Vivid, modern, but with tradition and First Nation heritage in every corner. It is the biggest city in British Columbia and an intense combination of urbanity and wilderness. A cultural journey through Vancouver and Stanley Park.
Dimly, the mountains are recognizable. Waves swirl around the surrounding mountains, which sprawl deep into the Pacific Ocean. The twilight transfers the scenery into a mystic light. Mountains accrue from fjord-like arms of sea and seem to be eldritch and all outliving giants. Neither the sea nor the destructive power of man can do any harm to them. The mountains are going to bear up with these powers and stay until forever. Canada´s First Nations believe that the mountains are their departed ancestors, who watch over their descendants.
“You are rocks full of blood…” – listening to Lone Wolf while driving up the Sea-to-Sky Highway in British Columbia, Canada completes the atmosphere. The Sea-to-Sky Highway is not only a road: it is also a cultural journey. Every inch of the route is rich in mystery with First Nations history, supernatural beings and place names. Watching the shimmering ocean, every wave and irregular movement of the water, makes me attentive. It seems like everywhere in the sea orcas are hiding under the water surface, waiting every second to appear and guide the travelers their way.
We are on our way back from Squamish and its deep and mossy woods, to spend the last days of our journey in Vancouver. Vancouver, the city between mountains and ocean is attracting many outdoor lovers. You can have a modern, vivid city on the one hand and on the other, you can go skiing, mountain biking or whatever you want just minutes outside the city center.
Through the urban canyons, we wander to the stadium of the Vancouver Canucks and through Yaletown. Maple leafs are embedded in the pavement and spread the spirit of Canada. But the more we walk through the city, the more we want to get back to the waterfront and stroll the waterside.
Finally, Canada Place is right in front of us. We walk the wooden planks around it and enjoy the view of the sea. It is situated on the Burrard Inlet waterfront. This is a fjord separating Vancouver from the North Shore Mountains. The Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre, as well as a hotel and the world´s first IMAX 3D theatre are located in Canada Place. With its exterior covered by fabric roofs resembling sails, it is a prominent landmark of the city and also the landing of giant cruise ships waiting to enter the Pacific Ocean.
We walk alongside the waterfront, watch the floatplanes driving onto the water and refueling at a swimming gas station. The Coast Mountains on the other side of Burrard Inlet are overflowed with clouds. Harbor Green Park is on our left side as we pass several houseboats. Flowers are decorating their balconies and they peacefully bob up and down in the water.
For getting all the way to Stanley Park, we decide to rent some bikes. They are quickly chosen and we can put lots of distance back. Twelve dollars are well invested in our new companions and Stanley Park is coming closer and closer.
A raccoon crosses the path and signalizes the first signs of nature. More and more trees appear and shimmer in the evening sun. Stanley Park is bordering Downtown Vancouver with a size of 10% larger than New York City´s Central Park. It is mostly covered with an estimated half million trees, where some are taller than 76 meters and older than several hundred years. We cycle on a paved 22-kilometer seawall path, which circles the park.
The spirit of the Canadian First Nations fulfills the scenery as we reach the totem poles. These are actually replicas of the originals that were moved here mostly from Alert Bay. The clutch of these eight colorful totem poles is one of the highlights of the tour. All aboriginal legends and symbology are included: the spirit bear, the thunderbird, the raven and the wolf. But I am mostly fascinated by the illustration of the whale or former the killer whale. Since my early childhood, these animals pull me under their spell. They are mysterious and are idolized by the First Nations. They believe that orcas help in need whether people are helpless or wounded and symbolize kindness, intelligence and compassion. Killer whales are the guardians of the sea and of travel and are a symbol for utility and goodness. Since they live in pods and hunt in packs, they are also called sea wolves.
The totem poles are replenished by three carved, red cedar portals, which welcome the visitors to the traditional lands of the Coast Salish people. The gateways show the history and thriving modern culture of these people. Stanley Park spreads the spirit of the First Nations and still overwhelmed by their culture, we continue on our way around the park.
We bike below the Lions Gate Bridge, which leads the way up to Whistler through the Coast Mountains and along the mystical Sea-to-Sky Highway. Sea otters play around in the water, swim on their backs while eating kelp. The setting sun reflects on the water surface and the tank ships are drifting towards the horizon. Cycling along the next turn, a shadow of a massive rock in the water with a small Douglas fir atop appears. Siwash Rock! It is one of the famous attractions in Vancouver, with a total of 18 meters high. About 32 million years ago, a volcanic eruption formed in the sedimentary rock. Through a fissure in the Earth´s crust, magma was forced to the surface and created the basalt stack, which is more resistant to erosion than the softer sand stone cliffs. The Squamish call it the transformer stone. According to a legend, a man was transformed by Q´as the transformer into the rock for its altruism.
Deep forests on the left side and the beach on the right surround the path as we pass by. Driftwood accumulates on the beach. Shells and stones glimmer in the sand and a lone maple leaf waves in the wind. Oh Canada! We sit down on the driftwood to watch the sunset and try to catch a glimpse of an emerging orca. But the wolves of the sea hide themselves in the water.
…to be continued.
Find more information about Canada’s First Nations at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC and at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre.