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Sunday, October 30, 2011


Mountain View Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Vancouver, in operation since 1887.  It covers 106 acres, home to 92,000 graves and 145,000 interred remains.  The cemetery is located in what was once farmland, in the area of Fraser Street between 31st and 43rd Ave.  Buried beneath the ground here are everyone from war heroes to sea disaster and slide victims and victims of the worst transit accident in BC when a transit streetcar crashed in 1909 killing 15 people.  There are wealthy people interred here as well as those who met their ends through violent or tragic means.

The wealthy include Henry O. Bell-Irving, a cannery owner and Yip Sang, a Chinese businessman.  But there are also grave of well known athletes:  Joe Fortes, a popular African/Canadian lifeguard and Harry Jerome, an Olympic runner.  The mother of poet Robert W. Service, Sarah Emily Service, is buried here along with murder victim Janet Smith, age 22, aka "The Scottish Nightingale". Her murder in 1924 was known as "The notorious Janet Smith Case" 

Burials are often grouped together according to religion or nationality or organization affiliations.  Other groups are paupers, and war vets including Canadian military graves.

On Saturday, Oct 29,  "All Souls Day",  the cemetery was open for visitors during the night.  Candles lit up the pathways and shrines were set up with candles and incense to honor the dead.  There was choir music,  the Carnival band, and music by a Asian musicians playing instruments made of bamboo.

It wasn't at all spooky wandering the candle-lit pathways.  Occasionally there was a pyre burning in a cauldron or a piece of timber.  There were adults and children, many of them visiting specific grave sites.  My friends and I wandered the labyrinth of tombstones and pathways, stopping now and then to light candles and read the inscriptions left on the shrines. 

It was a tasteful and nostalgic way of celebrating the Hallowe'en weekend.  Inside the cemetery office building tables were set up where you could make your own votive candles with materials supplied including flowers. 

I thought of my many friends and family members who have passed, several of them just this year.  It was a good way to remember and honor their memory.  I've been on the Ghost Tours of Vancouver bus trips which also stop at this cemetery and focus on the more sinister side of the graveyard sharing gruesome tales of old murders and accidents.  But wandering the tombstones by candlelight, listening to music, lighting votive offerings, seemed a much more meaningful way to celebrate the Hallowe'en weekend.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Recently Vancouver's Chinatown was officially named a national historic site. The area covers Pender Street from Gore Avenue to Taylor Street and includes 24 heritage buildings that showcase the distinct architectural style with their recessed balconies and iron framework.  The site includes buildings such as the three-storey Chinese Freemason's Building, built in 1901 and Shanghai Alley where Chinatown originated.  Many of the original residential buildings and stores in the area were demolished by fire but there are many still standing. 

I decided to make a trip to Chinatown specifically to photograph some of the old buildings.  I go to Chinatown frequently but don't always take time to appreciate these historic buildings that were part of the beginnings of my city.

The Jack Chow Building (known historically as the Sam Kee Building) was listed in Ripley's Believe It or Not as the 'narrowest building in the world" (it's only 6 ft wide).  Back in the 50's when my ex husband was doing a lot of painting in Chinatown, he worked in this building and we were invited to spend Chinese New Years there with the then owners.  That was an experience I've never forgotten -- not only sitting in the salon that was so narrow it had only room for a couch, or taking part in the mah jong and card games in the underground room that goes right under Pender Street!


The Wing Sang Building at 51-67 E. Pender is the oldest building in Chinatown dating to the late 1800's. It was owned by a Chinese merchant, Yip Sang, who established the Wing Sang Company which sold tickets for the Canadian Pacific Steamship Line and operated two salt herring plants on Vancouver Island.

You can take a guided walking tour of Chinatown, but I chose to go on my own as I often do, mainly to photograph some of these unique old buildings.  The history of this area goes back to the days of the Gold Rush of 1858 which brought the first Chinese to Canada.  Many of them arrived not only to pan for gold along the Fraser River, but to work as labourers for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).  As the city of Vancouver was built, Chinatown also grew and became the heart of the Chinese settlement in Canada.

