Here we go again. Sigh.
Who knew beaches would turn out to be such a lightning rod during this pandemic?
Beach-shaming has become the thing to do whenever Vancouverites take advantage of a sunny weekend and flock to the beaches. People who are not at the beach get upset at those who are, and, well, words are said.
The thing is, the people doing the shaming all seem to live in large suburban homes with large suburban backyards, while the people who are spending time on the beach live in tiny condos with little or no outdoor access.
The other issue is that those who are doing the shaming base their indignation on photos that, intentionally or not, are quite misleading. Camera angles and lens sizes can distort reality, I’ve learned. And when you walk past one of Vancouver’s beaches on a sunny weekend, it is clear that people are, for the most part, staying apart.
Vancouver has not been alone in its beach-shaming. There have been similar incidents of crowded parks and over-the-top reactions in Montreal and Toronto as well. The latest uproar — which is what prompted me to write this post — concerns the crowds seen at Sylvan Lake, Alberta, last weekend. I spent many childhood summers swimming in Alberta lakes — I know how lovely they can be on a hot summer’s day. I’ll reserve judgement on what the Albertans were up to last weekend, but I will say this: Central Alberta isn’t exactly known for its high-density neighbourhoods.
Some of the smartest talk I’ve heard about the pandemic relates to these kinds of incidents. We can’t see the virus, but a large group of people gathered together outdoors is visible in all kinds of ways. We know that yelling at a virus is pretty futile, but somehow yelling at a group of people who aren’t behaving as we think they should makes us feel better. Or morally superior? I dunno.
There’s also the novel idea that we — all of us — should focus not on what behaviours we are entitled to, but on what impact our actions have on others. Pandemic ethics in a nutshell, I call it. Meaning, those of us who do have access to a backyard, or perhaps a smallish, but perfectly adequate park in our immediate neighbourhood, should stay close to home instead of heading out to a popular park or beach where there might be a crowd. Leave room at the park or beach for those who don’t have a backyard — you know, the family who’s been cooped up indoors all day, or the group of people who live alone and have limited options for socializing in a physically distant way.
And that is why when reporters asked a few months ago why Vancouver wasn’t closing its parks and beaches, our provincial health officer responded by first reminding everyone that we need to stay apart, but then urging everyone to get outdoors for the sake of their mental health.
I’ve been meaning for some years to do a summer series on Vancouver’s beaches, but time got away from me, as time tends to do. Now I’m thinking my procrastination has been rather fortuitous in that there has never been a better time to talk about Vancouver’s beaches than during this summer of staycations. I have several within walking distance of my home — you can’t get much more staycation than that.
To start us off, here’s a photo of my closest beach. Located along the appropriately named Beach Avenue, Sunset Beach is not wildly popular for swimming, likely due to its proximity to False Creek and rather a lot of boat traffic. But it is a great spot for picnics, and for watching the sun set. I took this photo from Burrard Bridge a couple of summers ago.
O Canada. What a day. What a year.
The shooting down of Ukraine Airlines Flight 752 in Tehran on January 8 that took the lives of 55 Canadians and another 30 permanent residents of Canada. The shooting rampage in Nova Scotia on the night of April 18 to 19 that took the lives of 22 people — the deadliest ever shooting in Canada. The pandemic that so far has taken 8637 lives in Canada. The difficult and long-overdue reckoning Canadians are having about our racist history.
And that’s just the first six months.
As they say, these are unprecedented, extraordinary times.
This is a Canada Day like no other. No fireworks. No parades. No large crowds gathered across the country to listen to live music on outdoor stages.
Yet in many ways, it is a Canada Day more meaningful than any other. Canadians have shown — and maybe even surprised ourselves in doing so — that we can and do come together when asked to step up. Our sense of national solidarity seems pretty strong these days.
Here in British Columbia, we achieved a lockdown without a lockdown order. By our nature, Canadians tend to be compliant. When told to stay home, we stayed home. When told to stay apart, we stayed apart. It’s like that old joke about how to get a crowd of Canadians out of a swimming pool. All you have to do is say, “please get out of the swimming pool.”
I’ve spent a lot of this pandemic roaming my local park, where I’ve been delighted to see these creatures on several occasions.
Yup. That’s a beaver. Much larger than I ever would have thought — about as big as a mid-size dog. I’ve seen evidence of their handiwork in Stanley Park for years, but until this spring had never seen one up close.
As they say, nature is healing.
The beaver is Canada’s national animal, which is why I think it is an appropriate photo choice on our national holiday. But since this blog has readers from all over the world, indulge me while I take a moment to explain its significance to our national identity. (Because, seriously, who thinks an oversized rodent is a dignified choice for a national animal?)
The short version is it was all due to seventeenth-century fashion. The long version? On May 2, 1670, King Charles II granted by Royal Charter the incorporation of the oldest joint-stock merchandise company in the English-speaking world. The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay was, 350 years and two months ago, given exclusive fur-trading rights for all territories of the rivers that flowed into Hudson Bay. That’s a fair chunk of what we now call Canada. Indigenous peoples traded their furs for tools, guns, and textiles at trading posts such as Fort William (now Thunder Bay), Fort Garry (now Winnipeg) and Fort Edmonton.
In other words, the Hudson’s Bay Company colonized Canada. It’s a complicated history, given the impact that colonization has had on Indigenous peoples. But it is our history and acknowledging its truth is part of the reconciliation we Canadians need to engage in. (See above.)
Why was fur such a big deal? Turns out beaver hats were all the rage in Europe back then. Had the fashion not changed in the late nineteenth century to hats made of silk, the beaver would likely be extinct today. And thanks to a pandemic that got me into my park much more frequently than usual, I’ve seen beavers up close. So, there’s that.
Circling back to the kind of year it’s been, I think it is important to remember that Canadians have known adversity before, and we will again. For now, let’s take it one day at a time, and remember to be kind, to be calm, and to be safe.
Happy Canada Day, everyone!