June 2009

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on June 25, 2009 at 1:11 pm


Continuing our look at all things cycling… Tonight at 7 p.m. the Museum hosts a free, multimedia dialogue on bike parking. The format: three 10-minute presentations, each one animated by slides charting the most creative bicycle-parking designs worldwide and identifying best practices for Vancouver. On stage are:Adrian Witte, a transportation planner with Bunt Engineering; Stephanie Doerksen, an urban designer with VIA – Architecture; and Richard Campbell, principal ofThird Wave CyclingSmaller discussion groups and a reception (with cash bar) to follow.

In our own informal research on this subject, we’ve noticed that bike-parking design reveals much about place, politics, and civic culture. Two examples stand out.

In Tokyo, sophisticated, multi-storey, mechanized bike towers have emerged to free up space on crammed sidewalks and other public spaces. With the swipe of a credit card, your bicycle is swept into the tower and stored. Swipe your card again, and it’s handily retrieved. Watch this colourful demonstration on YouTube, linked here.

In Toronto, a very different approach. Austere aluminum post-and-ring bike stands line most downtown streets; just a heavy cast-metal post affixed with a ring. It looks faintly nautical. The stands, pictured left, have become a city icon; a symbol of how simple, local ideas can remake the public realm. The design has been credited to David Dennis, who reportedly came up with it in 1984 while studying architecture at the University of Toronto. The stands have their limitations, sure (accommodating only two bikes at a time), but according to 2008 research from Appleseed, a New York-based consulting firm, Toronto has more bike racks per capita than any other North American city, a figure undoubtedly related to the simplicity and cost-effective nature of the post-and-ring design. It has been replicated in cities all over the world.

Vancouver, ever in the process of reinvention, is currently evaluating its own approach. Richard Campbell is expected to touch on this during his presentation tonight. Check back with the blog in the coming days for highlights.

Image credit: Richard Drdul

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on June 22, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Interesting debate going on at the Museum about whether Vancouver is on its way to becoming a true cycling city. Certainly, there’s evidence out there that we’re trying to become one, but far more evidence suggests we’ve got a ways to go, especially if we look at other cities.

The gold standard is surely Copenhagen, where 500,000 residents commute by bicycle. That’s 55% of the city’s population and 37% of the Greater Metropolitan Area. By comparison, Vancouver cyclists make up 3.7% of commuters, up from 3.3% in 1996, according to the City of Vancouver’s “2008/2009 Cycling Statistics Update; the full report is here). Copenhagen has the numbers, they’ve got the ideal, pancake-flat urban form, and they’ve got the infrastructure (dedicated and separated bicycle lanes and a well-established bike-share program, among other things). They’ve also got the culture; a far less tangible element but no less important than the others. By cycling culture, I mean a following that defies easy classification. There is no “typical” Copenhagen cyclist, you see businessmen in $2,000 suits, 20-something hipsters, moms hauling tots, seniors, on and on it goes.

The smart blog Copenhagenize offers a comprehensive look at Denmark’s cycling achievement, and advice for cities trying to follow its example. Check out the November 2007 post: “18 Ways to Know That You Have Bicycle Culture” linked here. I like #13: “You don’t even know that you live in a ”bike culture” and have never used the expression. You just ride.”

Image credit: Zakkaliciousness on

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on June 18, 2009 at 12:48 pm

It was a quiet and sad ending for Vancouver’s oldest family-owned restaurant. Last week, the City’s business license panel revoked The Only Sea Food’s permit, after police testified they’d found drugs on the premises and evidence that the restaurant was used for trafficking. Health inspectors also reported the presence of rodents, unplumbed sinks, and filthy, unsanitary conditions. It was one of the worst inspection reports some on the panel had ever seen. The full story ishere.

It’s a familiar tale: storied Vancouver business slowly ground down by neighbourhood that changed around it. Some city residents remember heading to The Only for their famous clam chowder back when the neighbourhood was lit up by neon signs and the sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians who’d just stepped off B.C. Electric trolleys (the terminus building is now the Centre A Gallery; building image here.)

In Neon Eulogy (Ekstasis Editions Canada, 2001), author Keith McKellar charts the history of The Only back to 1916, when 20 East Hastings St. was home to the Vancouver Oyster Saloon. That year, brothers Nickolas and Gustave Thodos acquired the restaurant and changed the name to The Only Cafe. They expanded the original space, added an ornamental tin ceiling, and installed a large horseshoe-shaped counter, ringed by 18 stools. Nick ran the place until his death in 1935, then a second generation of the Thodos family took over. Business was brisk: oysters were sourced from Thetis Island; fish was bought from the Campbell Avenue Fish Dock. They sold upwards of 60 lbs of steamed clams a day.

