Western Canada #03 – Vancouver
Western Canada #03 – Vancouver
After 3 nights staying in a farm B&B outside of Victoria, we headed out to the next segment of our journey. This had us drive around 2 hours north up to Nanaimo where we’d catch the ferry over to North Vancouver.
While it is entirely possible to get a ferry from a terminal in or near Victoria to the city of Vancouver proper, this ferry arrives on the south side of Vancouver. But, our next B&B was in North Vancouver so we drove up to Nanaimo (a bit under 2 hours with construction delays) where we had reservations for the ferry that takes you to Horseshoe Bay a tad north of North Vancouver. Below is the route we took to get to Vancouver.
Victoria to North Vancouver Map
The road to Nanaimo is quite lovely. For the most part it parallels the coast line of channels, inlets and bays. The road is up on the side of a ridge with several scenic overlooks where you can stop and have a grand view of the Channel Islands just across an inlet. Of course it’s much easier to utilize these various scenic overlooks when they are actually open and not full of construction machinery and mounds of dirt as they were when we came through so no photos. But that’s the way the asphalt crumbles.
As we were not able to stop and spend time at the scenic overlooks we arrived at the ferry terminal way earlier than our reservation. In fact we were so early that the prior sailing had not yet left port and they just let us drive right on. I should point out though that this was late May when the ferries are not that full. Try this in June or July and things are quite different - with most sailings being sold out - and if you show up without a reservation you may have to wait through one or two sailings before there is room for your car. But, in late May there is room for all.
This ferry is a pretty large ship and well presented. It has many indoor as well as outdoor seating areas, good size café where you can order hamburgers, hot dogs, salads and the like. Up on the top deck it is very windy but the seating areas up there are shielded from the wind with clear Plexiglas on three sides and overhead making it quite pleasant. Other than grabbing a snack, we spent most of the time on the upper deck where I just ventured out into the wind to grab a photo or two and quickly ducked back behind the Plexiglas. The trip over to the mainland takes a bit under two hours and even though it can be quite windy it’s usually not too rough a ride as the channel itself is shielded from the Pacific Ocean.
Along the way you get some great views of Vancouver Island behind you and snow capped Canadian mountain ranges in front of you. But when it is windy, the air becomes hazy with mist kicked up from the water surface making photos, well, hazy. Thank goodness for the DeHaze filter in Lightroom.
Not our boat but typical of the types of ferries found in this area
Top deck, leaving Nanaimo
Vancouver Island near Nanaimo
Approaching Bowen Island (across a bay from Vancouver)
Unlike Victoria which is dripping with old world charm, Vancouver is infested with ugly, tall sky scrapers, ruining what was otherwise the quite lovely city we experienced a mere 30 years ago.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
In North Vancouver there is a private park who’s theme is “hanging around”. This is the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Although it sounds Italian, the name Capilano is a First Nations (i.e., native American) name belonging to the Squamish Nation and originally spelled Kia’palano, meaning “beautiful river”. Turns out that Kia’palano was the name of a great Squamish chief who lived in the area in the early part of the 1800s.
The park itself has been growing steadily since we first visited many decades ago at which time it was just pretty much just a single suspension bridge over a gorge. Impressive, certainly, but mostly a 1 trick pony sort of attraction. You walk to the other side, your walk back, you’re done. But, since then they have added many more features, all related to suspended walkways and bridges. They have also raised their prices accordingly. Now, in addition to the main suspension bridge, there are boardwalk pathways through a lovely forest which takes you by several ponds, along the cliff at the edge of the gorge and over several rustic wooden footpath bridges. There is a suspended walkway through the tree tops and a cantilevered walkway hanging on the side of the cliff along the gorge. All in all, a visit here can consume several hours but is certainly not an all day attraction.
But, how did this all come to be? In 1888 a Scottish civil engineer and land developer, George Grant Mackay, arrived in the fairly new city of Vancouver. He purchased 6,000 acres of dense forest on either side of the Capilano River and he built a cabin on the very edge of the canyon. In order to access his land on the other side of the gorge he suspended a footbridge made of hemp rope and cedar planks across the canyon. To do this they had a team of horses swim across the river with ropes. The ropes were then pulled up the other side and anchored to huge buried cedar logs.
By the time Mackay died in 1893 his bridge and cabin had become a popular destination for adventurous friends who called it Capilano Tramps. To get there, they made a long journey by steamship before ‘tramping’ up the rough trail to the Mackay property. Shortly after his death the hemp rope bridge was replaced with a wire cable bridge.
The Mackay land along with other properties in the area was then bought by a mining magnate, Edward Mahon. In 1910 the 48 year old Mahon met and fell in love with 19 year old Lilette, the daughter of a deceased friend, at which time he arranged for Lilette’s mother, Elizabeth, to manage his bridge property. The plan worked – he married Lilette a year later. Mahon built the Tea House in 1911 and continued to improve the Capilano Suspension Bridge property, reinforcing the bridge with additional cables in 1914.
After Lilette married Elizabeth was lonely until she met a handsome young forest ranger, “Mac” MacEachran, who was 20 years her junior and they married in 1921. So the daughter marries someone 29 years older and the mom marries someone 20 years younger. I guess it averages out Okay. Mac, Elizabeth’s new husband, was an aggressive promoter, advertising the bridge as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ which still didn’t do much to improve profits. But it was a step in the right direction.
But good old Mac had a secret. In 1934 he informed his wife Elizabeth that he had a 19 year old daughter, Irene, whom he wished to bring to Capilano – which he did. After Elizabeth died Mac purchased the Bridge from Mahon in 1935 and invited local First Nations tribes to place their totem poles in the park. In 1945, he sold the bridge to Henri Aubeneau and moved to California.
In 1953 Rae Mitchell purchased the property – you following all of this? - and aggressively promoted his attraction world-wide. He completely rebuilt the bridge in 5 days in 1956, encasing the cables in 13 tons of concrete at either end. He developed the trails on the west side of the bridge and converted the Tea House into the Trading Post Gift Store.
In 1983, Rae’s daughter, Nancy, bought the property from her father. Her goal was to elevate the park from a mere stop-off to a destination attraction which she did within 10 years.
Main suspension bridge at Capilano Bridges Park
Main suspension bridge at Capilno Bridges Park
One of several ponds along the wooded footpath’s
Series of suspension bridges through the tree tops
Series of suspension bridges through the tree tops
Portion of walkway suspended on the side of the gorge cliff
Waterfall (manmade) near end of Cliff Walk trail
The next day we headed across the channel and over to Vancouver proper where our first stop was the giant Stanley Park.
Stanley Park occupies the entire 1,001 acre end of the peninsula north of downtown Vancouver. Except for two narrow land bridges which connect it to the mainland it is basically an island. To no one’s great surprise the area which is now the park was inhabited by indigenous people for thousands of years before British Columbia was colonized during the 1858 Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. For many years after colonization, the future park, with its abundant resources, would also be home to European settlers. In 1886 this area became Vancouver’s first park. It was named after Lord Stanley, the 16th Earl of Derby, a British politician who had recently been appointed governor general.
Unlike other large urban parks, Stanley Park is not the creation of a landscape architect, but rather the evolution of a forest and urban space over many years. Most of the manmade structures in the park were built between 1911 and 1937 when W.S. Rawlings was superintendent. Subsequently other attractions were added such as a polar bear exhibit, aquarium, and miniature train – mostly after World War II.
Today, much of the park remains as densely forested as it was in the late 1800s, with about a half million trees many of which are several hundred years old. But the trees have had a tough time. Over the last 100 years, and as recently as 2006, 3 major wind storms have blown through toppling thousands of trees. After each of these storms many trees were replaced with new seedlings in an attempt to retain the forest cover of the park.
Stanley Park has many attractions for both locals and out of town visitors. There is the restored Vancouver Seawall which can draw thousands to the park on a nice day. This 6.2 mile long structure is an old roadway, now pedestrian only, that circumnavigates the park just above water level. It is great for a walk along the water’s edge or for a bike ride. The park also features miles of forest trails, beaches, lakes, children's play areas, aquarium, a small forest of native totem poles, sports fields, picnic area and much more.
One can easily spend an entire day in this park and not see it all. But, alas, as we were only staying in the Vancouver area 1 night and had to make it to Kamloops that night so we could only spend a morning in Stanley Park. To get there from our B&B in North Vancouver, one has to cross the 1938 Lions Gate Bridge which was probably great in 1938 but at a total of 3 lanes today is way under capacity. So, for the first hour or so we mostly marveled at how dozens of lanes gradually merged down to 3 lanes – one car at a time. But eventually we made it across and into Stanley Park.
