A New Kind of Normal

Social Distancing along Sunset Beach, Seawall, Vancouver, BC | Treensbert Churchmouse, 2020

A new kind of normal. It’s what our leaders and officials have been telling us these past few months that we’d likely have to get used to in future. And lo and behold, as March turned into April, and April into May, that phrase seemed to settle down over the city and seep into its very core.

Now it’s the beginning of August and we’re undergoing phase three of BC’s restart plan and so far managing somehow. When I look over my balcony, I see people on the street enjoying a very summery Vancouver day, and the traffic is as loud and obnoxious as it had been before lockdown.

Our new kind of normal here in Vancouver has certainly come into effect. It had started off a little rickety, but we have a newer order of the way things run now. Social distancing rules the city on every walkway, park, or grocery store – reminders to stay two metres away from one another follow you everywhere. Vancouver’s blue social distancing signs are becoming as familiar as our green and white street signs.

Mask etiquette, naturally, is a strong contender. We are encouraged to wear masks in areas where social distancing could not be achieved. Simple manners have changed to include these two components. Now we don’t get upset at the rude guy who violently jostles us to get to his bus – we get upset at the rude guy who was standing a foot away.

Businesses have been opening and people have started to hire again, offering some new job options for those who have none. Tourism is at its lowest dregs, but Hello BC has been encouraging people to responsibly travel around our province instead, while many articles have been encouraging Vancouverites to take Staycations.

Multiple options of what to do and where to go have been popping up on the internet now that summer has hit us. Museums and galleries are offering virtual visits, or even options to make an appointment for a physical visit, and are becoming very creative in enticing visitors. Some of the hiking trails around the city now require booking a hiking time to keep trails less busy. It can be done via Discover Camping and is so far a pilot program.

Considering the rate of change these past few months, it’s evident we’re still settling into our new normal and it might very well be different come next summer. We still have the hurdle that is winter to get over, after all.

When I had started writing here, it was with the idea to write about places people might want to visit, to give them ideas where they might want to go, to encourage them to try. Now, I can’t very well encourage anything, as half the time we’re encouraged to stay at home as much as possible. That leaves one with very little to write about, especially when that little might end up being completely different in a year, or even a month.

But you still can’t simply stay at home the whole time, can you? Especially not when you live in a small apartment (more or less one room). I attempt the balcony occasionally, but am then assaulted by loud construction sounds, sirens, and honks (and thus retreat quickly behind a closed glass door for sanity’s sake). Even the biggest introverts have likely resorted to clawing at the walls in order to get out by now.

British Columbians have always been outdoors people, I’ve thought. The province is beautiful and even in Vancouver, the utter city that it is, you see parts of that. We hike, we walk, we swim, we mountain bike, we ski. You only need to catch a view of the mountains and already feel the outdoors calling you.

Luckily, being outside is one thing that is encouraged for health reasons in these COVID times of ours. Social distancing can be accomplished better, exercise can be achieved, and the change of scenery can calm one’s inner COVID-induced demons. Like many other people, I had started inching out of my apartment in as shaky a way as BC’s shaky first steps into our reopening plan.

So. Touch and go.

Like many others, I have already been enjoying the bit of freedom we’ve been given since our step out of lockdown, but this particular outing seemed to encompass the idea of the new normal more than some others.

My partner and I went for a walk with the idea to go for fish and chips. Since we live downtown, that means crossing a bridge and zig-zagging through a couple of streets until we get to the seawall that lines the harbour near Granville Island Market, and then following a bridge back home.

Our new normal dictates we now have to leave the house readier than ever before, so that meant that in my purse I now had my Go bag (because it now goes everywhere with me), in which were anti-bacterial wipes and disinfectant, as well as two ready-to-use masks with filters inside them, and a paper bag.