Shanghai Alley started in the late 1880's on the shores of False Creek at Pender and Carrall Streets.  The population then consisted mainly of male labourers who worked as mill workers, loggers, farmers, peddlers, grocers, laundrymen and restaurant workers.  It was a male bachelor society who lived in crowded and densely populated Chinatown that gradually expanded eastward along Pender Street.
Along Shanghai Alley are plaques and posters explaining the history of the area.  The Han Bell at the end of the alley was a gift to the citizens of Vancouver from the sister city of Guangalon China. It is a replica of one unearthed in 1983 in that city.  The original bell dates back to two millenia and is the symbol of the history of both cities.

Chinatown was first declared a historical site in 1971 and the first restorations were carried out but recently it has been named a National Historic Site proclaimed by the Federal Government.  Although these days the major Chinese population lives in suburban Richmond, Chinatown is still an important part of our city's history and a day's stroll around the interesting shops and narrow alleys proves to be a worthwhile adventure.

The Millennium Gate and marks the entrance to this historic area. It was donated by the People's Republic of China after Expo '86. It's Chinatown's landmark, an elaborate 4-columned gate with hand painted traditional colours and tiles. At 50 East Pender is the Chinese Cultural Centre a two-storied building with exhibition rooms and an auditorium where events are held aimed to preserve and cultivate Chinese heritage.  The China Gate entrance to the Cultural Centre,  was originally the entrance to the China pavilion at Expo '86 in Vancouver, was presented to Vancouver Chinatown, As you enter the China Gate at the entrance of the Cultural Centre, you will see the bust of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen in front of the gateway that takes you into the serene atmosphere of the Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden which is modeled after the private gardens of Ming Dynasty Suzhou China.  The garden is free, but don't miss the interesting tour into the adjoining scholar's house for a small admission.

Don't miss a stroll up the streets to browse in the many shops including all the tea and herb shops where medicinal plants are sold. There are a variety of grocery stores which sell unusual dried produce including salted fish and strange roots. And stop for a meal at one of the many restaurants.  I particularly like the Hon's Won Ton House on Keefer Street.  For Dim Sum, try the Floata Seafood Restaurant on Keefer Street.  And the Keefer Bakery on Georgia Street specializes in ethnic Chinese cake and baked goods.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Stanley Park Yacht Club

On a sunny Autumn Sunday I took myself to Stanley Park,  my main intention being to enjoy and photograph the autumn season in the park.  Stanley Park is a beautiful green space in the city of Vancouver, larger than NYC Central Park (404.9 hectares - 1,000l acres).  It's a favorite place for people to go for a day of strolling , a picnic, a run, skateboarding or cycling.  Inside the park are gardens, an Aquarium, art displays, playgrounds and many interesting places to visit.  Surrounding the park are some excellent beaches,  English Bay, Burrard Inlet and Coal Harbour where there are marinas.

I got off the bus before it reached the park (the bus goes right into the park where you can walk easily to various locations).  I wanted to enjoy the lovely gardens and views along Coal Harbour. 
One of the interesting sculptures is this one of the woman sitting on the park bench checking the contents of her purse.  Today someone had given her a bouquet of flowers to hold.

As you enter the park, you will see another statues, a monument to Lord Stanley of Preston for whom the park is named.  At the official opening of the Park on September 27, 1888, Lord Stanley is said to have 'lifted his arms to the heavens as though embracing them', and dedicated to park 'to the use and enjoyment of people of all colours, creeds and customs, for all time'.  The statue captures this historical moment.
Lord Stanley

Stanley Park has been associated with many famous people, including the Mohawk poet, Pauline Johnson who is buried in the park near Third Beach,  the artist Emily Carr who often painted in the park, and others.  Every weekend there are artists in the park near the Aquarium area displaying their work.  And near the entrance to the Park is a memorial to the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns including plaques with quotes from his well known poems.
Robert Burns, poet

I was hoping to see a blaze of autumn colours the day I went to the Park. However, due to our late summer, the autumn frosts had not yet touched the trees and everything looked  lush and green.
I always enjoy strolling under the giant fir and cedar trees, some of them ancient trees.  Unfortunately several years ago a terrible wind storm wrecked havoc in the park and blew many of these old trees down leaving huge swaths of empty space. 
One of the main attractions in the park is the Aquarium.  There used to be a zoo area as well but this was removed during the '90's, so only this interesting sea world exists now.  It's a popular place for the children, especially the dolphin and beluga shows.  Outside the aquarium is this impressive sculpture of a killer whale by renown Haida artist Bill Reid.

