When I go to Vancouver, I like to find a log and sit on the beach at Spanish Banks. I look across Burrard Inlet to the North Shore Mountains. To me, a born and raised Vancouverite, this is the quintessential view of the city.
The cluster of downtown buildings to the east is dwarfed against the mountains and sky. But it isn’t the freighters anchored in the inlet, I see, nor the swimmers or boaters that make the view. If you stare across the inlet, you can see the figure of a reclining woman, apparently asleep, her hands resting on her stomach. Grouse and Seymour mountains form her head and shoulders and the long slope eastward of the mountains form her lower torso and legs.
The city below the reclining woman is small and insignificant.
You may think I’m crazy. I admit, not everyone sees her. But others see her, as this article in the Jericho Sailing Centre’s newsletter attests. I consulted my old copy of Pauline Johnson’s (Tekahionwake) beautiful book, Legends of Vancouver.1 There is no mention of the reclining woman.
You have to look awhile to see the reclining woman, but once you find her shape, she will be with you always.
Breathing the city in her dreams
Looking across at her, it is easy to conjure the idea that she is breathing the city in her dreams. Those of us who live here are the shimmering images she sees in her slumber. The light sparkling on the blue water, reflecting off the glass towers, bridges and vast treed landscape. She is the sleeping watch woman, an image of grandeur, beauty and safe haven. The city and its residents are a mirage on the edge of the ocean.
She is always there. Despite how much Vancouver changes ‒ the traffic, congestion, construction, ethnicity and culture ‒ she gives the place a sense of permanence.
Jennifer and I moved to Pender nearly eight years ago. We kept an apartment in the city for a couple of years. We then sold it and moved our second residence to Victoria. When we left Vancouver, I had no idea how much I’d miss it.
Changing neighbourhoods, still the same
I love the neighbourhoods. The expansive Kitsilano, which, despite the burgeoning condos and luxury homes, still retains its gentle tree-lined streets and clusters of shops. The sky is wide above the maples and poplars along the boulevards. The neighbourhoods are a pleasing mishmash of tidy houses beside ramshackle ones with overgrown gardens.
Main Street, from Terminal, northwards is becoming an exciting hive of craft breweries, coffee shops and bakeries.
This past weekend, we stayed with friends in a new Olympic Village penthouse. It looked north across False Creek to the Georgia Viaduct, Rogers Arena, home of the NHL Canucks, B.C. Place, home of the CFL Lions and Science World at the end of the inlet. The area used to be a warren of warehouses and factories, almost a relic of the old logging days. It’s unrecognizable to me, now, but it’s thrilling to see the rejuvenation.
As we drove around, it was as if I suffered bouts of amnesia. A part of Broadway looked different and I couldn’t remember what used to be there. Other streets were familiar enough, but I missed important turn-offs, forgot routes and directions that used to be second nature.
Trying not to forget
The city tries to remember where it came from. Names for new buildings memorialize the ones that came before. A new development at Fourth and Bayswater is called the Black Swan, after the iconic used record store that occupied the corner for decades. I spent many a leisurely Saturday, there, flipping through LPs and listening to the latest music. A similar development at the corner of Sixteenth Avenue and Arbutus Street is called The Ridge, after the great second run movie theatre, where I first saw Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music.
That’s why I like to sit at Spanish Banks and pan the North Shore mountains. I watch the reclining woman breathing gently in her slumber, dreaming of what used to be and what is to become, dreaming of the golden city by the ocean. As long as I can see her, I can still recognize my city.