04 September 2018

Northwest Passage - Pt. 4: Vancouver: Multiple Cultures

Spent two days in Vancouver, BC, staying in an AirBnB in the centrally located Kitsilano neighborhood. The first thing you note in the residential areas of BC are the hedges. Nearly every home has a neatly shorn hedge of some kind—short or high—separating it from the street.

Highlights of the stay included a morning at the Museum of Anthropology on the campus of University of British Columbia. It is probably the premier repository of First Nations cultural artifacts in the world. There is a growing sensitivity in BC about the historical injustices done to indigenous peoples there. Though, like all North American culture, it still has its problems, it's a damn sight better than the way Native Americans and their culture have been treated here in the U.S. For example, the highway road signs now list both the English (or French) city names as well as the First Nations' place names.

The aesthetic of the artwork is unique and easily recognizable around the world. The Seahawk on the helmet of the Seattle American football team is an example. And there is a growing interest in updating the indigenous art forms. Bill Reid is one of the foremost and earliest practitioners. There is an entire room at the MoA dedicated to his work.

Vancouver is a sprawling city and has a terrific public transportation network. We trained and bussed all over town. No Über of Lyft there, however. We also walked a fair amount, from the downtown to Chinatown to Gastown to Stanley Park. Some observations:

• Marijuana becomes legal nationwide in October of this year. Weed stores operate fairly openly now, knowing the Mounties are not going to bust them a month ahead of its legalization. The smell of pot is nearly as prevalent here as in Seattle.

• Chinatown is adjacent to what I can only call the skid row of the city, a neighborhood of Methadone and Naloxone clinics and needle exchanges—all public and free, I might add. I was taken aback at the number of people, mostly young, sprawled out on the sidewalk or seeking help at the doors of the clinics. (No pics, out of respect) Yet, you turn a corner, walk a half block, and you're in one of the trendiest, upscale restaurant, gallery, and boutique areas of the city: Gastown. The juxtaposition is bracing.

• Walk another half-mile or so and you come to the harbour (that's how they spell it) with its cruise ships and convention centers and major hotel and restaurant chains. A few blocks on you reach what I call the graveyard of massive condo buildings which, I'm given to understand, are more than half empty. They seem to go on forever around what's called False Creek. Most have been scooped up by Chinese nationals seeking to expatriate money. Real estate prices here are out of sight, and working class folks have been driven to the outlying areas. The boom in condo buildings and yachts in the harbour does not feel sustainable—but that's my own observation.

• Stanley Park is filled with runners, dog walkers, skaters, and strollers. It's where downtown Vancouver gathers to enjoy the long, lovely summer evenings—politely.

A few pics (click to embiggen):

Contemporary interpretation of First Nations mask
Traditional First Nations "Transformation" Mask
Traditional First Nations "Transformation" Mask
Bill Reid, "Raven and the First Men" (emerging from an oyster shell, balls and all). Iconic.
Contemporary indigenous art
Basket Weave Motorcycle (from Pacific Islands)
More Culture
China Town Gate
Memorial Garden
'Gassy' Jack, presiding over the Gastown District
A near-infinity of empty, expensive condos along the harbour, mostly Chinese-owned
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