Back in the mid 90s, what is now called Metro Vancouver began buying up marsh, bog and abandoned farm land along a stretch of the Fraser River in Surrey a little east of the Port Mann Bridge. Eventually they got all the flatland lying north of the Fraser Heights neighbourhood that was bounded by a rail line, close to one thousand acres in all. They called it a park - Surrey Bend Regional Park. But few people knew about it, and it seems those that did, kept that info to themselves. It helped that the train tracks and a moat-like ditch limited access. But it's really quite easy to get into.
It's going to become even easier as various park facilities get built in the next while. But I decided to see what I looks like now and ask the people who currently use it what they think about the changes that are coming. Surrey Bend
Look to the stars! Not the easiest thing to do in Vancouver for much of the year, but when it's clear the night sky does not disappoint. Unfortunately, I am afraid that doing stories about stargazing has always disappointed me. Television cameras never quite capture the awe inspiring majesty and brilliance that all those constellations and planets give to the human eye. Pointing our lens into a telescope lens has worked no better. But looking into a telescope yourself at the heavens is always worthwhile. It's so big and we're so small.
Given the technical problem of astronomy TV stories, it's always a challenge to do them justice. Too dark to film the stars, murky sky buffs moving amongst the shadows - illuminated by our 'sun guns', which kind of defeats the whole purpose. But when Simon Fraser University told me they were having a daytime sun gazing session, I said count me in. Scientists there are trying to raise money for an innovative school outreach centre to attract young minds to science at an early age. Had it existed in my day, perhaps I'd be a scientist now. Nah, would never happen. Sunny 'Scopes
Who has not dreamed of getting on a bicycle and cycling all around the world? I would guess, almost everybody. It's not something we think about because it's too far, too long, and too tough. Some of us might convince ourselves that it's something we could do - given our incredible fitness and quirky nature. But really, seriously, it's crazy, right?
Well crazy is exactly the reason Vancouver's Michael Schratter is planning to complete his round the world bike trip in slightly more than a year. He hopes to draw attention to the way people with mental illness are viewed in Canadian society, and around the world. Schratter, who is mildly bipolar, senses people think mentally ill people are dangerous and wants to fight that perception. It's a noble goal, and I hope he succeeds. Fortunately, he has ridden across Canada once before - so he knows what he's getting into in a way. After all, cycling the world is only five times longer. Yikes! Global Trek
With always intriguing variation, Vancouver life has a charming flow to it each year. The rains come, occasionally the winter snows, spring can be wet or dry, summer late or early. The Canucks play and make it to the first round, sometimes to the second and twice - oh the near magic of '82, of '94!
It is pleasing to know that in an ever changing city, some things stay pretty much the same. Take the PNE, always the last two weeks of August, always with the Superdogs, milking cow contests, and the Prize Home. For me, prize home time always means trooping through the place along with all kinds of other media folk in advance of the public opening. But not this year - I got to tag along with the first members of the public to get a look see. Alma and Arnold
I was quite pleased earlier this year when I learned that British Columbia has a fledgling maple syrup industry, mostly around Duncan on Vancouver Island. But unfortunately, by the time I learned it existed the spring sap flow had ended for the year. So that story will have to wait.
The idea of hammering spigots into trees and turning them into taps for a delicious liquid has fascinatinated me, and no doubt you too. Yet, being a Westerner, I've had almost no opportunity to see the maple farmers in action as they're concentrated in Ontario and Quebec. A major part of Canada's heritage is missing from my soul, sob, sob.
How pleased I was, then, to come upon a bit of that heritage as I wandered about the Wednesday afternoon farmer's market just outside Via Train station on Main Street in Vancouver. Not only did I avoid doing a story about rutabagas, a part of my life became more complete. Sugaring Off
The law of the land states that people cannot discriminate against others on the basis of sex, race, religion, etc. That principle of fairness has helped transform Canada into a much more fair and egalitarian society than existed when I was born in the 1950s. Yet, rules that prevent barriers to entry being erected have not necessarily changed certain occupations from changing all that much. Take auto mechanics, where women are as free as men to learn a trade that pays pretty good coin. Yet, it still remains pretty much a male preserve. Laws can change quickly, attitudes take longer. But increasingly schools play a role in nudging those attitudes along. Like this innovative camp for high school kids. Diesel Class
Here's are a few things I learned in the course of doing a story about customizing cars. Most of the people who want to customize cars are men who have money. Quite often, lots of money. Quite often that means they are middle aged, and quite often they want to customize a car from their youth. Quite often they choose a car that meant alot to them when they were young because of what happened inside it one night when the feeling was right. Quite often this produced an intense memory that gives them great happiness whenever they recall it. So as they age, and they get alot of money, they want to return to that happy time by customizing the kind of car that holds such importance in their lives. A sentimental lot, car buffs.
