Traveler: Repose by the Bay

Vancouver's Stanley Park offers the visitor moments of transcendence, and a few lessons in unfussy preservation.

 

Stanley
Stanley Park, established in 1886, is
Vancouver's largest park. In the foreground
is a statue of track star Harry Winston Jerome.

Credit: Vancouver Park Board

Something happens to the traveler in Vancouver, British Columbia, that is both delightful and paradoxical. In this most remote of the Northwest's coastal cities, the dry, cool summers scrubbed clean by Pacific breezes recall the austerity of northern Europe. And yet, the newcomer is surrounded here by an almost Mediterranean light and sensuality, not to mention a farrago of languages and a liberalism that at once suggest California and a New World Amsterdam.

Vancouver's list of its top 10 endangered sites for last year, according to the nonprofit watchdog Heritage Vancouver, included a bridge, a garden, a hospital, a theater, a motel, and the home of a local Japanese Canadian novelist who wrote about internment during World War II. But it is Stanley Park, the 1,000-acre maritime landscape protruding like a thumb into English Bay, that astounds the traveler with its beauty, size, and remove. Remnants of the extensive temperate rain forest that once blanketed the continent's northwest coast here act as an urban foil, a remarkable triumph of nature over development and the myriad pressures of big-city life.

My love affair with Stanley Park was serendipitous: I had booked a room at the nearby Sylvia Hotel (built in 1912), despite a warning in an otherwise reliable American guidebook that the Sylvia was "old fashioned" and that some of the carpets were, well, musty.  That proved to be the case, but so what? Worn gentility merely added to the charm of these old-timey, ivy-covered but stylish digs long favored by artists, writers, and professors. The Sylvia had big windows that actually opened, and a greensward spread out front like an enormous, living doormat, luring me out-of-doors.

For more of this article, look for the January/February 2007 issue on newsstands or e-mail us to purchase a copy.  

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