Last week, I had the utmost pleasure of visiting the sandy shores of Hornby Island. Hornby is considered part of the northern Gulf Islands, located about a half hour south of Comox, just off the coast of Vancouver Island in the Strait of Georgia (or what is becoming commonly known as the Salish Sea). To get to Hornby from Vancouver, it’s a three-ferry, seven-hour adventure, from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, then up island for a couple of quick rides on smaller ferries, first onto Denman Island, then finally to Hornby.
The amazing race is worth it. Hornby is truly a rare gem, one of those places where you can just feel your shoulders relaxing as soon as your car finally rolls off the tiny ferry onto the island’s gently curving, two lane roads with nothing but a solid yellow line to lead you to wherever you’re lucky enough to be staying.
You may have heard the hyperbole: Hornby is “the Hawaii of Canada”. After experiencing the island’s spectacular beaches first hand, I can personally vouch that the so-called hyperbole is pretty darn close to reality, at least in the summer months. Hornby’s main beaches are broad and beautifully sandy, accented by sun-bleached driftwood logs that look like a giant art installation placed just above the high tide line. If the tide is out, like it was when I was there, the hard packed sand flats create football field-sized playing areas for people of all ages. And the water is really warm.
But therein lies the rub: Hornby is also no secret, which means there are a lot of people stuffed onto that little island in the summer. Arriving directly onto Hornby from my usual haunt in Desolation Sound was a jarring culture shock. By mid-afternoon, the island’s famed Tribune Bay beach was completely packed. I’m talking hundreds, if not possibly thousands, of bronzed beauties of all shapes and sizes, shoulder to bare shoulder, stretching out onto every inch of the white sand like lizards in board shorts and bikinis.
Posted signs say “no alcohol”, but there doesn’t seem to be any sort of police presence on Hornby. Everyone was tipping back while in states of half or total nudity, to the point where I thought the island would probably do well to drop the “b” in its name to match the increasingly frisky late-afternoon beach behavior.
Away from the sandy sexiness, there’s plenty of places to eat and drink, including the charming Ringside Market, AKA “downtown Hornby”, a dusty intersection with a grocery and liquor store, gas station, bookstore, ice cream shop, and excellent outdoor Mexican eatery called V0R1Z0 (the island’s postal code). Follow the easy winding roads around the island and you’ll also discover wineries, a bakery, a distillery, pub, and fish and chip shop, plus plenty of artisans. And kids are everywhere.
The idyllic island’s one dirty little secret is this: their fresh water reeks like rotten eggs. Sometimes you can smell it on the beach as well. But hey, if you don’t mind showering in it, brushing your teeth in it, and drinking it (it’s perfectly safe, it just stinks), then you’re that much closer to being a local.
When you’re finally forced to leave this made-in-BC paradise, beware of the unattended, honour-system ferry line up. I saw a load of young dudes roll up in car with Quebec plates, butting ahead of half the line up of cars (possibly misunderstanding the signs). As soon as they emerged, they got severely lambasted by a pair of Hornby’s finest, fully outfitted eco-seniors. It proved to be a pretty testy situation, but hey, who would ever be in a good mood when leaving such a special place? It’s a locale that you can find it right here, in our very own wonderful, watery Salish Sea. Why go anywhere else?
Grant Lawrence is currently guest hosting North By Northwest, weekend mornings on CBC Radio 1 in BC.
Vancouver’s original city planners should be forever thanked for preserving so many of our beautiful beaches. Most of them are world-class, and many of us take them for granted. Since it’s beyond beach weather out there, and I’ve been a Vancouver beach bum most of my life, I’ve picked my top five. This ranking is based on natural beauty, view, crowds, and mostly importantly for me, swim-ability. So grab your beach blanket, your sunscreen, a great book, and your sexiest trunks. We’re going to the beach!
When it comes to our many spectacular West Side beaches, Jericho is king. The beach is located at the end of Point Grey Road and borders the site of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. With amazing mountain views, this beach is a natural bay of sand, with a steady incline into the ocean, so you’re in deep enough to swim right away. That’s the problem with Locarno, Spanish Banks, and Wreck: you have to wade out way too far in ankle-deep water before you can swim.
