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John Atkin: SkyTrain Explorer

John Atkin leading a walk on Eveleigh St in Vancouver Photo courtesy of Wendy Cutler

John Atkin leading a walk on Eveleigh St in Vancouver
Photo courtesy of Wendy Cutler

This is the man, folks. John Atkin.

He wrote the book SkyTrain Explorer: Heritage Walks From Every Station and he’s the inspiration for me to walk those walks from Waterfront station to New Westminster station.

I’ve already have one in the can and you can read about my experience here.

I got the chance to sit down for a coffee with John on a rainy afternoon and discuss all things Metro Vancouver, how this book came to be and what he loves to explore.

Why SkyTrain stations?

Because it was arbitrary. *laughs* It came out of a discussion from a series of walks called “How to Look at Neighbourhoods.” It was a little bit of history, a little bit of development. But the idea was to get people out to look. At the end of one walk, someone told me that they wished their area was interesting. Turns out they lived right by the Nanaimo SkyTrain station.

The next walk, we met at the station and they were convinced nothing was there but we walked through a landscape of Vancouver Specials, the evolution of the area and found many fascinating little pockets. At the end of the walk, she was shocked (and pleasantly surprised) that there was all that in her own backyard. Everyone wanted to do another station and so we did!

What lead to the book itself?

After Vancouver Walks (with Michael Kluckner) was published, the publisher asked if I was interested in doing anything else. I said I was doing a few walks from the stations and they said, “That’d be cool!”

Riding the SkyTrain, I was always looking over, out the windows, wondering. When I had spare time I’d be on the train and randomly say, “well, let’s get off at the 4th stop.” Then just look around as I meandered. Turns out, other people wanted to do that too.

Why did you do the Expo Line and only to New West?

It was the original line. What I wanted to do is do that 1985 line. The idea was that we’d do the extension and the Millennium Line for the next one. Local publishing has changed but I do want to finish. I really do want to finish the Expo Line one day.

With the Millennium line, it’s tough right now to draw things out of some areas and stations. But that’s changing. There’s lots of Vancouver influence in those areas. I made tons of notes but I just couldn’t string it together yet. So, maybe if I just wait a long time, there will be lots to explore there!

What were the most interesting spots for you to walk and write about?

Edmonds was really interesting because it was semi-rural at the time. Big lots with small houses. And there was this creeping townhouse culture starting to show up but at the same time old Kingsway was still there. There was also this picture perfect shopping mall right out of the 1960s with an open courtyard and front facing shops.

That was a cool find. Actually, I went out originally and I wrote it all up, a great route. When I came back 8 months later to fact check it had all changed! That was a big development year for them.

Then, I guess, Royal Oak. It was one of those places that hadn’t yet taken off. The landscape was changing even when I was writing the book. At the time you could see grocery store, church, hardware store, house, house, house. It was the interurban stall that existed that just doesn’t now.

What advice would you give someone who wants to follow your guidance with the book… or break out and find their own walks?

It’s about going out and being curious about space. Just be curious. I can’t go anywhere without poking.

If you’re following the book, we published a while ago so you should keep in mind. You may look and think, “Whoops! Where’d that go?” We tried as much as possible in the book to give that indication that things will change. It’s inevitable!

If you’re doing it by yourself, the thing is, you make that decision when you’re out of the station, choose a direction and start walking.

Keep your eyes open. I think so often we’re so busy that we so rarely walk for the purpose of going nowhere.

I like going nowhere! By going nowhere you are really looking at your environment. You can start to see little things like a house may be older because it’s set far away from the street or that is a style very reminiscent of a certain era. Even the most seemingly boring space is interesting.

Part of the reason of choosing the SkyTrain is that it was, as I explained, a completely arbitrary structure.

Most people get on and go from A to B without any thought to what’s in between. It’s that idea of just being curious. As things change and the region develops, I think it’s a good idea to get to know an area that isn’t yours.

Beyond SkyTrain stations and areas in Metro Vancouver, what else do you like to explore?

I’m a big fan of shopping mall design. When we travel, we go to shopping malls.

We were in Beirut and we hiked way off into the Northern part of the city because there’s a new mall that just opened and we wanted to go see it. It had five or six floors but you entered at the top of a big hill and it was built all the way down the hill.

It was open air and you worked your way down the side of the hill in the mall. It was so interesting and something I’ve never seen before.

Malls are more interesting than you’d think. You can tell a lot about an area by the development of their malls!

Thanks to John for the afternoon chat and all the information about the book and our region.

He has definitely sparked a new interest for me and I am truly curious about the sidewalks, buildings, bridges and neighbourhoods of our region.

