fear & loathing in Lotusland

Month: January, 2015

Clean White Shrines

by Zbigniew

“… I realized that the hamlet was really two hamlets, that it was divided almost precisely into houses with names, and the houses without names, though these two hamlets, like interpenetrating dimensions, were in the same place ….”

Malcolm Lowry, “The Forest Path to the Spring”


A Sunday afternoon drive was an opportunity for my brother and I to shift our on-going wrassingly match to the couch-sized back seat of my father’s ’67 Chevrolet Biscayne.

Half Nelsons and headlocks were applied, slipped, and reapplied against a flowing backdrop of freshly stuccoed Specials, but we called a truce for the panorama of the bridge crossing and the clouds catching on treetops. We forgot the struggle altogether when the highway turned into a narrow strip of road, winding through a forest.

My father called out the points of interest that lay hidden behind the curtain of trees: the squatters -“heepees” in his vernacular- at Maplewood Flats, and the “Burrard Band” reservation, home to the quasi-mythical Chief Dan George. A few minutes from home, and we were someplace far, far away.


The Tsleil-Waututh occupied Whey-ah-Wichen -“Facing the Wind”- for “time out of mind.” European colonization, taking the form of a wood mill, led to their forced removal to a reservation a few hundred metres west and off the water.

Squatters appeared, constructing shacks on the foreshore. Summer cabins for some, housing for most, made affordable by the uncertainty of jurisdictional authority.

Malcolm Lowry took up residence, naming it Eridanus, for the river that waters the Elysian Fields of Earthly Paradise in Virgil’s Aeneid.

Working the final drafts of Under the Volcano, Lowry and wife Margerie Bonner, swam, hiked, bird watched, and picnicked, sometimes at the end of a row running the length of Indian Arm.

“Often all you could see in the whole world of the dawn was a huge sun with two pines silhouetted in it, like a great blaze behind a Gothic cathedral. And at night the same pines would write a Chinese poem on the moon. Wolves howled from the mountains. On the path to the spring the mountains appeared and disappeared through the trees.“

Richard Walton recounts Al Birney’s arrival at the bulldozed remains of the Lowrys’ home, and standing in the mud and the rain, surrounded by Malcolm’s unpublished and soaked work:

“The bright crazy little shack is gone; all the sloppy ramshackle honest pile houses where fishermen lived and kingfishers visited are bulldozed into limbo, along with the wild cherries and ‘the forest path to the spring’. Now there is an empty beach and beside it a park with picnic tables and tarmac access; the sea air stinks with car exhaust. And the city that ignored him plans to cement a bronze plaque in his memory to the brick wall of the new civic craphouse.”

The park was named for a family of tugboat operators.

Lowry Plaque

By the late 1960s a community of hippies, artists and other free spirits arose just west of Cates Park at Maplewood Flats.

“This was authentic uncommodifiable human habitation, the polar opposite of the condo …. Squatting became a utopian model for the self-determined ‘village,’ self-sustaining communities in a city whose neighbourhoods were being razed for condo high-rises. The intertidal location was ruled by diurnal rhythms and lunar cycles, so available for parables of the rightness of living in harmony with nature.”*

A little strip of mud and grasses between the water and mountains, road and oil refinery, and a setting for the exploits of the “transdimensional” visitor in Byron Black’s all-but-unknown celluloid mind fuck The Holy Assassin, the mudflats were popularly known as Shangri-la.

Bruce Stewart: Dollarton Pleasure Faire, 1972

Bruce Stewart: Dollarton Pleasure Faire, 1972

Among the resident artists were Tom Burrows, Al Neil and Neil’s partner Carol Itter, all of whom practiced assemblage, abstract sculptures of organic and inorganic objects found in the intertidal zone -unfixed, ever changing and evolving. “[Their] assemblages on the mudflats at Dollarton were evidence of a concern to get art out of a gallery setting that had become a clean white shrine to modernism, and into the real environment.”**

In December 1971 state-sanctioned arson was employed by the District of North Vancouver to address an apparent challenge to “public health standards” (read: private development). The squats, including Tom Burrows’ home, were torched. Shangri-la was razed and Eridanus was destroyed -again.


Gone, except for Al Neil’ and Carol Itter’s cabin. Inexplicably the little blue wood-stove heated shack has survived the intervening 40 odd years in a quiet corner nestled between the eastern edge of Cates Park and a site previously occupied by Noble Towing (Dollarton Shipyard) and McKenzie Barge & Marineways.

Their assemblages have also continued unabated, with one estimated at 45 feet wide, suspended amongst the cedars.

Pianist, composer, visual artist, and author Neil is 90. In 2014 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award.

However, this aesthetic-psychic-interdimensional loophole is about to be closed.

Neil and Itter were issued an eviction notice by Port Metro Vancouver, effective January 31, 2015: that’s today. The shack is scheduled for demolition tomorrow, February 1st. They are to make way for townhouses, condos and apartments at the former shipyard site.


An exhibit of Tom Burrows’ work is currently on display at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at UBC, while Al Neil and Carol Itter’s work is currently on view at the SFU Gallery on Burnaby Mountain and the Audain Gallery at SFU Woodwards.

The Audain Gallery is named for art collector and philanthropist Michael Audain. Mr. Audain is also President and CEO of Polygon Homes, the developer behind the project prompting the eviction notice.

Mr. Audain has expressed his willingness to support the relocation of the cabin. Perhaps it could be put on display in a clean white shrine to modernism.


The Shack


Dollarton_Polygon-3* Scott Watson, “Urban Renewal: Ghost Traps, Collage, Condos, and Squats.” Ruins in Progress: Vancouver Art in the Sixties

** Scott Watson, “Terminal City: Place, Culture, and the Regional Inflection” in Vancouver: Art & Artists 1931-1983

Sub-Area Monopoly

by Zbigniew

InfillThe “Grandview-Woodland Community Plan, Nanaimo Sub-Area Workshop.” How it rolls off the tongue and seizes the imagination.

There’s a sizeable crowd at the WISE Hall; to my eye, a good 70 civilians. The Planning Department is in force, too. Estimating a conservative two per table, nine tables, plus graphic interpreters (two), floaters (several), the lieutenant, including volunteer wannabes … circa 25. A platoon!

Name tag affixed (“Concerned Citizen”) I see Matthew waving me over to a seat he’s saved.

“Did you get the email?”

I did. A 30-page backgrounder that arrived in my inbox just the evening before, for those wanting to “get a head start on things.” Oh, and by the by, “we’ll be looking at the specific policies that were proposed for the sub-area.” In other words, back to the soundly rejected 2013 community plan. Just thought you should know.

Sure enough, the hall is surrounded by the very same “emerging directions” propaganda prescribed 14 months earlier, although a few placards now sport an “I Heart GW” sticker. Emerging, like a flower, or a turd.



The 11th hour plan is for Matthew and I to do the initial session together –to get the lay of the land and compare notes- before splitting forces.

It’s a tight agenda.

And we’re off, and there’s no room to consider the destructive forces that hover just beyond the walls or even discuss the problematic math of population projections. “What do you like about the neighbourhood?” “What do you dislike?” We spend a lot of time on built form, and very little on social form, on the possibilities of tenancy -except ownership, of course.


I feel herded directed lured towards more and higher. Wait! There are discrepancies between maps: does the plan stop at the alley behind Nanaimo or go on to Kamloops? I’m thankful for the vocal people at my table, asking pointed questions, repeating apparently misunderstood statements, and expressing frustration with staff’s tone deafness. At his table Matt is calling for votes and, more often than not, finds unanimity.

Over the course of the afternoon I hear a majority opinion calling for a modest approach: two-lot aggregation limits, the amputation of “the fingers,” and height restrictions to respect the current scale of the neighbourhood -to preserve the Grand View.




The bureaucratic forces are diligent. Dissenting opinions –from the invested and/or deluded favouring more and higher- are meticulously reported. It’s just the cover the development troops need for flexibility and interpretational wiggle room. At the development sign up ahead … a Policy Twilight Zone.

And then, out of the blue, a foray: the closure of Templeton Pool because Britannia. So: more density, with fewer amenities? Less for more -is that what you’re saying? The speed of the retreat would impress the Italian Army.


For the last table exercise a set of colour-coded cards are distributed, indicating the planning/development-friendly generic components of a neighbourhood. They evoke the cards signifying ownership in that real estate board game. We’re asked to place these on a map.

StoreThe Monday evening following I’m standing near the corner of Main & Hastings, being passed over by the not full Sorry Bus Full 135.

I opt for the next local heading east. It’s an old school diesel, from the ‘90s, from the era when our transit system won international awards. It’s a rarity, a functional piece of history.

It looks at capacity. But the driver gets on the blower and encourages everyone to move back and remove backpacks, to make room for those still on the street, and we do.

Maybe it’s the mild winter evening, or a collective relief at the conclusion of a Monday, for the crowd is buoyant. I’m surrounded by conversations, some between apparent strangers and others from the chance encounter of friends. I take note of the little kindnesses, the youth giving up seats for the elderly and people gently squeezing by others.

With every stop -starting already at Gore- there’s a steady exchange of fresh passengers for those alighting. I picture a motorized needle making a detailed stitch along East Hastings.

From his seat a pensioner, a little guy, uses his cane to ring the stop. Only when the bus comes to a standstill does he get to his feet. More or less steadily he works his way through the crowd to the exit, deploying a Buddy Hackett/Jerry Lewis shtick to keep the doors open: “Thank you Mrs. Driver! Good Job! Watch out for me! Sometimes I fart and stink! Watch out!” I admire the laughter-inducing effectiveness of his routine. One day, it might come in handy.

By the time things settled down, I’m already at Renfrew and aware that I could’ve missed all this theatre for the dull, if speedy, SFU Express.

I think back to a card dealt out at the workshop, a blank “Wildcard” we were asked to fill in. I had left it unmarked.

What I want -for Nanaimo Street, Grandview-Woodlands, and Hastings Sunrise, for myself, my family and my neighbours- is far too fine, ephemeral, and grand for the confines of a Monopoly title deed.



