Monday, June 6, 2011

Phototour: Times in Motion - Times in Touch

Twenty-five years ago, the world came to Vancouver, British Columbia. As the host city for the 1986 World Exposition - known universally as Expo 86 - fifty-four countries set up their pavilions and twenty-two million people visited between May 2 and October 13, 1986 to see the future of transportation and communication. Some of that future, in the form of the SkyTrain, is still with us today. Mostly, though, after Expo 86 ended little evidence of it remained; the Spirit Catcher was sent east to Barrie, the McBarge slowly rusted in Burrard Inlet, and the Plaza of Nations canopy was torn down for being unsafe.

Still, Expo 86 marked an important time in Vancouver's history. It was the city's centennial, and it was probably the highest-profile event that had taken place in the city at that point. It caught a city in transition from an industrial "end of the line," built on shipping and forestry, to the modern metropolis of 2011.

My grandfather, Les Parkinson, visited the Expo in June 1986 - and he brought his camera with him, very likely the same Hanimex 35SE that I carry around today. He didn't take many photos, but those that he did take reveal a city that is, to me, at once closely familiar and strangely different - and sometimes, just the same.

This past weekend, I took my digital camera and went to recreate the photos he took, to reveal the difference that a quarter of a century can make. The 1986 photos are on the left, and the 2011 photos are on the right, in case the differing image qualities don't tip you off.

Our first stop is the centre of the fair - maybe not geographically, but what we know today as Science World was originally Expo Centre, which housed a 500-seat OMNI/IMAX theatre, an interactive show in the Futures theatre, and the Design2000 future technology exhibit. Outwardly, it hasn't changed much in twenty-five years. The recreation of this photo is a best guess, based on the degree to which Science World's geodesic dome extends over the SkyTrain tracks; my modern photo was taken from Quebec and National.

Only a moment's walk brings us from the doors of Expo Centre to the shores of False Creek, but for a long while I wasn't able to identify the location of this photo as anything more than "somewhere along False Creek." The constant here is the glass building at the right of both photographs - in 1986 this was the British Columbia Pavilion, and today it's become the Edgewater Casino. To me, the most striking element of these photos is Yaletown: twenty-five years ago, that dense and booming neighborhood of shining towers existed as little more than factories and warehouses. If you're new to those streets in 2011, as I am, it's a bit hard to wrap your mind about how much the area has changed, and how rapidly.

Further along False Creek, my grandfather sought shelter from the rain beneath the Cambie Street Bridge - all I had to shelter from was the sun, so at least June weather has improved over that of twenty-five years ago - and took a photograph of some dragonboats on the water. From what I've read, those boats still exist, and are brought out for the annual races. Nor has the Fairview skyline changed radically since then.

Granville Island wasn't part of Expo 86 per se - the Expo lands didn't go any further west than the Granville Street Bridge - but even in 1986 it was a tourist attraction, and my grandfather seems to have spent at least a bit of time there. This first photo was taken near the Aquabus dock on the north side of the island, looking northeast toward the floating McDonald's restaurant and the Spirit Catcher. Today, if I hadn't had that support from the Granville Street Bridge as a constant, I would've had a far more difficult time identifying the spot; aside from the marina, it looks as if that part of the Expo lands has been entirely renewed over the intervening years.

These photos of the Granville Street Bridge were taken only a few steps away from the last ones, and it was this photo out of all of them that inspired me to take this project on; after I returned to Toronto from vacationing in Vancouver last year, I found when I was going through my archives that I'd recreated my grandfather's original photo without realizing it. The differences on the shore are stark - construction has hidden the Scotia Tower ramp to Howe Street from view, and none of the condo towers existed at all.

This is the last of the photos from Granville Island, and of all the photos I went to recreate in this project, this is my favorite - if only because it was the simplest to recreate. The presence of the Burrard Bridge and the Public Market took all of the uncertainty out of the equation; I'm fairly confident I was standing in the same spot my grandfather was twenty-five years ago. It was interesting to see the degree to which the West End, or at least the bit of it between the Burrard Bridge and Stanley Park, didn't change between these photos - or, for that matter, that lone green garbage can, which seems to have neither moved nor changed in all that time.

The relative stasis of the West End can be seen again in this photograph from Vanier Park in Kitsilano. Nevertheless, it does say a lot about the nature of West Vancouver's suburban growth up the mountain; it seems to my eyes that there's something like twice as much development now as there was then. The irritating thing about recreating this photo was that while I couldn't get to the exact spot where it had been taken from, it was perfectly obvious where that spot was - the big windows in the back of the Museum of Vancouver. That light pole is still there, but it's impossible to get that sort of perspective of it with your feet on the ground.

Vancouver has come a long way in twenty-five years. This view from the overlook in Queen Elizabeth Park reinforced this for me; amid the older, more traditional buildings like the Scotia Tower, Hotel Vancouver, and the Harbour Centre, a forest of new construction has shot up around them. This is likewise another photo I couldn't replicate precisely; from the angles, I suspect it was taken from the deck of Seasons in the Park, the restaurant next door.

Still, the last twenty-five years have not seen Vancouver change in every respect. There are still some things that are exactly as they were then, and which may well be just as they are today in 2036.

Things like giant enemy crabs.

Fun fact: that crab is more than just a sculpture. It is, in fact, a representation of the species that crewed the starship upon whose design the Museum of Vancouver was based - what, you think the building looks that way just because? The starship was, incidentally, shot down by the beam cannon in False Creek, which has since been disguised as the sculpture "Brush With Illumination" - because really, what better way to hide a titanically-powerful weapon capable of shooting down spaceships than as public art?

Second fun fact: I may have exaggerated the truth slightly.

A tad.

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