2010 contributors' picks: Outdoors & landmarks

Best place to ponder Vancouver’s occult history while slurping congee

1352 Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver is a magickal place, and in the 1910s it was the site of the first North American temple of occultist Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis. Known at the time as the Agape Lodge #1, it was presided over by Crowley’s “magickal son”, Charles Stansfeld Jones, a Vancouver accountant who went by the somewhat zestier superhero name of Frater Achad. Current occupant the Neighbourhood Noodles House has yet to capitalize on the location’s bizarre history, but a few small changes to the menu would do the trick. We suggest Do What Thou Wilt(ed) Bok Choy and Great God Pan-Fried Noodles for starters.

Eeriest seaside dining establishment

Washington Avenue Grill
5–15782 Marine Drive, White Rock

White Rock used to be known for cruising muscle cars and one-sided fistfights on the pier. Now we can add paranormal activity to the list. Besides being one of the UFO–sighting capitals of the country, White Rock is home to the Washington Avenue Grill, a heritage landmark that allegedly hosts three very active ghosts. Pots and pans fly off the walls in the kitchen, strange reflections appear in mirrors, and orbs of light are seen moving about the staircase. Maybe it’s because the fine dining attracts people from everywhere—even other psychic planes.

Best Vancouver presidential conspiracy. Maybe.

When U.S. president Warren G. Harding came to Vancouver on July 26, 1923, it was the first time a sitting American president had visited Canada. He played golf, ate at the Hotel Vancouver, and spoke before a crowd of thousands in Stanley Park. All in all, a great time—until the next morning, when the president began to suffer from what appeared to be food poisoning, followed by pneumonia-like symptoms. A few days later, Harding died in his hotel room in San Francisco. Doctors couldn’t agree on just what had killed the president, with poisoning, stroke, and heart attack all being suggested. When the first lady refused an autopsy and had the chief executive immediately embalmed, rumours of murder and conspiracy flew fast and furious. A memorial to Harding, built by the Kiwanis Club, still stands at the site of his speech in the garden outside the Stanley Park Pavilion.

Mark Pilon

Best place to get happy
No matter how bad a day you’ve had, it’s hard not to smile at the sight of a bunch of giant bronze guys doubled over with laughter. Erected for the Vancouver Biennale at the Morton Park triangle (Davie Street and Beach Avenue), the statues that are part of A-maze-ing Laughter all share the face of artist Yue Minjun. Each seems to be having such a good time: one with his thumbs next to his ears, wiggling his huge hands in kidlike mocking; another one bent over, laughing with one fist clenched, as if to say “Gotcha!” at some unseen practical joke. Studies say that smiles are infectious; it’s nice to have some gargantuan ones in our midst.

Best UFO Web site

Most people don’t know there’s more than one Web site for UFO aficionados that’s based in the Lower Mainland. In our opinion, the best of the bunch is UFOBC.ca. It’s operated by the volunteer group UFO*BC and includes reports of UFO sightings, tales of alien abductions, and links to other sites such as Flying Saucer Review and The Crop Circle Connector. It will keep believers in extraterrestrial beings entranced for hours.

Best way to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Vancouver-style

Although pretty much everyone knows about the old gun towers on Wreck Beach, many other Second World War relics can be found in our city. There’s a gun emplacement next to UBC’s Museum of Anthropology, the remnants of a seaplane base at Jericho Beach, and even an old officers’ mess at Ferguson Point, now repurposed as the Teahouse in Stanley Park. One bunker, located just up Stanley Park Drive from the Teahouse, has stood sentry even longer. Built in 1914 as a gun battery to protect English Bay during the First World War, it went on to serve as a spotlight station during the second global conflict. If you’ve ever hiked in Stanley Park, you may have even trod on it unaware—built on the side of a steep cliff at the very north end of Third Beach, its roof serves as the lookout above Siwash Rock.

Best place to make tourists think you’re full of it

Ainu totem poles
Centennial Park, Burnaby Mountain

Who among us hasn’t been busted telling an out-of-town visitor that False Creek is an artificial canal or that Blood Alley was the site of the city’s first blood-donor clinic? There is no more beautiful a venue for your rambling half-truths than the totem-style poles in Centennial Park, on the west side of Burnaby Mountain. As your visitors take in the extraordinary view, you can tell them about the indigenous people who crafted the stunning poles. Then they can read the plaque, which states that the totems are, in fact, carvings bestowed upon Burnaby by its sister city of Kushiro, done by members of the Ainu, a native people of Japan.