I can’t wait to get out there for my next SkyTrain explorer walk!

If you’re interested in joining John on one of his varied walks around the region, you can register here.

Stay tuned later this month for my Burrard station adventure.

Author: Adrienne Coling

SkyTrain Explorer: Waterfront Station

SkyTrain Explorer: Heritage Walks From Every Station

SkyTrain Explorer: Heritage Walks From Every Station

I’ve found a book. It’s called SkyTrain Explorer and it’s written by John Atkin, the co-author of Vancouver Walks.

It’s a very special book because it highlights (with clear directions) heritage walks you can take from every SkyTrain station along the Millennium and Expo Lines from Waterfront to New Westminster.

Atkin quotes comedian Steven Wright, “Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” So, guess what? I’m going to take the time and walk the walks!

Too often we are oblivious to what’s all around us. Parks, buildings, history and culture. I know I’m guilty of this on my morning commute on transit.

But I want to know more about what makes this region so interesting and get off that train to go exploring.

This is the first in my series and over the next year I will make sure I do them all (hold me to it, please!) including pictures, any interesting videos and commentary of my experiences.

Enjoy!

It’s Sunday. It’s sunny. I’ve got my Chucks on and I’m ready to go! I mosey on over to the bus that takes me to the nearest Canada Line SkyTrain station and I hop on, heading to Waterfront.

I’ve been in Waterfront station countless times. Have I ever, even once, looked up at the architecture in the concourse? Nope. Not once.

I remedy this oversight immediately and spend a good 10 minutes walking around and taking pictures like a complete tourist!

According to the instructions, I head out past the A&W, ignore the calling of a delicious Teen burger and leave the station.

To my right, there’s a great view of the port, West Vancouver and the edge of the cruise ship terminal. To my left is a pedestrian walkway across Cordova St. Wait, was this always here? This is great!

As I cross the bridge, I turn back and grab a shot of the entirety of Waterfront station, built in 1914 for CPR. It really does have a presence with a beautiful backdrop.

The Sinclair Centre is next. It is made up of four buildings, the youngest of which was built in 1935. They were carefully restored in the 1980s and joined in the middle with a covered courtyard.

This block includes the Post Office from 1905, my personal favourite building on this particular walk.

Next time you’re near this area, check out the fish on the Granville St side of the buildings. Sometimes thought of as dolphins, they are actually sturgeon. Apparently, sturgeon are considered royal fish. You learn something new every day!

I see the impressive BIRKS flagship store to my Southeast. An impressive building that was originally the Canadian Bank of Commerce built in 1908.

Walking ever onward, Southwest now, I pass by the original Vancouver Stock Exchange under construction. Office building perhaps or condo? At least they’re keeping the outside.

I turn East and at Pender and Granville. The Rogers building. Built in 1912 and very well kept up since then! Peer up and see some lions keeping watch over the neighbourhood.

North to Hastings on Seymour. What I always thought was just a giant hotel is, in fact, the Conference Plaza (halls, retail, hotel and offices) with buildings dating back to the 1920s.

This includes the former Union Bank Building, now part of Simon Fraser University. Actually, a fair amount of older buildings in this section of town belong to SFU.

I look up and see the Vancouver lookout tower and the Harbour Centre. Any word on how the food is at the revolving restaurant?

I turn East on Hastings. Spencer’s Department Store circa 1928, later Eaton’s and finally Sears is now part of SFU’s downtown campus and on the left. Great library! I may have stopped and explored. I do love me some books!

Now, instead of heading down to Cordova and ending my walk, I continued East to Cambie.

The Dominion building on the Northwest corner cannot be missed. Shades of terracotta, yellows and oranges seem to capture a sunset in architecture that makes you stop and take notice!

I stroll down to Water St. to admire the much adored steam clock. Sorry to dash any heritage hopes for this popular attraction, but it was only built in 1977.

I love Gastown and I loved walking around it and the old financial district. You don’t have to walk far to see a lot in this neighbourhood!

My first heritage walk is done so I grab a drink, sit on a patio and enjoy the sunset.

Things I learned:

* Downtown Vancouver has some amazingly well-preserved heritage buildings
* Remember to look UP or you miss half of everything!
* Being a tourist in your own city is OK. Actually, it’s pretty fun!
* Even if you have directions, sometimes figuring out which building is which can take a few minutes – try to find the date on the building to help guide you.
* Never. Eat. Shredded. Wheat.

See my gallery below with all my pictures of the day. Which buildings are your favourites?

Stay tuned for the next installment in April, SkyTrain Explorer: Burrard Station!

Author: Adrienne Coling