Many Ontario folk have cottages in Muskoka, Haliburton, the Kawarthas or the Frontenac and Rideau areas north of Kingston. Others have secondary farm properties. My husband and I have a “cottage” in Vancouver. On retirement, my dream was to return to “the coast” as often as possible. Vancouver real estate prices being what they are, purchasing a condo was beyond our means and seemed a bad economic choice at this stage of our lives. Our alternative was to rent an apartment. As a lifestyle choice, renting has huge advantages.
The question then was where to locate. I was raised in East Burnaby, near New Westminster, in the suburbs east of Vancouver city and north of the Fraser River. My perceptions of where I would like to live focused on False Creek, Kitsilano or the downtown West End. An old friend, however, told us about his apartment in Ambleside West Vancouver and suggested we look there.
It had never occurred to us to consider living over the Lions Gate bridge in West Vancouver. Living “over the bridge” meant long lineups to and from downtown, and who wanted that? What we hadn’t realized was that there is a priority lane for buses going over the bridge. Riding public transit, it only takes 25 minutes to get downtown to the corner of Georgia and Granville. The view of the harbour from the bridge and the drive through the verdant green Stanley Park forest always gives a lift to the spirit. And, retired as we are, there is never any need to take a car over the bridge during rush hour. Access to the Upper Levels highway, five minutes up the hill from our Ambleside apartment, gives us a huge head start driving to Whistler, the eastern Vancouver suburbs and the Fraser Valley. Not to mention almost immediate access to the ferry at Horseshoe Bay should we want to hop over to Vancouver Island or the Sunshine Coast.
Our Ambleside apartment has given us the greatest possible pleasure. Our house is Toronto is a hundred-year-old three-storey Victorian semi on a narrow lot in downtown/Little Italy. Natural light is at a premium. Our Ambleside apartment, by contrast, is on the seventh floor, a block from the West Vancouver Seawalk, with an expansive view of the Vancouver harbour. On a clear day (which does happen surprisingly often in Vancouver), we can see Mount Baker in the United States to the east, the Lions Gate Bridge and Stanley Park directly across the water, Kitsilano and the University of British Columbia across the bay, and as far as the mountains of Vancouver Island in the west. Equally important, we can see the sky, the constant play of the clouds, and the sunsets.
The apartment allows us to enjoy the amenities of this world-class city, and to explore the endless trails and parks which are so readily accessible. It also serves as a base for touring around the province. Stored in our apartment is an extensive collection of camping equipment which we use every summer when we go to “the interior,” just as we did as kids. Ontario folk like to return to their family cottage in the summer, we like to “go camping.” Our cottage in Vancouver facilitates this.
The apartment has also become a locus for entertaining our old west coast friends and family, and a place to stay for family and friends from elsewhere in British Columbia and from “back east.” Our visitors have brought their talents, their passions and interests, and shared them with us: everything from politics to computers, yoga to cooking, from running to travel, hunting and fishing, art and music. Just as the apartment has allowed us to reconnect with those we love on the west coast, our lives have become richer because of our interactions with our visitors. Cottage life is relative and has its benefits, even if the “cottage” is an urban apartment in the middle of Canada’s west coast metropolis.
A morning flight from Toronto to Vancouver is not a good idea. An evening flight gets you into the city late and it is easy to go to bed and get up with the locals.An early flight means an early rise in Toronto, early to bed in Vancouver, and then several days catching up.
The downside of jet lag is that it seems worse as we grow older. The upside is that the morning quiet can be very productive. At the moment, listening to Classical 96.3FM from Toronto and typing on the computer, I remember an earlier visit I made to Vancouver years ago when my mother-in-law still lived on the north shore.
Up at 4:00 am, I had driven to Ambleside village near the waterfront and walked the popular Seawalk which hugs the beach and the rocks from Capilano River in the east to Dundarave village in the west. It was the summer and, even at this ridiculously early hour, the outer harbour was full of activity. The images from that morning stay with me years later.
I was first intrigued to find Vietnamese crab fishers tending their traps off the wharf, directly opposite the Lions Gate Bridge to the east. When they pulled up their traps, they were full, but they were mostly smaller crabs that had to be thrown back. Larger crabs above the legal limit of six inches are harder to catch, and for the group to get their quota of four crabs each takes all morning. Then there were several speeding motor boats full of Native Canadian fishermen. They came from the reserve at the mouth of the Capilano RIver and were heading out to the salt chuck for some fishing. The fishing industry on the west coast is highly regulated with relatively few days each year of commercial fishing. These Native Canadians have special access to the fisheries for their own use and were up early to take advantage of the tides at dawn.
Then, from the same wharf, I became aware of the silent passage of three large cruise ships gliding directly in front of us, from the west towards the Lions Gate Bridge. It was the return of three liners from their cruises up the coast to the Alaska Panhandle. In the dark, their decks were aglow with light, their two thousand odd passengers in each ship undoubtedly at breakfast or preparing to disembark at the Vancouver cruise ship dock in a matter of minutes. What a contrast! These modern mammoths that loom so large.
After a coffee while reading the newspaper at one of the many local cafés in Ambleside, I wondered back to the car. The sun was long up, and any dew on the grass was dry. Then I saw a group of South Asians, from India or maybe Sri Lanka, all dressed up in their colourful saris and suits. They were scurrying around a pond in the nearby park, setting up for a wedding. Whether for photographs, a ceremony or a reception, I don’t know as I did not linger to watch. I was just amazed at their energy and purpose so early in the morning.
By this time, I had been at the waterfront for many hours, fascinated by the diversity of the people and the wealth of their activities. Who would have guessed what goes on at the outer harbour so early in the morning? The jet lag had made me a gift that has endured for years.