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Your guide to exploring the best of Vancouver's under-appreciated parks

Get out this summer and explore some of Vancouver's 'under-appreciated' green spaces

With summer travel limited, it’s a good time to reconnect with Vancouver’s own offerings for rest and relaxation.

An afternoon in a local park makes for a quick getaway that’s easy on the gas tank. Vancouver has over 230 designated park spaces, representing 11% of the city’s land.

The crown jewel that every tourist and local sees is, of course, Stanley Park. The main beach parks such as English Bay Kitsilano and Spanish Banks are also well-used, much appreciated spaces.

But which of the others deserve a stop for a little respite or recreation while offering greater ease for social distancing? Other destination parks are only a short drive or a bike ride away. 

New Brighton Park

Wilco-New-Brighton-Park-1152New Brighton Park. Photo: Wilco/Brett Ryan Studios, June 2018 via Port of Vancouver

From the parking lot, walk through a colourfully graffitied tunnel to the park. It’s a great backdrop for your selfies or simply a wonderful canvas for new posts to Instagram. While the outdoor pool remains closed until July 13, the park remains a great place to picnic, to let Fido loose in the spacious, fenced in off-leash dog area or to walk along the water and take in the view of the Ironworkers’ Memorial Bridge.

Plateau Park/Hastings Park

Get active! This gem, tucked behind the PNE/Playland grounds offers plenty to do even as the roller coasters within view remain silent. It’s got four beach volleyball courts, a soccer field with a surrounding track, ping pong tables, a parkour course, a bike skills area, an accessible playground, perimeter biking and walking paths and a skateboard hangout. Something for everyone.

Renfrew Ravine Park

Not to be confused with nearby Renfrew Community Park, this serene sliver of a park makes the most of Still Creek and its corresponding ravine. On the north side of East 29th Avenue is a newly fenced off-leash dog park but the main draw attraction is the shaded walkway hugging the creek. On the south side of 29th, a newly built stairway leads down to another stretch of the creek and a short boardwalk. Two benches at the end offer a place stop and sit in quiet contemplation but nearby rocks provide an even closer vantage point to take in the aptly named creek.

Trout Lake (John Hendry Park)

trout-lake-john-hendry-park-vancouverTrout Lake at John Hendry Park, Vancouver. Photo: jamesvancouver/Getty Images

This is the city’s granola epicenter. Home to a robust farmers’ market on Saturdays, a small lake for swimming on one end and canine shenanigans on the other, tennis courts, a still-closed indoor ice rink and activity center, it’s got a healthy tie-dye/kilt/pierced body parts quotient and the air is often freshly scented with BC bud. People-watch and get ideas for your next—or first—tattoo, even if it’s a temporary decal.

Grandview Park

This is Vancouver’s people-watching park. Situated off Commercial Drive in the heart of East Van, this park has long had a permanent pot cloud over it. Accept it or head to nearby Victoria Park where you can watch Italian old-timers play bocce. Don’t limit yourself to the park itself. Take a peek at the arty, mini Mosaic Creek Park two blocks west at Charles and McLean; then, walk The Drive for cheap produce, good coffee and fresh gnocchi to take home for dinner.

Memorial South Park

The treed boulevard leading to the parking lot off 41st conjures up an approach to a French chateau but the rest of the park is function over style. This is a place that covers the bases in terms of sporting surfaces, with two baseball diamonds, a track, a lacrosse court, a soccer field, and four tennis courts. To bring the heartbeat back down, there’s a thicket of grand red cedars and, elsewhere, a marshy pond with nearby picnic tables.

