Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Another Brick In The Seawall

When the fencing went up and the heavy equipment rolled in, it took a few days for the seawall regulars to get over their initial shock and adjust to the temporary detour that had been established for them.  There had been plenty of advance warning signs but, given the usual speed of government bureaucracy, they had never really expected the project to ever get started.  Where were the endless hearings, protests and special interest groups that could usually be counted on to delay things?

Seawall construction photo by Junie Quiroga
Nothing connected to Stanley Park, the most sacred spot in Vancouver, can be done without generating a lot of controversy.  The seawall around the Park is probably its most important feature and most popular facility with cyclists, rollerbladers, joggers and pedestrians using it year round.  Conceived as both a means of controlling the erosion of the foreshore and providing a marine walkway, the seawall was mostly built between 1914 and 1971 and finally finished in 1980.  James Cunningham, a master stonemason, worked on the seawall for 32 years, supervising its construction right up until his death in 1963 and there is a commemorative plaque, near Siwash Rock, where his ashes were scattered, that honours his contribution. 

Stanley Park seawall

But no matter how well it was originally constructed, or how popular it is with the tourists and locals alike, it can't always withstand the forces of nature, particularly in winter when the wind and waves of severe storms hammer it without mercy.  Some areas get hit much worse than others but, when it's the most popular section between 2nd Beach and Sunset Beach, it really gets everyone's attention. The only problem is there's never a good time to do the repairs, especially if they are going to take at least 6 months.  And of course there's always the question of money, in this case $4.5 million.

Stanley Park seawall

No stranger to workfare projects, the seawall used 2,300 unemployed men in the 1920's to complete one of its sections and now 90 years later it was able to take advantage of $2 million in federal workfare money to do some repairs to another section.  However, this being the modern age, there are nearly as many machines as there are workers and the methods are decidedly different.  Within a few weeks the existing wall was ripped out, an access road constructed alongside, and forms were being put in place to start pouring concrete.  This wasn't going to take years of painstaking manual labour to complete.
 
Seawall construction photo by Junie Quiroga
But there's one thing the modern age, or any age for that matter, is not able to have any effect on, and that's the daily tides.  For all their clever techniques the contractor still had to work around the schedule of something bigger than even City Hall.  Every day the low and high tides advance approximately 1 hour, and this meant staggered shifts for the crew in order to take advantage of the low tide when their machines could actually move around and do their work.  While the work area itself was sealed off to pedestrians I was able to track their progress as I went by on my daily morning swim, and I marvelled at how quickly they progressed.

Seawall construction photo by Junie Quiroga
The Stanley Park seawall is actually one section of a 22 kilometer seawall that now starts in Coal Harbour, works its way around Stanley Park, continues into and around False Creek and Granville Island, and then finishes up at Vanier Park.  However, it clearly isn't all built to one standard, and there's a very obvious difference in quality between the public and privately built sections.  In the False Creek and Coal Harbour sections the developers were forced to construct a wider walkway with decorative style paving bricks, provision it with protective railings and put in street lighting.  It's an excellent, first class job that is the envy of the world.  In the publicly constructed sections no improvements whatsoever have been made to the original effort nor are any planned with this latest repair.  The narrow walkways are paved in asphalt, there are no protective railings and there is no lighting.  The stretch in front of English Bay, without a doubt the most heavily used portion, doesn't even have adequate drainage, and everytime it rains (which happens occasionally in this city) the seawall is partially flooded. All in all a shocking disgrace.

Seawall construction photo by Junie Quiroga
Is this something to do with our Canadian psyche that when it comes to spending public money we never want to do anything with proper style or refinement?  Why are we content to settle for mediocrity instead of striving for the best.  Why do the public sections look dingy and drab and the private sections so colourful and inviting?  Just because the seawall is sacred doesn't mean it can't be improved upon and I don't think it would detract from the memory of James Cunningham.  At any rate the orginal granite facing blocks that have been taken off the wall are now for sale if someone wants a souvenir or their own brick from the old wall.
Coal Harbour seawall


1 comment:

  1. Reading this, it feels like I'm still living there and enjoying the exquisite beauty of the most picturesque city in the world.....

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