Usually I sleep in on weekends but Sunday morning (June 25) I was nearly up with the crows, if not the sun. That was because I was going to school—the General Gordon elementary replacement school, to be precise.
I made the trip for a post I’m writing about the use of polyethylene-filled, aluminum composite material (ACM) cladding on buildings in Metro Vancouver. A construction worker friend of mine led me to believe that a renovated school, somewhere off West Broadway between Arbutus and Macdonald streets, was clad with this type of ACM—the same type of external cladding which helped turn the Grenfell Tower fire in London into a lethal inferno, which took at least 79 people’s lives.
There are, in fact, many low-rise buildings in Metro Vancouver that are covered in flammable ACM cladding. However, the new General Gordon elementary school is not one of them; it is clad in what looks like fire-resistant squares of cement board. It’s also a replacement, rather than a renovation.
Which is to say that I’m all but certain that I ended up going to the wrong school. But a pleasant bike ride on a beautiful day is never a waste, especially if I can squeeze a blog post out of it.
And wouldn’t you know it, I took photos along the way.
A straight three kilometres, or 17 blocks and back
At 5:15 a.m. Sunday, my parkade sleeping spot echoed with the sound of me bustling about—packing my sleeping bag and drop sheet, collecting the sheets of newsprint that serve as my bike trailer’s bed, and guzzling the last of my cold coffee. Within half an hour I was rolling my bike and trailer out into the blessed stillness of a Fairview side street at dawn.
The school I was headed for—General Gordon elementary—is located astride West 7th Avenue, at 2268 Bayswater Street, a block west of Macdonald Street; I started 19 blocks east, or almost exactly three kilometres away, between West 7th and West 8th avenues at Spruce Street.
To be honest, the trip was an uneventful straight run, with no especial ups and downs. The sun was out in a calm blue sky. The temperature was skin warm and there were neither pedestrians nor automobile traffic to speak of.
If I had owned one of Google’s self-driving bicycles I could’ve napped all the way to the school.
Does the city know that squatter on West 7th?
One of the few unexpected things that I saw along the way was not the construction crane on the north side of the 1600 block of West 7th Avenue but rather the statue of a man on the south side of the block, in front of 1622 West 7th Avenue.
This slightly larger-larger-than-life bronze, by Whistler-based artist James Stewart. is called “Jeri” and depicts its subject—a gaunt, bald-headed fellow, without an ounce of body fat to soften his musculature—squatting on his haunches, with his arms stretched forward and resting lightly on his knees.
The statue grabs the attention because of its sharp-edged realism and physicality and because it has the dynamic, momentary repose (or equipoise) of an equestrian statue.
Apparently “Jeri” has been dramatically squatting like this in front of 1622 West 7th since 2015. If I haven’t noticed the statue until now it’s because I haven’t been paying attention and because it is set close to the building, so that most of the day it is partially hidden behind parked cars.
After Arbutus Street, West 7th Avenue gradually blurred into a looping backdrop of traffic-calming, huge trees, and wood-framed, peak-roofed, two-storey Vancouver Craftsman homes—each set back in a yard filled with more trees and greenery.
Block after block of the Kitsilano good life, to be sure, but dull in its sameness. Between the 1700 block and the school, I didn’t take a single photo—at least not on the westbound leg of the trip.
After the almost rustic, country-lane quality of the lead-up, the General Gordon elementary replacement school was an architectural non sequitur; an educational econobox with very little character, surrounded by almost nothing but character homes.
It’s what’s inside the school that counts
I could only imagine how wonderful the new school was on the inside but from the outside it gave the sense of having been assembled in a hurry from a kit. I wasn’t even confident that it was entirely finished, what with the blotches of white stuff daubed here and there on the dull, two-toned cladding.
It looked like a temporary portable more than a permanent school, I thought.
The cladding was what I had come to see but it wasn’t the kind that I was expecting. I took photos only to show that it was not the flammable polyethylene-filled, aluminum variety but rather something like cement board. The photos, however, captured the slap-dash way that the cladding was installed—without using colour matched screws, or much care to horizontal placement and with so much torque applied to the screws that they visibly creased the hard panels.
One other photo that I wanted but wasn’t allowed to take was of the fellow silently running a handheld metal detector over the school’s tiny sandbox play set. He was trying to find money I guessed.
There are some nice homes in Kits, I Kydd you not
For the return trip to Fairview I shifted one avenue south and stopped at Larch Street to photograph the Kydd House, a magnificent heritage home located at 2496 West 8th Avenue.
There is a heritage plaque on the lawn and most of the intersection sidewalks are vintage, with date stamps from 1925 and 1957. As I can find no online copy of the text on the Kydd House plaque, here it is:
Architect: J.S.D. Taylor
This 1912 house is a hybrid of Queen Ann and Tudor Revival design. It was built for Robert McLean along with the neighbouring house to the east. Harry and Edith Kydd owned and occupied the house from 1917 until 1940 when they moved to an even larger residence on West King Edward in Shaughnessy. Harry Kydd was businessman—owner and president of Kydd Bros. Ltd.—a hardware merchant with a sheet metal works in Gastown. Charles Kydd, the son of Edith and Harry, took over the business and it was later run by two grandchildren. It eventually became BC Plumbing Supplies, and remained in the Kydd family for 80 years. By the early 1960s the house had been divided into suites, and remained so until being rehabilitated to its original grandeur, completed in 2013.
A 2010 report to Vancouver council details the heritage revitalization agreement and designation, which allowed the owners of the Kydd property to build a new, detached family residence on the rear of the property, with additional parking, in return for restoring the main structure.
How green is this new bike path?
Minutes before 7 a.m. I reached the West 8th Avenue intersection with the so-called “Arbutus Greenway". This is the paved-over former Canadian Pacific (CP) rail line that runs north-to-south for nine kilometres between False Creek and the Fraser River. The City of Vancouver purchased it from CP in 2016 for $55 million.
Beyond the name “Greenway” there is, at present, very little that is actually green about the hastily poured ribbon of pavement. Most of the plant life that once thrived beside the tracks (including wonderful blackberry bushes) has been ripped out to make way for various green “non-motorized modes of transportation” and, sometime in the future (believe it or not) a streetcar.
By 7:06 a.m. I was only two blocks from the 1400 block of West Broadway and two crows, not the official birds of Vancouver, were on hand, seemingly to welcome me back to my neighbourhood.
After breakfast, while I was thinking about what to do for the rest of my day, I saw one food truck barrelling through the westbound lane of West Broadway and then another.
Both trucks were advertising Greek food and both were heading in the direction of Kitsilano, where—I suddenly remembered—Greek Day 2017 would be getting underway in just a few hours.
So I had plenty of time to get there.