Immediate reaction: mushy/slimy/decayed/faded/tattered/torn.

So I mentally slap myself, instruct myself to just … just see what’s there. Not carry on about what it all means, either moaning at decay & death or cheering the botanical gift of nutrition for the soil. Just see what’s there.

Suddenly, it’s wonderful. Worth celebrating. Shape: those oval leaves now curling into ripples and parabolas; the rounded angles of the rocks below. Texture: the ribs in the leaves; the speckles dotting both leaves and rocks. Colour: lemon to ochre to silver & charcoal; random slivers of red; that lemon-lime duet top right corner.

Well, this is fun! Let’s do it again.

More ovals curling into new shapes, dancing with the season. More colour, green to gold to rust & silver.

And if I keep looking, keep seeing, there is even …

lacework.

But that’s not all there is to see, and to celebrate, even here at the tag end of October.

A few days later I’m out with friends on one of those bright breezy days that lift the heart.

We’ve just wandered around the Law Courts roof-top garden, designed by Cornelia Hahn Oberlander and Arthur Erickson, and are stepping our way back down to Robson Square. No challenge needed, to celebrate what we see here!

On we go, and we keep seeing more things to celebrate. The washroom in Mink Chocolates Café down on West Hastings, for example, which is as 21st-c. inclusive as your little heart could desire, but retains those old-fashioned virtues of good hygiene.

And later, in Bon Voyage Plaza just off the Vancouver Convention Centre on Burrard Inlet, an example of public art that, even on a sunshine day, celebrates the rain.

We swing around The Drop (all 65 feet of it, by the Berlin collective Inges Idee) and carry on westward, past float planes loading passengers for flights over to Vancouver Island …

and then angle our way south through town, right down to Morton Park on English Bay, home of A-Maze-ing Laughter.

You should always celebrate laughter! (And while we’re at it we again thank the Vancouver Biennale, this 14-statue installation being an enduring favourite from the 2009-2011 event.)

Across the street, and a clear view of a 2021 Mural Festival installation that we couldn’t properly see when we were here a while ago, when construction trucks still blocked the lane. Panel by panel, Rory Doyle’s Horae celebrates the four seasons …

with a suitably dressed crow in each panel.

Much as I love these crows, I see the three-legged dog …

and love him even more.

Beauty & Baffled Brains

3 August 2021 – Important distinction about that post heading! I am merely observing the former, but I fully posses the latter.

I’m halfway-ish in a walk around my end of False Creek. Over on the north side of the Creek, I’ve seen all the usual shifting combinations of participants. On the water: ferries, boats, dragon boats, sculls, kayaks, paddleboards, ducks, geese & cormorants, plus one hugely fluffed heron on a pillar, his neck reeled in to negligible. On land: volleyball & basketball in the parkette and out in the pathways individual cyclists, joggers, runners, walkers, dawdlers, dogs, children & bum-on-benchers, plus one stringy old guy in a T-shirt proclaiming “Old Lives Matter.” (I laugh out loud, he thumbs-up’s me as he goes by.)

It’s truly a wonder nobody smacks into anybody else, on land or sea, but somehow good luck — and brains, and courtesy — prevail.

All that was over there. Now I’m over here, under the south end of the Cambie Bridge. Nothing particularly beautiful or remotely baffling about my immediate surroundings.

No, let’s be more generous than that. These please-chalk-on-the-walls pillars and sturdy, plain, entirely functional table-tennis and picnic tables are beautiful, in a civic beauty sort of way. They are kind. They provide space for public rest and enjoyment.

But the major beauty (and bafflement) lie just to the south. Straight on down this long underpass space beneath the bridge.

The Vancouver Biennale Voxel Bridge installation is coming to life. I love this art, and I think it beautiful. There is more signage, as well as more art, so I move in to learn what’s happening.

I am baffled. I get the concept of AR, I’ve even clicked on it a bit, but I have yet to make even the slightest sense of blockchain. A decades-younger woman is reading as well, Aussie by the sound of her as we exchange ???s, and despite youth she is also baffled. We circle the pillar, read more on the other side.

Still ???, in both Canadian & Aussie accents. This is neither complaint nor confession, just a statement of fact. I don’t get it.

