Station Street – North of Terminal Ave

The Vancouver Mural Festival had taken place on August 20. I didn’t have time to go out and take in all the murals that day. However, the Friday after I went in search of the murals on a hot and sunny morning.


I got off the SkyTrain at Main Street Station and went north thinking there might be some murals between the SkyTrain and the viaducts. At least that’s what the Vancouver Mural Festival map suggested to me.

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Climbing Up to Hong Kong’s Mid-Levels

Hong Kong Island is one very hilly place. Most visitors and tourists would only venture up the hillside to visit The Peak. Even then, most people would likely take The Peak Tram (which in itself is a tourist attraction). If you have an extended period of time, then it may be worthwhile to explore off the beaten path into non-touristy Hong Kong.

On this January Sunday, I was meeting up with an old high school classmate. I don’t think I had seen him since my university days in Vancouver. So it was a great chance to meet up with him and his wife. We had set a time to meet at the Starbucks at Park Road and Bonham Road. Okay. I’ve heard these street names, but I had no idea where it was. Thank goodness for Nokia Maps and their downloadable city maps.

On my map, I found the intersection and ran a straight line down from there to the tram line along Des Voeux Road. It happened to follow along a street called Eastern Street. This street would be the subject of my pre-meeting exploration.

Riding the tram along Des Voeux Road

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Walking West Hong Kong Island – Sai Wan

After a quick fix of caffeine and WiFi (plus a chance to rest our feet) at my uncle’s place in Sheung Wan, we were back out on the street. It was Sunday, so my uncle took us down to a weekly market that closes some streets in the area.  There were some performances on a stage and a lot of ladies lining up for some freebies at one tent.

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Walking the Small Streets of Central

I was in Hong Kong over the holidays for a wedding. Thankfully, my sister and I managed to find some time to do somewhat touristy things. With all the large meals we were subjected to, it was actually very nice and refreshing to actually get out and walk for long distances about town. This is what we did in the small streets of Central in Hong Kong. Our uncle played neighbourhood guide for us for this walk.
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Downtown Courtenay – Along 5th Street

Here’s a snippet of photos from along 5th Avenue in Downtown Courtenay.  The downtown is not very big. Most of the shops are centred along 5th Avenue, although you can find some shops and services along the adjacent 4th and 6th Streets.  Interestingly, the cross streets starting from the river go more or less alphabetically.  The Cona Hostel is on Anderton Avenue.  B is missing, but Beckensell Avenue can be found at 11th Street just outside of downtown.  Then there’s Cliffe, Duncan, England, and Fitzgerald Avenues.  Downtown peeters out past Fitzgerald.  So Downtown Courtenay is roughly 3 x 7 blocks.  That’s not a very large downtown and it’s really quiet at night.  That’s typical of a small town.

VHF Burrard Street Walk – Nelson to Davie

This is the last part of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation‘s walk along Burrard Street.  We went south down Burrard Street past Nelson Street.  Maurice pointed the two hotels near Nelson and Burrard.  There was the older Century Plaza Hotel on the west side of the street and then the Sheraton Wall Centre, which stands on the tallest point on the Downtown Peninsula.  He retold the story of how the Wall Centre’s north tower was built a darker glass that the city had originally approved.  The City wanted a lighter tone glass that would blend in with a blue sky.  However, the darker glass would have stick out like a dark spire crowning the highest point in the downtown core.  The Wall Centre and the city eventually arrived at a compromise where the already-installed dark glass would not be removed, but the upper two-thirds would be the lighter tone glass.  Hence, the funny two-tone Wall Centre at Nelson and Burrard.

Further down we walked to St. Paul’s Hospital.  St. Paul’s is a Vancouver institute.  Maurice told how the Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart came to Vancouver in the 1890’s to build this hospital.  Here’s an excerpt from Heritage Vancouver’s site:

The original St. Paul’s Hospital was a 25-bed, 4-storey wood frame building designed and constructed by Mother Joseph of the Scared Heart. An accomplished carpenter and reputedly the first woman Architect of the Pacific Northwest, Mother Joseph was responsible for more than 30 hospitals, schools and homes for those in need. The land, then a piece of wilderness on Burrard Street, had been acquired for the purpose by the Sisters of Providence to serve the fledgling City. The Hospital cost $28,000 and opened in 1894, just eight years after incorporation of the City of Vancouver. In the years that followed, twelve more buildings would be built by the Sisters.

The original wood frame building is no more, but the current red-brick Burrard Building, or Centre Block, of the hospital was built in the 1910’s.  It’s a rare living historic building to find in Vancouver. If you’ve ever entered St. Paul’s, it’s a confusing maze of cobbled together buildings and wings.  I would have gotten lost inside the hospital if it weren’t for the signs pointing me to the auditorium.