The two masks are in case something happens with the first mask (no idea what, it’s possible I over-prepare) and the paper bag is for stowing the mask in it if there is eating to be involved. There is also the by now very well-known mask etiquette to be followed:

  • Wash your hands before and after using said mask
  • Do not touch the outside of your mask (nor the inside, while we’re at it)
  • Do not slip your mask beneath your chin because it defeats the purpose (it smears the inside and outside environments from your mask onto your chin and face)
  • You can put your mask in a paper bag for temporary safe-keeping if you’re eating during the day
  • Do not share your mask with someone else
  • Still adhere to social distancing rules whether or not you’re wearing a mask (it doesn’t actually protect you, only keeps you from spitting on everyone else incessantly)
  • This is all what I’ve read online. I recommend reading up on these yourself if you really haven’t by now.

Since we were going for a walk outside, the masks wouldn’t really be needed yet because social distancing could be managed. We started by crossing the Burrard Bridge, which was opened on July 1st, 1932. When it was opened, a civic reception was held at the Hotel Vancouver where they had a replica of the Burrard Bridge made of sugar (fun fact!) and they had bands playing for the ribbon-snipping ceremony while an RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) seaplane flew beneath the bridge. Considering it took two years to build, the excitement made sense.

RCAF Airplane Vickers Vanessa, an idea of the aircraft that flew beneath Burrard Bridge, Vancouver, BC | Library Archives Canada, 1927

Less people were crossing the bridge on this day (we might have passed a few), though even if it’s busier in foot traffic it’s never so bad as to not be able to socially distance. The Burrard Bridge was build in the form of a truss bridge, which operates on the basis of triangles stacked between and on top of one another.

Stress put on this kind of construction (triangles on upside-down triangles) cannot be forced to fall apart so easily. These kinds of bridges can take on heftier loads, from what I understand, and over a lengthier distance – these are the types of bridges you might see holding up a railway line.

Philip Rail Bridge, an example of a Truss bridge, Haakon County, South Dakota, USA | from John Marvig Bridges website
Burrard Bridge from the seawall, Vancouver, BC | Treensbert Churchmouse, 2020

Two large concrete tiers seemingly hold up the Burrard Bridge, but have also been formed as they were to hide the mass of steelworks that crosses the street overhead. One of the architects, Thornton Sharp, had said that these two tiers were thus treated as a gateway to the city, which I find fitting. Anytime I have crossed it, I have already thought of it as a gateway either into downtown or out of it.

The most noticeable parts (in my opinion) on these tiers are the two front parts of ships that are sticking out. When it’s sunny, the pale yellow cement of these sculptures contrasts strongly with the shadows formed beneath them, making them hard to look away from. When the sky is a bright blue, the colours force my eyes to follow these as we pass beneath them. Each of the ships has a figurehead at the front of it, apparently standing for Captains Vancouver and Burrard.

Captain George Vancouver was, of course, famous for exploring the pacific northwest (and thus ending up having our city named after him). Captain Harry Burrard had apparently sailed with Vancouver at some point in the past and hadn’t ever even come at all close to where the city is now, yet we still pass beneath the busts of these two men each time we cross the bridge.

The sculptor who had done the coat of arms on the bridge and these ships and busts, was the same man who had sculpted the two lions at the end of the Lion’s Gate Bridge, Charles Marega. Below is one of his sculptures, this one with a prominent B for Burrard. Captain Vancouver’s bust naturally has a V carved into his ship.

Ship statue of Captain Burrard carved by Charles Marega, Burrard Bridge, Vancouver, BC | Treensbert Churchmouse, 2020

Two large lamps keep sentry at each end of the bridge as you cross it. They were added in tribute to the Canadian prisoners of war during WWI who used to congregate around the fires in their prisoner camps. The bridge itself had been reconstructed in these past couple of years, and now also has tall black iron picket-fence installed on either end as suicide barriers.

According to the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Center of BC, the Burrard, Patullo, Lions Gate, Ironworkers, and Granville bridges combined produced 50% of suicide deaths from 1991 to 2007. When you cross the Burrard Bridge now, there are bright boxes which contain crisis phones for those in need, aside the tall fences.

Black fence along Burrard Bridge, Vancouver, BC | Treensbert Churchmouse, 2020

This bridge is infused with life, whether from history long past or moments occurring in the very present. Every part of it has a story of its own and more stories come into being with every person who crosses it.

