Vancouver – City of Stories

What a weekend!

Friday morning set the tone with the keynote speaker at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SIWC). At the very same time, the Vancouver Writers Festival was in full swing, hosting 100+ authors from around the globe.

We are a city of storytellers!

But why?

At one of SIWC’s workshops (put on by The Creative Academy), presenters Eileen Cook and Crystal (CJ) Hunt asked the question “why” to the class of participants.

That is, why do we tell stories? Any of us?

Thanks to the SIWC keynote address by Daniel Heath Justice, a Cherokee Nation professor of First Nations Studies at the University of British Columbia, I know.

Stories, whether they’re personal stories, fictional stories, or the stories we learn about our neighbors or our cities, connect us.

If we visit Athen’s Acropolis, or Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, or London’s Kensington Palace, it’s one thing to experience the smells and sights and textures of these places. Beyond these sensory highlights, it’s the stories that give these places meaning and context.

Thomas King said, “The Truth about stories is that that’s all we are.”

Stories shape our relationships, they connect us to others and to ourselves. When we don’t have stories, we don’t have context… individually or as a city.

So why do I personally want to tell stories about Vancouver, my home city?

It’s for all these reasons.

When I know the Guinness family built the Lion’s Gate Bridge, I feel connected to Ireland (and beer).

When I learn about the 10,000+ years of continuous civilization by the First Nations where Stanley Park now sits, I feel a connection with the past.

When I discover Vancouver was a major stop on the Vaudeville circuit back in the 1920s, I’m connected to a whole other era of performers, from Houdini to the Marx Brothers.

And all these connections make Vancouver come alive. They give a sense of time and place to a city that’s changing faster than a speeding cyclist.

Our stories, the stories of Vancouver, bring a sense of shared community. And not just within city limits, but with the world.

Surrey International Writers’ Conference

The Creative Academy

Daniel Heath Justice

Vancouver Writers Festival

Vancouver – On the Waterfront

Built for Vancouver’s Expo ’86, the five two-pointed white sails of Canada Place represent our ten provinces.

And what exactly was Vancouver’s 1986 World Fair all about?

Well, it was a six-month long extravaganza, welcoming the nations of the world to come celebrate Vancouver’s 100th anniversary. Yes, just a hundred years old. We’re one of the youngest cities on earth.

Expo ’86 is often pointed to as the event that put Vancouver on the world map, our “coming out ball” so to speak. And while it certainly brought a whole new wave of developers to Vancouver, it wasn’t the first wave.

Almost since Vancouver’s inception, realtors and developers have been arriving on our shores.

From Britain, the Royal Engineers (very business-oriented engineers, at that) arrived in the 1800s and began parceling out land and naming streets for themselves. The rail executives of the Canadian Pacific Railroad also got into the action—big time—demanding massive parcels of land in exchange for their beneficence in bringing the railway terminus to Vancouver.

In fact, it was some of these executives who cajoled the government into turning an entire thousand acre parcel of land into Stanley Park, thus increasing the land value of their own property in the adjacent West End. Vancouver’s first mayor, too, was a realtor.

All of which is to say that yes, Expo ’86 brought a fresh wave of international interest to our oceanfront city. But it wasn’t the first—or the last—flush of land-happy realtors, speculators and developers to Vancouver.

To this day, real-estate is a topic that brings out the wildest passions in our otherwise tame West Coast hearts.

Vancouver – A Great Cafe for a Crisp Autumn Day

Nothing’s better than a warm café on a crisp autumn day, and Platform 7 Coffee goes above and beyond the ordinary to offer your taste buds something special.

As soon as you step inside the doors, you’re struck by the décor, which looks like the inside of a train station. And in fact, it was modeled after a Belle Epoche Parisian train station. It’s fabulously whimsical, what with the metal girders arched across the ceiling, picturesque murals of the countryside, and a plethora of coffee-making paraphernalia strewn about.

From the outside, it’s equally pleasing, with a village shop look and outdoor tables. Sharing the building with the well-known Tanglewoods bookstore next door is an extra bonus.

Beyond the superb location and railway décor is Platform 7’s unique “Taster Flight,” where you choose three different single-origin beans, and they use the classic hario (pour-over) method for your three taster cups of coffee… a destination-cafe for any good coffee aficionado.

Location: 2300 Broadway (at Vine)

Menu

https://www.tanglewoodbooks.ca/

Vancouver – Baby Goslings (not Ryan’s)

Seems like just yesterday that you couldn’t walk ten feet without stumbling across a handful of goslings.

But spring is now fall, the goslings grown to geese. The “aww’s” of adoration at the adorableness of fluffy yellow turned to the “eww’s” of turd-strewn parks.

Seriously, hardly a park in all of Vancouver is safe to run around in barefoot thanks to the minefield of droppings from these rare (ha ha) Canada Geese.

If only the damnable crows ate goose eggs for lunch instead of songbird eggs, we’d certainly have friendlier parkland in the fall. Yet… how much less charming spring would be.

Vancouver – Not The Little Mermaid

 

She may look like a little mermaid, but she’s over 350 pounds of solid bronze.

And she’s not “The Little Mermaid.”

Not exactly.

A Vancouver sculptor wanted to replicate Denmark’s iconic statue, but was given an emphatic “no” to that request.

So what did our inventive sculptor do? He took what was basically his version of Denmark’s Little Mermaid, put some flippers on its feet, a pair of goggles atop its head, and named it “Girl in a Wetsuit.” Disingenuous!

