There is nothing I like more than showing friends and family around Vancouver. If it’s not raining, of course. Fortunately, press reports of “rain in Vancouver” often refer to nothing more than a Scottish mist which the locals ignore. Whatever the weather, Stanley Park is the place to go, the number one attraction for newcomers to the city and natives alike.
Stanley Park is the evolving product of an urban vision, conceived by a particularly wise and far-thinking City Council, assisted by a thoughtful and equally prescient federal government in 1886. City Council voted to ask the Dominion Government to lease the 400-hectare Government Reserve lands on the tip of the city peninsula to the city for a park, for one dollar per year. The federal government agreed, and the park, named after Governor General Lord Stanley, opened in 1888. One hundred years later, it was designated a National Historic Site and the lease became “perpetually renewable [with] no action required” by the local authority. Today, it is the third largest urban park in North America, and rated by Travel & Leisure Magazine readers as “one of the most beautiful city parks in the world,” with over eight million visitors annually. Vancouver Parks and Recreation provides a readily accessible web-history of the park, which is fun to read as an introduction.
There are many ways to visit the park and enjoy its amenities. Among the most popular: running, walking or bicycle-riding around the 8.8-kilometre seawall. The seawall, built initially to protect the Burrard Inlet shoreline from erosion caused by large ships entering the harbour at speed, took 63 years to complete. Visitors now travel around the periphery of the park on the seawall in a few hours. Several shops near Denman and Georgia rent bicycles and helmets, and provide maps of the park (and the downtown core of the city). A bicycle path links Denman to the park, a short two blocks west.
Coal Harbour starts the counter-clockwise seawall trip, with its yacht club, rowers training in the bay, the downtown high-rises, Canada Place, and the cruise ship port. After you pass the naval reserve on Deadman’s Island, you will see the red cranes of the port beyond, Burnaby Mountain and the Second Narrows bridge in the distance, as well as the sprawling North Vancouver heartland on the north shore. Brockton Point features the Vancouver Cricket Club pitches, and the newly refurbished stand of brightly painted totem poles and Coast Salish gateways. Passing the “girl in the wetsuit” statue in the water a bit further west, Lumberman’s Arch and the children’s water pad, you will be facing the Lions Gate Bridge, the North Shore and the coastal mountains. Crossing under the Bridge and rounding the corner leads to iconic Siwash Rock and then Third Beach, a hidden gem of a beach in the heart of the city. It is nice to stop for lunch at the Ferguson Point Tea House, which faces west across the freighters riding at anchor in the outer harbour to Spanish Banks and the University of British Columbia. The Tea House offers a sophisticated menu in the Solarium and more casual fare in the front lounge. Heading south and east leads to the freshwater swimming pool at Second Beach, the children’s playground, and on to English Bay, or through the gardens back to Lost Lagoon, the Nature House, and Georgia Street (another 1.8 kilometres).
In the spring and early summer months, a natural highlight not to be missed is the heron colony near the English Bay exit from the park. South of the tennis courts next to the Fish House Restaurant, turn east and look up into the tall trees overhead. The beautiful herons which you may have seen fishing on the shoreline along the seawall nest in this area from March until July. They are huge birds, with long beaks and necks and a wide wingspan. It is utterly breath-taking to see them flying into their nests at the tops of the trees and then sitting on their perches. There are so many, it is hard to count them all.
A trip around the seawall is a marvellous introduction to the city and a balm for the soul. Many use the seawall for their exercise; others linger to watch the marine life of the city and the natural sea life on the sand and the shore. Do not be surprised if the many other amenities in the interior of the Park may need to be left for another day. Enjoy.