The park is a great place for families with many different play areas for the children, picnic tables under the trees, a water park and other activities. 

A really fun way to see around the park is to take the horse-drawn carriage ride.  I can recommend this as I went with my friend one time and we had a thoroughly enjoyable time!  This day I happened to see the carriage going by loaded with tourists. 
At one time, Stanley Park was the home of several villages of indigenous people.  Here at Lumberman's Arch, there used to be a Squamish village.  Various places in the park where the Squamish people's hunting or gathering grounds.  It was up this part of the Burrard Inlet that Captain Vancouver sailed when he first came in search of that northwest passage.  The Squamish people went out in their canoes to greet the British ship.  Vancouver is named after Captain George Vancouver. The Lumberman's Arch is a memorial for the loggers of B.C.

I walked back through the park trails to where there is a small railway.  At this time of year it turns into a Hallowe'en Train and the woods encircled by the track are full of spooky things.  Great fun on a late October evening!  During the summer this area now becomes K'lahowya Village,  dedicated to the First Nations People, with displays telling the Park's history and connection with the indigenous people who once occupied the park.
Eagle on a rock, in K'lahowya Village

Stanley Park is one of my most favorite destinations when I want a quiet walk in the forest, or along the seawall, or just to browse through the many garden areas.  No matter how many times I've gone there (and I started going to the Park almost every Sunday since I was a young teenagers) there is always something new to see and enjoy. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


The Battle Field of Marathon

This is an old post from July 2006 when I made a return trip to Marathon, the site of the famous battle between the Greeks and the Persians in 490 BC  and the place where the race called 'the marathon' began.

June, 2005
I had a busy, eventful day today starting early this morning when I headed off on a day trip to Marathon. Last night as I lay in bed I had some uneasy thoughts about these plans, but after analyzing the reasons why I felt these trepidations, I recalled the details of my first trip there back in May 1984 just after I'd come to live in Greece. I'd always come to Greece in the autumn so I was not prepared for the climate of May and didn't realize that, though the day was overcast, the sun is very penetrating here. Consequently, I ended up having the worst sun-burn of my life, so serious I was sure my back would be scarred from the blisters.

How it happened was, I'd gone to Marathon to see the tumulus of the Greeks who had died at the battle of Marathon, and later gone to Marathon beach to enjoy the afternoon. After a few hours on the beach I stood on the highway waiting and waiting for the bus back to Athens. By this time I was feeling the affects of sun-stroke. The bus didn't come. But a nice looking man in a van stopped and asked if I'd like a ride. Without hesitation, because I simply had to get off that highway, I said yes. I realized later how risky it was, that my guardian angel must have been on high alert. When he turned off the highway onto a mountain road I got real scared. He stopped the van and I waited, trying not to panic. What the heck would I do anyway? all turned out okay. He'd only stopped to change into his shorts. He must have realized how frightened I was as he was quite kind to me and later drove me around to show me the home of Papandreaos, the Prime Minister, and other posh mansions in the area where he lived. Then he dropped me off so I could get the trolley home. (note: Later,  I was sick for days from sunburn and sunstroke. It taught me to respect the Greek sun, always wear sun-screen, carry water and wear a hat!)

Well, today sure wasn't going to be a repeat of that day! I set off covered with sun-screen, carrying water, food, and a hat, necessary equipment in this hot country. Got the bus at 11 a.m. for Marathon which is 42 k. NE of Athens. The road passes along the coast to the plain of Marathon which extends in a crescent around the Bay of marathon, skirted on the landward side by stony mountains. I explained to the ticket boy that I wanted to get off at the 'tombs and museum' which are on a side-road before you get to the town. It's an hour and half ride out to the east coast of Attika, past the various small coastal towns and resorts. I noticed we were passing the plain that is marked as the famous battle site, then the sign of the tumulus went whizzing past. Next I see we are entering Marathon and the boy told me it was here I should get off. (How in heck was I going to get back to where I wanted to be?) There was a museum where I was let off, but it turned out to be the new "preservation of the Marathon" museum. Across the street is the Olympic stadium entrance with the starting gate for all marathons run in Greece.
New Marathon Museum

