Yesterday was merely a travel day, a day for crossing the border once more and arriving back into British Columbia for the final leg of our tour. We opted to have today as a general sightseeing day and to use one of our favourite resources to see Vancouver, the Hop-on-Hop-off bus tour. But first the challenge of getting downtown to pick up said tour as we had opted to stay a little way out of the city. No Uber cars here, apparently, so being worldly travellers we would take the bus. We checked on how much it would cost ($1.95 each for Seniors, no matter how long the journey) and found you needed the exact change. Off we went to hotel reception and emerged with $15 in bits!! No matter, we were good to go.
Along came the bus in a matter of seconds and we were off for our 20 minute ride. A few stops into the journey, the area began to look a little down at heel, as did the large number of passengers joining us. I thought very little of it at the time as the minute we alighted we were only a couple of blocks from our tour bus. Our tour was a game of two halves, with the choices of a tour of the city, a tour of the parkland surrounding it, or both. Well, we had all day, so why not both?!
The city was vaguely interesting, but not exactly enthralling. An interesting fact is that the city’s oldest church is in the heart of the financial area. God and Mammon and all that. But I loved that church’s slogan, “Open doors, open hearts, open minds”.
I really thought the best bit of the city was the Gastown area, Vancouver’s oldest area. It certainly had character, notably in the form of the statue of the man who had arrived with just his wife and a barrel of whisky. His name was John Deighton, nicknamed Gassy Jack, as his ambition was to brew alcohol in Gastown to quench the thirst of the thousands of immigrants who had come to build both the city and the railroad. Or it might have been the steam clock that intrigued me when it blew a tune on the quarter hours and blew copious amounts of steam on the hour. Whatever, but it certainly wasn’t my first introduction in that area to the distressing state of vast numbers of people that had me photographing madly. I have never come across anything quite like this anywhere in the world. An ambulance had stopped in the street and the queue snaked on for a fair distance with people looking for some sort of fix. More of this to come.
Duly fortified with coffee and a sandwich, courtesy of Starbucks, we were off on the park part of the tour. The morning bus had been rather uncomfortable when we sat at the back, where we thought we might get better photographs. The noise of the engine was ‘unusual’ and reminiscent of the old two-stroke, but the driver seemed to need to take a bit of a run at the hills and we found ourselves well and truly bounced around. So, for the afternoon trip, it was seats at the front.
The outer part of the city features the really beautiful Stanley Park and, as The Fall is arriving in Vancouver, the constant variation in colour, to say nothing of the views of the city across the water, added immensely to our pleasure. The sun was slow to emerge today and low cloud hung tenaciously to the mighty Rockies beyond, but it was a mild, calm day and we were mostly pleased with what we saw. That was until we walked the couple of blocks back to the point where we would get our bus back to the hotel.
I have already mentioned the problem in Gastown, but here the issue was everywhere we looked. I have never seen so many distressed folks in one place, whether it be through drug abuse, alcohol, mental issues, abject poverty or a combination of all four. People were selling their worldly goods on the pavements and begging for money. They were in such a poor state I could not imagine how many might survive for many years. I am sure they are not all homeless but here is a problem of some considerable magnitude. We remained safe, but it is not a journey I would want to take either alone or at night. Next time a city centre hotel might be the answer, or… maybe not!
Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities
In 2017, Vancouver was voted the third best city in the world to live! And, I could see why. But, I could also see ‘why not’ as well!
The history of this city stretches back to 1792 when Captain George Vancouver from his ship, HMS Discovery, spent time on the site. How long? A day! And yet, in 1886, it bore his name. Ironically, it was named because people in Montreal and Toronto knew the name of Vancouver Island but not the name of the town to where the new railroad was joining them. The old name was Granville (also called Gastown – an area still remaining). The Trans-Continental railroad arrived in 1887. That year, Vancouver’s population was 1,000, by 1891 it reached 14,000 and by 1901 it was 26,000. The population increased to 120,000 by 1911.
But, what of today?
The bustling, glass, steel, shiny, new parts of Vancouver match any city. These, together with parks like Stanley Park alongside the many expensive boats moored in the harbour emphasise affluence, style, sophistication etc. However, just a few blocks away, ‘Downtown East Side’ (DTES) says the opposite. Homelessness, drug abuse, sex workers are obvious on almost every corner and along the blocks between.
The growth of drug use with contamination is clear and the deaths caused by it makes a salutary read.
The causes are many but include the reasons expressed by a local physician, “In my 12 years of work as a physician in the DTES, I never met a female patient who had not been sexually abused as a child or adolescent, nor a male who had not suffered some form of severe trauma… Addictions are attempts to escape pain.”
Mental health issues were obvious and the present reality was at variance with previous aspirations. “When we deinstitutionalized, we promised [mentally ill] people that we would put them into the community and give them the support they needed. But we lied. I think it’s one of the worst things we ever did.” Senator Larry Campbell, former Mayor of Vancouver.
The population of DTES has a higher proportion of Canadian Aboriginals than other areas of the city. I had to check that ‘Aboriginals’ was the correct term as I had been pleased to hear several references on our tour bus to ‘First Nation’ people. However, First Nation people, together with Inuit and Métis, are referred to by that term. They are not the problem; they are the victims, in my view.
As we stood waiting at the bus stop, a stocky Black guy staggered towards us. We smelt the alcohol before we saw the bottle he was carrying. He spoke to us but other than “Hello, ladies” we understood very little else other than a casual invitation to have sex with him! My senses were on red alert but he turned away towards others close by. His speech, and that of others, was not merely punctuated by crude swear words; it was dominated by them. He spotted a woman being helped down the street who was wearing a surgical gown and, seemingly, little else. He propositioned her and, when he was rebuffed, his stock phrase was repeated ad nauseam. I’ve seen many towns and cities where I have inwardly cried for those unfortunate people who, for whatever reason, are addicted in some way and, through it, indicted to a life of hell.
Not all go down that road. The area has some strong community feeling and a lot of work is going on to try to turn the tide of misery. They deserve applause and help.
Would I come back to the city or recommend it to others? Yes, certainly, but the memory of DTES will stay with me. ‘Down’ town, at the moment but, hopefully, on the way up.
1. Lord Stanley, when he officially opened Stanley Park in September 1888, said it was dedicated “to the use and enjoyment of peoples of all colours, creeds, and customs, for all time.” It’s even engraved on his statue. So, why, 130 years on are we still needing this sign on the door of Starbucks. Why?!
2. There is a Jimi Hendrix Memorial in Vancouver (as well as the statute in his birth town of Seattle, our previous stop) – interesting coincidence. The reason is that young James spent time here with his grandmother.
3. Our driver on the tour bus was, what my mum would have called, “a character”! The bus was a trolley car design (and age!) which she handled with some aplomb and strength. She was unerringly helpful and polite but sent useful (and firm) reminders about the fines she would have to pay by letting people on other than at the designated stopping point. We had two hours of her and wouldn’t have missed a minute!
4. Interesting sign outside Vancouver Library…