Post marathon wanderings

8 May 2017

Full of luscious Malaysian food and rested from sitting in the cool of the restaurant we decided we could all stand a bit more wandering along the seawall and Stanley Park. Apart from anything, Jen had a few things she wanted to show us. It was mid afternoon by the time we got back to the Devonian Harbour Park but a few of the slower marathon runners were still coming past in dribs and drabs. 

In the ninteenth century this was the Hawaiian settlement of Kanaka Rancherie, also known as the cherry orchard because it was full of cherry trees. While the area may have changed a great deal since the 1920’s when development began in earnest, the trees remain, making a pretty pink petal frame to my photos of the little boats on the water. On the grass a huge fallen tree, the bark almost completely rotted away, had become an unofficial climbing frame for local children. The complicated tangle of its rootball fascinated me. It would make a marvellous piece of artwork.

The park sits at the end of the Burrard Inlet with Coal Harbour to the south east. Coal deposits were discovered on the bluff overlooking the Harbour by Captain Vancouver. The coal turned out to be low grade ano was never mined but the unfortunate name Coal Harbour, with its undertones of an industrial wasteland, stuck. Despite the name, this is a lovely place to walk. The water is clear and blue, the parks are well tended and clean and, behind it all a backdrop of pines, mountains, orange dockside cranes and skyscrapers surround the Harbour. Some of the marathon barriers were still in place along the harbour path but we walked along the grass towards Stanley Park

The path curved around to meet the edge of the park on the seaward side of the Lost Lagoon Causeway. This corner was dominated by a large building, designed in the Tudor revival style with a strangely complicated roof and lots of white criss cross fencing. This, I later discovered, was the Vancouver Rowing Club, the oldest sports club in Vancouver, opened in 1899. The current building was designed and built by J.W. Keagey of Watson-Donald Architects in 1988 and replaced the original 1911 built clubhouse. Apparently HRH the Duke of Edinburgh became a patron of the club in 1975.

Rather than follow the harbour path, we cut across Stanley Park Drive and headed up onto a grassy area enclosed by trees. This was dominated by a statue of Lord Stanley welcoming people to Stanley Park with open arms, just as he had when he officially opened the park back in 1889. The statue was unveiled in May 1960 by Governor General Georges Vanier. It is inscribed with the words Stanley used when he declared the park open.

Near the path we spotted another statue and went to investigate. It turned out to be of Robert Burns, the National Bard of Scotland,  unveiled by British Prime minister J. Ramsay MacDonald in 1928. It seemed odd to find a statue of Burns so far from Scotland but Scots are the third largest ethnic group in Canada and were amongst the first settlers in the country. Scottish Canadians have embraced Burns as their patron poet and Robbie Burns Day is widely celebrated all over Canada. ‘Gung Haggis Fat Choy,’ a hybrid of Chinese New Year and Robbie Burns Day, has been celebrated in Vancouver since the late 1990s.

Further along the path we found the Queen Victoria memorial with a bust of the Queen, a lion’s head drinking fountain and an inscription. The lions head no longer has water flowing from it and the two bronze cups that once adorned it have been removed as so many were in England, possibly as a disease prevention measure. The statue was built in 1905 using money raised by local school children selling special memorial cards. It was unveiled by premier Sir Richard McBride in 1906.

We carried on along the edge of the harbour looking across the sparkling water at the little boats and the skyline of Coal Harbour on the opposite bank. Soon we were passing the long blue buildings of the Vancouver Yacht Club. With its long jetty and all the masts clanging in the breeze it almost made me wish I knew how to sail.

Now we were heading towards Brockton Point and the bridge to Deadman Island. This small island, called “skwtsa7s”, meaning simply “island,” by the Squamish people, was once the scene of a bloody battle between rival tribes. Legend has it that fire flowers grew where the warriors fell and frightened the foe into retreat. The name of the island reflects this legend. Later it was used in native tree burial ceremonies, where Squamish dead were sealed into red cedar boxes and tied to the upper boughs of the trees. Before the Mountain View Cemetery was opened in 1887, settlers also buried their dead here and in the late 1800’s it was used as a quarantine for smallpox victims.

A heron stood, statue like, on a hump of seaweed on the edge of the clear water watching for fish. Behind him the arched bridge looked quite elegant. The little island seemed serene but it has been shrouded in controversy for centuries. The land was not included in the Stanley Park lease and, in 1899, Theodore Ludgate took advantage of this oversight and leased it from the federal government. Civic officials, who’d wrongly assumed the island was part of Stanley Park, tried to evict him and a legal battle ensued. Meanwhile Ludgate himself evicted the squatters who’d been living there, got on with building a mill and chopped down all the trees. Eventually, in 1911, Ludgate won the legal battle to remain on the island but he broke the terms of his lease. In 1930 the federal government leased the land to the city to be used as a park.

When we reached the little bridge we were met by large metal gates and guards. The park never materialised. Today it is home to Vancouver’s Naval Reserve Division, HMCS Discovery and the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station. It’s said the ghosts of the Squamish and those early settlers still haunt the place though. At night strange sounds are heard, rattling bones, ghostly footsteps and even green glows in the trees that take on human form. For now the land is still leased by the city but its ownership is controversial. The Musqueam First Nation claim the island as part of its land claim in the area.