Lions Gate Bridge from North Vancouver to Stanley Park
West Vancouver from Stanley Park
Of course we didn’t have time to see the entire park, but we did drive the entire circumference of the park and were able to stop and roam around several areas. Our first stop was at the north tip of the park at a place called Prospect Point with grand views across the channel over to the industrial section of North Vancouver. We then drove on down and parked by the Hollow Tree which is one of the strangest things. It seems that this was a very large Western Cedar hollowed out by fire in the distant past – much like the Coastal Redwoods in California. One can find old pictures showing its size. For example there is a photo of an elephant standing inside the hollow tree. But, in the 2006 windstorm the tree blew over and was slated for removal. But in 2009 the Stanley Park Hollow Tree Conservation Society was formed and began raising money from private donors to preserve the landmark. So rather than hauling it away, they poured a cement platform which anchored iron pillars onto which they attached what was left of the tree (not much). It is actually pretty pathetic (IMHO) as mostly what is there is just bits and pieces, patched together like a jigsaw puzzle with mostly missing pieces. But, that doesn’t stop it from being a popular site to visit.
From there we hiked down through a lovely dense forest to Siwash Point where I tried to teach a family how to use their new DSLR camera (I’m pretty sure I just thoroughly confused them). From here you can look out across English Bay and into the Salish Sea and the Strait of Georgia. This is the main shipping passageway into the greater Vancouver area with many large cargo ships anchored in the bay or steaming in or out of the harbor – or should I say harbour.
Freighters anchored in the harbor off Siwash Point
Our next stop was at a visitor center where we got in ice cream from a cart, picked up a map, and continued on to the totem poles at Brockton Point where there is a nice collection of totem poles. This set of poles is BC’s most visited tourist attraction. The collection started at Lumberman's Arch in the 1920s, when the Park Board bought four totems from Vancouver Island's Alert Bay. More purchased totems came from Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) and the BC central coast Rivers Inlet, to celebrate the 1936 Golden Jubilee. In the mid 1960s, the totem poles were moved to Brockton Point in Stanley Park.
Totem Poles at Brockton Point, Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC
Brockton Point Totem Pole
Next to the totem poles is an interesting (black) bronze sculpture called Shore to Shore by Luke Marston. It seems there was a Portuguese adventurer named Joe Silvey who everyone just called “Portuguese Joe”. Joe was born and raised on the Azores Islands in the Atlantic but after several adventures he found himself on the Pacific, and an became an early pioneer of Vancouver’s Gastown. Although Joe was Caucasian, he mingled with the local Coast Salish natives of the area and eventually married into the tribe. Luke (the artist) is the great great grandson of Portuguese Joe and Kwatleemaa, his second Coast Salish wife. It’s not clear what happened to Khaltinaht, his first Salish wife.
The sculpture honors the link between Portuguese and Coast Salish First Nations cultures, marks the land’s rich heritage, and symbolizes unity for the Vancouver’s present-day diverse inhabitants. The large bronze sculpture is surrounded by engraved Portuguese stone and sits on the site of the stands at the site of his family’s ancestral village, X̲wáýx̲way (I dare you to pronounce that).
Shore to Shore by Luke Marston
Shore to Shore by Luke Marston
On June 18, 2014, Stanley Park was named "top park in the entire world" by TripAdvisor.
The city of Vancouver was originally called Granville until it was renamed to Vancouver in 1886. The former name was given to Granville Street which crossed over an inlet known as False Creek on a rickety wooden bridge. Where the bridge crossed, the far side of the inlet was mud flats and a big sand bar which was first mapped by the British Boundary Commission naval expedition in 1858-59.
Around 1891 some entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to get some free real estate right on a shipping channel so they just decided to convert the sand bar to solid land. Without any paperwork, they drove pilings along the perimeter of the sand bar and were about to start filling it in when the federal government noticed and put a halt to the entire operation as a menace to navigation.
However, in 1915 the definition of what was and was not a menace to navigation must have changed as the newly formed Vancouver Harbour Commission approved a reclamation project in False Creek for an industrial area. Okay, let’s step back for a moment and look at the word “reclamation”. Today we use this word to mean – more or less – “put back to a natural state”. For example the commercial salt flats around the south end of the San Francisco bay have been ‘reclaimed’ by returning them to their original marshland state. But, in the early 1900’s the word meant the opposite. At that time it meant take some natural landscape that is of little commercial value and ‘reclaim’ it from nature by modifying it to become more useful (read profitable). In this case they ‘reclaimed’ a 35-acre mud flat-sand bar and turned it into an island suitable for industrial buildings. The cost of creating this island was $342,000 and it was originally named Industrial Island. But as the main access was via the Granville Street Bridge, the name Granville took over.
