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Pandemic Murals

Midday on a Saturday afternoon about six weeks ago, I went for a walk through downtown Vancouver to see what it looked like during a pandemic lockdown.

It was heart breaking.

There was no traffic to speak of. Tables and chairs on outdoor patios were covered in a thick layer of dust. All the stores were shuttered and most of them boarded up with plywood to discourage break-ins.

That was the day when it hit me what this pandemic is doing to our society.

A few weeks later, I heard that many of the boarded-up stores had hired artists to paint murals. So I went back for another look.

Many of the murals are rather uplifting. They certainly made me feel much more cheerful.

This week, British Columbia began Phase 2 of its pandemic lockdown. And so I took yet another walk to see the transformation.

Traffic levels were what you’d expect for a sunny afternoon. Many of the stores — which were never ordered closed, but they closed anyways — are open again with all physical-distancing measures in place.

It still doesn’t look like Vancouver of three months ago, but it’s a glimpse of what our new normal will be.

For now, at any rate.

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.

Expo Lands

Expo Lands 1

When Expo 86 closed its gates 30 years ago today, it finished as a far more successful world’s fair than it ever expected to be. Sure, Vancouver had high hopes for the fair and saw it as a great way to celebrate its 100th birthday, as well as the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway that brought British Columbia into Confederation. A total of 38 countries participated, but it was getting the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba to all participate that was the real coup. And the number of visitors was far greater than predicted. Most British Columbians credit Expo with bringing the province out of one of its worst recessions.

Expo Lands 2

On October 14, 1986, the question on everyone’s mind was: what happens to the fairgrounds? Prior to Expo 86, the 90-hectare site was an industrial wasteland. Sawmills and railway lands had been expropriated to make room for the fairgrounds (it boggles my mind that Vancouver had working sawmills in its downtown core in my lifetime), but with rezoning came all sorts of possibilities.

In the end, what came to be known as the Expo lands was sold to a single Chinese developer. The price was controversial, but in return for a good deal on the land, the developer agreed to build child-care centres, playgrounds, a community centre, and a school. Furthermore, the condos had to include a certain percentage of family-size units and affordable housing.

Expo Lands 3

The result? A slow and careful development of a entirely new inner-city neighbourhood that, once populated, doubled the number of people living in Vancouver’s downtown core. It’s not completely finished; the last section still remains a parking lot while awaiting the demolishment of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts ― the remnants of the freeway into downtown Vancouver that never saw completion.

Vancouver is consistently rated as one of the most livable cities in the world and the development of the Expo lands has a lot to do with that rating. Today, the area is covered in condo towers. Agreed, they are not the most creative architecturally. But you only have to take a walk through the neighbourhood and marvel that, only 30 years ago, there was nothing there but a wide swath of empty land.

Expo Lands 4

Through My Lens: Float Planes

Float Planes

There was a wee bit of excitement in Vancouver today about a couple of visitors. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are in British Columbia for an eight-day visit and today was their whistle-stop tour of Vancouver.

What I find amusing about the media coverage of the Royal Tour is how every story highlights that the Royals are being flown around the province by float plane. Float planes are, to put it mildly, a way of life in coastal BC. For some communities, it’s the only way in or out.

I took this photo of the planes docked at the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre (aka Downtown Vancouver’s seaplane terminal) last summer. The Duke and Duchess arrived here from Victoria this morning ― by float plane.

Through My Lens: Granville Lights

Granville Street

I have no particular reason for posting this photo, except that I think it’s kind of cool. Granville Street is the heart of Vancouver’s entertainment district and it can get a little zany at night ― especially on weekends.

Those white vertical lights you see in the photo were installed to dress up the street for the 2010 Winter Olympics, as a nod to its neon past. At one time, Granville Street was said to have the highest concentration of neon in the world.

Canada Place

Canada Place 1

There’s been some big-time reminiscing going on this month in the Vancouver media about Expo 86. Yup, it’s been 30 years since the World’s Fair came to town.

More than 22 million people checked out Expo 86 between May 2 and October 13, 1986. That’s an awful lot of people and Expo has long been considered a turning point in our city’s history. According to Wikipedia, Vancouver went from being “a sleepy provincial backwater to a city with global clout.” A tad excessive on both counts, I’d say, but that’s Wikipedia for you. At any rate, you get the idea. Expo 86 was a really, really big deal for Vancouver.

I wasn’t living here at the time, so my Expo experience was limited to three days at the height of summer when I made a visit home to my parents. I remember some phenomenal pavilions and, yes, a lot of time spent standing in line to get into those pavilions.