Sometime in the early 1950s, the iconic seahorse sign was added. Designed by Neon Products, it’s a double-faced projection, affixed to the brick building with wires and angle iron. Nick’s second son Tyke Thodos ran The Only up to 1992, then sold it to current owner Wendy Wong, who worked there as a waitress at the time. By then, business had seriously declined, public transit patterns had changed, and most other businesses had fled the neighbourhood, which now had the dubious distinction of being “Canada’s poorest postal code.”

The Only’s doors are now locked. Few seem to have noticed, media coverage was scarce, and Wong now faces drug charges. But the seahorse sign still hangs over the sidewalk, a relic of a bold, optimistic era. Like most neon signs of its time, it was leased to the business owners on a maintenance contract. Neon Products, now owned by Pattison Signs, still owns the sign and the lease expires in June 2010. Joan Seidl, the Museum of Vancouver’s director of collections and exhibitions, hopes it stays where it is. “I would always rather see the signs on the streets, adding to the layers of grit and history that keep Vancouver real.”

Image credit:

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on June 11, 2009 at 2:19 pm


This just in: Starting tomorrow, and running until Monday, the City is hosting a demonstration of the Bixi bike-share program, using bikes and rental stations on loan from the City of Montreal. Part of the mayor’s Greenest City initiative, it’s a chance to see how a public bike-share works, and to test-drive the bikes (so long as you bring a helmet). Details and map here. If you go, send us your comments. We’d love to hear from you.

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on June 11, 2009 at 11:45 am

Propeller design



MOV’s Velo-City exhibition explores Vancouver’s cycling revolution, and is curated by Propellor Design’s Nik Rust, Pamela Goddard, and Toby Barratt (all pictured left). In a conversation with MOV, Barratt discusses how the show came to be, how Vancouver is becoming a cycling city, and the bike he had painted John-Deere green.

Where did the idea for Velo-City originate?
My partners and I are avid cyclists and we have noticed that little by little over the past decade the popularity of cycling in all of its many forms has been increasing, and in the last two or three years it has really started to take off. We really wanted to dig into the subject and try to understand what is going on in the city and how people are using their bicycles to push the limits of sport, creativity, individuality, and community building.

What’s your favourite piece from the show?
Wow, that’s a tough question. Every bike in the show has a strong Vancouver story attached to it. There are bikes that are works of art and others that epitomize the strong DIY ethos that is present in the show. But, if I had to choose a favourite, I’d go with Lorne “Ace” Atkinson’s 1954 handmade track bike. Ace is a living legend. He is one of Vancouver’s great cycling champions, having raced in the 1948 Olympics for Canada. Ace was also a coach, a bike store owner, and an advocate for cycling in B.C. Ace built his track bike by hand, filing the elaborately detailed lugs by hand over the course of a winter. He rode this bike in the 1954 British Empire games and was still riding this bike on the Burnaby Velodrome in the 1990s.

How did you wrestle bikes away from avid cyclists for four, mostly summer, months? Couldn’t have been an easy sell.
Once people understood the depth and scope of our ambitions for Velo-City they were happy to sacrifice a summer’s riding for the cause. All of these people have at least two bikes so they will still be pedalling this summer. One of the most incredible bikes in the show is Sam Whittingham’s Varna Diablo speed bike. At some point this summer he will be taking his bike for a week to attempt to break his own world land-speed record by besting his current record of 133 kilometres per hour.

What’s your bicycle of choice?
I have three bikes: a Bianchi fixed gear, a Rocky Mountain Fusion for touring and commuting, and my baby, a 1990 Marinoni road bike which I have put about 60,000 kilometres on. In 1999, I had it painted John-Deere green. The painter advised me against the colour for aesthetic reasons but it suits me just fine. I get other cyclists commenting on the old girl at stoplights occasionally. My Marinoni has become an old friend and it would be a very dark day if it were ever stolen.

You travel the Pacific Northwest by bike. What’s that like?
My partner Pamela and I go on a month-long bike tour every summer and it is the best part of every year. We have ridden to San Francisco three times and to Portland and back twice. Bike touring is a great escape. We set out into the countryside with everything we need packed on our bikes. It distills life down to its most essential elements. We get stronger everyday, we sleep under the stars, we meet people who are interested in talking to us even though they think we might be crazy, we swim in lakes and rivers and we get to know the countryside we travel through. Anyone can do this, we aren’t super athletes. We are pleasure seekers, reconnecting with the physical side of life after 11 months of sitting at the computer. We are adventurers for the month of August each year.

The timing of the show is ideal, with the recent decision by the City to devote a car lane of the Burrard Street Bridge to cyclists, on a trial basis. 
I ride across the Burrard bridge regularly but it is a real obstacle for many people who simply don’t feel safe riding over it. I see the bike lane trials on the Burrard bridge as an attempt to begin the process of re-imagining the city as a different kind of place where people are valued more than cars, and community more than the mythology of individualism that is attached to the car culture. I am not anti-car but rather, for more balance. The bridge trials will create controversy, but we shouldn’t shy away from a conversation that is about to get louder.