4. New Brighton
East Van’s finest beach! Though admittedly buffered by industry on either side, this is a hidden gem of Hastings-Sunrise that boasts absolutely stunning views of Burrard Inlet, all the way from the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge to Lion’s Gate. The beach is usually very quiet, possibly because of signs everywhere prohibiting swimming due to the very fast current. While most people hit up New Brighton Pool, much to my wife’s chagrin, I still take the occasion dip at the beach in the height of summer. It’s cold that close to the narrows, but very refreshing after a bike ride. Do not enter the ocean here if you are not a strong swimmer, and don’t go beyond where your feet can touch bottom.
3. Sandy Cove
This is admittedly a bit of a cheat, since this tiny oceanic oasis is tucked away along the rocky shoreline of West Vancouver, but it’s definitely worth the hunt. It’s an unmarked beach, located about 10 minutes west of Dundarave. Look for Rose Crescent, then take the set of stone steps through the woods to the beach. When you emerge it’ll feel like you’ve gone to Greece. Between jagged granite cliffs is a 100-metre stretch of sand and driftwood logs with excellent, clean swimming, and gorgeous views of UBC, Vancouver Island, and Howe Sound.
2. Bikini Beach
This is Vancouver’s greatest swimming beach. Sandwiched halfway between English Bay and Second Beach, this is a tiny spot located right at the entrance to Stanley Park. The natural sand has an excellent incline and the warmest water of any beach in the city. According to the regulars who have hung out there, literally, for generations, the beach received its name when bikinis were first revealed and deemed too scandalous for our main beaches, so the teenagers of the day gathered here, out of the line of sight of the lifeguards.
1. Third Beach
Found on the far western edge of Stanley Park and back dropped by magnificent cedars, Third Beach is not only Vancouver’s most spectacular beach, but also one of the greatest urban beaches you’ll find in the world. My mom took me to this beach every summer as a kid, and I’ve loved it ever since. There’s no better spot for a swim as the summer sun slowly sets behind the islands of Howe Sound. Like Wreck, Third Beach has developed its own unique scene, specifically over the past decade, meaning the north end can pretty much be taken over by a sea of half-naked hipsters transplanted from the Biltmore, but it’s still Vancouver’s absolute best beach.
What is your favourite (or least favourite) beach in the city and why? Tweet me up @grantlawrence or comment below.
Hopes this finds you happy and healthy this spring of 2015! Much like the changing of the seasons, it’s a period of transition for me, especially at the CBC.
For the past ten years, I hosted a four-hour daily live show, Monday to Friday, on CBC Radio 3. I primarily played Canadian independent music, falling mostly under the umbrella of “indie rock”. It was an incredible experience to channel my DJ heroes like Wolfman Jack, Alan Freed, David Wisdom, and Nardwuar, while simultaneously broadcasting live to North America on SiriusXM satellite radio and streaming to the world on cbcmusic.ca.
Like many things at the CBC these days, Radio 3 is going through changes. The big one happened at the end of March, when we ended our live hosting on the network after a decade. The final broadcasting day, Friday March 27, 2015, was extremely fun but also very emotional. Ten years is a long time, and the audience and community that has grown out of Radio 3 is second to none. I’m proud to call many of the international listeners, who engaged with me on air through many means on a daily basis, my friends. Thanks again to all for the kind wishes for the future.
And the future is… now! I’m still at the CBC, still working with Radio 3 (which continues!) and CBC Music. You’re still hear me in recorded segments on Radio 3, and on various programs on CBC Radio 1 and Radio 2 doing what I always do: promoting new Canadian music. You’ll also see me all over CBC Music’s social media feeds and on regional CBC television. I also still host the CBC Radio 3 Podcast, and will be guest hosting on CBC Radio 1 this summer.
When it comes to writing, I’ve also proudly been writing a local Vancouver column for The Westender, the city’s longest-running entertainment weekly. The feature is called Vancouver Shakedown, and is all about the culture, society, and zeitgeist of this Terminal City. I’ve already caught roses and thorns while covering such topics as weather bragging, the whales still in captivity at the aquarium, attempted stroller theft, the new “heron cam”, and the infamous West Coast social condition known as “The BC Bail”.
