Sunday, June 3, 2012

Day 12. Biking tour around Vancouver

I may need to eat my words, for Vancouver is indeed a beautiful city, particularly from the perspective of a bicycle rider, who everywhere can find dedicated paths. I started going up (north) to downtown, and then down (still north) to the wharf in Burrard Inlet. From there I followed the seawall west for a few kilometers, sharing the way with skaters and joggers. The seawall path eventually brings you to Stanley Park, which is the pride and joy of the city. It is the tip of a small peninsula that juts into the inlet to separate English Bay to the west from the Burrard Inlet to the east. It is also one of the most pleasant urban parks that I have ever seen.

The first attraction is the totem poles area, which I vaguely remember from 30 years ago. Most of the totem poles have been replaced since that time, as they deteriorate rather quickly under the rainy weather. Totem poles are not deities, but rather the equivalent to a coat of arms of the different First Nations. I remember my dad brought home a miniature of one from Ontario 50 years ago, to the endless fascination of me and my brother, so I went back to my youth and spent a good hour staring at the carvings and reading the legends associated to them. Orcas and grizzlies are among the most common motifs, but with patience one can see samples of the whole mythology of the First Nations.

Then I went to the aquarium, which is indeed a fine collection and beautifully displayed. It was overrun with school children (apparently the kids here are still at school), and with young mothers pushing increasingly bigger strollers (nowadays they are more command centers than a way of carrying a child). They have a nice collection of beluga whales, which is a small, white whale without a dorsal fin. They live in the Arctic, and presumably the lack of a dorsal fin (and the ability to turn their necks left and right) is an adaptation to be able to navigate under floating ice.

The third “attraction” is the path that goes along the base of the cliffs. You almost feel that you are riding on the water, and it affords a great view of English Bay.

After visiting the aquarium I had a craving for fish, so I went looking for lunch and found the best fish and chips place ever. For a flat fee you could eat all the fish you wanted, so I am afraid I made quite the little pig of myself. It had been sometime since I had enjoyed fish so much.

After lunch I biked over the Burrard Bridge, and went to visit the Maritime Museum. The center piece of this museum is the RCMP St. Roch (pronounced St. Rock), a vessel that belonged to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police from 1930 to 1960, and which was commissioned to serve the outposts of the RCMP in the northern territories. In 1943, The Vancouver-based vessel was sent to Halifax, Nova Scotis, thus becoming the second vessel to go through the northwest passage (the first one was Roald Amundsen in the 1930’s in the tiny Gjoa), and the first one to make it from west to east. The following year, 1944, the St. Roch once again went through the northwest passage to return to its home port, and a few years later it went south to the Panama Canal, and from there up to Halifax, thus becoming the first vessel to circumnavigate North America!

The St. Roch is now in dry dock inside the museum, lovingly restored, and is a tribute to the determination of the Royal Canadian Mountain Police to be a beneficial presence in arctic Canada.

Tomorrow I go back home, to scramble and get ready for a week of Field Geology in the desert of California (the Poleta folds). It is going to be superhot and miserable, and will make the Canadian Rockies be but a dream. I am glad I had this dream though. I find Canadians to be delightful, friendly people, and I find their country marvelous and spectacular. I think next I will tackle biking from Montreal to Quebec City along the Saint Lawrence River, and then taking the train from Quebec City to Halifax, to bike along the Atlantic Coast. I’ll let you know.

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