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.
When the rest of the country has packed it in for another year, the celebrations on west coast time continue. Last evening, John Lawson Park in Ambleside was in full festive mode. Families had spread their picnics all over the tables, the lawns and the beaches for supper by the sea. Children were crawling all over the pirate ship, the train station and the whirligigs newly constructed in the playground. From the improvised gazebo, the guitar players let go with their popular music and children danced to the tunes.
At 8:30, two tugs pulled and pushed a scow west from under the Lions Gate Bridge to the bay off Dundarave. This was the fireworks scow, the signal of further festivities to follow when the sun finally faded in the sky. Two hours later, onlookers lined the Ambleside Seawalk: old folks, infants, a cacophony of people speaking all sorts of languages, even dogs and skateboarders, contrary to the posted bylaws (no one seemed to mind). The young people sprawled on the rocks and reclined against the logs, the older people sat on the benches and walls of the Seawalk waiting for the fireworks to begin. It was high tide, and the water was lapping against the rocks less than 15 metres away. There is something positively idyllic about sitting by the sea as the light fades in the west.
Finally, the fireworks… a half-hour show of loud bangs and lights, of changing visions in the night sky: red and green, gold and violet, white and yellow, reflected in the shimmering water. A silence descends on the crowd, broken only by the occasional gasps of approval and the last cheers and clapping. At 11:30, the crowd had dispersed, the armada of small boats gathered to watch the event long gone, and the tugs and scow made their slow trip back to the inner harbour. I learned today that exactly the same fireworks display also occurred in Coal Harbour, at exactly the same time, a mirrored event for the north shore and downtown. And so Canada Day on the west coast came to an end.
Watching fireworks with a camera is now commonplace, although purists would scoff. I have never ever taken a decent picture of fireworks with my regular camera. Night shots are always difficult, and fireworks require particular skill with speed and aperture. Last night, however, I had my iPhone and, for the first time, tried its video capacity. Clearly, that is the way to go. Why haven’t I discovered this before? The results may not be fantastic, but that there are any results at all, from such a simple touch of the finger, is positively amazing. Come to think of it, my seven-year-old grandson has been using the video on his camera for some time. Where have I been? Ah, but it is not so easy. I just tried to download a video example to add to this post, and my videos all disappeared. I “removed them from my cellphone” without first checking their status in iPhoto, and found they weren’t there. Guess I should have dealt with them some other way. There’s always something more to learn.
Belated Canada Day greetings to everyone. Hope that you had a great day and that you will have a super summer. My summer posts are likely to be somewhat erratic. We are gearing up for a river rafting trip on the Alsek River in the Yukon, mid-July, and will be beyond any internet capacity until we return to Whitehorse at the end of the month. I hope to post from Dawson City when we arrive there. Maybe I will have mastered how to do videos by then.
Nothing is more fun than browsing in a huge Asian supermarket. In West Vancouver, we have the Osaka Market on the south side of the large Park Royal shopping centre. Osaka is part of the T & T chain, which originated in Burnaby and Richmond in 1993 and has now spread to 22 stores in B.C., Alberta and Ontario. It is the largest Asian supermarket chain in the country. T & T was set up initially to offer a modern and efficient shopping experience to allow Asian immigrants to find their favourite foods in Canada. Increasingly, the stores are attracting segments of the mainstream market, nowhere more so than in this particular Osaka store on Vancouver’s north shore. I have visited the T & T on Canary Street in downtown Toronto on occasion, but because I don’t speak any Asian languages, my experience was not the same. I also understand that the two Osaka stores were originally owned by Japanese interests so their style of operation is somewhat different. Whatever the difference, I like it.
Osaka has a range of departments which are outstanding. It has a huge bakery, produces its own fresh sushi, and a ready-made Chinese food counter offering dim sum, barbecue and other Chinese dishes. There is a fish counter with fresh fish, lobsters, crabs, shrimps, and clams in holding tanks. And a full range of western and oriental produce, plain and organic, which appears to change quickly. The aisles are stocked with an endless array of products I know nothing about. But all seem to be labelled as required by our laws, so you can check out the calorie counts, fat levels, cholesterol and sugar content. The flavoured milk tea I fancied had very high calorie counts and sugar levels, so I passed that up. But I found some seasoned seaweed (kimchi and wasabi flavours) which only had 15 calories per package; there are eight packages in the bag, all for under $2.00. I brought those home as a treat. We opened up a package and found inside several very thin, light slices of dried seaweed, highly spiced, which were quite tasty. It occurred to me that maybe Asians stay thin by having snacks which provide taste but no substance. Not a bad idea, that.
