First Nation art

We visited Vancouver in May 2019. We stayed at Point Grey near Kitsilano in Vancouver, and then flew back after a brief holiday in the resort village of Tofino on Vancouver Island.

Frozen lakes 

Getting There

The journey from London to Vancouver on the plane was one of the most spectacular I have experienced. We flew over Greenland, covered in cloud on the eastern side, but as we flew further the clouds cleared and you could see the steep snowy fjords all down the western side, basking in sunshine. It looked stunning, and we flew way far north over eastern Canada, looking down on Baffin Island, the northwest passage and Nunavut, and then flying over Athabasca Lake, Uranium City and the far north of Alberta. At first, I thought it must be Labrador and Nova Scotia below, but we were well to the north of Iqaliut, which is the only town I could identify on the flight map.

Looking down on the miles of snow and frozen lakes, huge deserts of tundra and ice dunes that made me think of the Sahara, but in blinding white, I was struck by how much of the globe remains almost completely remote and unexplored, but also how vulnerable this region was to climate change. The topography from the air is very mysterious, and I wonder whether anyone is living there. I imagine that polar bears, reindeer and penguins form the bulk of the population!

Maple syrup for sale

Point Grey

We are staying in an AirBnB at Grey Point, which is just to the west of Kitsilano. We haven’t yet met the owner, but you get a clear picture of what he is like from his flat, which has brightly coloured paintings, mountaineering and skiing paraphernalia. It is comfortable, well-equipped, and even the cafetière that was missing from the list of essentials was delivered by hand.

Point Grey is a short walk from the sea, and the shore has amazing views over Vancouver Bay out to the mountains, still capped with snow.

Point Grey is full of restaurants, eclectic stores including a great bookshop that specialized in esoteric subjects and it had the best selection of shamanic / alchemical books that I have seen. There was also a very good wine shop that had a comprehensive selection of wines from the Okanagan Valley, and we have been gradually sampling a range of different vineyards and grapes.

Every neighbourhood has its own cannabis store, and Point Grey was no exception. We spent an afternoon looking round the many suburban gardens, and I found it amusing to how many of those behind the manicured lawns were puffing on a joint or indulging in a little weed behind the scenes.

Nature nearby

Vancouver

Vancouver is actually farther north than Toronto, at 49.28 degrees N, although this is actually two degrees lower than London! I was surprised, but probably it is the geography rather than the latitude that matters.

The city is far from cheap, although everyone who lives here seems to think it is. The city has a benign climate, easy-going lifestyle and tolerant cosmopolitanism. The one thing that is acknowledged as expensive is accommodation, and I can only think that everything else like eating out, sports and other aspects of a good middle-class existence are actually relatively cheap by comparison.

The Clock Tower

Downtown

Our first venture to the Downtown area was to look around galleries. We took the number 4 bus which took us over Granville Island, and up to the Waterfront area with its exhibition centre and interesting places to eat. This area is on the edge of Gastown, which has a much more edgy feel than the leafy suburbs. Here we looked around a gallery of Eskimo Art and then another gallery just up the road dedicated to artworks from the Northwest tribes.

The Vancouver Modern Arts Museum is also worth a visit. We caught the tail end of an exhibition of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings. It was a bit of a whizz round, and the gallery was crowded given that it was the last day of the exhibition, but I especially enjoyed the Canadian artists represented, which include Morrice, A.Y. Jackson, Emily Carr and Borduas, as well as more modern and contemporary artists.

Slippers at MOA

First Nations

The next day we went out to the UBC Museum of Anthropology. We got the bus to the University, and then made our way out to the Museum. This was a wonderful experience. Most of the museum is dedicated to the First Nations although there are also objects from other Pacific cultures such as the Maori and Papua New Guinea, among others. The campus is enormous, a mix of old grey stone buildings and modern tower blocks, so it really does feel like a city within a city.

The Museum is built on the traditional lands of the Musqueam First Nation, a modern building with lots of glass set in deep hardwood forest, and outside it there is a lake with traditional Haida houses with their enormous door blocks and totem poles in front. The entrance hall is stunning, with a high ceiling and huge glass windows that look onto the lake and the Haida houses, but it is full of totem poles, long boats and the giant statues and wood carvings that you also see at the airport and in some of the buildings in the city centre. The museum has artwork and traditional artefacts from all the Northwest Coast First Nations, and a wonderful carving by Bill Reid of a creation myth with people emerging from and him scurrying back into a giant clam shell.

Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden

Nearby the Museum of Anthropology is the best Japanese garden I have seen outside Japan. The Nitobe Memorial Garden has a serene atmosphere with water features, manicured gardens, and traditional tea-houses for the tea-ceremony. We looked over the lakes from a shaded wooden pavilion, then walked along the pebbled pathways over the wooden bridges diving the water features. Very tranquil! You can buy a ticket at the Museum of Anthropology that also gives you access to the garden. The 2½ acre site is part of the Centre for Plant Research at the University of British Columbia.

Flying high

Flight Back

The flight from Vancouver back to the UK was as good as the flight over. We went over the Rockies, and then kept on going over the Rockies, and then after an hour we were still going over the Rockies. And then the huge plains and rivers and frozen lakes, and the deep snow-covered wastes of the far north. It was just so good. All the flight was in a kind of twilight haze as we were well above the Arctic circle and in that region where the sun never sets, so wonderful.