The new museum was actually interesting. They were just setting up for some event tonight so the young lady was apologetic but showed me around. It is mainly a record in photos and writing of all the marathon since the first modern Olympics in 1896 when a Greek shepherd, Louis Spiridon, who was known for his powers of endurance won his first marathon and in a show of indescribably enthusiasm, 60,000 spectators and the King of Greece welcomed him in the Panathenaic Stadium as if he was the new Pheidippides, the runner of the original 40 miles from Marathon to Athens back in 490 BC.

There was a gallery of women runners too. The first woman to run a marathon was from Syros. She was known as "Melpomene" and she ran 40 k. of the 1896 marathon the day after it was officially run. She had been denied permission to run in the official race so she decided to run alone. She asked a priest to pray for her protection but he refused, saying he would only bless official athletes. Her finishing time was 5.30 hrs.

I was told I could get a bus to the tombs at 2 p.m. and I went to wait on the corner. Two buses passed and I visualized another incident like had happened back in '84. So I decided when the bus finally came (right at 2 pm as the schedule said!) that I'd go straight back to Athens. It turned out that the bus detoured around by the tombs and the beach. The tomb is in the middle of an olive grove, the dome of it rising above the trees. It's like a big upturned bowl with sod covering it. Nothing seems to have changed since I first saw it so I wasn't missing anything new.

The beach though had been built up with tavernas and hotels. I wouldn't have minded stopping.

Persian boatsThe Battle of Marathon, in 490 BC, is one of the most celebrated battles in history. It was here that an army of 9000 Greeks and 1000 Plataeans defeated the massive 25,000 strong Persian army, proving that the Persians were not invincible. The brilliant Greek general Miltiades' ingenious battle strategy saved the day when he altered the conventional battle formation so fewer soldiers were in the centre, more in the wings. This tricked the Persians into thinking the Greeks could be easily overcome. They broke through the centre but were ambushed by soldiers in the wings. The Greeks had sacrificed earlier to Pan and when the Persians retreated in disarray, they knew Pan had heard their prayers. That's how the word Panic got it's meaning. At the end of the day 6000 Persians and only 192 Greeks perished. After the battle a runner named Pheidippides was sent to Athens to announce the victory. After shouting "Nenikekame!" ("We won!") he collapsed of exhaustion and died. This is the original of today's "Marathon" foot race.

Statue in memory of Pheidippides, the messenger
In ancient Greece, bodies of those killed in battle were returned to their families for burial. But as a sign of honour, the 192 men who fell at Marathon were cremated and buried in a collective tomb. This is the burial mound I went to see. The top of the  gravemound commands a view of the battlefield. At the foot is a marble bas-relief copied from "The Warrior of Marathon". The tomb stone had the names of the fallen arranged according to tribes, but this no longer exists.
According the the historian Pausanias, the Persian dead were flung into an open trench.
The Tumulus where the Greeks are buried.

I've just been reading Steven Pressfield's excellent book "Gates of Fire" about the war at Thermopylea, when the 300 Spartans led by their king Leonidis, and an allied army of about 6000 men faced the formidable forces of the Persians at the "Hot Gates". His descriptions of this battle, which happened only 10 years after the one at Marathon, are so vivid, it helped me to visualize exactly what it must have been like for the Greeks in both battles.
The Greek Phalanx

"One felt as if he were facing men from the underworld, from some impossible country beyond Oceanus where up was down and night day. Did they know something the Greeks didn't?"

(I recommend, if you like historical fiction, you read this book as it is truly outstanding!)

This September was the anniversary of the Battle of Marathon and the yearly marathon race will be run from here on November 13. It starts at the battlefield of Marathon and ends at the Olympic Stadium in Athens.  If you're a marathon runner, you should make it a point some time to participate.  After all, this is the 'real' thing!

Photos from Wikipedia