And Then … the Sun Came Out

9 February 2020 – The sun is out, and so am I.

And so are spring blossoms. Look – snowdrops!

My feet scamper me north on Main St., under the Skytrain overhead tracks, under the Viaduct, and a smart right turn onto Union Street.

With an almost immediate left turn into Hogan’s Alley. You need the plaque to tell you this was once home to many homes and businesses of the city’s Black community, because mid-20th c. urban renewal demolished them. (How much destruction is done, in the name of renewal…)

So it’s fitting I am pulled into the alley by the sight of more destruction, its lines austerely geometric, but the human story so poignant, ghost lives pressed into those remaining interior walls.

But then my eyes are pulled past that wall to the mural beyond, moving from ghosts to immortals: “Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea” by the Bagua Artists Association.

And beyond that, to the delightfully named Fat Mao noodle parlour, right up there on East Georgia Street. I don’t go in, but I eye it, and store the possibility in my mind, even as I head east on Georgia and see all the other possibilities on offer, everything from hair extensions to tooth implants to woks and rice cookers.

Left on Gore, heading north again, and I know it’s north because, see?, there’s the moss on the tree pointing north.

Not urban legend at all, it seems, though only mostly true and only in the northern hemisphere. (In the southern hemisphere, the moss grows mostly on the south side, but for the same reason — moss favours the shadier side of the tree.)

Eyes left, though not feet, into this alley on the other side of the street.

If you happen to like the image on that wooden hydro pole by the sidewalk, or the purple lettering on the white wall farther back, treasure this photo: hose-wielding guy works for Goodbye Graffiti, and he’s about to live up to the company name.

Right turn onto Keefer — which always, always, makes me think of “Keef” Richards and the Rolling Stones, even though I know there is no connection. The association leaves my mind as quickly as it arrives, for there’s always something right there on the street to reclaim my attention.

Like the PTT Buddhist Society, just east of Jackson. I watch people come and go, light incense, spin a large prayer wheel.

A little farther east, two icons in a row, each telling its own story of this Strathcona community. On the left, a Vancouver Special, the city’s mid-century contribution to vernacular architecture that served so many immigrant families so well …

and on the right, a 1902 example of the Queen Anne style beloved in the day. This one was built for an Irish immigrant who rose from labourer to foreman at the Hastings sawmill and was later sold to the Italian immigrant family that honoured and restored its features, and caused it to be known as the Bezzasso House.

Close by, a former chapel of some sort, or so its architecture suggests, but it is hidden behind this bamboo fencing and — in case you haven’t taken the hint — the front gate bears a large notice warning it is now a private residence with 24/7 video surveillance.

And a dog. “Beware of dog.”

I am perhaps captured on their camera, but, hey, they are captured on mine.

From former chapel to former synagogue, just north from Keefer on Heatley Avenue. The city’s first synagogue, in fact, Schara Tzedeck, built early in the 20th century when Strathcona had a large Jewish community. (It is now condos, so I am not welcome here either — though here the exclusion is silken rather than churlish.)

I walk the building’s elegant length, but first nip into the alley just to the south, drawn by this enormous tree, blasting its way through the fence.

Another tree, okay, a shrub, right at the alley corner — full bloom!

Some sort of early-blooming rhododendron, I think, but that’s only a guess. Look carefully and you may make out, in that sliver of front door, a Christmas wreath still hanging and still handsome. Two seasons in one.

Some more wandering around, coat wide open, 8-9 degrees, full sun. More snowdrops, more crocus, more mahonia with buds ready to unfurl — and cats. Cats as good a sign of spring as blossoms. Cats unfurling their winter bodies into the sunshine, one here tall on his front porch, one there writhing happily on the sidewalk.

Even houses, I swear, are stretching into the sunshine, this one with a mural gleaming in the noon-time light.

Noon-time also means lunch-time, and I’m happy to be so close to the Wilder Snail, at Keefer & Hawks, across the street from MacLean Park.

A few posts back, I told you about watching a little girl play chess here with her dad; today I overhear an excited young man describe his up-coming one-man show to a supportive friend. It’s that kind of place.

Fed and caffeinated, at peace with the world, I emerge from the café, salute Paneficio Studios diagonally opposite …

and continue east, yet again on Keefer.

Where, over at Campbell, I am given one more snapshot of neighbourhood history, a sidewalk mosaic entitled “The Militant Mothers of Raymur.”

It commemorates the women who, upon moving into the new Raymur Housing Project in 1971 with their families, realized their children had to cross busy railway tracks to get to school. They wanted remedial action, and therefore took on the school board, the city council and the railway company, wielding the usual civic weapons of phone calls, petitions and speeches.

When all that had no effect, they began physically blocking the train tracks.

Again and again.

And they won. The city erected the the Keefer Street Pedestrian Overpass.

Last year, it renamed the structure. It is now, officially, The Militant Mothers of Raymur Overpass.

 

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

    • 99,505 hits
  • Since 14 August 2014

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

    Join 1,808 other followers

%d bloggers like this: