I cradled the baseball in my hand, staring down the throw line into the catcher’s glove. I imagined the perfect sizzler releasing from my fingertips, right into the mitt, burning the catcher’s palm. I glanced around, feeling the pressure. It wasn’t the same kind of nervous anticipation the members of the Mt. Pleasant Murder and the Railtown Spikers were feeling for their first game, watching from behind sunglasses in their dugouts on either side of the sandlot. This was a different kind of pressure. I was throwing out the ceremonial first pitch on opening weekend of the brand new East Vancouver Baseball League (EVBL).
Co-founder Justin Banal from the Isotopes Punk Rock Baseball Club offered me a cold can of Postmark Blonde, brewed about four blocks away. I looked at my watch. It was two minutes past noon on Saturday. He leaned in and gave me some words of encouragement for the pitch.
“Just don’t 50 Cent it.” Excuse me? “Rapper 50 Cent did a ceremonial pitch for the Mets and threw it to first base”. Oh… OK. Just before I strode out to the non-existent pitcher’s mound, another skinny punk in an East Van Murder uniform walked up. “Don’t Carly Rae Jepsen it, dude.” It turns out that Mission’s own “Call Me Maybe” star attempted to throw out a pitch for the Tampa Bay Rays and literally dropped the ball. Michael Jordan, President Obama, and even pitching legend Nolan Ryan have all completely blown their ceremonial pitches.
The PA crackled to life. It was a guitar amp with a RadioShack microphone plugged into it. EVBL co-director Sean Elbe introduced me.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome former lead singer of the Smugglers, current beer league goalie, and author of The Lonely End of the Rink, to throw out our first pitch!” A light smattering of confused applause followed. The heat was on. I wound up.
The founders of the EVBL, a bunch of baseball-obsessed punk rockers, are living out their own Field of Dreams-meets-The Bad News Bears baseball fantasy, bringing a lost era of baseball back from the dead. They’ve built the EVBL from the sand up with a very specific heritage-style design. They built it, and the players came. Those players just have to play by the EVBL’s rules. The EVBL maintains complete artistic and aesthetic control over the teams in the league, right down to the logos. EVBL merchandise is already a hot property, and the league, for this year anyway, is full.
Banal explains the concept. “This city is really good for a lot of things – street hockey, soft ball – but there was no one playing real baseball for fun.” Co-founder Court Overgaauw, of the East Van Black Sox, continues. “At a certain point, many of us who grew up playing real baseball got turned away or off from the sport of a variety of reasons. This league gives us the opportunity to play the game the way it should be played.” And what is real baseball? Think hard balls pitched overhand against wooden bats.
Besides the Isotopes, the league is heavy with members of the local arts community, specifically of the punk rock variety: members of the B-Lines, the Courtneys, Nervous Talk, the Tranzmitors, the Parallels, Uptights and more all suit up, but true to the EVBL word, this ain’t ultimate Frisbee. No shorts allowed.
“Shorts are just not appropriate for baseball”, says Overgaauw. Really? “We’re serious,” says Banal. “You don’t wear shorts in baseball.” Luckily, the rule doesn’t extend to fans watching the games down at the sandlot in Strathcona Park, southwest diamond, corner of Hawks and Malkin. Games are most Saturdays through August.
I let the ball fly from my right hand and watched it smack into the catcher’s glove. In an instant, I managed to achieve what I never could as lead singer of the Smugglers for 17 years: perfect pitch. PLAY BALL!
I hope you have successfully navigated another winter season like the hero of The Revenant, as we push forward into the glorious spring of 2016 (speaking of The Revenant… the movie was pretty good, but have you read the book?! It’s incredible!)
Our family started the year with my wife successfully pushing forward our new little hero: on January 1, 2016, our daughter Grace Heather Lawrence came into the world in a planned home birth at our house in Vancouver. Grace is doing very well, and is now giving big smiles to her loving big brother Joshua.
With two kids under three at home, I’m in the midst of taking my longest break of my career from the CBC: an entire year of paternity leave! And while I temporarily miss the day-to-day honour and hustle of working at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, I’m treasuring the time I’m spending with the kids and Jill. Just not right now while writing this.