So I give up on all that, and settle down to just enjoy what I see. Like this …

and this …

and this …

and finally, drop-to-my-knees ground-level this. (Which causes a passing young man, noting my white hair, to ask if I’m all right. I reassure him, and thank him for his concern. It’s another example of “civic beauty”!)

And that’s enough of all that, so I stand up, dust my smudged knees and carry on east along the south side of False Creek.

My route takes me along 1st Avenue. As I approach Hinge Park I again enjoy the juxtaposition of Sole Food‘s garden beds on the left (netted now against hungry birds) with that defiant old relic of the Creek’s industrial days, still proclaiming it’s the Ist Ave. Plant of something long departed.

And yes, in my eyes that heap of rusty metal is beauty.

On & on some more, into Olympic Village Plaza, and look at this!

I have to go literally look at this, because although I can read the name, I don’t know who she is. My guess is that it’s all to do with the Olympics.

And I’m right.

North Vancouver’s Alannah Yip, engineer & sport climber, is also Gold Medallist in the 2020 Pan Am Games, and about to compete (August 4) for Canada in two women’s sport climbing events: speed, and bouldering. I think all this is pretty darn beautiful.

And this sign’s level of technology does not baffle my brain!

… and Macro

13 June 2021 – So there I was, last post, making a big fuss about micro-focus. This time out, my eye snaps right back to macro.

And micro.

Both.

Maybe because I’m on less familiar ground. I’m on the edge of Morton Park — me, plus the 14 bronze gentlemen who make up the collective sculpture A-Maze-ing Laughter. The work of Chinese artist Yue Minjun, it was the hit of the 2009-2011 Vancouver Biennale, and is now a permanent installation owned by the City.

Like his 13 companions, he’s just laughing his ears off. I’m equally happy as we leave micro for macro — past the sculpture, on down to the water just where False Creek swells out into English Bay and the Sea Wall carries on up into Stanley Park.

Micro to macro. Beach plants up close; then down across the sand and rocks of low tide; on out over the water to freighters in the Port Authority “parking lot,” waiting their turn to acquire/deposit cargo; and finally, oh always, mountains and sky.

Mine is not the only eye on the scene.

More micro to macro: first plant life on driftwood stumps, and then beyond & beyond & beyond.

I’m in close for this one: all the colours & textures that dance in a single slab of rock.

Speaking of dance!

Ignore Second Beach Swimming Pool in the background; ignore the snappy bike helmet; narrow your gaze to that crow dancing with the saddlebag behind the seat.

The cyclist must have stashed some pretty delectable gorp back there — and, I guarantee, there’s now a lot less of it than there used to be. The crow has spent the last five minutes methodically dipping his beak. (Oh! Just hit me! Exactly like those dipping-beak bird toys you see advertised.)

On we go, on up to Ferguson Point, just short of Third Beach. More micro-to-macro. A trio of marine biologists, doing something detailed & specific at water’s edge — and out beyond them, a laden freighter.

I’ve been watching it ever since we joined the Sea Wall. It’s the only one out there stacked high with containers and, thanks to the photographic genius of Edward Burtynsky, shipping containers rivet my eye.

We leave the Sea Wall, climb up inland a bit, our target something delicious at the Teahouse.

We arrive. It’s closed. Oops. (I channel Phyllis, my partner in the Tuesday Walking Society back in Toronto: she’d greet a failed-destination moment with the shrugged reminder, “We’re out for a walk.”)

So! Shrug to the Teahouse.

Back down to sea level, back onto the Sea Wall, back toward Morton Park.

A final micro-image reward.

A very small detail, in a very tall tree.

Both Sides Now

2 May 2021 – Joni Mitchell’s pithy phrase leaps to mind, and I borrow it. Her “both sides” explored the many concepts of her magical 1967 song; mine speaks only of a magical day on first one side, and then the other side, of Burrard Inlet. And my “now”? Ahhh, more magic: the magic of the present historical tense, and your willingness to enter it with me.

Here we are, about to amble our way through West Vancouver’s Ambleside Park.

