Monday, 31 October 2016

Stanley Park

Coal Harbour
Is there a finer municipal park anywhere in the world?  If there is I have yet to visit it.  I first visited Stanley Park in Vancouver as an impressionable 18 year old on my first trip away from Europe.  I then visited again some years later when  I lived in the Pacific Northwest for a year while on an exchange from my home university.  Both of these visits left an indelible mark on me and especially the second one when I walked the coast path around the park on a dismal December day.  I vowed then that I would come back on a beautiful summer's day to see it at its best.  Little did I know it would take me more than 20 years!  It was one of the top things I wanted to do on our North American trip this summer and was really pleased that we found such a perfect day!

Totem Poles
Stanley Park has a long history.  It was originally settled by the Salish people and when Vancouver was first established as a city the founders took the far sighted decision to incorporate it as a park (in 1888).  The park is hugely popular - even on a weekday it was pretty difficult to find a parking spot and rendezvous with my cousin who was to accompany us on this walk.  We eventually met up and made a start on the walk around the sea wall.  At the start we weren't entirely sure we would make it as it was such a hot day but we thought we would see how far we would get before the heat got to us.

Cruise Ships and Downtown
We started our walk just south of Painter's Circle and fortified ourselves with a Japadog before getting going.  This was a rather strange fusion of Hot Dog with Japanese garnish - satisfying and yet with a strange flavour I couldn't quite put my finger on.  Washed down with a nice big drink it was good fuel to get us on our way.  Painter's Circle had a few exhibitors but not too much in the way of painting going on.  All along the way were signs asking people not to take pictures - I guess this has become a bit of a problem in this digital age.

Brockton Point
On the sea wall the path was heaving with walkers, cyclists and roller skaters.  The horse drawn wagons were doing a brisk trade too - I imagine this is a lovely way to see the shoreline road.  Our view across the water was to downtown Vancouver with its skyscrapers gleaming in the afternoon sun.  There were plenty of yachts in the harbour completing the scene.  We decided to head anti-clockwise around the trail - this seems to be convention and certainly the way that cars on the shoreline road take on a one-way route.

Horse Drawn
The first point of interest along the way was the Totem Park - a fantastic display of totem poles that also acted as a honey pot for many of the tourists visiting today.  None of the poles are especially old - most have been carved in the last 50 years.  The intricacies of the designs and the unique nature of this form of artwork deserved some time to look at properly and we paused here for quite a while.  Off to one side was a bronze piece called Shore to Shore, a sculpture commemorating the ancestral connection between the indigenous people and the Portuguese settlers.  This was perhaps the most fascinating of all the pieces and we enjoyed reading the back story behind the sculpture.

Lion's Gate from Brockton Point
The seawall walk continued eastwards and we overlooked the Canada Pavilion, built for Expo 86, the World Trade Fair that I visited on my first trip to Vancouver.  It now acts as a cruise ship terminal and two ships were docked - one was the Sun Princess and the other the Celebrity Millennium.  It got us quite excited for we were due to go on a cruise in a few days time on a different Princess ship.  This particular one is a sister ship to the Sea Princess, which hit the headlines a few weeks later when two of her passengers were arrested for drug running!

Angry Wasp
We passed the Nine O'Clock gun named for obvious reasons.  The gun has been around for some time, originally cast during George III's reign in 1816 and brought over to Vancouver in 1894. It was rather smaller than I imagined, but then I suppose if it were much bigger it might cause some damage with its alarm.  As we passed by I became aware of a seaplane about to take off.  This was the first of many that we saw on our walk - there is a very regular (if a little expensive) service to Vancouver Island.  I imagine this is pretty well used by those that need to do the journey to the provincial capital Victoria quickly.  The plane made a noise rather like an angry wasp as it disappeared over the water to its destination.

Girl in a Wetsuit
Just past the gun and the shoreline changed direction, briefly heading north to Brockton Point.  We got a great view down the Fraser River, which reaches the sea in Vancouver after a tortuous route from the distant Canadian Rockies.  It has carved quite a gash through the landscape and it is no surprise to see how big it is at its mouth.  At Brockton Point we passed by the small lighthouse warning shipping of the danger that this rock poses.  The path continued along the north shore of the park and past the Totem Park once again.  The distance from north shore to south shore at this point is only a matter of tens of metres.  What was remarkable though was how soon we seemed to lose the crowds - few seemed to continue after the totem poles and accompanying gift shop.

Empress of Japan
Our view changed markedly too in these few metres.  We had swapped our Downtown view for one across to North Vancouver and Grouse Mountain beyond (where we had spent the first part of the day).  In the far distance was the enormous Lions Gate Bride, the impressive structure that takes traffic from Downtown to North and West Vancouver across the Fraser River.  Our walk was now in shade too, a welcome relief after the heat of the south shore.

