Once, a Toronto friend, originally from Texas, joined me for a visit to the west coast. We stayed with my father in East Burnaby. Burnaby is the sprawling municipality east of Vancouver, most notable as the home town of the two Michaels: Michael J. Fox and Michael Bublé. It is also the site of Simon Fraser University, at the top of Burnaby Mountain. East Burnaby is up the hill from “the royal city” of New Westminster, built where the Fraser River divides to go around Lulu Island and into Georgia Strait. New Westminster was the first capital of the original British colony on the mainland. During the 1858 gold rush, it was the gateway to the Fraser Canyon and the gold fields around Barkerville (east of the present-day Prince George).
Early the first morning after our arrival, we walked the esplanade at the New Westminster Quay which runs along the banks of the Fraser River. It is a lovely walk of forty minutes or so: tug boats, fishing boats, dredges and motorboats attract attention, as do the wonderful gardens maintained by the New Westminster Parks Department. The hanging planters overflow with lavish flowers and the garden boxes change with the seasons. One of the more distant condos has been designed Venetian-style, with apartments overlooking ponds and waterways replete with water plants, ducks and geese.
The second morning, we drove up Burnaby Mountain to visit Simon Fraser University with its splendid square main building and cascading staircases towering over the inlet below. Designed by Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson in the mid-’60s, the clean lines of the campus core still impress.
We then visited the municipal park on the north side of the mountain. This park features an installation of Japanese totem poles called Kamui Mintara (The Playground of the Gods), created by artists from the northernmost island of Japan. They are set up so that the vortex of the view from Burnaby Mountain is the Lions Gate Bridge beyond the Vancouver harbour far to the west.
At the time of our visit, the city was under a “coyote alert,” with vivid warnings about the dangers of dealing with the coyotes then inundating the city. My friend and I spotted a coyote walking out of the trees into the totem installation. We watched him for some time as he climbed up the hill, moving closer to where we were standing. Then we turned around. Right behind us, no more than ten feet behind us, was another coyote, eyeing us while doing his or her daily toilette. We were between the two of them. An encounter with coyotes was not something we relished. We slowly moved to the west, to where we had parked the car. As we moved, both coyotes, the one below and the one above, moved to the west as well, keeping pace with us. Eventually we stopped. They went ahead, joined together, and ambled off into the woods without so much as a look backwards. We were relieved and somewhat shaken, but exhilarated by our meeting with the wild. We were in their space, very early in the morning, so we should not have been surprised to find ourselves the intruders. Time to go home for breakfast.