And … boom.
No sooner is it officially summer and we’re in the middle of our first heat wave. Heat waves in Vancouver are rare, which means few homes have air conditioning.
Which means I’m awfully warm.
Some friends surprised me with a picnic at Sunset Beach this evening, and instantly I was able to cool down. There’s often a breeze that comes in off the bay, but it also helped that the clouds moved in to block the sun’s heat from us as we enjoyed our meal.
Which means I didn’t take this photo tonight.
But you get the idea. There’s nothing like a picnic on the beach while watching the sun set.
It’s the first day of summer! Finally!!
This week also marks the start of Vancouver’s outdoor music festival season. The big ones are the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, which starts this weekend, and the Vancouver Folk Music Festival at Jericho Beach in July.
Vancouver is not that different from other Canadian cities in having great outdoor music festivals, but what we do have that is uniquely West Coast are some pretty spectacular settings.
Like the stage at Jack Poole Plaza with the North Shore Mountains as its backdrop. This photo is of Spirit of the West performing on Canada Day a few years ago.
For three nights every summer, three different countries compete in Vancouver’s annual fireworks competition, known as the Celebration of Light. More than half a million people from the ’burbs descend upon my neighbourhood to watch some pretty impressive pyrotechnic displays set off from a barge moored in English Bay. This year will be the 27th consecutive competition. It’s the longest running offshore fireworks competition in the world and, I am told, BC’s largest event.
Which is obvious once you’ve tried to make your way through those crowds.
I used to overlook English Bay from a ninth floor apartment and I could watch from my balcony. Now, I walk down to the beach a few minutes before they’re scheduled to start and I always have a great view.
It’s one of the perks of living in the West End.
One activity that is definitely possible here only in the summer is swimming in one of Vancouver’s five outdoor pools. This being Canada, the pools are only open between May and September. Two of them front English Bay, so they qualify as “oceanfront pools.” (The mountain views are a bonus.)
By no means is Vancouver a tropical destination, but for a couple months every year we put on a pretty good pretense.
Vancouver is at its best in the summer. Because of that, and because summer is usually the busiest time in my line of business, I rarely do my travelling in July and August.
This year is going to be an exception, however, as I’m gearing up to spend the summer in Europe. I’m incredibly excited about the opportunity that has come my way. But I am also feeling just a little bit wistful about all the fun I am going to miss right here at home.
And so, for the next few posts, I’m going to show you what is so spectacular about Vancouver in the summer.
For my first photo, I give you Siwash Rock at dusk. Dusk in Vancouver in the summer is late — I took this photo in early August just after 9 pm — and that means there is no excuse for not going for a long walk after work.
Walking the Stanley Park seawall is probably one of the city’s most popular activities for locals and tourists alike. And although we locals do it year round, it is so much more pleasant on a summer evening.
In my last post, I mentioned that one of Lost Lagoon’s four remaining Mute Swans had been killed by a river otter. These furry fellows can be found in Lost Lagoon, but also like to hang out wherever there’s fish. Sometimes, that brings them to the beach in English Bay
Which is where I took this photo.
River otters are not the same as sea otters, so don’t be confused by the fact that they can be found near the ocean. They go wherever the fish are, so if that means they hang out on the beach, so be it.
Sea otters, I’ve been told, are not found in the Salish Sea. They live on the west coast of Vancouver Island or along BC’s northern coast. One clue, apparently, to tell the two types of otters apart: river otters almost never swim on their backs, while sea otters often do.
Indulge me, if you will, as I post yet another set of bird photos. This is the Mute Swan, which, until last August, was a common sight at Stanley Park’s Lost Lagoon.
The reason Lost Lagoon no longer has any resident swans is that the last three swans were officially retired and now live at an animal sanctuary somewhere in the Fraser Valley. The move came after a fourth swan was killed by river otters. The swans are geriatric, and it was decided they should live out their remaining years without the threat of predators.
The Mute Swan is not native to North American, but you see them everywhere on this continent, mainly in city parks. Back in the 1960s, there were at least 70 of them living at Lost Lagoon. These days, however, the caretakers at Stanley Park are keen to ensure that native species thrive over invasive species. (I could tell you about the blackberries, but that’s a whole other post.)
Don’t worry, though. This isn’t the last you’ll see of swans in Stanley Park. Because the park is on the Pacific Flyway, you have a good chance of seeing either the Trumpeter Swan or the Tundra Swan as they pass through when they migrate — and they are far more likely to stop in if there are no more of the territorial Mute Swans.
But, invasive species or not, aren’t they magnificent creatures?
One last note: The Mute Swan is the national bird of Denmark. Does that surprise you? It sure did me. I would have guessed England, but apparently that country is still trying in the process of choosing a national bird. As is Canada.
Today is the first day of Vancouver Bird Week and to make it a little more interesting, the city is taking a vote on which of four birds should be Vancouver’s Official Bird.
Vancouver has had a City Bird for three years now. The Northwestern Crow was selected in 2014. In 2015, the honour went to the Black-capped Chickadee and in 2016 to the Peregrine Falcon. But this year is different: the honour of City Bird will become permanent.
Oh, the pressure!
None of the previous City Birds are considered eligible. Bummer, as my favourite Vancouver bird is the Black-capped Chickadee. Also not eligible are any birds that are a city, provincial/state, or national bird elsewhere. (That kinda narrows it down. Another choice of mine would have been the Bald Eagle, of which Vancouver has plenty.) Two final stipulations are that the potential City Bird cannot be viewed negatively by any cultural groups (?), and cannot be commonly found outside of the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver’s City Bird has to be uniquely West Coast.
So, which birds made the Final Four??
Which one did I vote for?
Now that would be telling.
But may the Best Bird win.
Not this year. We’ve had one of the snowiest, coldest winters I can remember, and I’ve lived here off and on for a good chunk of my life. This winter we had a white Christmas for the first time in almost a decade, and for the first time ever in my memory, the snow stuck around for an entire month. It arrived in early December and it didn’t leave until after New Year’s when the temperature finally warmed up and the rain washed it all away.
I expected we would have a normal winter going forward. But no.
We got another record dump of the white stuff this past weekend. Because we don’t usually get snow, what most Canadians take for granted, like snow plows and snow tires, we do not have enough of. And without plowed roads or snow tires, you are not going to get very far. Ever been in an articulated bus that was sliding backwards down a hill? I have. It was not pleasant.
So today was a snow day for a lot of people in this town.
And there is more snow in the forecast.
Ten years ago today, a massive windstorm devastated Stanley Park. Hurricane-force winds off English Bay levelled 41 hectares of forest, about 10,000 trees in all, some of which were more than 500 years old. It was the most violent windstorm to hit Stanley Park in 40 years.
Although it was overwhelming to see the devastation, the forest was long overdue for a regeneration. The wide open spaces changed the look of parts of the park and increased the diversity of both plant life and animals. Woodpeckers, for example, are now thriving. More than 15,000 trees and shrubs were planted by park staff and volunteers. I was walking near Prospect Point recently and it struck me how tall those young trees are already.
I was out of town on December 15, 2006, but I remember taking a walk through the park on Christmas Day — as much as it was possible to walk through the park since every trail was blocked by fallen trees — with my mouth open wide in shock. The seawall was also extensively damaged and remained closed for some 18 months until the repairs could be finished and the cliff tops above the seawall stabilized.
This photo is of a tree that came down near the Georgia Street entrance to Stanley Park. It lies near where it fell, trimmed of its foliage, and has been left as a memorial to that storm. It is now a popular photo stop for tourists, who I am sure have no idea why it is lying there.