The park flows along the north shore of Burrard Inlet, pretty well right out there where the fiord first starts knifing eastward from Strait of Georgia all the way to Port Moody at the other end. And “amble” is the right verb: there is something soothing and easy-going about this park, and we slow our pace.

I fall instantly in love with the spare, functional elegance of the Ambleside Fishing Pier.

It is the 1990 replacement for the original 1913 structure, which was a vital ferry terminal as well as fishing pier, until bridges (e.g. Lions Gate Bridge, 1938) began to offer another way to cross Burrard Inlet.

We walk toward the pier, peek at an off-shoot through the trees …

but choose to walk out the main pier, right to the end.

Out there in safely deep water, freighters sit anchored in the Port of Vancouver “parking lot,” awaiting their turn to head down-Inlet and offload or receive cargo.

Right here at Pier’s edge, something that excites us a lot more than yet another freighter: a seal!

He may or may not be a capital-H Harbour seal, but he is a seal in the harbour and his presence speaks to the cumulative impact of steps being taken to improve water quality.

Back from the Pier, we briefly cut away from the water, follow footpaths past stands of cherry trees. Yes, the blossoms are falling fast; yes, it’s the “litterbug” stage I smirked about in my previous post. But look: somebody has neatly raked the windfall into a tidy heart.

More charm: a tangle of wild something-or-other draped all over this concrete guidepost.

Yet more charm: the smallest community book-exchange box I have ever seen, with the most inventive signage …

and a stunning backdrop.

Lamp standards evoke the grace of an earlier time …

even when they abut car parks and serve to enthrone a guardian crow.

Having looked westward toward those freighters earlier, we now look south and east, to the dense greens of Stanley Park directly opposite (here white-speckled with a whole flurry of seagulls) and the long curve of Lions Gate Bridge.

That bridge links the “both sides” of this day. We cross it to leave north-side Burrard Inlet for south, and then on down through Stanley Park and a few more kilometres west along the south shore, past Jericho Beach, past Locarno Beach, out to Spanish Banks just short of UBC.

This is why.

We’re here to see some furniture. But not any old furniture. Public Furniture.

They are terrific. So minimally, empathetically sculpted you’d swear nobody but nature had touched them. They rest easily on the sands, absolutely at home with their surroundings and each other.

Like this …

and this …

and this.

Both sides of Burrard Inlet, and magic each side.

Then a surprise, the magic of the unexpected.

Something that catches the eye, confuses the eye, intrigues the eye, and has us skitter across NW Marine Drive for a closer look. At first, it does seem unlikely to enchant: all padlocks, razor wire, rusting metal and Video Surveillance warnings.

But look into the glossy foliage, just there to the left of the staircase. See?

Well of course it’s a dancing orca. How else could we end this day?

Bright Red

21 March 2021 – But not this bright red.

We’re not out in the drizzle for the latest umbrella installation just behind the Yaletown Skytrain station.

And we pause very briefly indeed for a sticker-sized offering of Philosophy To Guide Your Life.

Nope. We zigzag on down to the north shore of False Creek, right there by the foot of Drake Street.

We’re looking for something else. We’re on the trail of The Proud Youth, one of Beijing artist Chen Wenling’s two contributions to this year’s Vancouver Biennale. We don’t have an exact address. We hope we can find it.

That turns out not to be a problem. It is eminently findable.

We move closer — puzzled, laughing, and fascinated. My friend grabs a full-frontal, as I start circling around.

Later, the online description gives us context:

The Proud Youth is a representative artwork in Chen Wenling’s Red Memories series. It is named after a popular Wuxia (Martial Heroes) novel called The Smiling, Proud Wanderer (Xiao Ao Jiang Hu 笑傲江湖), which in Chinese literally means “to live a carefree life in a mundane world of strife.” The novel is frequently read as a political allegory.”

The description moves on from literary reference to what is, literally, right in front of us. That pose! That red! The colour signifying not just auspiciousness, but the artist’s own “fiery” attitude to life: “The red figure, naked and free… The cheeky expression and arresting pose…”

Doubled over…

peering down between his feet …

and laughing his head off …

at the reaction of passers-by.

