Vancouver’s big weekend
This past weekend has traditionally been my favorite of the year to be a Vancouverite. Ever since I first moved here, the weekend that crosses over between July and August has been the one that I look forward to all year. Everything happens on that last weekend in July. It’s actually a 10 day period, but it centers around last weekend.
First off, it’s the weather. It’s that time of year where it’s warm enough to wear shorts, but not yet so hot you just want to sit in an easy chair with a beer and a towel on your head. Not that it ever really gets that hot here in Vancouver, but there are days in August… I’m not so good in the heat as a rule, so I prefer it sunny but a bit cooler. Anyways, so it’s warm but not uncomfortably hot. It’s also incredibly clear and pretty in the city. If you’ve never been to Vancouver during a blue sky summer day, you’ve missed out on seeing the city at it’s very best. The skyline just shimmers from say the granville or burrard bridge, and the light blue focus of our downtown buildings really shines thru. Actually, all the colors of the different buildings become accentuated and the city appears to be a multifaceted jewel. Add the numerous green space and vegetation in general, and it gets even better. When I think of most cities I’ve been to, most of the time I think monochrome; Edmonton with it’s dirty white, calgary with it’s brown, Toronto with it’s gray interspersed with splashes of red. Very few city skylines have the same affect on me; it’s why I’ve called this city home for so many years. San Francisco has a similarly moving sky-line view to me, as does Chicago, but both of those have other things that I like missing. New York’s skyline is sexy but for completely different reasons. Sadly, due to the amount of rain we get, the majority of visitors to our city see it when it’s grey outside, and that view of a shiny jewel is missed. It’s been my experience that people who visit Vancouver for the first time on a sunny day want to (and, like myself, often do) move here, and those who visit on a gray day don’t. Of course that’s a generalization.
As opposed to the skyline view outside the city, when you’re in the city the other thing you get when it’s sunny is the background of the mountains. First off, North and West Vancouver are pretty spectacular from the city side; I’ve always liked that view of buildings growing out of spectacularly green mountain foliage; that juxtaposition of wilderness and man-made structure is appealing to me, from an aesthetic standpoint. Many would disagree with me, but that’s why it’s called an opinion. The view from certain parts of downtown vancouver really accentuate this, and you add the big park on the city side (Stanley park) with the post-card-y Lion’s Gate bridge coming from it, it gets even better. Speaking of Lion’s gate, during the summer the Lions themselves are very visible and somewhat stunning. The Lions are two peaks on a single mountain (I think they’re on a single mountain) behind Cypress in West Van. To me the Lions have always looked more like nipples than Lions, but hey…who am I to rename them. I think the city would lose a bit of it’s cachet if they renamed the bridge “Nipple Gate Bridge”. People would be forced into images of the 2005 Superbowl. Anyways, in the summer most, if not all, of the snow is gone from the peaks, and they are a pretty and powerful image from the city. I actually prefer them when there’s some snow, but not complete coverage, as the white/black contrast is nice.
So beyond just the aesthetics and the weather, the other thing about the end of July in Vancouver is the events. Over four nights (two Wednesdays and two Saturdays) the HSBC Celebration of light goes on in English Bay. This is the largest free fireworks presentation in the world, and if (like me) you like fireworks it’s the city’s most unbeatable event. Basically fireworks companies from 3 countries compete over the first three nights (one on each) and then on the fourth night they have a finale with all three showing their best parts. This is not your father’s Canada day or Independence Day fireworks; these are 20-40 minutes of some of the biggest and most spectacular fireworks you’ve ever seen. These fireworks are also choreographed to music, which is a big part of the competition and it makes it a little different than most fireworks displays. During the event anywhere from 150,000 to 300,000 people plop themselves into the west end and the english bay beach areas to watch this event. It is amazing to see that many people in that small of an area. I lived in the West End for most of the time I’ve lived in Vancouver, and contrary to some West Ender’s I absolutely loved the experience of that many people in my ‘hood. Sure, there are a few problems with drunk suburbanite morons picking fights and committing random vandalism crimes, but overall the crowd is very friendly and happy.