I also continue to plunder away at my third book. It’s still a rock ‘n’ roll story, a warts-and-all tour diary expose of my many years on the road in The Smugglers. Sometimes the process is fun, other times embarrassing, and sometimes a struggle, but I’m determined to finish it for both my sake and for your hopeful enjoyment.
As for hockey, my team the Flying Vees had our best season ever, going 17-5-1. Sadly, we lost in the playoffs, but my hockey-obsessed son Joshua was able to come to some games and loved it.
When it comes to live events, I’m about to enter a very busy spring season of appearances in and around BC and Ontario. All the dates are listed below. If you’re around, it’ll be fantastic to see you as always.
Thanks for the support, hope to see somewhere this spring or summer,
Grant Lawrence Spring / Summer 2015 Live Schedule:
Sat May 2, Authors for Indies, 32 Books, North Vancouver BC, 1pm – 3pm.
Sat May 9, A Whisky Library, Lynn Valley Library, North Vancouver BC, 7:30pm (whisky and literature pairings; a benefit for the Trish McMordie Memorial Fund).
Fri May 15, Sun May 17, Word on the Lake Writers Festival, Salmon Arm BC.
Sat May 23, CBC Music Festival, Toronto ON.
Sun June 14, Canadian Independent Music Association 40th Anniversary Awards Gala, the Great Hall, Toronto ON.
Sat June 20, Unofficial CBC Radio 3 Fan Picnic, Trinity Bellwoods Park, Toronto ON.
Fri July 17 – Sun July 19, Vancouver Folk Music Festival, Jericho Beach BC.
Free the whales: my opinion on the Vancouver Aquarium’s continued practice of keeping and breeding whales
Even when I was a little kid, I knew keeping whales in captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium was wrong. Despite my misgivings, I’d still scramble and jockey to sit in the “splash zone”, hoping the cold salt water from the killer whale and dolphin shows would slosh over the glass and soak me.
It was when the magnificent bodies of those gigantic mammals exploded out of the water at their trainers’ behest, all for a reward of a meager mouthful of dead herring, when I felt the stab of guilt. It was painfully obvious that the animals were simply way too big for their tank.
“Look at the dolphins, they love it!” squealed one sopping kid, as the dolphins bobbed and leapt across the surface of their stage. “They’re smiling!”
Such is the curse of the dolphin. Just like belugas and, to a lesser extent the orcas, when opened, their mouths curve up at the jaw, giving the false impression they’re perpetually “smiling”, as if a visit to a Yaletown botox clinic had gone permanently wrong.
That “smile” also gives the appearance, especially to impressionable children, that these incredibly smart mammals actually somehow enjoy being held prisoner in aquatic cellblocks, where they are forced to do tricks for dead fish. You know in your gut that nothing could be further from the truth.
How is it even a fathomable reality, that decades after my childhood guilt, we still allow the Vancouver Aquarium to imprison cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), in tanks hardly larger than an Olympic swimming pool? Our mayor has publicly spoken against our incarceration of whales. Last summer, our parks board voted against further captive breeding (what a disgusting phrase), but since the civic election, that ban has been sunk.
The aquarium justifies the confinement of cetaceans as research, and yet their website still clearly offers “dolphin shows” and “beluga shows” (to their credit the Vancouver Aquarium no longer keep orcas). The “shows” might well be more on the instructional side than the old killer whale splash zone antics of yore, but they are still marketed as performances, and you just know it all comes down to money: the cetaceans are literally the aquarium’s big ticket items.
To make matters worse, the aquarium has imminent plans to expand, which means even more loaner beluga whales will return to Vancouver. One such beluga was on loan for breeding at SeaWorld Orlando. Tragically, that unfortunate whale/sperm bank died from an infection caused by a broken jaw, which apparently came from some sort of altercation with other belugas. Excuse me?
According to the Vancouver Aquarium, the cetaceans in their command have been deemed “non-releasable by government authorities”. Even if originally rescued, these beautiful mammals do not deserve to be kept as pets and show pieces. They are mostly migratory, highly social, and keenly intelligent. In their natural habitat, most beluga whales are seasonally programmed to migrate thousands of kilometres, spending social time in pods of anywhere from three whales to groups of thousands. Think about a naturally migratory mammal in a fish tank. They must go crazy.
