As quiet refuges go, Burnaby’s Deer Lake Park defies the odds. Traffic on nearby thoroughfares conspires against tranquility, or so one might think. Thankfully, a forested buffer zone mitigates all but the distant hum of rubber tires. At this time of year, bird calls—such as a varied thrush’s single, sustained note—predominate. So, too, do sounds of human hilarity as novice paddlers struggle to synchronize their strokes to avoid colliding with other watercraft clustered offshore of the park’s boat rental facility.
No kayak or canoe experience? No problem. Deer Lake is the ideal learning environment. If you come with a boat in tow, so much the better. The shallow beach beside the parking lot at the lake’s eastern end is the perfect place to hand launch one. With the exception of model speedboats, only nonmotorized craft are sanctioned. Just mind the gaggle of Canada geese, interspersed with colourfully-coiffed red-breasted mergansers, who jostle for handouts. The diminutive lake spreads before you with little hidden from view. Modest sandbars extend from the open fields that rise above the western shore and beckon for closer inspection. If you set a good pace, you can circle the lake in little more than a half-hour. But what’s the rush? Make like the anglers who, having set their lines, sit back and quietly bide their time between nibbles and strikes.
As seen from the lake, North Shore peaks dominate the horizon above the trees. Even finer mountain views appear if you walk the recently opened pathway along the lake’s southern bank. In fact, to fully enjoy this nature sanctuary, combine the two approaches. Once you’ve paddled the perimeter, come ashore and explore two of the attractive homes glimpsed from the water.
Over the past half-century, as part of a long-term community vision to acquire all the private properties around the lake, the park has expanded from 10 hectares in the mid-1940s to more than 10 times that size now. On the line from his office, Burnaby’s heritage planner, Jim Wolf, told the Georgia Straight that in the process of transitioning Deer Lake into a public waterfront park, the city acquired the largest precinct of heritage properties of any urban centre in Canada. “The city now owns 35 heritage sites around the lake, from small cottages to an Arthur Erickson–designed home, with only four or five private properties left in the acquisition plan,” he said. “This all started as a dream in 1912 after the Oakalla lands were turned into a prison. The idea really coalesced in the 1960s among citizens and the municipality. In future, this will be Burnaby’s Stanley Park.”
When appraising Erickson’s two-storey, post-and-beam Baldwin House, tucked into the woods beside Deer Lake, the Hermetic dictum, “As above, so below,” likely will take on an entirely new interpretation. Completed in 1965, the pavilion-style home is a world removed from Erickson’s concrete magnum opus atop Burnaby Mountain, Simon Fraser University, which opened that same year. In order to preserve the house, as well as the nearby Eagles Estate, Wolf detailed how Burnaby partnered with the Victoria-based Land Conservancy. “Getting [the conservancy] to establish their regional office here has given us so much more scope to share the park with everyone.”
After one look at Baldwin House, who wouldn’t want to spend a few days relaxing there? As it turns out, that’s entirely possible. When reached at the neighbouring Eagles Estate heritage garden, the Land Conservancy’s regional director, Tamsin Baker, explained to the Straight that the nonprofit land trust had been looking for office space when approached by the City of Burnaby. In 2003, conservancy staff moved into the 1930s-era home built for Violet and Blythe Eagles. In 2005, a similar arrangement to acquire the Baldwin House followed suit. “Renting special places like the Baldwin House is the way we connect people with the work we do. We now own five properties spread around the province with a new one in Tofino slated to become available by year’s end.”
Whether you simply take a day trip or enjoy a weekend getaway at Baldwin House in Deer Lake Park, make sure to stop by Eagles Estate. Interpretive tours of the home’s interior are offered during weekday office hours. No matter when you visit, savour the tranquility that pervades the heritage garden, recently restored to its former glory. “When we moved in, the yard was covered with ivy and blackberry bushes,” Baker said. “It was a mess.” With patient tending from local volunteers, the garden has reemerged from the overgrowth to once again display its original elegance. To fully appreciate the renaissance, simply sit beneath one of the blossoming trees where the hillside falls away to the lake below and revel in this tranquil legacy.
Access: Deer Lake Park lies six kilometres east of Vancouver in Burnaby. The main entrance to the park is located just south of the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1). Take the Canada Way exit (#33). Turn left on Canada Way and immediately right on Sperling Avenue to Deer Lake Park. An alternative approach leads east from a parking area on Royal Oak Avenue between Kingsway and Canada Way. For bus information, phone TransLink at 604-953-3333 or visit TransLink's Web site. The park is wheelchair accessible. For a map and further information, call the Burnaby Parks and Recreation office at 604-294-7450. To learn more about heritage preservation in Burnaby, visit www.heritageburnaby.ca/. For details on the Land Conservancy, including rental rates on the Baldwin House, call 604-733-2313. For details on boat rentals at Deer Lake, phone 604-839-3949.