One of the few benefits of flying west across the full breadth of Canada is that it gives you a natural early morning wake up call to help you make the most of your first full day on the other coast. Waking up well before daylight had the common sense to break, I readied myself for an only in Vancouver type of experience – a morning hike around the Stanley Park seawall. I picked up a scone and a coffee in the lobby of my downtown hotel and took a short cab ride to Stanley Park to start my hike. At about 6:00am, the skyline of the city was perfectly reflected in the calm waters of Coal Harbour.
I was planning for a leisurely hike of about twelve kilometres taking lots of time for photography and to savour the varied scenery. Only a few minutes into my hike I made a short detour inland off the seawall and came to a collection of First Nations totem poles. The nine totems here started as a collection in the 1920s when four of them were moved to Stanley Park from Vancouver Island. Since then, five more have been moved here or constructed on site.
Back to the seawall, I made my way toward Hallelujah Point. From there I got a postcard worthy view of downtown Vancouver from across the open harbour.
At this point in the morning as I made my way around Brockton Point, I was starting to be struck by just how quiet the park was. The only sounds were those of light waves splashing against the seawall, a few crows and seagulls overhead, and the footsteps of the occasional jogger. Going around the point, the seawall views changed from the city to North Vancouver. Lucky for me, the early morning clouds were starting to break up to reveal a few snow covered mountain peaks.
Along the walk there are a number of sculptures and pieces of public art. Two of them caught my eye along the northeast portion of the seawall. On the left is a replica figurehead of the S.S. Empress of Japan, a ship that sailed to the orient in the late 1800s and early 1900s. On the right is Girl in a Wetsuit by Elek Imredy. Although the artist doesn’t like this piece being compared to The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, having seen both in person, the similarities are fairly striking.
Past those pieces of art, the next section of the seawall directs you toward then under the Lions Gate Bridge. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the hike. Here, I really started to notice the smell of the wet spruce trees that line the seawall. The mountains on the other side of the water continued to be revealed as the clouds pulled away. And, of course, as you get closer to the bridge, you gain a better perspective on its size and how high above the water it is suspended. This part of the walk was a full sensory experience.
After passing under the bridge, I had one of those “moments within a moment” experiences. There’s a lot of wildlife that makes its home in Stanley Park, including this goose below, and I had ample opportunity to see geese, sea birds, and a whole host of small critters. As I was walking on this part of the path, I saw two large birds flying toward me, and as they got closer I could tell they were bald eagles. Passing only about 30-40 feet directly above me, I was taken by their sheer size, their wingspan, and by the sound of the wind under their wings as they glided directly overhead. It only lasted about 5 seconds, but it was an incredible moment I will never forget.
After going under the bridge, you begin to see these views out to the Straight of Georgia on the horizon. At the early hour, I had this pretty much all to myself.
By this point in the morning, the air was starting to warm up as the seawall turned south back toward the city along the west side of Stanley Park. Siwash Rock shortly came into view. The rock stands about 18 metres tall and is topped by a small Douglas fir tree.
With the sun up and the clouds retreating, I was joined by more and more Vancouverites out for their morning hikes, jogs and bicycle rides. The seawall started to become a community gathering place with lots of dogs out for walks and people meeting over coffee. I could imagine this being my Saturday morning routine if I ever take up residence in this beautiful city.
It was approaching 9:00am by the time I reached the end of my hike at English Bay. What had started out as a cloudy and chilly morning over by Coal Harbour had bloomed into a sunny and warm day. As I stood looking north back toward the English Bay Inukshuk, I couldn’t think of a better way to get acclimatized on my first morning in Vancouver. Less than a day in, and already the west coast was putting on a show for me. No surprise that it was very, very easy to fall right back in love with Vancouver.