The island straddles the water between Stanley Park and Coal Harbour almost directly opposite the Vancouver Convention Centre where we collected Commando’s race pack on Thursday. When we were there we didn’t know about the living roof. Now we could see it quite clearly.   Beside the building a giant cruise ship was docked. Whether it was the same one Commando had thought was a building or not I couldn’t tell.

We’d now reached the peninsula of Brockton Point, named after Francis Brockton, the engineer of HMS Plumper, who found the vein of coal that gave Coal Harbour its name. Here we turned away from the shore, crossed Stanley Park Drive and crossed a car park. For a moment I was slightly disappointed to leave the Sea behind, then I saw a totem pole peeking up from behind the trees. It isn’t every day you see a real live totem pole and here there were lots of them. As we rushed towards them, Commando caught his foot in a root and almost fell. Luckily he caught himself at the last moment and it turned into a stumble rather than a fall. Even so, I couldn’t help laughing a little, especially as he’d made such a big deal of me not looking where I was going when I fell on Friday.
“That was karma for me taking the Mickey out of you the other day wasn’t it?” he said.

The wonderful poles were carved from red cedar and each represents a person or event. The first pole we saw was plain cedar and turned out to be relatively new. It was carved by Robert Yelton and other members of the Squamish Nation in 2009 in honour of his mother, Rose Cole Yelton, the last of the Squamish community in Brockton.  Each of the beautifully carved figures has meaning.

Rose’s totem pole was set a little apart from the others, which were all smaller (or seamed so) and far more colourful. In the 1920’s the park board bought the first four of these totem poles, carved in the 1880’s, from Alert Bay on Vancouver Island and erected them at Lumberman’s Arch on the other side of the park. Later more were purchased from Haida Gwaii, an archipelago on the north coast of BC and the BC central coast Rivers Inlet, to celebrate the 1936 Golden Jubilee. The poles were moved to Brockton Point in the 1960’s. They are now a major tourist attraction, although many are actually now replicas of the originals which have been sent to museums to preserve them.

Originals or modern replicas, it was impossible to tell which was which and we  could have stood admiring the marvellously carved poles all day but time was getting on. We were about to carry on when a wonderfully contorted tree stump caught my eye.  Behind it was a beautiful bronze sculpture.

This, it turned out, was the Shore to Shore monument, created by master carver Ts’uts’umutl Luke Marston as a tribute to his family. His great-great grandfather was Portuguese Joe Silvey, who came to B.C. around 1858 from the Azores. The sculpture also honours Joe’s two Coast Salish wives, the first Khaltinaht, who died of tuberculosis, and the second Kwatleematt, Marston’s great-great grandmother.

We slowly traversed the monument, awed by its beauty. It took Marston five long years to complete. Each piece was carved in wood and then cast in bronze and each tells part of his family story. The three pronged centrepiece, so reminiscent of the totems we’d just seen, represents a cod fishing lure in honor of Joe, who fished, sailed, built ships and logged the land. The symbols carved upon it tell the tale of the family’s life and the three statues standing beneath it are Joe and his two wives. The whole thing is topped by an eagle and surrounded by a mosaic of black and white stones brought from Pico Island, where Joe was born. Together it perfectly reflects the history of the Portuguese settlers, the Coast Saltish people and the wonderfully eclectic mixture of cultures and nationalities that make up this city.

By now were all getting rather overheated out in the sun so Jen lead us across the peninsular to the seawall walk on the opposite side. Her plan was cut back through the Lumberman’s Arch Walk and head back towards the beach, not quite a short cut, but close enough and far more shady. As we rounded the bend before Lumberman’s Arch I spotted a mermaid like bronze sitting on a rock just off shore. She reminded me of the sculptures we’d seen in the harbour in Paphos.

The sculpture, by Elek Imredy, is called Girl in a Wetsuit and a closer look revealed she really was wearing a wetsuit, had flippers on her feet and had a diving mask pushed up onto her forehead as if she’d just emerged from the water. Although the sculpture has a look of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid, it depicts a far more modern version and a far better reflection of the sporty, outdoor loving people of Vancouver.

The shade of the trees was welcome and, half way across the park we came upon the Japanese Canadian War Memorial, a tribute to the Japanese Canadian soldiers who fought in wars for Canada. The tall column engraved with the names of the fallen was designed by James Benzie and unveiled in 1920. At the top of the memorial there is a light. In 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbour, it was switched off and was not reignited until August 1985.

By now we were little more than a mile from the spot on English Beach where we’d stood to cheer the marathon runners earlier in the day. When we set out this morning the mood had been quite despondent. We’d travelled six thousand miles for a marathon and we’d be going home with no run and no medal to show for it. The disappointment and the race seemed like distant memories now though. Our wonderful local guide had given us a tour of a lifetime and shown us parts of Vancouver we might otherwise have missed. There’d been so many things to make us smile today and one of the last of these was a little black squirrel as we made our weary way back to the beach. Unlike most we’d seen so far, this squirrel seemed almost as curious about us as we were about him. Maybe missing out on the marathon wasn’t as bad as all that after all.

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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

7 thoughts on “Post marathon wanderings”

  1. Coal harbor is an unfortunate name for such a beautiful place but I suppose it speaks of the history of it.
    The sculptures and totem poles are amazing. I’ve never seen a totem pole. We have them but they’re mostly on the west coast.

    1. I love the way the First Nations history has been preserved and the rich cultural mix in Vancouver. Such an interesting place.

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