Vancouver’s Stanley Park an emerald oasis that calls to all

Vancouver’s Stanley Park an emerald oasis that calls to all

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We’ve been told that Canadians do not like to boast — even though they certainly have much to boast about. Consider, for example, Stanley Park, the great big, beautiful urban oasis in Vancouver, B.C.

Covering 1,000 acres and almost completely surrounded by the waters of Vancouver Harbour and English Bay, Stanley Park is larger than New York’s Central Park. And more stunning.

Take that, you snobby Manhattanites.

But how best to explore the park? Well, you can drive through parts of it. You can pedal a bike, or use inline skates to zip along its extensive seawall. You can catch a shuttle. Or you can go old school and kick back with a guided tour on a horse-drawn carriage.

Me? On this glorious spring day, I’ve decided to rely on my own two feet and a durable pair of Nikes. So I’ve been hoofing (and huff-puffing) it for hours — along sandy beaches and quiet wooded trails, and across manicured lawns and dazzling flower gardens. I’m quite sure I would have set a new personal Fitbit record — had I remembered to wear the darn thing.

Now comes my reward for all that rugged cardio: I’m perched high atop Prospect Point, at the northern end of the park. A gentle wind rustles the towering fir trees as I take in a marvelous view of gorgeous green mountains, the harbor below and Lions Gate Bridge, which connects downtown to north Vancouver over the Burrard Inlet.

I inhale deeply. Oh, Canada, indeed.

Pedestrians make their way along the seawall. 

You can’t help but admire Vancouver’s early visionaries who, way before freeway traffic jams and claustrophobic office cubicles, had the foresight to set a magnificent chunk of natural beauty aside so that folks would have a place to congregate for active recreation or peaceful relaxation.

Named for Lord Frederick Stanley — yes, the same guy whose moniker is attached to hockey’s beloved Stanley Cup — this expansive green space opened in 1888 and is now visited by an estimated 8 million people annually. In 2014, it was named “top park in the entire world” by TripAdvisor.

What continually amazes me during my visit is the vast array of activities available inside the park. When the weather cooperates, you can take a dip in English Bay, or in the huge outdoor heated swimming pool near the water’s edge at Second Beach. There are tennis courts, a par 3 pitch-and-putt golf course, a lawn bowling area and several playgrounds for the kids.

Totem poles at Brockton Point 

Crave less exertion? You can hit the rails aboard the miniature Stanley Park Train, stroll through a fragrant rhododendron garden, toss down a blanket for a picnic, or grab a bite at one of several eateries. The park also features many historical monuments, including the highly photographed First Nations totem pole display at Brockton Point. Some of the nine totems here date back to the early 20th century. They’re remarkable pieces of hand-carved artistry, each with its own story to tell.

Of course, locals will tell you that no initial visit here is complete without spending some time at the acclaimed Vancouver Aquarium. So after leaving Prospect Point, I make my way to the facility that is home to more than 50,000 creatures, including otters, sharks, dolphins, sea lions, tropical fish and, yes, even frogs.

I mention the croaking critters because, though they tend to creep out some people, they fascinate me. Always have. Thus, I found my bliss in the aquarium’s “Frogs Forever?” gallery, an exhibit dedicated to the plight of the world’s dwindling frog population and to ways we can help protect them and other endangered amphibians.

But on a day like this, the outdoors is calling. So I lean on the advice of a park brochure blurb that claims “to experience the real Stanley Park, take one of the many paths less traveled.” That’s how I find myself trudging up a dirt trail through a rainforest thick with stately cedars and Douglas firs.

A horse-drawn carriage in Stanley Park 

You may have heard that Vancouver likes to refer to itself as Hollywood North because of all the TV and movie production that goes on here. As I make my way — all alone — through the lush and shadowy woods, I imagine that my surroundings could easily be an enchanted forest on the fairy tale series “Once Upon a Time” (which, indeed, has filmed here) — or a dark, foreboding place of gloom on “The X-Files.”

Eventually, I find my way out into the light and onto Vancouver’s renowned seawall. Once again, some idealistic city planners had their act together when they laid out 16 miles of paved and mainly flat trail ways along the shoreline. With one side for pedestrians and the other for cyclists and roller-bladers, about 5.5 miles of the path hugs Stanley Park.

By this time, the work day has ended and joggers and cyclists are out in force. Meanwhile, the water is festooned with kayaks and sail boats, and the beaches with sunbathers and cuddlers. Around every bend, it seems, there is a photogenic view.

It’s as good a time as any, I figure, to give the Nikes a rest and kick back on one of the several long logs that have been neatly arranged along the shoreline. As I absorb all the soothing sights and sounds and watch the sun drop toward the horizon, I make a pact with myself: If our friends to the North don’t feel like bragging about this place, I’ll certainly do it for them.

Contact Chuck Barney at Follow him at and

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