Early morning, False Creek, Vancouver.
At 6am the alarm starts beeping, waking me from a light sleep. I’d hardly slept at all, afraid of not waking in time. I crawl out of bed, wash, dress, drink a quick cup of tea, and make coffee to take in my travel mug. By 7.15 I am ready and at the front door just as our friend David arrives. It is freezing. Literally. It is one of those somewhat rare Vancouver early winter mornings when there is a clear sky and the temperature dips below zero. I am wearing many layers and look like a black Michelin Man. David and his buddy Ron, both avid photographers, think nothing of getting up at dawn to get the best light for photography no matter the temperature. Me, not so much. The three of us head to the eastern end of False Creek and slowly wander along the walkway next to the water. If I learn nothing else, I learn why photographers get up in time to catch the early morning light.
On our walk we meet a man who works for the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation. Every autumn for nineteen years his job has been to blow the water out of all the park irrigation systems to ensure that the pipes don’t freeze over the winter. There are more than 300 parks, three golf courses and several pitch-and-putts with irrigation systems. The job takes two months to complete. Then in the spring it takes two months to get it all going again, and during the summer there are repairs and maintenance. It’s something I’d never thought about before. All I knew was the drinking fountains in Queen Elizabeth Park didn’t work in the winter. I hadn’t made the leap to the part about having to blow out all the pipes.
He also becomes Santa Claus every holiday season.
At twenty-two kilometers in length Vancouver can boast the longest uninterrupted walkway in the world. It begins downtown at Canada Place, goes west and around the entire Stanley Park peninsula, along past English Bay, up one side of False Creek and down the other, around Vanier Park and finally ends at Kilsilano Beach. Water views all the way around. Any part of it is worth exploring.
Approximately nine kilometers of this walkway is the seawall around Stanley Park, one of the most popular places in the city for walking, cycling and rollerblading. Within the boundary of the seawall lies the park itself, a little over one thousand acres at the end of the downtown peninsula, and one of the largest urban parks in North America. Included in the park are an aquarium, three beaches, tennis courts, a pitch-and-putt, picnic areas, a swimming pool and water park, a miniature train, the lily-covered Beaver Lake, and the water bird sanctuary of Lost Lagoon. But the park is really about the forest, which covers virtually all of the area. There are twenty-seven kilometers of trails through the forest patrolled by police on horseback. It is home to skunks, coyotes, beavers, raccoons, squirrels, many species of birds including a large Great Blue Heron colony, and scattered throughout the dense forest approximately twenty homeless people who are quietly left alone. The skunks, coyotes, raccoons and squirrels regularly make forays into the heavily populated West End that borders on the park looking for food in the back alley dumpsters.
Many of the oldest and greatest trees of Stanley Park have been lost during three major windstorms over the past one hundred years, probably the worst of which hit in 2006 when 10,000 trees were downed. Part of the seawall was closed for months due to landslides. The forest was a devastated tangled mess of piled up broken branches and uprooted trees. Six days after the storm emergency services received four very brief phone calls from a man trapped in the park. He was homeless, but did not regularly live in the park. Apparently he’d wandered in there just before the storm to ‘get away’. In the bottom of his bag he found an old deactivated cell phone that allowed him to make the 911 calls until the battery died. With each call he was able to give snippets of information that allowed police to finally locate him. He was uninjured but totally trapped by fallen debris.
In 2014 TripAdvisor named Stanley Park the top park in the entire world.
One of several swans that live at Lost Lagoon,
Afternoon sunlight catches the trees as people make their way along the seawall.
The city from the seawall in the pink light of sunset.
Lions Gate bridge and the north shore from Prospect Point at the north end of Stanley Park.
From all around the Vancouver area, summer flowers,
and autumn colours.
It is now several days since my early morning appointment to catch the sun as it first caresses the city. Since then I’ve had one more date with the beginning of the day, and am planning more. Each time I learn something new, not least of which is how beautiful the world is at first light.
This is the last post about Vancouver. Don and I leave at the end of the month to island hop across the Pacific, stopping for several days each in Hawaii, Samoa and Fiji before spending four months in Australia and New Zealand.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.