Besides trying to learn how to be a better parent (don’t bring peanut butter snacks to the family drop in at the Community Centre!), I’m also ever-plugging away at my third book: the trials, travails, and treachery of 17 years in a touring rock ‘n’ roll band. I think I’m on my… sixth or seventh re-write?
Just like the tours, the book has been a slog, but it’s also been amazing to re-connect with all the musicians and mentors the Smugglers crossed paths with 20 years ago or more on the touring trail, while I try to piece together the stories like the time the Hoboken club caught fire (while we were in it), the time the Cleveland club flooded (while we were in it) and the time the Denver club erupted into a riot (while we were in it).
Since I’m still writing, the publishing date of the next book is moving target… will it be fall of 2016 or spring of 2017? I’ll let you know as soon as I know.
In the meantime, I continue to plunk out the Vancouver Shakedown, my weekly column for the Westender, Vancouver’s longest-running entertainment weekly. On any given week, the column tends to either delight or enrage.
And just because Jill gave birth to our second child doesn’t mean my ever-prolific wife is slowing down. On April 1, Jill Barber and her brother Matthew Barber release The Family Album, their first record together, a radiant mix of covers and originals, performed as beautiful folk duets.
Both Jill and I will be on the road this spring and summer… hope to see you around and thanks as always for your support!
Grant Lawrence Spring 2016 tour dates
Fri – Sat, Mar 11 – 12, Words on the Water Literary Festival, Campbell River BC
Fri – Sun, Apr 8 – 10, Okanagan Writers Festival, Penticton BC
Fri Apr 15, North Shore Writers Festival, North Vancouver BC
Sat Apr 30, Authors for Indies, 32 Books, North Vancouver BC (afternoon event)
Sat May 7, A Whisky Library, Lynn Valley Library, North Vancouver BC
Sat May 14, LitFest, New Westminster BC (afternoon event)
Mon Jun 13, Canadian Independent Music Association Awards Gala (CIMA), Berkeley Church, Toronto ON
Fri – Sat July 8 – 10, Elephant Mountain Literary Festival, Nelson BC
Fri – Sun July 15 – 17, Vancouver Folk Music Festival, Vancouver BC
Jill Barber Spring 2016 tour dates (all dates w/ Matthew Barber for the Family Album Tour)
Fri Apr 15, Arden Theatre, St. Albert AB
Sat Apr 16, Arden Theatre, St. Albert AB
Sun Apr 17, Eric Harvie Theatre, Banff AB
Thu Apr 21, Casino Regina, Regina SK
Fri Apr 22, West End Cultural Centre, Winnipeg MB
Sat May 28, the Great Hall, Toronto ON
(more dates to be announced soon across Canada and North Eastern USA)
When it comes to listing off renowned Vancouver bands through the decades, groups like Trooper, Skinny Puppy, the New Pornographers, Be Good Tanyas, or D.O.A. might spring to mind. The band that might not is the Evaporators. That’s a shame, because the Evaporators will always be on my list as one of the greatest groups to ever hail from our Terminal City. What might be more immediately recognizable to you is the name of the Evaporators’ lead singer: Nardwuar the Human Serviette.
Over the past several decades, Nardwuar has not only become one of Vancouver’s most unique citizens, but truly a Canadian treasure, mostly because of his incredible stockpile of highly researched and wildly entertaining video interviews with everyone from Snoop Dogg to Mikhail Gorbachev. On a Canadian level, his (mostly successful) attempts to get Canadian political leaders to play a ridiculous ‘60s party game called the “Hip Flip” is always amazing, and surprisingly humanizing.
But back to the Evaporators: Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, marks the band’s 30th anniversary. It was on that night, three decades ago in the dusty gymnasium of Hillside Secondary School in West Vancouver, that Nardwuar and his band mates took to the stage for the first time, at Variety Night (a yearly talent revue hosted by our English teacher). The Evaporators performed three cover songs: “Shot Down” by the Sonics, as well as “Goo Goo Muck” and “Human Fly” by the Cramps.
I remember the night well, because I was in the audience. The Evaporators blew my nerdy teenage mind, and were the primary reason why I formed my own band a year later. To me, the Evaporators were the coolest of the cool, mixing ‘60s garage rock with ‘80s surf-punk to maximum effect. Nardwuar was the manic frontman. Back in ‘86 he rocked a brush cut, looking nothing like his signature tam o’ shanter-atop-the-Prince Valiant-haircut he’s famous for now.
For years, the Evaporators were essentially the underappreciated house band at all of Nardwuar’s legendary all-ages shows all over Vancouver. In 1992, they finally released a record: a punk-fuelled seven-inch EP entitled Welcome To My Castle. Their first full-length album wouldn’t arrive until their tenth anniversary in 1996: United Empire Loyalists, a vinyl LP that highlights Nardwuar’s obsessive love of Canadian history, coming complete with a massive foldout sleeve. They really started rolling after that, releasing I Gotta Rash in 1998 (a split LP with Nardwuar’s other bizarre band Thee Goblins), Ripple Rock in 2004, and Gassy Jack and Other Tales in 2007 (arguably their best, a salute to Gastown founder Gassy Jack Deighton). The songs on many of the records reveal a glance into the mind of Nardwuar: “Addicted To Cheese”, “I Feel Like A Fat Frustrated Fuck”, and “I Say That On Purpose To Bug You”, etc. The backing instrumentation by veterans of bands like the New Pornographers, Slow, and Destroyer is wicked.
Over their three intense decades, Nardwuar and the Evaporators have steadily evolved into absolute masters of live entertainment as well, often featuring in-set cameos by everyone from heavy metal legend Thor, to Scottish hit makers Franz Ferdinand, to New York party rocker Andrew WK. If you’ve ever seen an Evaporators show, say for instance in recent years at the Khatsahlano Festival, it probably took you hours to wipe the smile from your face.
Unfortunately, there won’t be a big celebration for the Evaporators’ 30th anniversary this month. Nardwuar is busy concentrating on something much more serious: recovering from a stroke he suffered in December, along with reparative heart surgery last month. The good news is he’s doing well, and promises new music from the Evaporators later in 2016. Long live Nardwuar, long live the Evaporators, and happy 30th anniversary, from a life-long fan. The Evaporators will always be on my list of Vancouver’s best-ever-bands.
“FUCK THE WOLF CULL”
The slogan was as unlikely as the location it was chanted in, over and over, by howling teens, as instructed by their on-stage leader of the pack. If you were at Miley Cyrus’s sold out Queen Elizabeth Theatre concert last month, or heard about it after the fact, you’ll likely be aware that the American pop star once again put BC’s controversial wolf cull centre stage, literally, by illuminating her backdrop with the hashtag #savebcwolves. Cyrus then filmed her audience shouting the afore-quoted phrase. She shared the video with her millions of followers from around the world.
What Cyrus may now wonder, as well as other wolf cull-opponents like Pacific Wild, a conservation group that has gathered over 200,000 signatures in opposition, is where to point the protest? Is it towards the ongoing five-year wolf cull in the South Peace and South Selkirk regions of BC, designed to protect rapidly dwindling woodland caribou populations? Last year’s cull wiped out 180 wolves, all brought down by sniper fire from helicopters, with many more wolves to drop this year and all the way through to 2020.
Or is it the new proposal (found by chance by a CBC producer in Kelowna) that was quietly rolled out by the provincial government in November? That proposal, if approved, recommends unlimited, year-round, completely open season, no bag limit hunting of wolves in the Peace Region. This is up from the previously allowed bag limit of three wolves per year per hunter. Why? The rationale in the proposal is as follows: “verbal reports from many stakeholders and First Nations…suggest that the wolf population in the Northeast appears to be very high, relative to levels in recent history. Increased wolf populations can have negative impacts on wild ungulates [deer, moose, elk, caribou] as well as cattle.”
If this all rings familiar to you, it’s because European settlers have been at war with the wolf ever since we set foot on this continent. Time and time again we blame the wolf for just about everything imaginable, yet time and time again critics and evidence will argue otherwise. In Alberta, the provincial government engaged in a wolf cull that began back in 2006, resulting in the destruction of nearly 1,000 wolves. The caribou population they were trying to save has stabilized, but not grown. It raises the ethical question of human beings playing God in nature: do we have the right to kill one species to save another, when the real reason woodland caribou populations are in a free fall is because of lack of habitat due to our encroachment through everything from highways to resorts to mining to deforestation to snowmobile trails?
Over time, it’s always remarkable how much changes, and how much remains the same. In other words, the BC wolf cull is misguided Canadian history repeating itself. In 1948, the federal government assigned a naturalist and soon-to-be author named Farley Mowat to the far north to investigate – surprise!– dwindling caribou populations, to see if the wolf was to blame. Mowat’s findings were negative, he was fired, and the wolf cull proceeded. I’ll leave you with Farley Mowat’s conclusions from his wolf study almost 70 years ago. It’s decidedly more eloquent than Cyrus’s 2015 howl, but just as biting:
“We have doomed the wolf not for what it is but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be: the mythologized epitome of a savage, ruthless killer—which is, in reality, not more than the reflected image of ourselves. We have made it the scapewolf for our own sins.”
Where were you 25 years ago? Thanks to consistent reminders from my longtime pal, interviewer extraordinaire, and media impresario Nardwuar the Human Serviette, I happen to know exactly where I was in November 1990. My ramshackle garage band, the Smugglers, had landed the gig of our young lives, at an all-ages concert at UBC’s Student Union Ballroom. It was called “Whoa Dad!” and starred none other than Mudhoney, Seattle’s undisputed kings of grunge. Also on the bill was Nardwuar’s band, the Evaporators (who are still rocking, celebrating their 30th anniversary in 2016), and legendary Olympia indie band Beat Happening. It certainly helped our cause that Nardwuar was both our friend and the promoter of the concert.
Nardwuar had already organized several other smaller all-ages concerts around town, but he really hit the needle in the groove for “Whoa Dad!” Mudhoney was arguably at the apex of their career in November 1990, months after their hallmark debut self-titled album, and less than a year before the music world would be changed forever by fellow Emerald City rockers Nirvana.
All 1,000 $6-tickets sold out in advance, with heavy demand for more, so Nardwuar organized a security force of geek-rock volunteers from UBC’s CiTR Radio, who in retrospect could have passed for the cast of Ghost World. When the frothing hordes of first generation flannel-and-combat boots-clad grunge rockers arrived by city busload after busload, they easily shoved the twee security aside, over-stuffing the SUB Ballroom with raging teenage testosterone.
The Smugglers played first, taking to the stage in our matching outfits of dark navy pea jackets and rubber boots, with as much false confidence as we could muster, playing as loudly and as quickly as we could, with as much airborne energy we could possibly manage. From the very first note the crowd was miraculously with us, exploding into a frothing pit of bodies like an ocean riptide. When we gathered backstage after the set in sweat soaked puddles, we felt like rock stars.
Caroline Longford, the reviewer from Discorder magazine assigned to cover the gig, didn’t agree, not even bothering to mention our performance in her print review: “of the three acts worthy of mention, the talented Evaporators were, as usual, the most amusing. Beat Happening, contrary to what the names suggests, definitely wasn’t… [and] last but not least, Mudhoney. They were good.” Not even worthy of mention? Ouch.
What sadly is worthy of mention is my most haunting memory of “Whoa Dad!”: the moment immediately before Mudhoney took to the stage. Acting as MC, Nardwuar was attempting to introduce the band in a trivia-laced, lengthy and earnest intro, but was being drowned out by the booing crowd. Finally realizing the battle between audience and MC was lost, Nardwuar pulled a double reverse, shouting four words into the mic that I’ll never forget: “SPIT ON ME NOW!”
The surly audience didn’t hesitate. A sickening hailstorm of spit and phlegm rained down on our dear friend and promoter, who stood at the lip of the stage in a crucifix pose, his head craned back, his eyes shut tight and mouth agape. The stage lights grossly illuminated the bodily fluids arcing from the sinus cavities of the thousand-plus angry punks to Nardwuar. I was used to Nardwuar’s sudden bursts of reverse psychology, but had never seen it backfire to this disgusting magnitude.
When the gobs finally subsided, a seemingly nonplussed and thoroughly soggy Nardwuar lifted the mic to his mouth and shrieked “ladies and gentlemen, please welcome… from Seattle, Washington, USA… MUDHONEY!”
Mudhoney fittingly launched into “Here Comes Sickness”, and the SUB Ballroom detonated into pure grunge rock mayhem. So… where were you 25 years ago?