Where do you think Vancouver is at in its cycling evolution? The critical mass events, where downtown streets are overtaken with cyclists to stop traffic, could indicate local cycling culture still has the trappings of a protest movement. You don’t see such events in places like Paris and Copenhagen, where cycling is almost like wallpaper—just part of the scenery.
Our cycling culture is maturing quickly and attracting more Vancouverites every year, but cyclists are still a very small minority. It seems to me that the activist culture in our city has moved beyond confrontation to a sincere strategy of courting the non-cycling public. Critical Mass rides in Vancouver are internationally renowned for being peaceful and FUN. This attracts people to the cause and gets people to try riding. I fully expect that 8,000 Vancouverites will ride the June 2008 Critical Mass, doubling last year’s record number of riders.

What is the future of cycling in Vancouver?
Number one: People will ride bikes built to do specific jobs. For instance, going to get a big load of groceries is a breeze if you have a bike like the Kona Ute, which is built to make carrying a load comfortable and safe. Number two: Cycling will become the most stylish way to get around the city. You are starting to see it already—ladies in heels and dresses riding to work or downtown for a night out. Number three: Streets in Vancouver like Water Street, Commercial Drive, and Robson will be permanently closed to motor traffic. Cyclists and pedestrians will flock to these places and these communities will thrive.

The Velo-City exhibition runs until September 7, 2009.

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on June 10, 2009 at 9:44 am


We’re always looking for images of Vancouver—new, old, beautiful, strange, revelatory. Browsing photostreams on Flickr—a site invented locally, no less—has become a pastime at the Museum.

Vancouverites, it would seem, spend an inordinate amount of time photographing their surrounds. Two reasons, the first one obvious: we’re a photogenic city. Two: we’re a young city, and in so many ways still settling in. Some of our most populous neighbourhoods are only a handful of years old; others have been redeveloped many, many times over, and have no particular aesthetic. A typical Vancouver city block might include an arts-and-crafts-style cottage, a mid-century bungalow, and an 1980s-era, seashell-pink, stucco-clad two-storey. On so many occasions, you pass a new building on your daily commute and can’t recall what was there prior. Local photography has become a way to keep track; a powerful cataloguing tool, driven by photographers, both amateur and professional, who actively share their work online.

Among this diverse group is Kenny Louie. We discovered his photostream recently and have been scrolling through it—all 850 images and counting—ever since. Many of his images have made their way onto this website. Louie, 31, is a software developer who grew up in Renfrew-Collingwood, and now lives in Burnaby. He carries a digital SLR camera with him most of the time, and has made a practice of taking at least one photograph a day as part of his “365” project. Another informal project has him uploading shots of North and Southeast False Creek every Friday. He says it’s just a “silly thing”—he’s in that area a lot because his wife works at Science World—but the sheer size of his portfolio indicates it’s anything but. He’s amassed over 1,000 images of that area alone, and in the process, produced a thorough chronicle of the contentious Olympic Village construction. Other photo sets capture the Downtown Eastside, Granville Island, and Yaletown, among many other locations. Taken together, it’s a moving portrait of the city today.

Herewith, a sampling of Louie’s online portfolio, with his comments:


Museum of Vancouver: “This was taken on one of my evening photowalks, when I was waiting for my wife. I had been shooting between the Burrard and Granville Street Bridges and was making my way back when I noticed some other large group photographing the Museum and thought, yeah, the light is pretty good.”


The Ovaltine Café: “My dad used to work here. One of his friends took it over, and my dad was semi-retired at the time, so he went to help out on the weekends and a few weekdays. It’s not as bad as you might think it is, because it’s in such close proximity to the police station.”


Stanley Park: “So many of my shots emphasize cityscape. I took this shot of Stanley Park to remind myself of the natural beauty we sometimes take for granted in this city.”

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on June 8, 2009 at 1:41 am


New name, new look, new focus, new website, and now, a blog. Lots of changes underway at the Museum of Vancouver… Here’s what’s up, the abridged version.

Over two years ago, we started rethinking who we are and what we do. Our primary focus, the city of Vancouver (like most other cities, certainly), has been changing (reinventing itself? cosmetically? authentically? both?) and the past two decades have been especially dramatic. The downtown population has doubled, dozens and dozens of glassy highrise towers have sprouted, City Hall has swung back and forth on the political spectrum, new venues for the upcoming 2010 Games have been constructed or are nearing completion—ditto a subway line connecting the airport to downtown.

Our focus now, as a civic institution, is to better understand it all. Create a museum of ideas, explore contemporary issues, all the while drawing inspiration from our historic, at times eclectic, collection. In this space, we’ll be connecting the goings on at the Museum to the city and vice versa. We’ll also bring in voices from the Museum and elsewhere from time-to-time. We hope you like what you see.

Thanks for visiting. We hope to hear from you.