Best garden growers' monikers

It seems that much of Metro Vancouver is blessed with lush and lovely lawns and gardens. Hire a local gardening or landscaping company and yours could be bloomin’ beautiful too. Outfits with thoughtful names like Green Acres, Grow on You, Green Grass of Home, Grass Is Always Greener, Healing Hands, and Garden Genie hint at idyllic plots and pots, green lawns, and neatly trimmed hedges. This lot—Rakes & Ladders, Queen of Spades, Chauncey Gardener, and Hoe, Hoe, Hoe—add humour to the mix.

Best dope on homegrown plants

Want to know what plants will grow best in the various sunny, shady, dry, and wet spots in your garden? Want to fill your yard with B.C. plants? Or do you simply want to know what’s growing there now? Check out E-Flora BC, an electronic atlas of the plants of B.C., which is the baby of UBC department of geography prof Brian Klinkenberg, the site’s editor and project coordinator. Loaded with more than 8,000 individual atlas pages, E-Flora BC has answers to these questions and more, plus interactive maps and beautiful photos. Discover where opium poppies grow in B.C.; learn about slime moulds, the purple plague, and the giant hogweed; and find out why plants grow where they do. It’s fascinating to dig into B.C.’s flora. While you’re at it, check out the related E-Fauna B.C. and Biodiversity of B.C. sites.

Best free outdoor educational entertainment for kids

Lost Lagoon

Looking for a great (and inexpensive) place to take a toddler or small child? Look no further than Stanley Park’s Lost Lagoon. At any time of year, it’s possible to get close to all manner of free-range wildlife, from ducks and swans and herons to turtles and squirrels and raccoons (as cute as they all are, remember to let the wildlife be wild—civic bylaws prohibit feeding the animals). It’s a great way to see nature, although things get particularly cute in spring, when all the baby animals are born. The 1.75-kilometre trail around the lake provides a good workout without being too taxing, and there are plenty of beautiful views and photo opportunities. There’s even a child-friendly interpretive centre run by the Stanley Park Ecology Society, the Nature House (at the west foot of Alberni Street), with plenty of exhibits and helpful staff.

Best way to disinvite unbear-able dinner guests

As development around Metro Vancouver continues to encroach on wildlife habitat, the public has been warned that the risk of conflict between humans and bears will increase. In areas like the Tri-Cities and the North Shore, that problem weighs on the minds of residents, who often spot black bears when the animals amble into neighbourhoods to raid garbage cans or pillage back-yard fruit trees. To avoid attracting the unwanted dinner guests, Bear Aware B.C. urges people to minimize food-related odours on their property. This means keeping barbecues clean, storing pet food indoors, and chopping down unwanted fruit trees (or at least picking up fallen fruit).

Best place to get an ass full of splinters

Vancouver Art Gallery’s north mall

It may have taken five months, but Yaletown’s David Lam Park got its lawn back. The Vancouver Art Gallery, on the other hand, hasn’t been so lucky. Both formerly grassy patches of downtown Vancouver were covered over for the 2010 Winter Olympics. But while David Lam Park was green in time for the jazz festival in July, the City of Vancouver has told the Straight that the VAG’s north mall will remain a field of prickly bark mulch until at least 2012 and possibly 2014.

Best place to test your commitment to inner-city living

Oppenheimer Park playground

Bar none, the best children’s playground anywhere downtown is at Oppenheimer Park, right smack in the middle of Vancouver’s most thriving market of crack, cheap hand jobs, and used shoes. The playground, by landscape consultant Space2place Design Inc., includes a climbable nest of driftwood, a hand-operated water pump that uses kid power to create a winding stream, and other equipment that maximizes creative play. It’s skookum. However, the $2.32-million park reno has not magically transformed the ’hood. On the plus side, most folk are great about keeping the needles and condoms out of the playground area. But crusty refuse can be found everywhere, as evidenced by one West Side mom who recently shared with the Straight a colourful story about her toddler chewing on a condom at Kits Beach. That said, Oppenheimer’s crustiness can be particularly in your face. So are you a parent of the people? Or are you a genteel and gentrifying yuppie? Test yourself here.