Concrete Basin

by Zbigniew

From its source under the asphalt near Central Park, Still Creek runs West, then South, surfacing briefly in the Renfrew Ravine and again after veering hard East just South of Grandview Highway, where it flows past the Catholic Shrine to St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes.

It was possible for an adventurous and/or taunted boy to follow the stream through the culvert under Grandview, through the wet and muck and rats nests –so long as it wasn’t swollen with rain runoff and only until the pipe was sealed-off by iron bars as thick as his forearms.

Before flowing into Burnaby Lake, the Brunette River, the Fraser and Georgia Straight, Still Creek takes a meandering route East. A drainage basin that proved accommodating to rail, it attracted industry along a thin strip bounded by Broadway/Lougheed Highway to the North and Grandview/Trans Canada highways on the South. Anchored by Vancouver Technical High School on Slocan, it ends somewhere in the Eastern Mallships.

Until the late seventies, warehouses and heavy manufacture dominated, including Wire Rope and Dominion Bridge –contributors to both the Golden Gate and Lions Gate bridges, and –possibly- producers of barriers to dissuade adventurous and/or taunted children.

It also served an eclectic mix of other, large-scale enterprises: a Seagrams distillery, a drive-in movie theatre, the offices and distribution warehouse for the Liquor Control Board. This is where a visit to Grandtree or the Eaton’s Warehouse would yield a good deal on a piece of furniture to satisfy any upper-proletariat taste, and a night’s excesses could be mitigated by a repast at the Knight & Day.

The LCB remains, as does the odd mechanic, warehouse and idiosyncratic bakery, hobby shop, video rental -for the moment.

Industry is long gone, its infrastructure repurposed to serve the “new economy”. In small part this means media: Dominion Studios, Vancouver Film Studios, Nintendo.

Primarily, it means consumption. Where once metal was braided into rope, the trademarked signs of civilization -Superstore, Canadian (sic) Tire, Costco, PriceSmart, Trev Deely, BMW etc etc etc- peddle goods made elsewhere.

The warehouses are still here, only now they’re twenty stories high and offer lifestyle attitude parcels with prices starting at only $550 per sq. ft. (Building envelope restoration costs not included.)

The Knight & Day stands, quietly defiant even as it slowly drowns in a sea of franchised fare.


January 3, 2011

Cold, but clear and golden.

The remains of the giant Eaton’s Warehouse are limited to a few truck bays on Hebb Avenue and a brick wall on Renfrew Street.

Memory: long-standing but long-vanished giant sign on same brick wall advertising olives -graphic cutaway of jar with five rows of two olives each, all green but for one red olive. Why?

Timothy Eaton’s way station stands transfigured: the Broadway Tech Centre, generic “high tech” offices. Primary appeals advertised as access to Skytrain and cycle path, “corporate visibility” from major traffic arteries, tennis and bocce courts etc. No mention of the proximity of St. Jude’s, despite potential usefulness in seemingly hopeless high-tech conundrums.

Walking East on Hebb, discover latest lease: British Columbia Lottery Corporation, the state-sanctioned vice promotion arm and nominal authority. Three generously proportioned floors atop a large warehouse. Surmise need for warehouse: distribution point for lotto paper supplies, scratch & win tickets and other income redistribution paraphernalia; also, possible locus for money laundering/skimming activities.

Glass front entrance. Collage of over-sized admonitions: CAROUSE RETIRE CHEER FAINT REJOICE HOOT JUMP DANCE RELAX GIVE. Winning? Simply a formality.

Front door. Locked.

Grey-blue plastic cylinder next to entrance: modest prodding causes the device to spin open, revealing number pad and screen requesting PIN.

6-4-9? No dice.

Continue wandering through the half-built, half-occupied campus.

Artificial stream flows South from Broadway near Nootka. Show piece or does it correspond to one of the long lost tributaries of the Still? (Later reference of Vancouver’s Old Streams proves inconclusive.)

Artificial turf tennis court, unfinished. Sole occupant: an impressively-sized dog turd.

Approach a parapet facing East, searching for a sign of the Creek. Impossible: the little stream is lost in a mighty river of concrete.