You’re late…again. You’re rushing out the door, you’re trying to remember everything you need, and you’re stressed out. That’s when the person you’re with shits himself.
Such a sticky situation is just one of the many challenges of solo parenting, something I experienced with my toddler for most of the month of October, 2015.
I’m the proud husband to a successful touring musician. This fall season alone, my wife toured Japan, Europe, and Quebec, all while the wee boy and I remained home. It’s a bizarro role reversal for me: for 17 years of my life, I was the cool guy hopping into the van or the jet, zipping off to some exotic port of call in my rock band, hardly understanding or caring for the feelings of the people left at home. Now I’m the one looking longingly out the front window, while my wife climbs into the waiting cab, headed to the airport.
Within minutes of my wife’s departure, my respect for single parents skyrocketed as I grabbed for my toddler while he pranced along a windowsill. And before I go any further: there’s a big difference between “solo parenting” and “single parenting”. Solo parenting means your partner – the gods be willing – will return to resume their role. Single parenting means you’re on your own, just you and the kid, a commitment far greater than my temporary solo situation. I work with a wonderful single mom at the CBC, and my reverence for her has grown ten-fold.
Here are just a few of the challenges I faced as days grew into weeks while solo parenting:
When the hell do you have a shower?
Having not bathed in days and reeking like a dumpster behind a fish restaurant, I found myself Googling various mommy blogs, typing in that exact question. Some of the mommies suggested that you simply bring your toddler into the shower with you. But when your son yanks on your penis like it’s the ripcord to a parachute, that gets old quickly. One mommy suggested putting the baby monitor in the living room and the receiver in the shower. Was that a sly attempt to electrocute daddy?! In the end, I basically didn’t bathe for a month.
How to do you avoid packing like you’re out to conquer Everest for the simplest of day trips?
The sheer amount of stuff I needed to leave the house had me Googling “sherpa service Vancouver?” Not only was I weighed down with diapers, wipes, water and milk bottles, extra clothing, a bib, a rubber stick-on plate, cutlery, various snacks in Tupperware of tiny shapes, a haberdashery of hats for all manner of weather – and yes, a few cold ones for Dada – my toddler insisted on bringing every stuffed animal he owns every time we left the house. Dada was forced to make arm space for Snow Leopard, Owl, Monkey, Turtle, Hockey Man, and Hockey Duck. They all simply had to make the trek to London Drugs.
How do you avoid judgment?
My son mispronounces “cookie”. Instead, he calls them “doobies”. He constantly asks for them, everywhere we go. “Dada! Big doobie for Josh?” In an effort to effectively and easily communicate with my son, I answer, “Joshua, when we get home you can have a small doobie”. The other parents at the playground glare at me.
I would be remiss without saluting the grandparents, my sister, and our friends for their help. My son and I did indeed bond wonderfully, but allow me to admit this: when my wife finally stepped out of that cab, I practically shit myself with relief.
I hope this finds you happy and healthy for this upcoming fall season of 2015. I also hope you had a blast this summer!
After working a fun CBC event on Canada Day in Edmonton, and then hosting at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival on Jericho Beach, I was able to get away with my family for a fantastic road trip on the great “Circle Route”: around the Strait of Georgia, also known as our spectacular Salish Sea, right here on the south coast of BC.
We first took our very familiar route up the gut-churning Sunshine Coast highway, to our cabin in Desolation Sound. There, we celebrated with a summer deck party for friends and neighbours with a special acoustic performance by my wife Jill Barber and her brother Matthew (expect a new duets album from Jill and Matt in the new year, their first album together).
After ten hot, sunny, glorious swimming days in Desolation Sound, we crossed the Strait from nearby Powell River to Comox on Vancouver Island, where Jill and Matt also performed, and our son Joshua celebrated his 2nd birthday. Then we took a few more wee ferries to the always astounding Hornby Island, where I was able to make a few childhood nostalgic dreams come true by interviewing Casey and Finnegan creator and puppeteer Judith Lawrence (no relation) from Mr. Dressup for CBC Radio. (If this feels like deja vu, we met Judith last summer on Josh’s 1st birthday).
