Crab Park well off the city's beaten path

Feeling lucky? How lucky? Like, luckylucky? If so, head to Vancouver's waterfront on Burrard Inlet. There sits Portside Park. Or Crab Park at Portside, as the green Vancouver park board sign posted on Waterfront Road east of Canada Place announces in rather tony terms. Or Luckylucky, as it was known to the original inhabitants of Burrard Inlet.

A historic marker posted above Portside Park's shoreline commemorates the settlement of Luckylucky, or Grove of Beautiful Trees, which once stood here at the mouth of a marsh that stretched south along present-day Abbott Street to False Creek. In 1876, 10 years before the founding of Vancouver, the Methodist Church built a mission at Luckylucky. Although that particular God box may have long ago folded its gospel tent, a charitable spirit still thrives in places such as the Union Gospel Mission on Hastings Street, south of the CPR tracks that divide Vancouver's waterfront from its Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.

You can bet that among the beautiful trees in Luckylucky land were gracefully boughed western red cedars. In fact, cedar groves once flourished so densely along the waterfront that they obscured all view of the inlet. At the turn of the previous century, the neighbourhood around the Princeton Hotel on Powell Street was called Cedar Cove. In a bid to ameliorate the long-standing industrialization of the city's inner harbour between Stanley Park and Burnaby, the park board has reintroduced western red cedars in places like Portside Park.

Find your way to one of the benches perched atop a knoll beside a cedar grove on Portside's west side and look around while you try to make sense of all the changes, nomenclatural and otherwise. The view is as sweeping as it comes. With the North Shore as a picture-perfect backdrop, the harbour boils with activity. Helicopters alight and lift off at the nearby heliport while the two SeaBuses shuttle from opposites sides of Burrard Inlet like the gondolas on Grouse Mountain's Skyride visible in the far distance. A parade of boats arrives at the Main Street Dock adjacent to Centennial Pier with their catch o' the day or ferrying marine pilots who guide freighters around the harbour. Forklifts shunt towers of blue, green, red, and beige containers. Three massive orange cranes on the pier appear as animated as fighting machines in a Star Wars flick. And that's just the half of it. On any given day, there's more to entertain the eye here than it seems possible to squeeze into one sitting.

Preserving this 2.5-hectare sliver of green space took years of work. In the early 1980s, a group called Create a Real Available Beach, or CRAB, led by Downtown Eastside activist Don Larson, lobbied for the creation of a neighbourhood waterfront park.

In 1987, Crab Beach Park opened on property that the Vancouver Port Authority, a Crown corporation, leased to the city under a 40-year maintenance agreement. It's formally named Portside Park; most Vancouverites, if they are aware of it at all, simply call it Crab Park.

Not many people visit here, possibly because the downtown waterfront east of Canada Place isn't easily reached. Given plans to develop a large piece of land west of the park, coupled with the ongoing gentrification of the nearby neighbourhood, this will change. A pedestrian greenway, including an overpass above the CPR rail yards, is slated to connect the north end of Carrall Street with the sea wall, whose eastern terminus on Burrard Inlet is Crab Park. At the moment, the quickest access to the park is via the overpass at the north end of Main Street, which connects with Waterfront Road.

Crossing the Main Street overpass is best done at a leisurely pace, to appreciate the sight of the Lions peaks framed between statues of two Chinese lions mounted on either side of the overpass where it arches and curves into the park. A pathway leads into the park past a small formal Asian garden with a dedication plaque inscribed in Chinese.

Landscaped with an inherent grace, the park rolls west in a wide curve around the waterfront. Unlike the riprap-covered banks that characterize the waterfront, much of the park's shoreline is sand-and-gravel beach. Driftwood sculptures stand playfully erected on the shore, while more unwieldy logs loll around at the tide line like a colony of sea lions.

A small viewing pier juts out into the harbour. Currents suck and swirl around its pilings when the tide is in flood, a reminder that if you launch a canoe or kayak to explore the harbour from here, do so when the tide is slack.

Next to the pier stands a formal sculpture installation. A large, smooth, ovoid rock rests beneath an archway onto whose wooden beams have been carved what appear to be the faces of the sun and moon. Dubbed Untitled, the work is the creation of Volker Steigman and was given to the city as part of the Centennial Sculpture Symposium in 1986, with logs donated by the Vancouver Club #48 International Order of Hoo-Hoo, among others, and stones supplied by the community of Cortes Island.

An even more absorbing boulder installation dedicated to the memory of women missing from the Downtown Eastside was placed here in 1997 by Don Larson. When contacted by phone, Larson said the piece was intended to be the equivalent of "a short newspaper article" in the days before much attention was focused on these women's plights.

More recently, a park bench has been placed above the beach. On an inset plaque are inscribed the names of some of the missing women who may have found temporary respite here from the daily terror of their lives. This makes Crab Park a must-see for those who think they know Vancouver. -