All that said, you can add my voice to the long list of critics calling upon the Vancouver Aquarium to end their long-standing, unethical, and hypocritical captivity of whales, dolphins and porpoises, and to release them into their natural habitat.
If these intuitive creatures cannot survive in the wild after release as the Aquarium predicts, they would at the very least taste freedom, something we all desire.
And you would finally know in your gut that for once, that “smile” would be genuine.
“The snow is in Whistler, but the flakes are in Vancouver”.
It’s an unflattering phrase I’ve heard a few times, describing a social ill that is supposedly creeping into our behavioral patterns like mold in a grow-op. You’ve likely already heard about Vancouver’s not-so-nice social rep of being “unfriendly to newcomers” and that “it’s hard to make friends here”. Apparently these days, if you actually do manage to make friends and then make some plans, there’s a very strong possibility that your new Vancouver pals won’t even show up. This rampant condition has a nickname. It’s called “The BC Bail”.
When my friend Lizzy relocated from Toronto to Vancouver, she received advanced warning of the BC Bail. According to Lizzy, “the BC Bail is when you make plans, but know in the back of your mind you might not actually go through with whatever it is you just agreed to, then you cancel last minute”.
Lizzy’s lived in Vancouver for five years now, so I asked her if she thinks flaking out is still an issue. “Oh yeah”, she said without hesitation. Lizzy is the founder and producer of the wildly successful Rain City Chronicles storytelling event. It’s almost always sold out at venues across the city, yet an average of 15 per cent of ticket holders don’t show up, at $22 a pre-paid ticket.
“I plan for people to bail.”
“It’s just downright disrespectful to flake, and definitely a Vancouver phenomenon”, says Jay, a recently thawed-out transplant from Winnipeg. “Vancouverites take their reputation for being laid back way too far. No one can stick to a plan. Maybe it’s the lack of a real winter? In a Winnipeg deep-freeze, there’s real value in getting together with friends. In Vancouver, I’ve bought concert tickets for a friend and me, and have been stuck with the extra ticket when he inevitably jammed out. Not cool.”
Leigh moved here from Charlottetown, a city known for its close-knit community. Surprise! She agrees with Jay and Lizzy. Leigh feels it’s all about the better option. “When people make plans here, they wait until zero hour to see if there’s a better choice, or a cooler party. Then they bail. It’s so frustrating.”
Vancouver! What can we do about this abhorrent behavior? According to my friend Lauren, who wrote about the BC Bail on her fantastic blog “Grown-Up Party”, it’s best to get out ahead of the problem by not over scheduling. “I’ve recognized that I don’t like to have plans two nights in a row during the week. So now ahead of time I try to spread them out, as a pre-emptive strike on the BC Bail.”
Lauren also strongly believes that cell phones are a huge part of the problem, when all it takes is a quick, shockingly guilt-free text to bail on plans that may have been in the works for months.
OK look, as a guy who has lived in Vancouver my entire life, I’m willing to do my part to put an end to this ridiculous BC Bail stuff. In fact, I have plans to meet friends for drinks at a craft brewery tonight, and damn it, I’m going to show up. But then again… I do have three episodes of Better Call Saul on the PVR… and it’s raining… and I’m already in my boxer shorts….
Do you think the BC Bail is a social problem in Vancouver? Are you guilty of pulling a BC Bail? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me! #BCBail.
Now that the crumbs have fallen on the Westender’s jam-packed (and 18th straight) Best of the City issue, I hope it’s safe to serve up some of my own personal Best of the City picks, all in an effort to create your perfect Vancouver meal that won’t break your bank.
For your starter, the greatest salad in Vancouver can be found right in the heart of downtown, at Finch’s (353 West Pender at Homer). The line up can be annoyingly long (though they do offer order-ahead service), the staff is cooler than you and they know it, and the décor somewhat resembles a garage sale at the end of the day, but once you receive that beautifully presented prosciutto and vine tomato salad with a hard boiled egg on top, circled by leafy green lettuce and sprinkled with cracked pepper ($11.45), all is forgiven.