Scat, Exhibit ‘A’

by Zbigniew


From Tips to Help You Identify Scat:

Droppings, feces, and scat, found in isolation of other sign, can be extremely difficult to identify. Simple changes in an animal’s diet can dramatically change the color, shape and contents of feces making it difficult to determine the source of the droppings without scientific equipment. However, by asking the right questions you can go a long way to reduce the number of available suspects.

  • Determine its size both in length and width.
  • Identify its form: Is it round like a pellet? Is it tubular? Are the ends flat or pointed ….
  • Is there one dropping or multiple?
  • Can you identify any hair or food particles in the droppings? Sometimes corn, berries, seeds, and insect wings aren’t completely digested.
  • What time of day do you find the droppings? Would they have been left at night or during the day?
  • Is it a one-time event or does it occur in the same general spot for several days?
  • What type of habitat is present where you reside? (ie. woods, urban, suburban, agricultural etc.

STOP! Be safe. Avoid handling droppings without proper protection, which includes avoiding inhaling around it. Some diseases may contracted through dust borne particles. Look, more than touch!! If you have to touch, use a tool and/or properly gloved hands!! STAY UP WIND!!


Seen in Passing: Pacific & Granville

by Zbigniew


Private Geography

by Zbigniew

“Walking eastward through the great hall of the CPR station, you approach a putative public platform that might optimistically be called Station Square ….

“It is a true square in the sense of being a space carved out of the fabric of the city, as opposed to an open block surrounded by streets. And what a public space this could be, with a little imagination and some capital …. It would not take much. The space has well defined edges to the west and east, with older buildings (including the CPR station) fronting right onto it, providing the possibility of active uses such as cafes and restaurants. With the parked cars removed and the handsome heritage buildings flanking it opened up to the square, it could become the most cogent and dynamic public platform in the city. A low wall with lookout points along the edge, a unified design for the space that combines access, surface treatment, street furniture and pedestrian lighting, and perhaps the relocation of the adjacent war memorial statue to provide a focal point, would result in a rich public domain animated by people, traffic and trains. Without aping the contrived historicism of the adjacent Gastown’s so-called beautification, the task here is simply to complete the square. Perhaps here, finally, you could imagine a true Public Geography.”

Lance Berelowitz, Dream City


Office tower proposed between Gastown heritage buildings, Metro, January 11, 2015

“The land is already zoned for an office building so the proposal won’t have to go through a public hearing.”

waterfront-tower-555-west-cordova-22Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

waterfront-tower-555-west-cordova-26Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

Waterfront-Tower-555-West-Cordova-16Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill / Piranha NYC

The public has until January 22, 2015, to express their comments to the city.

Flocking, to Stagnate

by Zbigniew

Last Wedding – Vincent Gale & Molly Parker, Directed by Bruce Sweeney

The View from Here

by Zbigniew

I walk east on Powell. It’s a clear winter’s day of long shadows and a cold breeze punctuated by the quintessential odour of rendered chicken. It’s under these bracing conditions that I approach the Powell Street Overpass.

For automobile, bus and bicycle alike, the overpass is a new, smooth, and well-constructed stretch of roadway, and an obvious improvement over the previously lumpy level crossing/S-turn near Raymur.

Approached at a slack walking pace, however, and something’s not quite right, not quite so smooth and easy. A number of capital-intensive influences are tied to this roadway. While these are too big and too ephemeral to be detected by mere mortals, they appear to have left both tell-tale and arcane signs of their presence and continued interest. At least, I think so.

The sublimated ground begins at the eastern approach. The new overpass –which was completed in the Fall of 2014- comes with a Pattison-installed digital sign of impressive proportions. In this industrial zone of grain elevators, rendering plants, foundries, and warehouses comes an endlessly repeating mantra of reality shows, classic rock, phone plans, and Pattison.

Just beyond is the overpass itself -a $50 million project funded by Port Metro Vancouver, TransLink, Transport Canada, Canadian Pacific, and the City of Vancouver. Amongst the touted benefits, the overpass “[a]llows for the possibility of an improved rail connection south to the U.S. via the Burrard Inlet line.” That is, it provides CP -everybody’s favourite corporate citizen- with space for a new east-west track south of the existing tracks.

Near the overpass’s apex on the north side is a brightly painted metal structure offering … shelter? No: there’s no cover and the construction is porous to the wind and rains. A viewpoint? Technically, yes; however, the metal weave employed grievously impedes an enjoyment of the vista. But for want of something better, lets call it a viewpoint.



To the south the viewpoint overlooks a “park” –that is, a small and triangular island of grass, concrete and benches tucked-in between Cordova and Powell. Taken together, the viewpoint and park give off the stink of an officially sanctioned “public amenity,” of the sort defined by a committee of those unlikely to ever make use of them.


What makes me hesitate to dismiss some of these overpass-associated developments as so much bureaucratic make-work, bafflegab, and incompetence, is the proximity of a development of another sort. Less than 200 metres due south of the viewpoint, on the north side of the 900 Block of East Hastings, Wall’s Strathcona Village condo project employs the same colour scheme in its marketing: blue, green red and –to a lesser degree- orange.