Across the street is a building that you would not think as having much heritage value.  It’s the Burrard Hotel.  It is definitely a throwback to a different era.  It’s neon sign unabashedly declares its own kitschy-ness from the 1950’s.  Maurice really want to bring us into this hotel to check out how the 1950’s feel has been re-invented in this hotel.  The hotel is also home to the first licensed coffee shop in Vancouver that can sell alcohol on their menu.  I love the courtyard in the middle of the hotel.  Check out those chairs!

The Burrard Hotel was the official end of our heritage walking tour down Burrard Street, but Maurice offered to take those who still had time into St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church.  It’s the old stone church building on the southwest corner of Nelson and Burrard.  So we backtracked north along Burrard.  I was glad that I did not miss out this opportunity.

In contrast to Christ Church Cathedral, the church was dark and stone all around.  The dark sanctuary is what makes the stained glass windows at St. Andrew’s Wesley shine brilliantly on the inside.  Many of the stained glass windows on the side of the sanctuary are done in the French dalle de verre style of stained glass.  Note how the mosaic of each stained glass window looks like it’s composed of dozens of broken pieces of glass.  It was really unique.

At the front of the sanctuary was the altar with a giant crane cloth.  It was a gift to the minister of St. Andrew’s Wesley. I can’t recall the details now.  However, there is also a giant stained glass window above the altar area, as well.  It is in a totally different style in contrast to the dalle de verre windows around the sanctuary.  The church guide pointed out a few red dots on this large window.  Those were apparently holes created by stray bullets from shootings in the neighbourhood. Yikes!

I would love to thank Maurice Guibord for another excellent walking tour. He is a fountain of information and enthusiasm on each and every tour.  I also want to thank the Vancouver Heritage Foundation for organizing such excellent tours.  I really do recommend that you join any one of their many tours.  Be it a heritage tour or a house tour, it’s all been worth it.

I hope you have enjoyed the recaps of my experiences on these walking tours.  I truly look forward to joining more of these tours in 2013.

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VHF Burrard Street Walk – Robson to Nelson

After the Christ Church Cathedral, we headed south to Burrard and Robson.  Burrard and Robson is the busiest retail intersection in the city.  It’s the start of the Robson Street shopping area with all the big name retail chains.  It’s also where playoff hockey celebrations tend to happen as cars with crazy Canuck fans honk their way up and down the road (but not this year with the NHL lockout).

750 Burrard Street anchors the intersection.  This building was originally built as the Central Branch of the Vancouver Public Library back in 1957.  As time went on, the collection outgrew the library and the Central Library moved east in 1995 down Robson to Homer Street into it’s new Roman colosseum inspired digs.  750 Burrard Street eventually was occupied the first, and only ever, Virgin Megastore in Canada.  The top floor was taken over by Vancouver Television or VTV at the time.  As with all things, change happened and Virgin Megastore became an oversized HMV and VTV became CTV 9 Vancouver.  Now, even HMV could not survive and the location is currently empty on the main floor.  The next occupant on the corner of Robson and Burrard – Victoria’s Secret.

The next major stop along Burrard Street on our walk was The Electra, formerly known as the BC Electric Building.  The BC Electric Building was also built in 1957 and was the headquarters of, who else, the BC Electric Company.  For years, the lights of building were left on throughout the night.  A statement by an electric company that they had energy to burn?  There were also the famed O Canada Horns that used to sit atop the building.  It would play the first four notes of “O Canada” every day at noon.  Since the building became a residential tower, the horns were moved to Canada Place.

Photo: Dal Grauer Substation. © Heritage Vancouver Society

Then we looked at a little known building behind The Electra. It sits as an non-descript building with a bland glass facade.  This is the Dal Grauer Substation.  It doesn’t really look like a building worthy of heritage protection, but it is on the Vancouver Heritage Society’s Top 10 Endangered Sites of 2010.  When it was initially built, you could see straight through the glass and see all the inner workings of the substation.  Light shone brightly from within the substation and splashed colour onto Burrard Street.  However, due to several explosions, the glass was replaced with shatterproof Plexiglass in 1977.  So in it’s current form, it looks like a drab box.  If it were to be restored to it’s former glory, it would add some colour to the street and better complement the surrounding buildings.

the original look of the Dal Grauer Substation

Across the street from the Electra and the Dal Grauer Substation is the newly renovated YMCA.  Maurice pointed out how this was a good renovation of an old building.  The part of the Y that fronts Burrard Street retained most of its original features and look.  However, when you go inside, it is all modern and updated to serve the growing needs of the West End community.  It was a good example of good heritage preservation and re-use.

