By: Susan Gerle
A sense of camaraderie is evident in the West End of Vancouver on any given day. The most recent, of course, was during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Robson Square in the West End of Vancouver, Canada was the epicenter for the games.
There is lots to see and do in the neighbourhood. Wonderful names adorn buildings that have stood the test of time: Ocean Bay, The Sylvia. Many have interesting histories. The Whitehouse Apartments, for instance, was infamous forty-five years ago for housing one of the top Madams in Vancouver, so says a long time resident of the building. Many people have lived in the area all their working life and have chosen to remain in the West End when they retired.
I grew up in Vancouver and often return for a visit. Like others, I have many happy memories in this area. I pause often when I am walking, and enjoy the budding new life, looking forward to the riot of colours that will soon burst forth with the arrival of spring.
The architectural beauty of old brick low-rise apartment nestled amongst higher balcony-adorned buildings is a reminder of days gone by. An occasional heritage home is also tucked in between, turned into classic apartments with high ceilings and marbled faced fireplaces.
To really enjoy the West End, just snuggle into one of the tiny corner parks and watch the squirrels looking for tid-bits as the seagulls scream high above. If a visitor is lucky, they may even see one of the resident skunks or raccoons ambling along the sidewalk as evening approaches. On windy days the surf can be heard pounding the seawall. The magnificent chestnut trees mute the sounds of sirens and the pounding of thousands of feet during local races or parades along English Bay.
It is hard to imagine this quiet corner is one of the most densely populated areas in North America and is surrounded by a rapidly changing skyline. Memories abound in the quaint area between Denman, Stanley Park, the lagoon, and English Bay. The parking hasn’t improved in the last forty years. People still vie for that two-hour space so they can show grandchildren the beaches they played on with their grandparents many years before. Ducks and squirrels still get fed by tiny hands, watched closely by big eyes and excited little faces
It’s not just people who enjoy the neighbourhood. Four-legged residents add to the ambiance. One can observe miniature dachshunds, English pugs, or a team of Bouviers taking their owners for a walk. The smaller dogs often have an interesting outdoor wardrobe, possibly consisting of a colourful hand-knit sweater, fluorescent vest, or a yellow rain slicker.
The canines all have their distinct personalities. I remember a huge English Bulldog who often caused his owner anxious moments with his refusal to budge from the middle of an intersection during his daily stroll. And then there are the new puppies, full of energy and anxious to visit every moving leaf, hand, and tree along their route!
I watched a beautiful Harlequin Great Dane who waited patiently for a drink, while his owner visited with a friend on a West End corner. The dog had his front paws on the kiddy step of a drinking fountain with his mouth placed close to the spout. Occasionally he would look up at his companion, hoping he would eventually take the hint.
On another day a man left his apartment building with his border collie off leash, as a chubby raccoon waddled out from under a nearby bush. I stopped quickly and tried to signal the person by pointing and yelling. He got the hint and called his dog to his side, who immediately obeyed. I was impressed. If I were a dog, I don’t think I could have resisted the temptation of the chase. Occasionally a skunk is surprised around the area too, so pet owners have to be prepared.
Most of the dogs are creatures of habit. They have their daily routine and are hard-pressed to change or deviate from that routine. I could probably set my watch by certain neighbourhood pets as they look forward to the daily romp on the lawns of Barclay Manor or the swim at English Bay.
There are other things to do in the West End too. Some of the best eateries in Canada are located on Robson Street. Before dining, shop at some of the street’s famous stores for “Canadian made.”
So whether a visitor wants to check out the architecture or just watch the action, there is something for everyone to enjoy in the West End.
About the author:
Susan Gerle lived in the West End of Vancouver for a few years and still visits regularly.