The island was used for various light and heavy industrial purposes with buildings made of wood or iron frameworks with corrugated tin roofs and walls – many of which are still standing. By 1923 the island was fully occupied by such buildings. Various factories came and went over the years and during the great depressing a hobo camp occupied much of the island. Then in 1979, the federal and provincial governments converted a 50,000 square foot abandoned building to the Public Market and in 1980 the Emily Carr University of Art & Design was added to the island.
Today the island contains some 275 different businesses that employ more than 2,500 people. Some of the more prominent businesses are the large public market, an extensive marina, a boutique hotel, the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Arts Umbrella, False Creek Community Centre, various performing arts theatres, fine arts galleries, and variety of shopping areas. In other words it has become a popular tourist attraction like Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco or Pikes market in Seattle.
After weaving our way through a labyrinth of skyscrapers, construction zones, and downtown traffic we arrived on the island around noon looking for a place to eat. Well, we thought we were looking for a place to have lunch, but it turned out we were actually looking for a place to park. Every street, alley and byway was bumper to bumper with people looking for a place to park and every parking space – paid or free – was occupied. Apparently this is a common situation as many of the old tin buildings have been converted into parking lots – all full. After going around the one-way traffic pattern 3 times, we finally found a narrow parking space in a lot and maneuvered in. And then maneuvered back out to let my wife out as she couldn’t open her door. And then back in where I was able to just barely squeeze myself out of the driver’s side door.
We wandered interesting streets, poked our heads into various workshops where crafts people were either making or selling handicrafts, past the university and past one of the last remaining industrial ventures still on the island. This is the Ocean Concrete company established in 1917 and the longest established tenant on the island. Well, finding a concrete plant nestled between boutiques and galleries in itself is quite a juxtaposition and with all the traffic we wondered how the cement didn’t solidify in the trucks while they waited in the bumper to bumper traffic. But, there it was. As is the case with all such enterprises, this concrete plant had several tall silo like towers that the trucks drove under to be filled with sand, gravel, and cement to make concrete. But these 4 tanks were painted to look like whimsical cartoon giants looking out over the landscape. Actually quite funny.
Eventually we found our way to the public market which is very reminiscent of markets we saw in Peru and Guatemala. Every sort of edible imaginable has a stall with someone selling them – but mostly fruit, vegetables and meat. Many of the stalls were also selling hot prepared foods, and there were some tables so we finally got our long awaited lunch. We then strolled back to the car along a different set of streets and past even more workshops and galleries. On the way we were startled to realize that there was no more traffic. Still plenty of parked cars, but no traffic jam in the streets and plenty of empty parking spots. In this case it’s not ‘location, location, location’, it is ‘timing, timing, timing’. Apparently most of downtown drives over to the island for lunch and once they leave to get back to work, the area settles down.
Ocean Cement Company
Granville Public Market
So, we said goodbye to Granville Island, zigzagged our way through the canyons of downtown buildings, through the, let’s say, ‘rougher’ section of town – complete with several cops chasing after a suspect who was running between cars on the boulevard and finally got on the highway heading east. As it turned out, most of the population of the city also decided that this was a good time to head east so, once again, we found ourselves in bumper to bumper traffic this time crawling along a freeway, admiring the wheels on big trucks next to us and wondering how far ahead the suburbs were where these folks would get off the road to go home. Eventually, the traffic thinned out and we were on our way to the mountains.
I hope you enjoyed reading this episode of our Western Canada trip and that you’ll come back for the rest of our journey. Next time we’ll be getting into the Canadian Rockies and up to the continental divide.
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These and other Images of this trip are posted in a Gallery on my website.
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Thanks for reading – Dan
(Info from Wikipedia and pamphlets gathered at various sites along the way along with attraction websites)
Keywords: blog, capilano suspension bridges park, dan hartford photo, dantravelblog, dantravelblogwca, granville island, naniamo, naniamo ferry, north vancouver, shore to shore sculpture, siwash point, stanley park, stanley park totem poles, strait of georgia, vancouver
The bridges photos were a lot of fun to see. I was wondering about the inside of the ferry, what it looked like more.
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