Beauty, Sorrow and Strangeness at English Bay

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English Bay is a beautiful part of Vancouver.  Anyone who has walked along its shore in the spring or summer sun can attest to that.  For me, English Bay holds lovely memories, but some strange and disturbing ones as well.  I will start with the saddest one.  My aunt and uncle owned a home in Kitsilano which is directly across from the English Bay beach.  When I was little, we would go to their house often and that always meant a walk with one of my cousins to the beach.  I would stick my toes in the water and kick and splash in the direction of English Bay.  I would wonder if it was possible to swim from one side to the other.  Those are good memories.  Sadly, my cousin John, named for my dad, got caught up in the drug scene.  It was the 60s and drugs were ubiquitous. One evening we got a phone call that John had been found dead of an overdose on the beach looking over to English Bay.  It was a long time before we went down to that beach again – years in fact.  And for some reason that I still don’t understand and my dad never explained, we stopped going to my aunt and uncle’s house.

But not all my memories of English Bay are bad ones.  The one and only time I was in a parade was along English Bay.  I was a member of a synchronized swimming team and we were asked to join the parade.  We all sat in our team swim suits in the back of a truck and waved to the people lining the street.  One time, I was invited to join a group of people in a million dollar condo that faced out towards the water.  We spent a very pleasant evening watching the Symphony of Fire – a fireworks competition that the city of Vancouver held every year.

Sometimes strange things would occur too.  Back in 1984, I was getting ready to head off to work in Japan for at least one year (I didn’t know then that it would extend to three).  I was scared to be dropping everything and moving to a country I had never seen before.  I was sad leaving family and friends behind.  And I was overwhelmed trying to pack up my life in the space of 2 weeks before I had to climb on a plane.  My very best friend in the world, Leslie, took me down to English Bay one afternoon, to go for a walk.  As we walked along the shore, I told her how I was feeling – it all came pouring out.  At the end of it, I had a wave of sadness wash over me because Leslie and I had not gone a week without doing something together – hanging out, going for a drive, visiting her family or mine, since we were 19 – four years before.  We were both sad that we wouldn’t see each other for at least a year.  As we walked in silence, I saw something lying on the beach in front of us.  We walked over to it and peered down.  It was a full set of dentures.  For some reason that just struck us as hilariously funny and we both laughed until we couldn’t breath and tears were running down our cheeks.  That broke the mood for both of us, and I was able to shake off the blues and to see the adventure that lay in front of me.

Something I also find strange is the Inukshuk that the city placed there just before the 2010 Olympics.  An Inukshuk is an Inuit sign post.  As far as I know, the Inuit people were never indigenous to Vancouver.  Perhaps the city was tired of totem poles.  I hope not – they are beautiful and indigenous.

I still visit English Bay when I go to Vancouver.  It is still lovely and sometimes still strange…when Nick and I were there a few weeks ago we spotted a sailboat washed up onto the shore.  It had been lovely weather for days – no storms or wind.  Yet there it was.  I took the time to snap a photo, but never knew the story.

Totems and Dishwashers

Totems and Dishwashers

One of the places we visited in Vancouver was Stanley Park. This is a must see if you are in Vancouver and I can’t even guess how many times I have been there. When I was a university student I would often drive through the park and stop and sit on the seawall and watch the water. All my worries and anxieties about school and lack of money and boyfriend trouble would pack up and leave as the smell of the ocean drifted up my nostrils and the wind off the water blew my hair around my head.

When I was in my third year at the University of British Columbia, I joined the rowing club. We would train early early in the morning in Coal Harbour which lies along the south of Stanley Park. One morning in February, around 5am we were carrying the shell down to the dock. It was nasty cold and their was ice on the dock – one wrong step and one of our team went sliding across the dock and into the freezing water. We pulled her out as quickly as we could and hustled her back into the boat house to see if there were any spare clothes that she could change into. Once we had her relatively warm and dry, we realized that there would be no practice that morning. We packed up the shell and our gear and we climbed into our assorted cars to head off to the university to get ready for morning classes. The boathouse was right at the entrance to the park but to leave we had to drive all the way around the park as the road was one way. The sun was just starting to peak up over the city and the park glowed with a pink tinge. As we drove past the area of the park that hosted the totems each of us slowed down to look. Under the totems there were a couple of refrigerators, three ovens and a dishwasher. It seemed to be the most bizarre and random thing you could imagine. One of the team, when we got to school, called the police and told them. She found out that the appliances were likely stolen and had been left there for the “fence” to pick up. For whatever reason he/she never showed.

And don’t forget to check out my new blog – My Sicilian Home!