VHF Burrard Street Walk – Christ Church Cathedral

The Christ Church Cathedral was the highlight of my walking tour along Burrard Street organized by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.  This tiny unassuming church has been on the corner of Burrard and Georgia Streets since 1889.  It may look like an old English countryside church on the outside, but the inside is magnificent.

We were very fortunate to have one of the pastors, Peter Elliot, give us a little talk about the church.  It seems that the church has taken advantage of density transfers from their property to nearby properties to help with the upkeep and renovations of this church, which included a new organ above the entrance to the sanctuary and to a new layout to the sanctuary.

The stained glass windows are amazing and also eclectic.  Some of the stained glass were sponsored by early citizens of Vancouver.  You may be able to spot a famous Vancouver name in the corner of some of these windows.

We actually were allowed to get up on the stage area and walk around.  We were able to get really close to the windows and I loved getting close to the piano on stage.  That was a real treat.

Again, there is such a variety of stained glass windows.  Maurice said we had to see this small, but significant stained glass window.  This window of three of Christ’s disciples is by the famous William Morris company of England.  The company is well-known in stained glass and museum circles, according to the church’s stained glass window brochure.

And with that, we were out the door and back on Burrard Street to go further south.

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VHF Burrard Street Walk – the Central Business District

Burrard Street is home to our current Central Business District.  It is where Vancouver does business.  The stretch from Hastings south to Georgia is home to most of the corporate headquarters in British Columbia.

We walked south along Burrard from the Marine Building while Maurice, our guide extraordinaire once again, introduced some of the buildings to us.  One of the first buildings we came across was the Douglas Jung Building. This government office building is nothing to wow at architecturally.  The name, for me, is more interesting than the building itself.  Douglas Jung was the first ever Chinese-Canadian Member of Parliament.  I first found out about Douglas Jung on a previous Vancouver Heritage Foundation walking tour of Chinatown.

I also find the piece of public art outside the Douglas Jung Building more interesting than the building itself.  This piece is called Public Service/Private Step.  It is by artist Alan Storey who seems to specialize in moving art pieces.  The pendulum in the HSBC Building on Georgia Street and the giant wheel at Sapperton SkyTrain Station in New Westminster are also examples of Storey’s work.  The “elevators” in Public Service/Private Step actually mimic the exact movement of the elevators inside the Douglas Jung Building.  Today was the first day I actually saw those boxes move.  I guess I must have only passed by this building on weekends previously when nobody is at work.

The collection of Bentall Towers is synonymous with business in Vancouver.  These two bank towers are a couple of the older Bentall Towers.  Maurice pointed how the concrete columns extend from top to bottom.  He said it was a modern interpretation of the old classical columns found on 1920’s bank buildings.  And, of course, these buildings are primarily occupied by financial institutions.  The logos of National Bank and the Business Development Bank of Canada occupy the tops of the towers.

Continuing with banks, this smaller glass and concrete structure has occupied the corner of Burrard and Dunsmuir for many years now.  It’s at the foot of the Bentall Tower complex on the west side of Burrard.  To my memory, it has always been a branch of the Bank of Montreal.  Maurice said that this branch was home to beautiful metal trees with thousands of metal leaves that created a canopy inside the bank.  According to Maurice, they were removed over 20 years ago. The reason?  They were very difficult to clean.

Across the street on the east side of Burrard is the newest of the Bentall Towers – Bentall 5.  It’s sleek steel and glass look topped off with Bell Canada’s corporate logo is in line with Vancouver persistent steel and glass architecture.  The logo of Teck Resources marks the entrance to Bentall 5.  Much of the money in town flows from corporations dealing with British Columbia’s natural resources.

One can also tell from this Park Place cairn down the road that the money in town is in finance (RBC), mining (Goldcorp) or lawyer firms (Davis LLP and Stikeman Elliott LLP).  I guess these are the people who can afford to get the nice seats at a Canucks game.

Not to despair, though.  Burrard Street is not just for big business and the suits.  There’s a little something for everyone.  How about a little Tacofino to satiate your hunger on a walk along Burrard.

Next up: Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral.

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Walking Vancouver – Strathcona in March (2)

After walking from Dunlevy and Hastings to MacLean Park, then onto Hawkes and Prior, we crossed busy Prior Street to the Strathcona Community Gardens.  These gardens are very well used.  On a sunny day like this day, it was full of community gardeners tending to their tiny little plots.  It seems like the local gardeners knew each other and were sharing tips and stories of how their plants were growing.

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