Presiding over Vancouver’s English Bay is a grand piece of artwork depicting what Inuits call an “inukshuk.” People (plus the odd seagull) have employed inukshuks as markers to guide them to needful things like travel routes, food supplies and places of reverence. This one happens to signify all those things for me – marking Vancouver as a special destination that evokes the fondest of memories.
I guess the proper Inuit word for the Vancouver piece is an “inunnguaq” because it’s made to call to mind a human being. I used to see it like clockwork every mid-November when I took part in an annual women’s recreational hockey tournament that used to be held in the nearby city of Burnaby over Remembrance Day weekend. It was the regular destination of my travel team, the LA Chill, and a high point of our season year after year.
For my money, Vancouver is a spectacular combination of big city perks and natural splendor. On top of all kinds of outdoor sports and activities right at hand, Vancouver boasts every type of cultural offering from plays and concerts to a variety of museums. And, of course – there’s hockey.
With so many options, one of the challenges my teammates and I always faced was to settle on just how we’d spend our off-ice hours. Being an eclectic and democratic group, we’d solve this by renting several vans and fanning out for different excursions to suit each player’s taste:
The daring could try traversing the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Some might hit the Maritime Museum. There would be shopping excursions to Robson Street (although we tended to do our damage at the Roots outlet near the rink). A rainy afternoon might be perfect for high tea. We could hop on a little putt-putty ferry to Granville Island and check out the public market. Our schedule might even allow for a day trip by boat to picturesque Victoria, or a tram ride up majestic Grouse Mountain or a drive to Whistler. And, recognizing there’s no such thing as too much hockey, we’d also take in a Canucks game when they happened to be in town.
With all these terrific choices, it was easy to forget to save our time and energy for the actual task at hand. Even so, no trip would have been complete without a visit to Stanley Park.
This beautiful oasis of nature offers tranquil trails and places to dine with great views of the park and city. Those of us “Chillies” with boundless energy could stay loose by cruising the park trails on rented bikes and stopping by the aquarium. And sometimes, we sought a bit of pre-game Zen by strolling the path around the park perimeter, listening to the water lapping against the sea wall and studying the cargo ships placidly awaiting their turn in port.
Somewhere in the midst of all this fun, we did play a little hockey as well.
In those ancient days before everyone had a cell phone, another minor battle was to keep ourselves organized. It sometimes took frantic searches and even the generous help of hotel staff (“Two vans have already left and your roommate has your sticks – go, go, go!”) but we’d somehow coordinate driving out to the Burnaby 8 Rinks Arena to try to give a good account of ourselves and our city – no matter what amount of reveling might have gone on the night before…
For an LA-based hockey team, a facility like the 8 Rinks with its (go figure) eight rinks was a marvel! One sheet was irreverently covered over for soccer but, still, to go one floor up and wander along the bar/viewing area that runs the length of all eight sheets of ice was like strolling through some kind of Hockey Heaven – where the Molson always flowed and rink after pristine rink full of possibilities beckoned!
True to its traditional purpose, the Vancouver inukshuk also marks a place where there’s plenty of great food to be had. Not being a big “foodie” myself, I was always ready to vote for pub grub in Yaletown. Another Chill tradition was to get breakfast at the Elbow Room Café where the famously prickly proprietors serve good food with a big side of ‘tude. And a favorite place to celebrate a hockey win – or a loss or a tie or pretty much just having shown up – was Death by Chocolate, an establishment that kind of doesn’t require much explanation. And I could be happy anytime with a snack of all-dressed chips or a box of Tim Hortons Timbits – or (who am I kidding?) be happier still with both! I didn’t consider this weak-willed indulgence – it was just bulking up for games.
Beyond being a fantastic destination on its own, Vancouver also serves as a jumping-off point for other journeys.
Back in 2010, the folks and I spent a day in Vancouver before embarking on a cruise to Alaska, and I was pleased to share with my family the city I’d come to know and love so well. Our day included visits to the Vancouver Art Museum and several 2010 Olympic venues – and we capped things off with a delicious dinner outdoors on Granville Island. I couldn’t have known then that Dad had a journey of his own shortly to go and that some of the last pictures I’d take of him – and memories we’d get to create together – would be right there. So the inukshuk identifies Vancouver as a place where I can remember loved ones too.
And the city just keeps on giving!
My most recent visit was in February where I spent a few quiet days on my own, wandering the town (including the full perimeter path around Stanley Park – twice) and just retracing old steps.
Being culinarily challenged (as I’ve owned before), I asked my friend Elaine who now lives in Vancouver if she wouldn’t choose a place for us to meet for dinner on my last night in town. I told her my only preference was for a restaurant with a view – I love views. Boy did she take me at my word! Although I’d seen much of Vancouver, I was treated to a completely new perspective when Elaine’s plan turned out to be taking the tram up Grouse Mountain where we enjoyed a sumptuous meal and grand catch-up while overlooking the twinkling city lights below. And a light and lovely snowfall (another marvel for a chick from LA) added atmospheric icing to one amazing cake!
During my February ramble, I of course paused at the inukshuk there by English Bay and spent a good while recalling the monument’s different meanings in and of itself as well as to me.
I’m sure the inukshuk will guide me to Vancouver again and again in years to come – to delight in the company of friends old and new and to remember and honor those with whom I’ve already shared such wonderful moments there.
In memory of onetime Chill teammate Shary Friel and of my dear, dear Dad.