The Canada Pavilion was located at what is today known as Canada Place. One of the better legacies of Expo 86 and now an iconic Vancouver landmark, Canada Place is home to the Vancouver Convention Centre, the Pan Pacific Hotel, and Vancouver’s cruise ship terminal.

One other fun bit are the Heritage Horns located on the roof of the Pan Pacific Hotel. Every day at noon, the ten horns sound the first four notes of “O Canada.”

Depending on which way the wind is blowing, I can hear them from my place, more than two kilometres away.

Canada Place 2

Through My Lens: Robson Square Ice Rink

Robson Square Ice Rink

Robson Square Ice Rink was looking mighty festive tonight. I wasn’t the only one who thought so ― check out the line of people on the left side of the photo. They’re all waiting for their turn on the ice.

Gastown Steam Clock

Gastown Steam Clock Close-up

The Gastown Steam Clock is one of those attractions that visitors to Vancouver love to seek out. Tourists all want their photos taken in front of the whistling clock ― it’s hard to think of Gastown without it.

So imagine my surprise last month when I was wandering around Gastown and discovered the steam clock has gone walkabout. Turns out it’s in the shop for repairs and maintenance. In its place stands a cardboard replica ― which, sadly, doesn’t do it justice.

Why the love affair with the iconic steam clock?

Gastown Steam Clock

Although designed to blend in with the Victorian architecture that surrounds it (it’s modelled after an 1875 English clock design), Gastown’s Steam Clock was built much more recently ― in 1977. The largest of its five steam whistles comes from the retired CPR steam tug SS Naramata.

The clock serves a more utilitarian purpose than merely decorative, though. It was built to cover a steam vent on the northwest corner of Cambie and Water. (An aside: did you know that a large section of downtown Vancouver, including BC Place, Rogers Arena, the Pacific Centre Mall, and the Vancouver Central Library, is heated by steam? I did not. The things I learn doing research for this blog.)

Gastown Steam Clock Night

Gastown’s Steam Clock sounds the Westminster Chimes on the quarter-hour, so I guess you could say it is Vancouver’s Big Ben. That’s probably stretching it a tad, but the clock is beloved by tourists and locals alike.

Repairs are due to be completed sometime this month. When the steam clock is once again back in its place, all will be right in Gastown’s world.

Happy Birthday, Christ Church Cathedral!

Christ Church Cathedral Day

And it’s yet another birthday post, this time for Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral. The congregation worshipped together for the first time 125 years ago today at 720 Granville (which, funnily enough, is now the site of a Starbucks) and was made the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of New Westminster of the Anglican Church of Canada in 1929.

Although Christ Church is not the oldest congregation in Vancouver, it does worship in Vancouver’s oldest church building. That would be the stone building standing at the corner of Burrard and West Georgia. It was constructed on land bought from the Canadian Pacific Railway, but for several years the congregation didn’t get much beyond finishing the basement, which was nicknamed the Root House. When the CPR objected to what they called an eyesore, the current building was built in the Gothic Revival architectural style. The exterior is sandstone, its ceiling is cedar, and the beams and floor are made from old growth Douglas fir. The building was dedicated in February 1895.


Christ Church is located right in the centre of Vancouver’s downtown district. In the 1970s, the congregation voted to tear down the existing building and replace it with an Arthur Erickson–designed high-rise tower, but public opposition was so strong that in 1976 the cathedral was declared a heritage building. The building has been renovated six times; its most recent renovation was completed in 2004 with the installation of a new Kenneth Jones organ. The congregation had plans to build a bell tower, but before it had the chance to do so, the city passed a by-law restricting church bells. Christ Church is the only church in downtown Vancouver without a steeple.

A special treat this Christmas season is the almost life-sized nativity figures on display in the west alcove of the church; these are on loan from the Hudson’s Bay and are the same nativity figures that used to be displayed in the store’s windows at Christmas time. They were carved in Italy in the 1950s and belonged to Woodward’s before they were passed on to The Bay. Christ Church Cathedral asked to borrow them this Christmas season as the congregation begins a year-long celebration of its 125th anniversary.


Holy Family

The Magi

I’ve been to the cathedral for many a worship service ― these photos were taken last night after the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols ― as well as several concerts and author readings for which the cathedral is a popular venue. After arriving very early many years ago to get a good seat to hear Timothy Findley read from his newest novel (and, as it turned out, only months before his death), I eavesdropped while a woman seated behind me explained to her companion that Christ Church was known as the church of lawyers because the funerals for the city’s most powerful lawyers are typically held there. It was one of the more bizarre bits of trivia I have ever heard about the cathedral.

But then, I like to think that there are 125 years’ worth of weird and wonderful stories to be told about Christ Church Cathedral. If only its walls could talk.

Christ Church Cathedral Night