CRAB Park at Portside

crab-park-portside-vancouverCRAB Park at Portside, Vancouver. Getty Images

Opened in 1987, this park is as close as you’ll get to a “secret” waterfront park in Vancouver. It’s a space the citizens of East Vancouver advocated for, beginning in 1982; hence, the acronym-derived name: Create a Real Available Beach. Entering the park, you may notice small signage tacked to blue lampposts. These are worth a read, providing a history of the North Shore Ferry Service which used to traverse the Burrard Inlet, the 1914 denial of Sikh immigrants aboard the Komagata Maru and the fight for CRAB Park. This park is one of the few in the city to have First Nations art—here, the mosaic of Raven, Dolphin and Crab and the powerful poem “Urban Indian” by Fred Arrance, inscribed on a large heart-shaped rock. The beach is small but you can sit against a log as dogs splash about in the water. Stand on the pier and take in distinct views in every direction. Get a different perspective of Downtown Vancouver’s skyline, including the Convention Centre and Harbour Centre. In the other direction, take a glimpse of the action at the Port of Vancouver. Watch the SeaBus come and go across the harbour to North Vancouver. Click away with your camera, but maybe don’t post your pics on social media. Let the secret last a little longer.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Here’s a Chinatown treasure, perhaps the most culturally rich of all parks overseen by the Vancouver Parks Board. (Admission to the adjoining Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Garden costs about $15, depending on the season.) With willows, bamboo, craggy rocks, pagodas and a pond dotted with lily pads and filled with koi, this photo-ready site is will make you feel a world away. Both the free and paid portions of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Gardens are currently closed but will reopen July 3

Langara Golf Course Perimeter Path

This is the place to get your greens, especially from midsummer until the rains of fall, a time when Vancouverites let their lawns turn to wheaten hues. Comprising the perimeter of the city’s public Langara Golf Course, this 2.7-kilometre loop offers beautiful views of the landscaped golf course from shaded stretches of a wooded trail. It’s perfect for a brisk walk or an extended chat with a friend. Travel two or three laps and then retreat to the clubhouse patio for a different well-deserved draft beer and a basket of yam fries.

Queen Elizabeth Park

queen-elizabeth-park-vancouverQueen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver. Getty Images

It’s not exactly overlooked, but we tend to forget the full scope of what’s offered at QE Park. The locals love it for the tennis and basketball courts, the dog park, the lawn bowling, the disk golf course and the Pitch and Putt, while tourists come to snap views of the city skyline, even if the vegetation is starting to crowd the shot. Stroll the quarry gardens and cross your fingers that the underappreciated Bloedel Conservatory will soon reopen so you can enhance your summer photo album with pics of exotic macaws and finches amid New Zealand tea trees and flamingo lilies. This is your tropical refuge, no plane required.

Vancouver General Hospital Children’s Playground

It’s more than a playground, but that’s all that’s labelled on Google Maps. The playground, at 795 W 13th Ave, is lovely, with a great deal of activity as families access it throughout the day. Beyond that are grassy areas and a concrete plaza with a water feature which is the site of Alan Storey’s “VGH Energy Centre”, a stainless steel art structure of straight and curved pipes. The entire park feels like a peaceful refuge, whether from life in a nearby condo or from a visit at the hospital. If the 7 p.m. cheers continue through the summer, this is a prime spot to ensure that the target audience hears your appreciation. 

Douglas and Heather Parks

With just a block separating the two, they can be viewed as one wonderful space that creates a thriving neighbourhood feel between Oak and Cambie. This is another place to work your endorfins, accessing the Heather Park’s tennis courts, or playing soccer or baseball or jogging the perimeter path at Douglas Park. A new wood-feature playground including a playhouse and tree platform at Douglas Park only adds to the appeal of this area.

Emery Barnes Park

emery-barnes-park-vancouverEmery Barnes Park. Photo: City of Vancouver

Surrounded by skyscrapers, this single-block park in Yaletown is an urban oasis for children and adults alike. The newer playground gives kids plenty to climb, spin and swing on while benches everywhere give weary downtown walkers a spot to rest their feet and chat up a local. Nearby Nelson Park has that laid back community feeling (and more dogs) but this park always feels like something’s happening, even if it’s just taking in the small waterfall and letting the sound drown out construction.

Charleson Park

A great stopping point in False Creek between Olympic Village and Granville Island, this is a place to take in the marine and mountain views while dodging dogs. Although the playground spaces are undergoing a renovation, the sea wall here is much improved with separate bike and pedestrian paths. Few people walk the small forested trail area farther away from the water and an oft-overlooked highlight is the lagoon, a great locale for watching and photographing herons, Canada geese and ducks. Even your sea-gull-perched-on-a-rock shots will look amazing.