For me, one of my favourite, if not the favourite view in Vancouver is from Burrard Bridge. Starting from the downtown end, crossing west on the right-hand side, you first catch sight of buildings and trees before the trees clear enough that you see the sashaying beach spread out below.

Sunset Beach that is visible from Burrard Bridge, is seemingly composed of zig-zags. This kind of shore is produced by long-shore drift – a geological process where the wind causes the incoming waves to approach the land at an angle before retreating at its original angle. What it produces is a wavering coastline, like what we see from the Burrard bridge all the way to English Bay beach.

Visual of the concept of Longshore Drift | from Geocaching website
Results of long-shore drift visible along Sunset Beach (downtown) from Burrard Bridge, Vancouver, BC | Treensbert Churchmouse, 2020

As you walk further across the bridge you slowly catch sight of an open expanse of blue that leads to the Burrard Inlet. Cargo ships with their familiar red stripe sit on the water in the far distance like content hens, waiting for their turn to go to port and collect their load. Other, smaller boats appear intermittently, leaving white, frothy lines behind them as they zoom across the expanse of water. Past all these vessels are the blue-grey tinted mountains, looming silently.

View of distant Burrard Inlet from Burrard Bridge, Vancouver, BC | Treensbert Churchmouse, 2020

But too soon you catch sight of the other side of shore (Vanier Park in the Kitsilano district) with its small marina, and then once again the view is hidden by trees. Suddenly you’re in the city again, now in Kitsilano, and traffic is loud and busy as cars are making their anxious way towards the bridge or from it.

The fish and chips place we were aiming to go to took a bit of zig-zagging once we reached the other side of Burrard Bridge, but is situated on the seawall itself. The seawall is a long walkway that goes from Canada Place, winds around Stanley Park and past English Bay and Sunset beaches, keeps going beneath the Burrard and Granville bridges, and loops around False Creek (underneath the Cambie bridge), to eventually pass Granville Island Market, and Vanier Park… it goes on for a while.

That said, we were aiming to go to Fisherman’s Wharf, which is an area located on the seawall between the Burrard Bridge and the Granville Island Market. At Fisherman’s Wharf, you’re able to buy fresh seafood from the boats themselves. Because seafood varies during the seasons, it depends on when you come to get what. For example, BC prawns can be bought there come May.

Seafood Sale area at Fisherman’s Wharf, False Creek, Vancouver, BC | Treensbert Churchmouse, 2020

Fisherman’s Wharf too has taken COVID precautions – there were new signs and social-distancing measures near one of the ramps towards the dock from which the seafood is sold. Though buying seafood wasn’t the idea today, this was exactly where we meant to be. Turning your back on the water and the boats only rewards you with the sweet sight of the Go Fish Fish’n’Chips shack.

I should probably rewind here, because it used to be a sweet sight. What it used to be was a rectangular, blocky, little blue shack which had a little wooden patio built in front of it with seating. People would sit all around the patio rims bumping elbows, or grab a table if they were lucky and enjoy their fishy orders.

It was normally jam-packed and the line-up to order wound on down the seawall and away. It was busy. I remember waiting in this line-up a year before. Every one of us would stand beneath the sun’s oppressive rays and feel our skin slowly melting off our backs. Not one of us quit the line, despite the heat.

Now, now it was nothing like that. COVID times had managed to kill the option of sitting on the patio (now empty and tables taken away) or sitting anywhere in the vicinity (Fisherman’s Wharf did not allow it for distancing reasons – makes sense since there would likely end up being a crowd there).

I almost thought the stand was closed when we got closer to it. It’s still there though, and still open and active. (I also recently found one could order them through Ubereats come August 4th, which is useful.) The area looks almost desolate without the usual crowd of people, but they still took our orders.

The workers all wore masks and protective gear, and there were new dividers between them and us, but it went smoothly enough for being such a small place. We got our take-away boxes and did a bit of walking down the seawall before we found a bench facing the marina (between Fisherman’s Wharf and Granville Island Market) where we could have our fish and chips. It was ridiculously good.