To a West Ender (maybe to Vancouverites in general) planning your fireworks experience is a bit of an art. Finding the perfect place to view them where the crowds are comfortable and the view is unobstructed and the music is audible is the goal, and not always easy to do. For a few years I was very lucky in that a good friend of mine rented an apartment that was 8th floor, right on beach avenue directly in front of the barge. It was actually impossible to get a better view than that place had; you were slightly above the crowd but not so high that it skewed the imagery, it was completely unobstructed, and you were close enough that in a well choreographed show the explosions were timed with the drum beats. It was amazing. He would have big parties every year and there’d be like 30-40 people in his apartment each of the 4 nights and everyone would truly have a good time. Another good way to see the fireworks is by boat. On a boat you are right under the fireworks, and as physically close as you can possibly get. Seeing them from a boat, however, relies on knowing someone well enough to get invited on, and then going early enough to get a good spot. If you had just gone down to the beach during a fireworks night and not spent much time down there, the number of boats would fool you into thinking there’s city all the way across english bay from first beach to kits beach; there’s that many lights. I saw a statistic once that every night of the fireworks there is one boat sunk, on average. Mainly due to stupidity and bad boatsmanship (is that even a word?). I’ve seen them once on a boat and it was a cool experience, but not necessarily the most spectacular way. The best part of seeing them from a boat was being with a group of good friends and being able to party a bit.
If you aren’t lucky enough to know someone with a killer view or a boat with room for you on it, the place that most West Enders go is a certain apartment complex. On beach avenue there are a trio of buildings that are all one complex. They’re round buildings, and between these buildings is a two level parking lot. Past the parking lot is a walkway between the buildings that overlooks the bay with an almost completely unobstructed view (there is one Cypress tree that obscures about a third of the low level fireworks, but it’s easy to live with). I’ve seen probably 15 fireworks nights from this spot and it’s always nice. Its never too crowded, and from the people in those buildings you get to hear the music. You’re close enough to feel the explosions and removed enough from the crowd that you don’t get claustrophobic if (like me) you’re not a big fan of being in the center of a 300,000 person crowd. You can also see the fireworks from the Kits side if you want; i’ve only done that once and didn’t like being that far away and on the wrong side. Last night I watched the fireworks from Ruth’s parents house (it was her mom’s birthday) which is on the 34th floor of an apartment about 16 blocks from English bay; high enough to be completely unobstructed and completely crowd free. Not quite the same as being in the thick of things, but still enjoyable.
Sandwiched between days 2 and 3 of the fireworks (this past sunday) is gay pride day. Now, me being a good prairie boy, when I first moved here it was kind of a stretch to get me to attend the Pride parade and events around that. Eventually a girlfriend convinced me to go on the promise of bared breasts (yes…sad…lol) from the “Dykes on Bikes” grou, which generally launches the parade. Well I did see boobs, but they tended to be on women that aren’t super attractive to straight men. But the other thing was it was a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining event. The circus around the pride parade during it’s peak was amazing, and although there are some instances of nudity or leatherwear or what have you, all in all it is a good family event. There is a contingent of local politicians and emergency services personel who march to show solidarity and preach tolerance, which can only be a good thing. Over the years I’ve noticed more and more young families along the parade route and at the concert after the parade. I’ve seen some hilarious things in parade, and these are not things you’d see in the Santa Claus parade. After the parade the West End is turned into a series of concerts, street meals and vendors, and events. They’ve been known to close Davie street right down for the events, and it’s always a hoot. Sadly over the last couple of years the moral right has forced the parade to tone down some of its bits, and while I don’t necessarily think rash nudity for it’s own sake is necessary, the effect of toning things down is that the parade has become corporatized, losing some of the fire that made it so entertaining a few years ago. Still it’s a worthy event.
The other thing that happened on this weekend this year is the Caribbean fair in North Vancouver. Generally they hold this later in August, but for some reason it was on Pride weekend this year. The Caribbean fair is an awesome event of music, food, and sights of the caribbean. I’ve attended this event a few times, and it’s always incredible fun. The only thing I don’t like about it is that the lineups to buy a drink or some food are ridiculous; there just aren’t enough vendors for the number of people. The bands they get for this are very very good, steel drum bands, reggae bands, dancehall groups…it’s all there and it’s all good. Sadly I missed Caribbean days this year, but it’s all part of the energy this city gets on that one weekend.
Overall, as I said earlier, this weekend that just past really is my favorite one of the year to be a vancouverite, and it always makes me proud to call this city home during this time. It’s tinged with a bit of melancholy as it also marks the middle of summer; the beginning of the end, as it were, but it also means there’s another 4-6 weeks of hot sunny weather, and another 2-3 months before the rain starts.