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.

 

 

Something Special with Sophia

25 March 2019 – Beware the low-flying puns.

“Sophia” is a street, and cap-S “Special” is an architectural style — the only house style developed in Greater Vancouver and found nowhere else, says the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.

Behold the Vancouver Special.

It was built by the thousands, 1965-1985, the boxy monster home of its day on narrow city lots, easily duplexed and therefore especially popular with multi-generational, often immigrant, households. Not popular with arbiters of tasteful design, one must add; in fact, widely reviled.

The houses survive singly or in small clusters, some much battered by time and others lovingly renovated. The style itself, if still not much loved, is at least now respected as an urban icon. When I first moved here, it was one of the first city sights my friends taught me to recognize.

So I squeak with delight when, walking south on Sophia for no good reason except I’ve never walked it before, I fall upon this little string of renovated Specials, right here at East 20th.

One has lions rampant at the gates (the VHF article later teaches me this is a common feature) …

another faces the street with no guardian sculptures to protect it …

and another flaunts bold new window treatment on the upper level.

None has been wildly transformed, but all are in good shape, and fit the scale and comfy residential charm of this neighbourhood just off Main Street.

I walk one more block south on Sophia — and wowzers, I’m handed another “something special with Sophia.” Lower-case “s” this time, but equally worthy of the adjective.

Street art, literally on the street. One-two-three sections of mural, that pop their way along East 21st from Sophia to Prince Edward.

The first section leads with white swirls …

throws in a sunburst …

and ends with a shooting star.

The middle section feaures hearts and big “eyes” …

with one “eye” circling a storm sewer grate, and a companion sun throwing out rays from beneath that black Honda.

I look back west from the far end of the third section, admire its bias-cut arches …

and ask some 20-somethings in the adjacent park if they know anything about these murals.

They stop their impromptu kick-ball game long enough to peer at the street, and shake their heads. “It’s so cool,” breathes one of the girls. “Thanks! I never noticed…”

I cut diagonally up through the park, salute the downward-dog flamingo …

take myself out to Main Street, and start back north toward home.

And promptly run into this sidewalk sign.

Heres the thing. This very urbane retail store — which specializes in contemporary furniture, objets d’art and books about design and style — contains not a single reference to the architectural form for which it is named. This has always bothered me, seemed negligent bordering on disrespectful.

Now I’ve decided to think of it as a tribute, as proof that the term has burst its original boundaries and become embedded in the culture.

It’s also a clever pun.

And heaven knows, I do like puns.

 

 

Snagged

7 April 2018 – No thematic unity to these images, except that they are all part of the Vancouver cityscape, and they have all recently snagged my eye.

Sometimes from amusement, as here at an entrance to Mountain View Cemetery — not a location one traditionally associates with amusement.

Got that? Rover-on-a-leash, yes. Rover-no-leash has to stay home with your pet elephant and pet camel.

(Amusement mixed with admiration, I should add. What a gentle way to remind people how to behave.)

More amusement and admiration across the street from the cemetery. A very handsome, beautifully maintained yellow home — that’s the admiration part.

Amusement comes with the family’s Little Free Library box, there in the foreground, built and painted to copy the home.

Even more amusement when we come close. Lovely details on all sides, including two tiny figures on the balcony.

Speaking of homes … Here’s one to snag the eye!

We’re bundled up for a fitful grey day, but all this blue & orange blazes through.

The house is special for more than its colour scheme.

It is a surviving, and prettied-up, example of the Vancouver Special — the city’s one indigenous house form, says the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.

Built 1965-85, sometimes described as a “two-storey rancher turned at right angles to the street,” the Vancouver Special was a response to setback by-laws and the need for economic housing. Almost all the Specials quickly became multi-generational housing, reconfigured for a ground-level suite. Today, each survivor is a history lesson, reflecting both that civic moment in time, and its own succession of owners.

So my delight has a whole vernacular-architecture streak to it.

Another Vancouver “special” – i.e., something else that is Very Vancouver.

Bicycles.

Clusters of bicycles, whole art-installations of bicycles.

I’m passing the Tandem Bike Café (which fixes bikes and feeds people), with its distinctive, of-course, form of advertising out there at the street corner.

It’s what’s behind that snags my eye, makes me pause on yet another misty day.

First I see that red trike, touched to see it carefully fastened to the bicycle stand. Then I notice the very-Vancouver adaptations of those other bicycles, each with a front carrier, each prepared for rain. (Also the burgeoning Grape Hyacinth, thriving in the showers.)

Rain City!

As I type this, my chimes sing in the breeze, and we have just had the season’s first flash of lightning, first clap of thunder.

 

 

  • 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

    • 95,186 hits
  • Since 14 August 2014

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

    Join 1,740 other followers

%d bloggers like this: