About a month after enjoying the “Lost Souls of Gastown” tour, my partner and I booked an excursion with Forbidden Vancouver’s “Secrets of Stanley Park” walking tour. Even though we’ve both patronized “Vancouver’s greatest treasure” numerous times, we felt – given our experience with the Gastown tour – that we’d likely learn something new. We weren’t disappointed!
The “Secrets of Stanley Park” clocks in at just over 2 hours and focuses primarily upon the eastern section of the park, near Deadman’s Island and Brockton Point. As you walk this area of the park, a difficult history is told about forced evictions, crime and tantalizing buried treasure! This all sounds like something out of a movie, but it happened – and right in this world renowned park – thanks to a backroom deal with the CPR. That, I admit, was surprising to learn!
Our tour, headed by Aislynn, started outside the Vancouver Aquarium, near Bill Reid’s “Chief of the Undersea World.” From here, we made our way to a fragment of Stanley Park’s recent past – the polar bear compound (see my earlier review on this site). For those born later than the early 1990s, the idea of a zoo in Stanley Park would seem foreign but, being a child of the 1980s, I do recall seeing the polar bears with my family. At the time, I probably thought it was really cool but, seeing the concrete “habitat” in the current day, it sticks out like a sore thumb and its inhabitants likely weren’t happy (dark secret #1).
We then wandered along one of the trails, coming upon a pile of stones, which were apparently from the Seawall restoration project. Of interest here? One of the stones had an inscription . . . you see, as the Seawall was being built, old tombstones were used in part of its construction (dark secret #2). But that’s not all. The general area in which we were standing constituted part of Vancouver’s original Pioneer Cemetery (see my earlier review on this site). It’s kind of eerie to know that, as we enjoy the Seawall, there just might be some bodies underneath our footsteps . . .
As we made our way towards Deadman’s Island (well, within the vicinity), we talked about the alleged $28,000 of treasure buried in Stanley Park, near the cricket pitch (dark secret #3). We then talked about the dark history of Deadman’s Island before moving on to the impressive Shore to Shore sculpture and the Brockton Point totems. It is here where, in my view, the “dark secrets” of Stanley Park really come into focus: Forced evictions of minorities and First Nations, all done in an underhanded way. Some of the evictees used loopholes to stay at their traditional homes a bit longer, but the state ultimately won. Indeed, there are a lot of memorials and plaques in and around Stanley Park, but there isn’t much to commemorate this story . . . and that’s sad.
While some of the material was fairly heavy, our tour guide, Aislynn, told the narrative well and used humour where appropriate to “lighten” this darker side of Stanley Park. In something of an ironic twist, while Stanley Park is beautiful and lauded by many, it is indeed surrounded by the tombstones of the dead!
If you get the chance to take this tour with Forbidden Vancouver, do it! It opens a whole new window upon Stanley Park.