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.
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.
Here’s one more Vancouver Biennale photo, this one from the 2005 to 2007 exhibition. It’s called Engagement and was created by Dennis Oppenheim, an American. It overlooks English Bay at Sunset Beach Park.
Speaking of cheerful, here are the guys from A-maze-ing Laughter, the hit installation of the second Vancouver Biennale. Fourteen supersize cast-bronze figures with smiling, happy faces completely transformed Morton Park in English Bay when they were installed in 2009.
The beauty of A-maze-ing Laughter is that it’s completely interactive in the best way possible. You can’t help but smile at the figures, touch them, imitate them, and, for some of us, climb on them.
The artist is Yue Minjun from China. That’s his face smiling back at us.
A-maze-ing Laughter is probably one of the most popular public art installations Vancouver has ever had. Like all of the Biennale pieces, it was for sale when the two-year exhibition was over. All of Vancouver wanted the figures to stay exactly where they were, but at first it seemed impossible, due to the hefty price tag of $5 million. But when Yue Minjun saw photos of people interacting with the sculptures, he dropped the price to $1.5 million with the condition that they remain in a public location. Thanks to a private donation by Chip Wilson, founder of lululemon, and his wife Shannon, the laughing men are here to stay.
One of the most surprising discoveries from my research about the legacy landmarks of Expo 86 was when I learned about the origins of the inukshuk at English Bay. Turns out this iconic sculpture is the same one that stood in front of the Northwest Territories Pavilion at Expo. The territorial government commissioned Alvin Kanak of Rankin Inlet to create the sculpture made of grey granite. After Expo, it was given to the City of Vancouver, and it has stood in English Bay since 1987.
It’s the middle of August already. There are only a few weeks left of what has been a fabulous summer in Vancouver.
What else is there to say?
Oh, who am I kidding?
I’m no suburbanite.
Walking through Deer Lake Park while I’m hanging out in Solo is all well and fine, but I couldn’t wait to get back to my own urban park. (That would be Stanley.) I even felt a pang while crossing the Lion’s Gate Bridge the other day on my way back from snowshoeing with a friend. I looked at the wide expanse of Stanley Park from high above Burrard Inlet and said, “Ohhhh, I miss my park!”
What I like best about “my” park is how I can fit a walk through it in between errands. Like today. I returned some library books, headed over to Lost Lagoon to say hello to the ducks and to check if the river otters were out (they were), walked back along the beach, picked up a few groceries, went to the post office, and then came home.
And what did I see on that walk?
(What didn’t I see?)
Lots and lots of trees. The beach.
Ducks (including mallards, Wood Ducks, American Wigeons, American Coots, Common Mergansers, and Lesser Scaups), Canada Geese, a couple of Spotted Towhees, the above-mentioned river otters, and a raccoon.
And that was a short walk.
Oh. And, um, daffodils.
In full bloom.
I can’t let last month slip by without acknowledging that my neighbourhood, Vancouver’s West End, was awarded at the beginning of November the title of Great Neighbourhood in the fifth annual Great Places of Canada competition. (The contest is sponsored by the Canadian Institute of Planners, the same folks who bestowed the title of Great Street of Canada on Lacombe, Alberta, a couple of years ago.)
What makes the West End so great, according to the jurors of this year’s contest? They selected it because of its walkability and its diversity, and for the natural beauty that is its heart and soul: Stanley Park and the beaches of English Bay.
In short: it’s a community that rates high on the livability scale.
About that walkability: the main streets lining the edges of the neighbourhood allow easy access into and out of the West End for vehicles ― both public and private ― but what’s unique about the neighbourhood are the numerous parkettes, round-abouts, and one-way streets used to discourage traffic on residential streets. More than 40 percent of the population walks to work ― that’s a higher percentage than anywhere else in Vancouver. West Enders also typically walk to access their services, whether it’s their grocery or produce store, their butcher, fishmonger, or baker, the liquor store or pet store, or a doctor, dentist, or hairdresser. (Your every need met within a ten-minute walk!)
About that diversity: the West End, in particular Davie Village, is home to Western Canada’s largest LGBT community. Almost half of the neighbourhood’s 45,000 residents are between the ages of 20 and 39, a demographic reflected in the high number of residents (80 percent) who rent their homes. That, and a large concentration of Asian language students, makes for a high turnover in residents.
Despite being a transient population, the West End has more children than many areas of Vancouver traditionally considered family neighbourhoods. Those children are educated in two elementary schools and a high school that celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014. The West End is also home to a large concentration of seniors (evident by the number of times I have almost been mowed down by one of them on a scooter). They have their own community centre at Barclay Manor, a heritage house in the centre of the West End.
Vancouver’s West End is bordered by West Georgia Street to the north, English Bay to the south, Burrard Street to the east, and Stanley Park to the west. As is all of Vancouver, the West End is unceded Coast Salish territory that was logged and developed after the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway. By the 1890s, it was home to Vancouver’s elite. When those elites crossed False Creek and began to settle in Shaugnessy, the West End became the transient community ― peopled with new arrivals to the city and the country ― that remains its defining characteristic to this day. Robson, Denman, and Davie streets became the business hubs, and apartments buildings were built: low-rise ones in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, and multi-storey towers from the late 1950s on. Even so, many of the original houses from the late 1800s are still in use, creating an interesting architectural mix of heritage and modern buildings.
With everything it has to offer as a great place to live, work, and play, the West End is not without problems, however. Its housing is the least affordable in the city, yet the median annual income of its residents is far below that of Vancouver as a whole. St. Paul’s Hospital is being relocated some three kilometres away, leaving no acute care facility in the entire downtown peninsula. This is a worrisome issue in a city where a major earthquake that could happen at any time is likely to collapse all of the bridges that provide access to the downtown peninsula.
Development continues at lightning speed, and the buildings are becoming taller all the time. In a three-block stretch of Davie Street alone,
three five residential condo towers are being proposed ― that’s a lot of construction in my near future only steps from my door.
But for all that, I wouldn’t live anywhere else. And so, here’s a photo that shows everything I love about my neighbourhood: natural beauty, architectural diversity ― and my own beach (that I, um, share with several thousand neighbours).
I know summer has well and truly arrived when the West End Farmers Market returns.
As it did today.
And it’ll be here, every Saturday, until the end of October.
Oh joy, oh bliss. Shopping at your local farmers market is the best way to maintain a 100-mile diet.
Besides the West End Farmers Market where I shop (located alongside Nelson Park), Vancouver has six other summer markets. (There are also two winter markets.) You can buy fresh produce, cheese, baked goods, meat, poultry, and fish, and artisan products such as olives or fruit jams or soap. Vancouverites spend $8 million a year at their farmers markets and support 265 local farmers and artisans in doing so.
The best part? Everything tastes like summer. Truly.
Go on. What are you waiting for?
Just in case I am giving you the impression that only Europe knows how to dress for Christmas, here is a photo I took yesterday. This apartment building was built in 1912 and is a lovely piece of the West End’s historic past.