Next, we rolled down the eastern side of Vancouver Island (the coastal beach route) for our first-ever visit to the expansive Butchart Gardens, just outside of Victoria, where Jill and Matthew played one more show. Finally, we ferried home through the Gulf Islands to Vancouver. If you haven’t taken the Circle Route, I highly recommend it, especially in the summer… it’s non-stop beaches, views, fresh fruit stands, and oceanic wildlife, in our very own Mediterranean Sea.
And… I was able to broadcast (and podcast) that conversation with Judith Lawrence, along with a host of other interviews I collected over the summer, when I had the honour of guest hosting North By Northwest on CBC Radio One here in BC. I’m happy to report that I’ll be once again guest host the show in October (dates and times below).
I also inch (centimetre?) ever closer to completing my new book. I work on it every day, I swear! It’s a thoroughly soiled rock ‘n’ roll memoir of my touring days in the Smugglers. Expect a 2016 release for sure. We’re just hammering out whether it will be a spring or fall launch. That’s if my former bandmates will approve of ANY of it. *Gulp*
Besides a third book from me and a new album from Jill, the most exciting release we have planned is… a new baby on the way! Our second child is due right around the Christmas holiday. We’re very excited, and our son Josh points towards his Mama’s ever-growing tummy and says “big baby!”
Before that happens, both Jill and I will be cramming in plenty of events near and far. I’m totally thrilled to be making my first-ever trip to Nunavut, while Jill will tour both Europe and Quebec. All dates are below.
Thanks for the support and kindness, hope to see you somewhere down the road this fall or winter! Let’s have a beer or nine. I’m going to need ‘em.
Grant Lawrence Fall 2015 Events Schedule:
Sun Sep 20, Western Canadian Music Awards, McPherson Theatre, Victoria BC. My sixth straight year proudly hosting this show.
Fri Sep 25, Historic Joy Kogawa House, 1450 W. 64th Street, Vancouver BC. Adventures in Song and Story with Grant Lawrence: an intimate and interactive presentation on storytelling. Grant will share his own journey from his early days as a songwriter in a rock band in the 1990′s, transitioning to an oral storyteller on CBC Radio, to his current status as an award-winning author of creative non-fiction. Grant will detail some of the adventures along the way that lead him to where he is now, his favourite storytelling exercises and tips, and how to best tell your own story or narrative. 7:30pm, admission is free, seating is very limited. Part of Word Vancouver.
Fri – Sun Oct 2 – 4, Alianait Arts Festival, Iqaluit, Nunavut (w/ Joel Plaskett).
Sat – Sun Oct 10 – 11, guest hosting North By Northwest, CBC Radio One (6am – 9am live radio in BC, streaming around the world).
Fri – Sun Oct 16 – 18, Whistler Writers Festival, Whistler BC.
Mon Oct 26, North Vancouver City Library, 7pm, reading and memoir writing workshop (free).
Sat Nov 14, West Vancouver Memorial Library, interview with Giller Prize-nominated author Michael Christie (If I Fall, I Die).
Jill Barber Fall 2015 Events Schedule:
Tue Sep 29, Gerb de Nobel, Leiden, Netherlands
Wed Sep 30, Horns Erben, Leipzig, Germany
Fri Oct 2, Case o’ Crocs, Neuchatel, Switzerland
Sat Oct 3, Queen Kong Club, Neuchatel, Switzerland
Sun Oct 4, Brotfabrik, Frankfurt, Germany
Mon Oct 5, Privat Club, Berlin, Germany (open to the public, not a private show)
Tue Oct 6, Stage Club, Hamburg, Germany
Thu Oct 8, Troubadour, London, UK
Fri Oct 9, Stables, Milton Keynes, UK
Sat Oct 10, Sugar Factory, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Sun Oct 11, Roepaen Podium, Ottersum, Netherlands
Tue Oct 20, Cafe Theatre Les Beaux Instants, Sorel
Wed Oct 21, Granada, Sherbrooke
Thu Oct 22, Maison des Arts, Laval
Sat Oct 24, Les Arts de la Scène, Montmagny
Wed Oct 28, Maison de la Culture, Trois Rivieres
Thu Oct 29, Salle Alphonse-Desjardins, Rivieres-du-Loup
Fri Oct 30, Salle Pauline-Julien, Ste. Genevieve
For tickets and more information: www.jillbarber.com
Any questions? Please ask. Have a great fall!
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.