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.


Searching The Mountain For Boobies and Dingdongs

I mentioned in my last post that I grew up in Vancouver.  That is not entirely accurate.  I actually grew up in North Vancouver halfway up Fromme Mountain.  I know, I know…anyone reading this from North Vancouver will say “Actually it’s Mount Fromme.”  True, but as kids, we called it Fromme Mountain.  At that time there was very little development above or around where I lived.  Everyone had acreage, the forest encroached on our back yards, we saw bear and deer and raccoons regularly.  I grew up in a neighbourhood of large Dutch families.  This meant lots of kids to go exploring with and often with a bag of that delicious salty Dutch licorice.

When we climbed up past the tree line, we knew that if we hiked far enough (about 20-30 minutes) we would come to the nudist colony.  We would hide behind trees and try to catch glimpses of the naked bodies but, being too afraid to get too close, we rarely saw much of anything.  This didn’t stop us from hiking back down and bragging to everyone that we saw someone’s dingdong or someone’s boobies.  Not everyone would hike up there but those that did acquired a special place of honour in our large group of friends.

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Hiding Under the Dock

Hiding Under the Dock

When my daughter was small, we would go visit my parents on the Sunshine Coast, just west of Vancouver. If it was summer we would go down to the beach and swim in what was for the Pacific pretty warm water. If we started to get too warm sitting in the sun, we would hide under the dock and look for tiny crabs under the rocks, and for starfish that had been left high and dry by the tide.