Eventually we move on. Double back to the north side of the Cambie St. bridge, where we’ll climb the on-ramp sidewalk…

and cross False Creek. With a latte destination firmly in mind.

But, barely onto the bridge, we stop for another hit of red.

Okay, more blush-pink than red, but auspicious even so.

Cherry blossoms! Already!

Blown Off Course

7 January 2020 – A cloudy/sunny day, in a run of seriously rainy days, so of course I’m out the door. And promptly back in again, to change hats.

It’s windy out there.

So windy they’re cancelling ferry sailings. So windy I switch my usual  winter Tilley (left), which would para-sail me right into next week, for my Orkney rainbow-&-runes cloche, which snugs tight about the ears.

Enroute False Creek, I exchange winks with one little star-segment of Cosmic Breeze, a 2019 Mural Festival creation by Olivia Di Liberto …

and, once Creek-side in Olympic Village Square, I admire how this sculpture — momento of the 2010 Olympics — glitters in the morning sunshine.

All this is pretty well what I have, admittedly vaguely, planned: down to False Creek, west on False Creek right to Granville Market, and then … oh … whatever.

“Whatever” arrives sooner than planned. That wind! Gusts barrelling down the Creek, and me staggering with their impact. Once I make it upright to Spyglass Dock, I decide not to press my luck any longer and cut up the access road beside Cambie Bridge, heading for a bit of inland shelter.

See? Even a traffic sign is toppled.

Smart right onto Commodore Rd., leading to Moberly Rd. and a more prudent route that starts with this berm of trees and woods at the eastern end of Charleson Park.

I am now “off course,” in that I haven’t walked this route before, but surely that’s a bonus? (As Phyllis, my wonderful Tuesday Walking Society partner back in Toronto, would say: “It’s all walking…”)

Very peaceful, on Maberly Rd. — trees to the left, narrow roadway, homes to the right and just beyond them, the Creek.

More people and bicycles — and dogs — than cars. This cyclist has just stopped, yet again, to give his little dog time to catch up. All this gives me time to notice the exceedingly moss-shaggy shrub there on the right, practically under my nose.

I move in, expecting to bliss out on all that moss, and instead discover it is festooned with dangling amulets, twirly-bobs, ceramic ornaments and ribbons. And this brazen babe, lolling on the fence rail, half out of sight.

I love this stuff, I do, and I’m in high good humour — also safe from wind — as I continue down the road, then cut to the land side of the Charleson Park Community Garden, and head into the open parkland beyond.

Where I don’t even know how to take in what is happening.

A little boy next to me screams, “CROWS!!!” with the enthusiasm and leather lungs that only a six-year-old can possess. His father and I exchange round-eyed looks of amazement and mutter allusions to Alfred Hitchcock.

Indeed, CROWS.

All over the grass, lining the tree branches, swirling through the air, and filling that air with a raucous uproar that rattles my brain. Father and son have moved on, I’m now standing beside a woman thoughtfully studying the scene. “Chafer beetles,” she says. “Crows dig the larvae out of lawns. Wow.” She gives a little snort-giggle. “And they just sodded this thing, too.”

I carry on about loving crows, but I tell you, I am happy to get out of that park, and through Sutcliffe Park onto the east lobe of Granville Island. Winds have died down, and not a crow in sight. Just a pair of boaters out there in an endearingly simple wooden canoe, paddling along.

And around and around I go, looping myself onto the north side of the Island, taking the path just in behind the floating homes of Sea Village.

I walk on down the line, peering into the gaps between homes.

I’ve fantasized about living in a houseboat, who hasn’t, but not very seriously. I’ve been on a few — most dramatically in winter-time Yellowknife, on Great Slave Lake — and have realized I enjoy visiting but wouldn’t want the upkeep.

So bye-bye to the Sea Village houseboats, and inland to the main part of Granville Island.

Where I hang over the fence to enjoy, as I always do, the sight of the aptly named Giants — the concrete silo murals painted by Brazilian twin brothers under the joint name of Osgemeos for the Vancouver Biennale.

I finger some crafts in the shops, drop my jaw at the range of fresh produce in the food market, find myself a latte (you knew that), and finally catch a bus home.

Soon after, the rain returns.

 

  • 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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