My favourite Vancouver beach is Third Beach. Like Second Beach, it’s part of Stanley Park, but it is enough of a walk from my home that it feels like a destination beach. And with its small parking lot, it’s never as crowded as some of the more popular beaches on the other side of English Bay.
Much of the forest behind Third Beach was cleared by the military during World War II to make room for an army barracks. The soldiers were there to command a gun battery at Ferguson Point and a lookout point opposite Siwash Rock, both of which overlook Third Beach. The gun installation is no longer there, but the lookout still is.
It’s odd, some 80 years later, to think of Stanley Park as a strategic military site, but because of its location at the entrance to Burrard Inlet and the Port of Vancouver, it most definitely was.
Second Beach is the smallest of Vancouver’s beaches. It’s located alongside the Stanley Park Seawall, next to Second Beach Pool and Ceperley Meadow.
The beach is a popular picnic site, especially for large, multi-generational families, because of all the amenities available. The meadow provides lots of room for kicking around a ball, and in addition to the beach and the pool, there are two playgrounds and a concession stand.
English Bay Beach is the most urban-looking of Vancouver’s beaches, thanks to its close proximity to the residential towers of the West End.
Also known as First Beach (although no one calls it that), English Bay Beach has been popular with the residents of Vancouver since the 1890s, which is when they first began building summer cottages along the bay. Two of those cottages were still standing when I moved to the neighbourhood some 20 years ago, but they’ve since been down torn down and replaced with a boutique condo.
Typically at the end of July, more than half a million people descend on English Bay Beach for three nights of fireworks competition during the annual Celebration of Light. Not this year, of course — and who would have thought I would miss all that chaos?
Instead, this year, English Bay Beach became infamous for its beach log jail when our iconic beach logs were locked up behind metal cages for the first ten weeks of the pandemic. The reason? To avoid large groups congregating on the logs.
English Bay Beach is popular with swimmers and although the lifeguards are back during this summer of Covid, the floating slide is not.
Maybe next year.
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.
Here’s something pretty for you all to look at. The roses in Stanley Park are in full bloom right now, as they are every summer from June until September.
This year feels a little more special since the Stanley Park Rose Garden is celebrating its 100th birthday. It is the largest public rose garden in Western Canada and has a total of 3500 rose bushes spread over 60 beds. The Rose Garden is situated between Stanley Park’s rainforest and a small grove of Akebono cherry trees that bloom every April.
If there ever was an opportune time to stop and smell the roses, it is right now.
I was beyond thrilled to see my first ever Steller’s Jay a couple of weeks ago while on a long walk through Stanley Park.
About six of them darted back and forth from the trees to the seeds put out by a fellow birder and back to the trees again.
With migration season upon us, you never know who you might bump into while out for a walk in the 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.
Is this not the wettest, coldest spring ever?
I know, I know. I have no right to complain considering how many parts of the country are experiencing their longest winter in decades. Southern Ontario is in the grips of an ice storm as we speak, Edmonton has broken a 44-year record with 167 consecutive overnight lows below 0 °C, and Calgary’s forecast is for 10 to 20 centimetres of snow.
I have absolutely no right to complain.
And yet, I am. See the dark clouds in this photo? That’s what the skies in Vancouver have looked like for the better part of this winter and our oh-so-cold spring.
I’m posting this photo because these daffodils have been the one bright spot for me this spring. They appeared about a month ago along the seawall in English Bay, a new addition courtesy the Vancouver Parks Board. I love that they were planted in the middle of the grass, rather than set off in some flower bed somewhere.
Nothing says April like a crowd of daffodils.
Except in Canada, I suppose, where nothing says April like one last blast of winter.
Typically, in February I am posting photos of crocuses. Instead, here’s a photo I took this morning of the snow-covered rocks along the beach at English Bay.
Which means it’s not a typical February. (Although … come to think of it, last year’s February wasn’t so typical either.)
Vancouver got dumped with about 25 centimetres of snow yesterday and last night. It’s not an unusual amount of snow for us — we often have one, maybe two good snowstorms every winter — but what is unusual is to get so much snow so late in the season. It’s almost March, folks.
The crocuses, I assure you, are in full bloom, but are well buried today. And tonight’s forecast is for rain, so tomorrow is going to be an unholy muddy mess.
Now I’m really back.
Back in Vancouver, that is. After three months away, I’m so happy to see my English Bay again.
Isn’t it beautiful?