Having arrived in Vancouver on a high after the Rocky Mountaineer experience we have a little time to explore Canada’s third largest city, before heading off on the last leg of our road trip. For those not too familiar with Canada’s geography Vancouver is a coastal sea port in western Canada in the lower mainland of British Columbia province. Having just had a fantastic two days on the Rocky Mountaineer, this city is going to need something special to match it.
As usual when we visit a city new to us we try and join a guided walking tour. Vancouver was no exception so we joined about 20 others from as far away as Barcelona, Mexico and Boston (USA) to meet Josh our guide, who founded Toonie Tours a couple of years ago. Toonie Tours takes its name from the nickname of the Canadian $2 coin which is colloquially known as a “Toonie”. Not sure why.
Left: Josh, our Toonie Tours guide; Right: Modern Architecture
Our walking route took in some iconic landmarks and sites including the new Public Library with its own piazza with several cafes plying for trade, and The Commodore, an old art deco building. The ground floor has been converted to shops, however, on the first floor is one of the most famous night clubs in Canada, with a sprung dance floor, and where famous Canadian and international bands like Nirvana, The Who, Bryan Adams, Nickleback, and Bachman Turner Overdrive all appeared when they were struggling artists trying to make it big. It was the one place every young band aspired to play when touring Canada. One other, more recent star made an appearance here on her way to stardom………..Lady Ga Ga, not a name you often hear in the same breath as The Who or Nirvana! In case you are wondering, Lyn and I did not try out that dance floor later on!
Left: Library Entrance; Right: Library Piazza;
We also visited the stadium of the Vancouver Whitecaps Football team, not because they are a famous football or soccer team but for the statues outside commemorating one of Canada’s “favourite sons”, Terry Fox. There are statues of, and memorials to Fox all over Canada and he is recognised not so much for his sporting prowess, but for his sheer strength of mind and determination in the face of extreme adversity.
Terry Fox was born in 1958 and grew up in a small town in British Columbia. As a school boy he was a keen basketball player despite being only 5ft tall. His determination to succeed in college Basketball, and all other endeavours, would become a hallmark of his life. When his coach suggested he would make a better distance runner he took up running not because he liked it, but to please him. However in 1977 at the age of 19 he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in his right knee and his leg had to be amputated above that knee. He was so determined and single minded to recover, that he was walking again three weeks later! He taught himself to run on a prosthetic leg and developed a very awkward running style where he would hop slightly on his left leg to allow the springs on his artificial leg to reset the joint before placing it forward in a running motion. This placed extra stress on his back and other joints as he ran. He trained for and completed a marathon in 1979. In 1980 he began the “Marathon of Hope” a run from east to west coast Canada to raise much needed funds for cancer research. He was still in pain as he started in St Johns running a marathon a day. By day 143 he had reached Thunder Bay when he was forced to end his run, because of the pain he was suffering. He was told the reason for his pain was that cancer had returned and spread to his lungs. He had completed 3,339 miles. He died in June of 1981. Today the Terry Fox run, held across Canada each September, raises millions of dollars for cancer research through the Terry Fox Foundation and his legacy lives on in this run.
Terry Fox Memorial
This was a moving story our guide relayed to us and we paused for a few moments to look around his statues and reflect on the achievements and determination of a Canadian hero.
We walked on to visit the Canadian Cenotaph, which remembers the Canadian fallen of all wars but specifically a tribute to those who fell in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the first action involving Canadian troops in WW1. The area is illuminated at night and the lamp stands have shades shaped in the form of soldiers helmets from the period as a further tribute to the fallen of this battle.
Clockwise from top left: Vancouver Cenotaph; Cenotaph Detail; Helmet lampshade; Colonial Building.
From here it was a short walk into the oldest part of Vancouver, indeed where the city was born, Gastown. The original settlement was developed on clearance areas on the western edge of the Hastings Mill logging property. A makeshift tavern had been set up on a plank between two stumps, by the proprietor, a persuasive and talkative Irishman by the name of Gassy Jack. He persuaded the curious millworkers to build him a tavern and from that first enterprise, other stores and some hotels quickly appeared along the waterfront to the west. Gastown was named for him. Gassy Jack? It is thought he was given this nickname because he was always “gassing”, or talking.
Standing proud on one street corner is an unusual curiosity, a Steam Clock, yes a clock powered by steam. It looks like something out of the 19th Century but in fact was built as recently as 1977, based on a design first constructed in Ladywood, Birmingham in 1859. Although the clock was originally powered by a steam engine, its high noise levels and inability to maintain an accurate time, the steam element was replaced in 1986 with an electric motor, originally used as a back up. The clock still steams and on the hour a steam whistle plays the Westminster Chimes to signify the hour. A very odd curiosity.
Clockwise from top left: Steam Clock; Steam Clock “chimes” at Noon; Vancouver Street Art
Us in the Vancouver Library and the on Rooftop Garden.
From this site it was a short walk to Vancouver’s waterfront and the end of our walking tour. As always it had been a fun, informative and entertaining walk and gave us an insight into the development of Vancouver as a city.
One irony that did strike us; Vancouver is regarded in regular surveys as one of the top five liveable cities in the world, and regularly features in surveys as one of the best places to live. It was sad to see then, so many homeless people lying or sitting in shop doorways wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags guarding what few possessions they had. I realise that is a common sight in most modern cities, but in one of the most liveable cities in the world? I am not so sure.