But it is the service at Osaka which delights. Lineups at the cash registers are non-existent. Back-up people seem to swoop in should there be any delays. The electronic equipment has the latest swipe technology. Staff routinely pack groceries. Such a contrast with many mainstream supermarkets at which “check out and pack your own” is increasingly the norm. I noticed a staffer carrying groceries out to a car. There is staff all over the place who answer questions. If someone does not speak English, they find someone who does.
In my visits to Osaka this week, I have had the most memorable experiences. When I asked a young man in the produce department how to eat persimmons, he took one he considered too overripe to sell, went off to wash it and came back offering me a half to eat. He said, with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips, “You shouldn’t eat more than three persimmons a day.” Another young man was stocking the bakery shelves with red bean, walnut, coconut and natural rice cakes produced by the bakery itself. I was carrying some prepackaged rice cakes I had found on another counter. When I asked him how to eat them, he told me I had to put a few drops of water and some parchment paper over the top to make sure the crust does not burn, and then cook them in the oven for about twenty minutes. Then he said, “But you might like to try these rice cakes baked in-house, they are already cooked.” I said I’d take one and try it out at home. We then learned that a rice cake sampling was scheduled for a little later. When I said I’d come back, he took the cake I had chosen and said I should buy one at the sampling: “That cake will be fresher still.” When I suggested that maybe I should buy one of the large cakes with fruit and cookies being offered as a Chinese New Year special, he seemed positively disappointed. “Inside it is only an ordinary sponge cake,” he said. “It’s rice cake that we eat at Chinese New Year which brings good luck.” How could I resist?
I left the store with the sensation that someone cared. What a treat!!!!!
Wintertime in Vancouver may mean walking the Seawalk in the rain or the drizzle. Whatever the weather, many do. This week, thirty-foot logs and other driftwood littered the shore more than usual. The Vietnamese crab fishers were still there, but there were several changes.
Most significant is the revitalization of the foreshore habitat between Ambleside and Dundarave which continues apace. Several years ago, a major storm in early January drove the logs and the waves over the Seawalk, washing out parts of the stone wall which protects the walk from the sea. Over the years, the waves, the tides and the currents have eroded the sediment and vegetation which formerly protected the beach and absorbed the water pouring into the sea from the many streams. The City of West Vancouver has put in place a Foreshore Protection and Management Plan to widen the beach, create a reef, and restore the sediment and natural habitat that existed before. Huge boulders now sit on the inter-tidal beach as part of the project. When the tide is in, many of the boulders disappear below ripples in the water. It’s quite the enterprise, undoubtedly necessary to secure the Seawalk, which is so central to the life of the local community.
The renewed children’s playground in John Lawson Park is now finished. It has a large pirate ship apparatus, a little train with several cars, a huge train station climber, two water pumps (one leading into what simulates a sluice box, the other over a stream), a fancy new splash pad, a “kids only” playhouse, new swings, new tunnels cut out of branches, a nice mix of the most modern with natural materials. Situated among the trees beside the sea, it is delightful.
There are also new allotment gardens in the park beside the beach. Thirty tiny new gardens, each designated by wooden four-by-fours, have been created for urban gardeners. What is remarkable about this development is the placement of the gardens, smack dab in the middle of an area which formerly was nothing but grass. It looks like they are preparing to add another set of gardens of a similar size next to the first.
Allotment gardens are not unusual. The City of West Vancouver has a right of first refusal on all the private properties which line the beach in the area of the park. When the city buys individual houses, some are converted into park facilities. Others are demolished and allotment gardens installed to fill the twenty-five or so feet of land between the remaining private homes. There are also allotment gardens further west between the railroad tracks and some high-rise apartments.
But allotment gardens, in the middle of the grass in what is already public park land, is something new. To my mind, it is a healthy development. There is ample common space in this park. Providing more space for urban farmers to grow their own food and flowers is a contribution to well-being in the community which should be encouraged. Good gardeners such as my neighbours in Toronto can grow a great deal in a small space. Some apartment-dwellers have prolific balcony gardens. Allotment gardens bring pleasure to those who till them, and to everyone else who enjoys the beautiful flowering plants that bloom in the gardens, thanks to the efforts of their fellow citizens. There could be no better use of a public park!
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.