I ordered cod which melted in your mouth, and was the perfect amount crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The fries were good and the bit of salad there too, but the whole of it together effectively clamped my mouth shut from attempting speech whatsoever until the box was empty.

The result were two very fed and happy people, of which one (me) needed to be rolled onward down the seawall. Because we had walked all this way, we continued on around the winding seawall and the harbour that essentially followed it to get to Granville Island Market.

Granville Island Public Market is just that: a market. People come here to buy vegetables, meats, fish, but also teas, desserts, and other knick knacks and touristy things. Sometimes we used to come here and just go from stand to stand, squishing between the crowds, and buy little morsels of smoked salmon to snack on, or whatever we came across. It’s one of the best things, to be able to sample your way through a market like this.

However, since squishing through the crowd is now the equivalent of a slow death, that was now out of the question. New signs have naturally appeared within the market itself. It’s encouraged that people only go in to shop for food if they need to (no more strolling and snacking), and the ever-present social-distancing signs and line up marks welcomed any visitor who entered.

Our intent was to grab dessert here having no idea about the new changes, but we were lucky enough in that the place we meant to buy from was at one of the entrances, so no need to intrude on anyone’s shopping hour.

The line-up was positioned by the wall outside one of the entrances (with the usual distanced lines of where to stand on the ground), and wound into the entrance and directly towards the right, to where the shop was located. A few people waited here with masks (which is when my Go bag came in handy). The shop in question happened to be Lee’s Donuts. It was easy to buy a donut each and retreat back outside the market, where we could safely consume them.

Lee’s donuts are, considering they’re located at Granville Island, no less than mouth-watering and deadly (which means, so, so good), though they had grown in fame since appearing on the Netflix series Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner where they were sampled by David Chang and Seth Rogen. Fame or no, they’re quite addicting. They also have an Instagram page from which you can salivate and socially distance simultaneously.

Because I opted for a very sugary contraption (I was fully coated in sugar by the end of it) and talking had ceased during this period of time as well, I was able to look around Granville Island a little. It was far emptier than normal. No tourists this time to fill it up with busyness and laughter and the usual picture-taking; only a few locals passing by, most wearing masks.

From the crowds I was used to seeing during summer, this was a far cry different. But there was still a busker with a guitar playing for a few people watching him. It was a fragment of the kind of life that I remember seeing. But even the fragment mattered, compared to the deathly empty and silent streets we had endured months before. That’s food for thought right there.

We had just had a good walk with an amazing view from one of Vancouver’s famous bridges – something that I might have been too lazy to do in pre-COVID times – and fish and chips that was definitely worth the walk, as well as dessert and now music to top it off with. It was emptier and quieter, yes. But our purchases had supported local businesses this day and getting through it seems a little more doable than before. The new normal so far, it isn’t so bad.

Sources & Links:

BCCDC – how to wear non-medicinal masks | BC Restart Plan page – phase three | Burrard Bridge – Vancouver Heritage Foundation | Burrard Bridge – Vancouver History Archives | Charles Marega – Sculptor of statues on Burrard Bridge | Discover Camping – BC camping website | Fisherman’s Wharf – a place to buy fresh seafood | Go Fish Shack – fish and chips shack at Fisherman’s Wharf (Tripadvisor) | Granville Island Public Market – market underneath Granville Bridge | Hello BC – BC Tourism website | Lee’s Donuts – amazing donut shop at the Granville Island Market | Longshore Drift – a process of forming coastlines and how it works

Tell me when there’s more!

Published by Treensbert Churchmouse

I'm a European-born individual, raised on the west coast of Canada in beautiful BC, and a Vancouverite at heart. I love the world of city, sea, and mountain we are lucky to have, thanks to many years of some proper tectonic plate action. Vancouver is a vast, thriving west coast city, balanced perfectly with the peace of the wild surrounding it. That said, I love to explore, but also to escape! I'm a writing and travel enthusiast and have a good foot wedged into the tourism industry (it only follows, if one is a travel junkie). I hope to share what I see and learn about my experiences with those who might like to try the same.

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