For your second course, behold one of the culinary reasons I was swayed to move to Hastings-Sunrise: Tacofino (2327 East Hastings at Nanaimo). The place is always swarmed, but I swear it’s worth it. All you need to do is get a seat, then order two fish tacos ($12) and a jug of beer. The tacos are stuffed with crispy local lingcod as fresh as if I caught it myself in Desolation Sound, complimented with cabbage, and salsa fresca – but hold the mayo (at least on my tacos). It’s a perfect West Coast treat, and yes, that’s Canucks president Trevor Linden chowing down in the corner!
For your main, let’s go to Main. Allow me to settle the age-old Vancouver argument once and for all. The best pizza in town can be found at a cute little hole in the wall on what was once one of the most notorious blocks in the city. Pizza Farina (915 Main at Prior, right beside the Cobalt Motor Hotel), famously “opens at 5pm until the dough runs out”. Farina serves beautifully thin, fresh, light, delicious pizza that should be scrumptiously enjoyed as soon as it comes out of the oven for maximum taste bud impact. Trust them and get the special ($16), with arugula on top, even if you can’t decipher any of the other Italian ingredients. Fair warning: if you leave their front door open, prepared to get yelled at.
Best chocolate chip cookie
For dessert, you should know that chocolate chip cookies are my favourite food, and I consider myself a life-long connoisseur. I am in constant in search of the perfect chocolate chip cookie. I have scoured Vancouver for years for the very best, and keep coming back to the same place. The all-time greatest chocolate chip cookie can be found at… The Dish (1068 Davie near Thurlow). Go early so they aren’t sold out, then sink your chompers into these absolutely delectable three-bite cookies ($1 each) that are fresh-baked every day, using oatmeal, lots of love, and a super-secret ingredient the owners won’t reveal. I’ve been known to buy two-dozen of these heavenly morsels at a time, and those cookies are one of the main reasons I was reluctant to move out of the West End.
Those are my Best of the City picks for delicious eats that won’t have you in a barrel and suspenders after paying the bill. Feel free to share your favourite quality budget bites with me on twitter, or in the comments section.
I’ve read it cover to cover ever since I first picked it up at a downtown cafe when I was a curious teenager about 25 years ago… my band The Smugglers were lucky enough to be on the cover almost 15 years ago exactly (see above) … and now, in 2015, I’m proud to announce that, as Vancouver’s oldest indie rocker, I am fittingly writing a weekly column for Vancouver’s oldest entertainment weekly, The Westender.
The column is called Vancouver Shakedown, which is mostly a reference to an old Smugglers chestnut called “Shakedown!”. And shaking down Vancouver is what I’ll essentially try to do each week for you in print… stories of this city I love so much: good and bad, ugly and beautiful, sad and joyful, and hopefully some funny stuff thrown in there, too.
We have it all in this Terminal City by the sea, and it’s the city I’ve chosen to live in for my entire life. Now I have the pleasure of writing about it each and every week. I consider it an honour, and I hope you enjoy.
You can read my inaugural column here. The Westender comes out every Thursday and is available for free throughout the city. If you have any subject you’d like me to cover, get in touch on twitter: @grantlawrence #VancouverShakedown. Thanks in advance!
PS. The cover photo above is L-R: David Carswell, Beez, me, Nick Thomas, and… Jeff McCloy. Our pal Jeff was in the Smugglers for about a year in 1998-99, filling in for Beez. For this cover shoot he was filling in yet again, this time for for our drummer Graham Watson, who lived in Nanaimo (still does) and couldn’t make the photo shoot. Jeff, Nick, and former Smugglers drummer Bryce Dunn went on to form the Tranzmitors a few years later.
Was it the rising tide of the Idle No More movement? Was it was ‘reconciliation‘ finally becoming accepted vernacular for open-minded Canadians? Was it simply great art being recognized by mainstream Canada? Whatever the case, 2014 was a dominant, award-winning year for exceptional Canadian Aboriginal culture, and hopefully, a sea change of acceptance, mutual understanding, and enjoyment for the future.
Here’s some highlights:
The Orenda wins Canada Reads.
