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Turtles at Lost Lagoon

Everyone I talk to in Vancouver these past few weeks is gushing about the fantastic summer weather we’re experiencing. Yes, gushing!

Canadians can be pretty low-key except when it comes to (1) their sports teams and (2) the weather. We get absolutely patriotic when our teams win (sorry — I just had to get in at least one Raptors’ reference) and we get absolutely giddy when the summer temperatures kick in.

To celebrate the 16 hours and 15 minutes of sunshine that Vancouver experienced today on the first day of summer, here’s a photo I took of the turtles at Stanley Park’s Lost Lagoon.

They, like most Canadians, take their sun-worshipping seriously.

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Happy Birthday, Queen Victoria!

Are you tired of all the royal baby talk? There’s been an awful lot of it this month. Bear with me though, because we should all take a moment to mark a significant anniversary of yet another royal birth.

Two hundred years ago today, Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent was born in Kensington Palace. With her birth, she became fifth in the line of succession to the British throne.

Fifth seems a long ways away from the throne these days. (Archie Mountbatten-Windsor is seventh at present.) But due to a series of monarchs and heirs to the throne dying without legitimate heirs, Princess Alexandrina Victoria ended up becoming Queen of the United Kingdom in 1837. She had just turned 18.

This statue of Queen Victoria stands in front of the Parliament Buildings in Victoria, British Columbia. Many places in the Commonwealth are named after Queen Victoria; Canada is the only country to honour her birthday with a statutory holiday. It falls on the Monday before May 24. I grew up referring to Victoria Day as the “May long weekend.” It wasn’t until I moved to Toronto that I first heard it called the “May two-four weekend.” For a long time, I thought that was because Queen Victoria’s birthday is actually on May 24.

But, no. It’s because beer is sold in cases of 24. I had never heard a case of beer called a “two-four” — that’s not a common term in Western Canada — and was completely oblivious to its link with beer.

And why is beer on the mind of patriotic Canadians during this particular weekend in May, you ask? It’s because the May long weekend is the unofficial start of Cottage Season in Ontario. (Don’t get me started on the whole cottage vs. cabin debate.)

Regional differences. Long may they reign. Just like British queens.

Northern Pintail

This elegant fellow is a Northern Pintail. I came across him while walking the seawall along Burrard Inlet about six weeks ago.

The Northern Pintail is rarely seen in my neighbourhood — this was my first-ever encounter — but Vancouver is on the Pacific Flyway and they are a migrating duck. And so, in honour of World Migratory Bird Day (that would be today), I’m happy to post this photo.

Through My Lens: Pretty Pink Parasols

It was another weird and wacky winter in Vancouver. Daffodils in January. The coldest February ever (since they started to keep records in 1937). The driest March since 1992 (which does not bode well for wildfire season).

Hello, climate change.

April, thank goodness, was blessedly normal.

April is cherry blossom season in Vancouver. The last of the blossoms are still in bloom, but they will be gone in a few days, I’m sure.

To celebrate the season this year, another public art installation was put up in the same square as last year’s Underbrellas. I don’t know what this year’s umbrellas are called, but I’m calling them the pretty pink parasols.

Whistler Train Wreck

And … as quickly as it arrived, the snow is gone (although there is talk of more to come).

But enough about our wacky winter weather. Let me tell you about my first ever winter day hike. A bunch of weekends ago, I was hanging out in Whistler with a bunch of friends. Our plan was to do some snowshoeing, but we had just one problem.

There wasn’t nearly enough snow. (I told you it’s been a wacky winter.)

So the showshoes got left in the car, and we proceeded to trek through the woods in our winter boots.

The hike we chose was a relatively flat and short (3 km) walk to the Whistler Train Wreck. I had heard about this hike only a year or two ago, and had put it on my list of hikes to do, but hadn’t yet had the chance.

The Whistler Train Wreck consists of a bunch of boxcars scattered through the forest by the Cheakamus River. Not that long ago, the only way you could get to the site was by walking illegally along the railway tracks. But train conductors don’t much like that and would report you if they saw you so that the police were waiting for you as you exited the woods.

In 2016, a suspension bridge was built over the Cheakamus River and what used to be an unlawful ramble along the tracks is now a quick and easy hike connecting to the much longer Sea to Sky Trail. The trailhead is on the road to Cheakamus Crossing, a new subdivision of Whistler that served as the Athlete’s Village during the 2010 Olympics.

And how did a train wreck end up in the middle of a forest, you ask? A lumber train heading south from Lillooet derailed here in 1956. The seven damaged boxcars were dragged clear of the tracks by local loggers hired by the train’s owner, the Pacific Great Eastern Railway. Left scattered among the trees in the forest, they’ve remained there ever since.

The sight of mangled boxcars in the forest is a little surreal, to say the least. In winter, even more so.