Vanier Park

Alas, Bard on the Beach is not to be this summer, but that’s no reason to stay away. Often with more geese than humans, this is one of the best places in Vancouver to fly a kite. It also offers splendid views of the West End’s Sunset Beach and of sailboats and other water craft heading to and from False Creek. It is a short walk along a dedicated bike/pedestrian path to the Maritime Museum and Kits Beach. If anything, this space is ripe to become a sculpture park, adding to Chung Hung’s rust-coloured Gateway to the Northern Passage, George Norris’ stainless steel The Crab in front of the MacMillan Space Centre and Ajlan Gharem’s chain-link fence mosque, “Paradise Has Many Gates."

The “finger parks” of Point Grey

Between Kits Beach and Jericho Beach, there are seven smaller waterfront parks, welcome places of solitude and play, on land that could easily have been sold off and overtaken by multi-million dollar mansions. Thankfully, these lots have been set aside, reserving prime views for the general public, too. Each park may become its own personal favourite. The most developed of the septet is Hastings Mill Park, with marina and West Vancouver views, an upgraded, log-made playground, and an enlarged open frame structure to create your own photo op. Enrich your sense of local history at the (still-closed) Hastings Mill Museum, once a general store, relocated by barge from its downtown location where it survived the Great Fire of 1886.

Deering Island Park

deering-island-parkDeering Island Park. Photo: City of Vancouver

This one’s a small space, but, hey, it’s an island without the crowds you’d find on Granville Island. Watch the boat traffic navigate the Fraser River, forage on wild blackberries when in season and stroll the path just north of the park where you might encounter horses or, at the very least, um,...evidence of them. A good alternative for the similar views is the dog-friendly Fraser River Park.

Pacific Spirit Regional Park

This 750-hectare haven, the only GVRD park in city limits, is well-known to many and is a wonderful alternative to the trails of Stanley Park. It only takes a few steps in to feel far away from urban existence. The forested trails pass through land blanketed by ferns and shaded by towering cedars. It’s a perfect spot for running, dog walking and setting your mind free from, well, everything.

University of British Columbia Campus

Okay, it’s not a park at all. But with courses going online and very few students staying in residence, there’s never been a quieter time to stroll the grounds of this world-class university. Parking is even easier with the main competition reduced to sun worshippers heading to Wreck Beach. There are more squirrels than students traversing the grassy areas off the principal pedestrian arteries, East Mall, Main Mall and West Mall so it’s safe to wander without feeling too old. Enjoy the UBC Rose Garden with its ocean/mountain view, gaze up at the totems dotting the campus and find peace by the Japanese Pacific Bell and Bell Tower. Marvel over the contrasts in architecture between the vine-covered Old Administration Building and the cubist design of the Pharmaceutical Sciences Building. Stand in the middle of Main Mall and ping-pong your head, taking in the stark differences between the granite stone facade of the 95-year-old Barber Learning Centre (formerly the Main Library) and glassy frontage of Koerner Library. Feel the adrenaline at the skatepark, let your kids squeal on the playground at Jim Taylor Park or just have a seat on one of the many campus benches (or in a tree swing) and pull out your copy of a quintessential college read like Norwegian Wood or One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Honorable mentions:

dude-chilling-parkDude Chilling Park. VIA file photo

Everett Crowley Park deserves a nod as Vancouver’s best re-purposed park. Once a landfill, it became a park in 1987. The fowl-friendly, marshy Avalon Pond is named after Vancouver’s Avalon Dairy, founded by former Park Board Commissioner Everett Crowley’s father, Jeremiah. It’s not the prettiest park, much of it overrun by blackberry bushes, but it’s a great place to run and the locals have a special affinity for dogs.

Dude Chilling Park, if only for its name. This is an average Vancouver park (community garden, playground, open field, smattering of trees) that gained notoriety with a name change. (It used to be called Guelph Park.) Word is the designation started as a prank, with a pop-up sign by a local artist. The neighbours liked it and petitioned for the name to stay. Anyone rue the change? You can still find a Guelph Park sign if that’s your preference. But just chill. Like the Dude. When I visited, a dude was doing so on a bench, engrossed in a novel. Dude’s got the right idea.

Gregory Walters' writing has appeared in The Globe and MailFunny TimesCottage Life and Writer’s Digest. His novel Fouling Out was published by Victoria’s Orca Book Publishers. Currently, Walters is on leave from a position as elementary school principal in Richmond. Walters says his role as a longtime educator affords insight as to which of the parks have particular kid appeal.

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