No visit to Vancouver could be complete without a real mountain experience. So after covering the Servas conference I left at 2 pm for downtown. To get to Grouse Mountain was quite an experience in itself, I got to take 2 buses downtown, then I boarded Vancouver’s light rail rapid transit system, the Skytrain, which runs underground downtown, just like a subway. Then I hopped on the Seabus, a regular ferry that connects downtown with North Vancouver. Buses were waiting for passengers right when the ferry docked and I jumped on the #236 which takes you right to Grouse Mountain, passing the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge. At the base of Grouse Mountain I entered into another means of transportation: the Skyride, a 6 minute gondola / tram ride to the main complex at the top of the Mountain.
Grouse Mountain is also called the “Peak of Vancouver”, and it offers recreational possibilities all year long. The elevation at the top is 4100 feet and in the winter Grouse offers 22 runs for skiers and snowboarders as well as 13 lit runs for night-skiing. The top base of the gondola features a fine dining restaurant, contemporary dining, a more casual cafe as well as a gift shop and a store called “Outfitters” that provides all sorts of outdoor gear. The dining areas have sweeping views of the city all the way down to Washington State.
I decided to check out the mountain attractions and walked past a number of huge wooden carved statues, finally arriving at the Lumberjack Show. Two young strapping lads go at it in a variety of woodsman’s competitions, including target throwing of a double-sided axe, aiming for the bull’s eye, speed-sawing competitions involving a single-handled saw and later a speed-sawing contest with a double-handled saw that includes 2 female audience participants.
There is all sorts of humorous competitive banter between the two guys, all coordinated by a female emcee that tries to keep the (staged) competition under control. Then the 2 young lumberjacks climb 2 large poles where they have to ring a bell at the top and of course only one of them can be a winner. The show climaxes with one of the lumberjacks being pushed into what appears like a deep well, water splashing out of the well as he apparently hits the liquid. Then the other lumberjack tosses a stick of dynamite into the well, followed by a big bang and a huge splash of water that reaches the front rows of the audience, usually accompanied by some socks or a torn shirt as evidence of the unfortunate lumberjack’ s demise, all of the debris landing in the startled and delighted audience.
To everybody’s relief, the second lumberjack climbs out of the well, wet but intact, and the two guys embark on their final competition: the log-rolling. A round piece of wood is located in the middle of a small pond and the two guys each have a designated side for themselves. Then they start to roll the log, spraying and splashing each other, performing all sorts of acrobatics while turning the piece of wood. The final winner is the guy that pushes the other guy off the log into the water most often in 3 tries.
I talked to the young fellows afterwards, 2 nice young men by the name of Mason Bischoff, a BC native, and Darren Hudson, of Nova Scotia. Both guys come from families of real lumberjacks and they often compete in lumberjack competitions. Mason has only been doing the show for 5 days, very surprising since he performed so professionally, and Darren has been at it for 5 years, working at Grouse in the summer, and doing some lumberjack shows in Australia in the winter. It was evident that both of them are having an absolute blast doing this job – performing a rather strenuous half-hour show 3 times daily, 7 days a week. I found the show very entertaining, a great combination of physical strength, endurance, slapstick, and witty repartee between the lumberjacks and the emcee.
Following this I checked out the famous bear habitat, which has proven to be a refuge for 2 orphaned bears that found a permanent spacious 5 acre home on Grouse Mountain. Unfortunately the two animals, Koola and Grinder, were sleeping somewhere under the trees and I only caught a peek at one of them when he stretched and rolled over to continue sleeping. Right next to the bear habitat is an area for timber wolves and I was a little luckier getting a peak at these white canines.
Staying along the animal theme, I checked out the “Birds in Motion” Show that features 4 different types of birds: two Harris hawks, a red-tailed hawk, a great horned owl and peregrine falcon. The birds have names like Arwin, Frodo, Chinook and Rusty and they perform various maneuvers, often sweeping closely over various audience members’ heads. The show was hosted by a young woman who also injected a dry sense of humour into her performance.
The peak of Grouse Mountain, about 100 m up from the tram station, still remained to be climbed. It’s not a far distance, but it takes a solid 20 or so minutes to get up to the top, which also features a chairlift station. The view from the top is astounding, and the snow covered peak of Mount Baker, an inactive volcano in Washington State, mesmerized me. I heard that it is about 150 km or 90 miles away from Vancouver and with its snow-covered peak it appeared like a mirage in the distance.
Of course with all this mountain activity, hunger set in and I went to the self-serve cafe which has a beautiful patio overlooking the city. I splurged on of my favourite sinful indulgences: poutine, i.e. French fries with gravy and cheese curds. I tampered down my nutritional guilt with a Mediterranean salad and figured that the nutrients and low caloric content of the salad might counterbalance the potato and fat-based calory bomb. Well, not great nutritional decision-making, but I savoured it anyways.
I ended up talking to a local couple on the terrace who said I should check out a little neighbourhood called Ambleside, which is part of West Vancouver. So off I went, down the mountain with the tram and back on the bus. At the bottom I had to connect onto another bus, and during the wait I ended up chatting with a local young man who explained all the different residential areas of Vancouver to me and also shed some light on the real estate boom that has caused Vancouver’s housing prices to sky-rocket over the last few years. The escalation of prices is not surprising, since thousands of new people every year seek out the relaxed West Coast lifestyle. With the Olympic Games coming to Vancouver / Whistler in 2010, the situation can only become tougher.
While waiting for bus number 3 I chatted to another local, asking him for directions to Ambleside. He said that close by there was a local arts and craft festival and if I wanted he could show me where it is. So with his guidance I arrived at the Harmony Arts Festival, held annually, which apparently now attracts over 60,000 visitors and showcases more than 250 visual and performing artists. A band was performing Motown songs in a bandshell and hundreds of people were camped out on their folding chairs and beach towels in front of the stage. I decided to walk westwards along West Vancouver’s Seawall, a much quieter version than that of Stanley Park. I sat down to soak in the sunset, watching the sun roll down behind the mountain chain northwest of Vancouver.
At about 9:15 I decided to head back to UBC and took a bus back downtown across the famous Lions Gate Bridge. The sky was pink and dark purple and a sliver of a moon was hanging low in the western sky. And a bright star was located right next to the moon on the left hand side. Somebody on the bus pointed it out and another person said that this was an extremely rare astronomic constellation, as a matter of fact this particular constellation had never happened before. It was almost as if magic had blessed this evening.
Downtown I changed buses again and slowly made my way to the UBC Campus. I noticed how different groups of people were getting off the bus, shouting out “Thank You” loudly to the bus driver. Now that is something that I have never seen before: people thanking the driver on a public bus. I checked with the bus driver as I got off and asked him if this happens regularly. He said it doesn’t happen all the time, but he appreciates it when people express their gratitude. A magical evening indeed…….