If you come across it as you’re walking, jogging, or cycling around the Stanley Park Seawall (or driving for that matter), you’ll notice the “Girl in a Wetsuit” can also be a tide marker.

At high tide, the water rises to the bottom of her flipper. At low tide, the entire rock upon which she sits is exposed.

You can find her between Brockton Point and the Kid’s Waterpark on the North side of Stanley Park. Go for a visit and let me know if you think the sculptor copied Denmark’s Little Mermaid? Or was it really, as he claims, simply an homage to Vancouver’s watery environment.

Vancouver – The Bridge that Guinness Built

Lions Gate Bridge VancouverCalled the ‘Car Tangled Spanner’ by locals, this bridge once had a suicide lane. You see, it was built with three lanes, the middle one being a passing lane—for cars driving in both directions!

Today the 60,000 daily commuters who cross the Lion’s Gate have been saved this particularly ghoulish Russian Roulette, and we now have a counter-flow system. That is, traffic lights in the middle lane face both directions and are adjusted to smooth the flow of traffic, especially during rush hours.

 

As for how the Lion’s Gate Bridge got built, for that we can thank the Guinness family of Ireland, of beer and “Book of World Records” fame.

They put up about $6 million to build our bridge. After charging a twenty-five cent toll to drivers for a number of years, they made back their original $6 million dollar investment. And then sold the bridge to the city for another $6 million—doubling their money!

The luck of the Irish indeed.

* Excerpt from the upcoming book, “Vancouver Insider’s Guide.”

Vancouver – The Crows

These strutting generals of the avian world are plentiful in Vancouver’s residential neighborhoods. And when dusk comes, you might see one of the  eeriest sights ever, as thousands upon thousands of these jet black birds fly towards their nightly rookery around Still Creek.

Vancouverites tend to have a love or hate relationship with crows. Not “love and hate”, but “love or hate”.

On the dark side, crows like eating songbird eggs for breakfast, which means fewer birdsong-filled mornings, and more squawking wake-up calls.

On the crow-lovers side of things, some locals have made entire documentaries lauding the intelligence of these birds that make and use tools and have facial recognition as a skill.

This however leads back to the dark side of crows—that being if they feel one of their brethren are threatened, for instance, by a passerby inadvertently strolling under a tree where a crow’s nest is housing some crow chicks, they’ll divebomb the person.

What exactly does this mean?

It means they fly at full-speed from behind and crash into your head, or perhaps a hairs-width from your scalp. And, remembering your face permanently, they and their family will forever see you as an enemy who deserves a good scare or an outright collision every time you pass by.

Many locals know someone who’s been on the wrong side of a crow. One local, a lifelong tennis player, found himself dealing with an onslaught of crows on his deck. So he got out his tennis racket and… well, he no longer has a crow problem. Game, set and match.

Another local, on the meeker end of the scale, has taken to carrying crackers in her pocket, hoping to appease the neighborhood crows. This, in addition to carrying an umbrella rain or shine.

Why?

Because she was divebombed and hit with such a powerful and unexpected thump, her neck went out. Not hard to see how this group of birds came to be known as a ‘murder of crows.’

You know anyone who’s had a run-in?

Vancouver – Amazing Laughter on English Bay

The fourteen hulking bronze statues that comprise “A-maze-ing Laughter” were making a world tour when they touched down in Vancouver at the corner of Denman and Davie. And we just loved them! But with a price tag of 1.5 million dollars, they were beyond our city’s budget. Lucky for us we have a local yoga-gear magnate by the name of Chip Wilson, one of the wealthiest men on earth and the founder of Lululemon—who rode in on a magical yoga mat with a check in hand.

What a guy!

It’s perhaps a gesture of gratitude to all us Vancouverites who live, breath, work, and of course practice yoga in his apparel. So far as I know, there’s only been one misstep in his yogic trajectory… that being the case of the overly transparent pants, which turned downward dogs everywhere into a case of “too much information.”

While this fabric oversight could have been overlooked as a simple sartorial error, his response raised the ire of many a local when he responded to this cheeky clothing item by saying “quite frankly, some women’s bodies just don’t work for it… it’s really about the rubbing through the thighs,” insinuating that women’s thighs are a little too big for his brand of yoga.

Politically charged yoga stories are not rare in this yoga-happy city, so it’s a good thing we have the A-maze-ing Laughter statues to remind us about the latest yoga craze… laughter yoga.

 

*If you want to know a little more about the artist of these statues, check out this article in the Vancouver Courier:

https://www.vancourier.com/news/meet-the-artist-behind-the-a-maze-ing-laughter-figures-1.21096941

Welcome to Vancouver!

As a local Vancouver tourguide and tour director, I hear some of the very best insider stories about Vancouver. Sometimes these stories have been retold so many times by so  many different locals, that there’s more than one version of the truth floating around.

But without question, each new glimpse into the tales behind Vancouver’s multi-faceted veneer brings an increased sense of depth and vibrancy to the city I’ve called home since I was a teen, back when Vancouver was the hippie capital of Canada, and you could pay the rent on an old Victorian home with just a few nights busking (the term ‘busking’ being a local term referring to street performing).

Having picked up a wealth of fascinating insider info, as both a local Vancouverite and a tourguide, it seems only fair to share it all, so you too can get to know Vancouver better and to see what makes it one of the world’s “most livable cities.”