I confess that a 1962 Rambler American figures prominently in my own youthful memories. But who customizes AMC cars? That would be crazy! Custom Cars
Judging by the number of yellow cards that were issued during the World Cup Soccer final on Sunday, it's clear the teams could have taken a lesson from these Vancouver neighbours. They both originally are from the two finalists, Spain and the Netherlands. Both are soccer fans and both live just a few doors down the street from each other. They also happen to be great friends, noting that the last time Spain and the Dutch fought each other in war was more than three hundred years ago. True, the war lasted about eighty years, but on this street - if not on the soccer pitch in South Africa - all is forgiven. Soccer Neighbours
I love stories about bathrooms, if only to exercise my potty mouth. So when we learned that two Vancouver companies were in the running for having the best public restrooms in the country, I just had to check them out. Naturally, they are quite fabulous, though the idea of holding a contest about such things struck me as a tad odd.
It turns out it is not so odd, once I discovered that a company that makes products for washrooms in hotels, restaurants and other public venues, is sponsoring the contest. In fact, it was their idea. No doubt they hope this helps sell more urinal disinfectant and the like - though if they simply got more companies thinking about clean bathrooms that would be good enough for me. The places I've seen .... Best Bathroom
I have been around this burg long enough to know that the best weather forecast involves taking a peek outside your window. Not to denigrate the fine work that meteorologists do but, let's face it, predicting Vancouver's five day weather is like trying to say where an out of control firehose is going to spray next.
Of course, broad trends can help out, such as the observation that the weather generally gets warmer and drier in the summer time. That has hardly provided much comfort this year. So when the weather office predicted a whole week of hot weather - or rather sunny warmish weather - a skeptic could be forgiven for giving it little credence. But then comes a telltale sign that maybe this time will be different. Heat Wave
It is hard not to stop short when you walk by the Nestor's Coffee bar in Vancouver's Arbutus Mall. Some people might do so when they smell the java, or see the Nestor's sign that tells them the business was established in 1929. That makes it the second oldest coffee shop in Vancouver, behind the much more famous Murchie's. There was a time when four Nestor's shops dotted the city, but now there is just one left. But most people would not stop to reflect on how this business got overtaken by big franchise operations.
No, what makes them stop is the owner, who sits quietly painting a portrait while waiting for customers to arrive. He's being doing it for years - and his abilities grow whenever his business gets slow. Coffee Studio
Have you noticed that children never seem to need as much clothing as adults? It has always surprised me that kids wear t-shirts and shorts when the rest of us put on an extra sweater and a windbreaker and feel proud that we left the long johns at home. I realize children run around and play more, but seriously, how much body heat can sprinting everywhere, cartwheeling across lawns and climbing trees generate? I don't know, because I don't do any of those things anymore. I would not want to stretch or snag my cardigan. But their superior cold weather comfort has made me envious.
I confess, then, to feeling a bit smug when I spotted a young girl on the beach take measures to keep warm that frankly never occurred to me outside of the time I foolishly agreed to go winter camping near Ile a la Crosse, Saskatchewan one February long ago. See, I thought, even kids can get cold on a sunny summer's day. Cool Sun
Few things grab your attention in life more than a price increase, particularly in these so called low inflation days. There you are, going along from day to day knowing that that morning cinnamon bun costs exactly $3.14 when suddenly - WITHOUT WARNING (aside from months and months of Bill Vander Zalm mysteriously reappearing on our TV screens but you always quickly clicked away) - that bun costs $3.40. Oh, the saturated fats coursing through the veins just burble with outrage. The HST, you learn, is to blame. But death and taxes, what can you do, aside from signing a petition and recalling the government?
Armed with the knowledge that anti-HST fervour is sweeping the province, I decided to sample the righteous anger as patrons partook of their first meal that included the new tax. They were strangely philosophical about the higher price, but perhaps that's because they love the owner of the place. Eating the HST
It was the 17th century English diarist, Samuel Pepys, who noted that bagpipes produced "at best ... mighty barbarous music'. The best Pepys heard probably was not that good, for today bagpipes are known to produce an astonishing range of delightful melodies that stir the heart to noble heights and lofty emotions.
That said, they can be rather vuvuzela loud, which helped when I wandered by Vanier Park and heard the far off strains of a piper piping. There he stood practicing for Canada Day, his two children at his feet seeming oblivious to his playing - and everyone else keeping their distance. Lone Bagpiper