Celebrity Millennium
This part of the walk was very pleasant and quieter.  We passed by a children's play area that was very well equipped and fairly busy but otherwise our attention was mostly on the water.  As we wandered along two large ships passed by - the first a container ship loaded to the gunnels and possibly heading out across the Pacific Ocean to the Far East.  Much of Vancouver's trade heads in that direction.  Not long after the Celebrity Millennium headed out on its cruise, most likely to Alaska.  As they passed we passed by Girl in a Wetsuit, a play on the mermaid sculpture that famously guards the sea in Copenhagen.  This one has been here since 1992 and isn't so famous...

Lion's Gate Bridge
Even more eye catching further ahead was the figurehead from the RMS Empress of Japan, once known as the 'Queen of the Pacific' and was the fastest ship across the Pacific.  She was built in 1890 and continued in service until the 1920s when she was withdrawn from service.  Some of her interior fittings found their way into local homes but the figurehead was rescued from the scrapheap by the local newspaper and put on display here.  The one on display now is not the original but a replica - the original is in the City's Maritime Museum.

Prospect Point
We decided to carry on as far as Lions Gate Bridge and then cut up through the park due to the temperature and the distance back.  However what we didn't reckon on were the high cliffs on the other side of the bridge, which precluded any trip inland.  I'm not sure any of us were too disappointed for the walk was to take on a rather different dimension now.  The bridge seemed to mark a turning point - the coast was now less river and more sea as we looked out across more expansive water to Vancouver Island in the distance.  Lions Gate Bridge looked particularly impressive from below - the rumble of cars overhead reminded us what an important artery this is.  The bridge was built in 1938 and the decks were completely replaced about 15 years ago.  It is high enough that even the biggest ships can pass underneath comfortably.

Siwash Rock
Having passed the bridge we now had the seawall pretty much to ourselves save for the most intrepid runner (and there were a few of them - I imagine the whole sea wall is on their regular routes).  The cliffs on the shore side of the sea wall were impenetrable for quite some time - in fact well past Siwash Rock.  This eye-catching feature is unusual - in fact it is the only stack offshore at Stanley Park.  Made of basalt it is rather more resistant to wave action than the surrounding sandstone.  It is adorned by a bit of shrubbery at the top and despite looking very inviting to climb there a number of signs warning people not to.  I guess the chances of accidents are pretty high but also the stack looked like it could be fragile if attacked too many times by enthusiastic climbers.

Approaching Third Beach
Shortly after passing the rock and we passed by Third Beach.  I never really took Vancouver for being a beach kind of place but this one was certainly very popular with planty of bodies laying out enjoying the heat of the sun.  Not everyone was wearing clothes either - not something I expected to see in North America!  We considered turning inland here but by now we had walked enough of the wall to continue all the way down to Second Beach.  We rounded Ferguson Point and looped around the next bay when the Downtown skyscrapers came into sight once again.  This was probably the quietest stretch of the whole walk - no doubt most people that had walked along this stretch were now lounging on the beach!

Third Beach
At Second Beach is a large outdoor swimming pool that had more than a few customers.  The thought of having a dip was quite appealing but sadly we hadn't brought any swimming stuff and so had to push on.  By now we were ready to cut across the southern boundary of the park to rendezvous with our starting point.  We took the route along the southern shore of Lost Lagoon.  I assumed this was a natural feature but was rather surprised to learn that it is man made.  Apparently it was constructed when the road to Lion's Gate Bridge was built across a causeway and cutting off what had originally been a continuation of Burrard Inlet.  The landscaping of the lake was top notch for now it is a popular place for birdwatchers who come to see the variety of life that the lake supports.

As we wandered along the path here the distance and the heat were beginning to catch up with us.  I felt hotter when I saw what a chap in front of us was wearing - he looked pretty disheveled and was buttonholing people that he passed.  I quickly realised that he was a religious zealot so gave him a wide berth - hapless passers by weren't so lucky.

Black Squirrel
We soon came to the main road that bisects the park and went underneath via a subway.  This was less grand than the Lion's Gate Bridge that we had passed under on the other side of the park but the effect was the same - it was a relief to not have to deal with the traffic.  Immediately we were back on the shore of Coal Harbour and from here it was a short distance back to the car and completion of the walk.  We felt a little relieved to have made it and some cold drinks at the end certainly were very welcome.  In truth this is not a hard walk but I'm not sure I would want to do it again on such a hot day.  For a walk around an urban park though this surely cannot be beaten.  If you are in Vancouver give yourself enough time to do it yourself - you won't be disappointed!

Coal Harbour

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