Here, take a look.

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Through My Lens: Snowy Woods

As you can tell by this photo, it finally happened. Winter is here.

After a couple of false alarms last week, snow has come to Vancouver. The polar vortex everyone is talking about? It’s here too. (Although, truth be told, what we call “cold” is considered positively balmy in the rest of Canada.)

The thing is, we’ve been crowing for weeks already about our super early spring. The daffodils were in full bloom more than four weeks ago — that’s two months earlier than usual — and our smugness was enough to make the rest of the country want to push us off the continent and set us adrift.

Those poor daffodils? With last night’s dump of snow, they’re goners.

I took the above photo late this afternoon on my walk through some snowy woods.

Happy Lunar New Year!

Welcome to the Year of the Pig!

In celebration of the new lunar year, the Coastal Lunar Lanterns were commissioned and are now hanging in Jack Poole Plaza on Vancouver’s waterfront. To acknowledge that the public art stands on unceded Coast Salish territory, the lanterns were created jointly by Indigenous artists from the Zihung tribe of the Atayal in Taiwan and of the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh nations.

The images on the lanterns show the coastal mountains and the sea, and a large mythological creature that helped create Burrard Inlet. The Coastal Lunar Lanterns are on display until February 18.

Happy Birthday, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra!

I went to a birthday party today. And oh, what a party. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra hosted 100 free musical performances to mark 100 years since its first-ever concert on January 26, 1919. For 12 hours today, 1000 musicians performed across 10 stages, including several at the Orpheum Theatre, the symphony’s home since 1977.

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra dress rehearsal, January 26, 2019

That’s where my friend and I headed early this morning. We wanted to catch the orchestra during its last rehearsal before tonight’s concert. I was thrilled — despite the occasional flashback to my sometimes tedious high-school band practices — to watch the symphony’s new (as of July 2018) Music Director Otto Tausk lead his musicians through a dress rehearsal of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Grieg’s Peer Gynt.

Maestro Bramwell Tovey’s last performance as Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, June 18, 2018

After a leisurely lunch, my friend and I returned for the afternoon and I was taken aback by how the crowds had grown since the morning. The lobby and auditorium were now filled to capacity. The most heart-warming sight were the dozens of strollers parked outside the box office; scores of parents had brought their toddlers to the Orpheum to introduce them to symphonic music. (Although we didn’t check out it out, there was also an Instrument Petting Zoo for the children.)

Vancouver is world famous for its natural beauty — which is a good enough reason to visit, no doubt. But culture? Not so much. That’s not what attracts the millions of tourists who visit Vancouver every year.

Even so, I personally think that the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra is the cultural jewel of this city and it is the arts organization I frequent the most.

Happy birthday, VSO!

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performs Verdi’s Requiem, November 12, 2016

Through My Lens: Christmas Moose

Is this not the most Canadian holiday display ever?

This moose is lighting up the North Point of Canada Place, where the cruise ships dock every summer. The pier does a good job of cleaning up for the holidays; every year it puts up a number of window and light displays, which it calls Christmas at Canada Place.

Some friends and I went out for drinks the other night at one of the hotel bars near the waterfront. When we finished imbibing, we took a walk along Canada Place to check out the light displays and so I could take some photos. That’s an almost-full moon just to the left of the moose’s antlers.

Vancouver is so pretty this time of year.

The Last Greyhound

It’s the end of an era today. At midnight tonight, Greyhound is suspending all services in Northern Ontario and Western Canada. The decision is justified, says the American-owned company, by a 41 percent drop in ridership since 2010.

Greyhound moves millions of Canadians every year, and has done so in British Columbia and Alberta since 1929. For those rural Canadians who don’t or can’t drive, losing the Greyhound means losing their ability to get to larger centres for services not available in their communities, like specialist medical appointments. It also prevents them from connecting with friends or family. And during our snowy, icy winters, travelling through mountainous BC is far safer by bus than by car.

It’s already being reported that 87 percent of Greyhound’s routes will be covered by smaller, private operators — including Indigenous-owned companies — which are ramping up as we speak. This morning the federal government announced funding to help fill the gaps and that it is working on a long-term national transport solution.

My student days of 18-hour Greyhound treks between Edmonton and Vancouver are (thankfully) long behind me. (I assure you, there is little that is more depressing than a 3 a.m. rest stop at Blue River in the dead of winter.) But I still regularly take the Greyhound for short hops between Calgary, Red Deer, and Edmonton. I typically take it during non-peak hours and the buses are always full. My fellow passengers are people of all ages and social classes. Many are tourists. Some of us choose to take the bus, while others don’t have a choice, In a country like Canada, with too much geography, public transit is not just a service. It’s a right.

This photograph is of the last Greyhound I will ever take in Canada, which I rode from Calgary to Red Deer last month.