Joseph Boyden (who is of Anishinaabe and Scottish heritage) won big on the CBC with his epic and bloody third novel in his Bird family trilogy*. To simply call this bestseller ‘historical fiction’ is to completely undersell its breakneck pace, drama, and excitement, let alone its reminder that this land’s rich human history stretches far before 1867. A must-read for all Canadians, defended deftly to victory by journalist Wab Kinew. (Kinew will host Canada Reads in 2015). *…which actually isn’t a trilogy… at the 2014 Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, Boyden announced that he has TWO more books coming that follow the further adventures of the Bird family).
A Tribe Called Red wins the Juno Award for Breakout Group.
Winning a Juno is often about strategy, because an artist can pick which category they hope to be nominated for. Many apply for what feels to be the sure thing; the easiest route. In A Tribe Called Red‘s case, that category would be Aboriginal Record of the Year. The Ottawa powwow-step trio of First Nations DJs refused to be pigeon-holed to that category, instead going for Breakout Artist of the Year, which almost always goes to a white rock or pop act. Not in 2014.
Tanya Tagaq wins the Polaris Music Prize.
Tanya Tagaq stepped out of Canada’s most remote territory, spent years plying her unique musical style, and in 2014, stepped into the limelight of Toronto to win the $30,000 Polaris Music Prize, arguably the country’s most prestigious juried music award. Not only did her album Animism win, the Inuk throat singer from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, dedicated her career-changing performance to Canada’s missing Aboriginal women, whose names streamed seemingly endlessly behind her as she raged and contorted on stage.
Thomas King wins two major literary awards for nonfiction and fiction.
Author Thomas King, who is of Cherokee and German-American descent, had a huge literary year. In February, the 71-year-old won the Charles Taylor Prize for his hit international bestseller The Inconvenient Indian, and in November, he won the GG Award for The Back of the Turtle, his first novel in 15 years.
First Inuk NHL player Jordin Tootoo publishes bestselling memoir.
All The Way: My Life on Ice may not have won any awards in 2014, but it was an instant national bestseller. Jordin Tootoo‘s brutal, extremely raw, honest memoir of his struggle to get to and stay in the NHL is an infectious read. The highly likeable but damaged Tootoo comes from a far-north background of substance abuse and tragedy, yet he still managed to become an elite athlete, and be the first-ever Inuk / first-ever player from Nunavut in the NHL. The ridiculous racism he endured at the minor league level alone is sickening. And Joseph Boyden wrote the introduction. Full circle.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section! Thanks for reading.
It’s that time of year again of looming postal deadlines that are creeping in like a Desolation Sound fog so you have to act fast.
If you’d like to give for the holidays a copy of either The Lonely End of the Rink (BC Book of the Year 2014) or Adventures in Solitude (BC Book of the Year 2011), please note the following deadlines for which to place your order:
Canada: Dec 15
USA: Dec 10
Overseas: Dec 5
…but… the sooner the better.
When making your order, please use the comments section in PayPal for instructions on exactly who the book should be signed to, and any special message you’d like included, or email your inscription directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wishing you lots of cold beer, fast ice, and warm cabins this holiday season… where are you spending them this year? Comment below!
There’s just something about the Kootenay region of southeast BC in the fall… maybe it’s the spectacular autumn colours, the comforting smell of marijuana (and woodsmoke) in the air, the crisp nights and still-warm days, or the winding roads that lead to amazing towns big and small, the inhabitants of which all seem so incredibly supportive of independent musicians, authors, the CBC, and the arts in general. Suffice to stay I love the place and it’s why I keep coming back.
I first discovered the magic of the Kootenays in the 90′s when my band would play Nelson and the surrounding small towns, always to spectacularly friendly crowds. When I was invited back to tour the area for my first book, I jumped at the chance. This is now my third time back as an author.
This time, my wife Jill Barber and our son Joshua will be along for the ride. I’ll read a couple of stories from both my books and show some slides, do a Q+A and signing, and if Joshua behaves, Jill will also sing a couple of songs and chat about her new children’s book Music Is For Everyone. All events are free.
If you’re in the West Kootenays, hope to see you this week. If you know someone in the West Koots, send them our way!