It’s Museum Monday! This week we’re celebrating the historic art deco landmark which connects Kitsilano (and the MOV) to the heart of Vancouver’s downtown: the Burrard Street Bridge.
The Burrard Bridge opened ‘with a snip of golden scissors’ on Canada Day, July 1, 1932. The MOV has several items which capture this opening day, including the “Burrard Bridge Rose Bowl” presented to assistant City Engineer William Brand Young in 1932. No pictures are posted yet, but you can just imagine its shining splendor: Victorian, silver plate, decorated with an ornate fruit and vine border and finely engraved with “Souvenir of the Opening of the Burrard Bridge July 1st 1932”.
I love this photo from the Vancouver Archives, which seems to capture the excitement of the day – a gathering throng out to test the new bridge and parade their Sunday best. Gentlemen in suits, caps, and fedoras; Ladies in frocks and cloche hats; Couples arm in arm; A lad on his bike…perhaps one of the first cyclist to cross?
Head engineer John R. Grant and Architect George Lister Thornton Sharp designed the bridge so that boats could get through safely while cars passed overhead. Preserving an unobstructed view was another key concern. According to the Burrard Bridge Heritage Study (Donald Luxton, 2001), the handrails were structured so that vehicles driving between 40 and 64 kilometers an hour could still enjoy the beautiful bay thanks to a “stroboscopic” visual effect.
The decorative bridge towers have inspired speculation and urban myth over the years. Is there a hidden gallery or office space up there in the middle of the bridge? What about the mysterious spaces arching in between the towers and those small windows peering onto the traffic below? It’s tempting to imagine…but apparently nothing much is going on there. In fact, it’s an elegant way to conceal some necessary steel support structures.
Photo by cmh2315fl on Flickr
Those special art deco details on the surface do have a story to tell. The boats jutting out at each side are crowned with the busts of Captain George Vancouver and Sir Harry Burrard. The large pylons at each entrance emulate a flaming torch. Bridge engineer John Grant designed these torches as a tribute to Canadian prisoners of war (from World War I), imagining them huddled around open fires in their prison camps.
Thanks to an avid Vancouver collector (Doreen Margaret “Peggy” Imredy), MOV hosts a fascinating assortment of over 3,500 pieces relating to Stanley Park. This extensive collection includes post card views of the Burrard Bridge from 1932, 1978, and 1999. By comparing these images, you can see how our natural and urban landscapes have changed. It’s also striking to see how camera technology and visual taste trends have changed. Today you can catch an almost live view of bridge and sea (updated every 5 minutes) on the Katcam.
Follow the Bright Burrard Banners to MOV! If you’re a Kits commuter, you’ll notice new MOV street banners decorating your route from the Burrard Bridge south to Broadway. Why not take a refreshing pause and follow that trail to the MOV? We’re in the distinctive ‘building that looks like a spaceship / Haida hat’ [find it in the images to the right] with the famous crab fountain out front.
We’re also right in the midst of beautiful Vanier Park, so you can make a day of it… Fly a kite, plan a picnic or just enjoy the city views and sea breeze. Then pop into MOV for a fun event or peruse our Art Deco Chic exhibition and see if you can appreciate the stunning links between art deco fashion and architecture.
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.