Charlotte Diamond brings back memories

The day I learned to sing, I was in the car on a hot summer day listening to a Charlotte Diamond tape with my mother and sister. We often listened to Ten Carrot Diamond and other Diamond albums in the car, and until this day, we ‘sang’ along delighting in the noise without regard to tune or tone.

I remember feeling the wind in my hair as we drove down St. John’s street in Port Moody with our windows rolled down, caterwauling away. Perhaps we had been driving for a while, for my mother turned to my sister and I and with a strained tone asked if we could please try to match our voices to the sounds we heard in the songs. I had never before thought to try to sing like that, and to my surprise, I found it was just as fun to sing nicely as to sing loudly

This and other childhood memories came back with full force today when I saw Charlotte Diamond step up on stage at Arts In The Park in Moody Park and launch into Lucky Streak, Inch By Inch and I Am A Pizza, among other favourites. It was my son’s first live concert (Wesley is two years old) and although he had a great time, I think I was probably the more excited. 

Charlotte Diamond on stage in Moody Park
Charlotte Diamond on stage in Moody Park


Stiltwalkers danced while the crowd waited for the performance to begin
Stiltwalkers danced while the crowd waited for the performance to begin


Kids flew kites and danced while adults bought hot dogs and baked in the sun
A good turnout of young families at the festival

My mother actually saved all our favourite old tapes, and although the sound is a bit wonky today, we do play them for Wesley from time to time on a combination CD/tape player we bought especially for the purpose. More frequently, he hears her voice via the many fan videos on YouTube. There’s a photo slideshow of all the ingredients in I Am A Pizza, and an ESL flashcard version of Slippery Fish that he finds oddly entertaining.

The most frequent jukebox for Wesley is, of course, me. Singing as sweetly as I know how, I take him through all the classics I remember from my own childhood. More and more often, Wesley ‘sings’ along, barking out the words without thought to tune.

Brunette-Fraser park in Sapperton a study in contrasts


Photo credit: Don Schuetze

The Brunette-Fraser Regional Greenway – Sapperton Landing is a clumsy moniker for a little stretch of park that runs west from the mouth of the Brunette River until it runs out of space a little less than a kilometer away.Photo credit: Don Schuetze

The Greenway will eventually connect Vancouver with New Westminster with a bike and pedestrian pathway. Chunks have already been built, and this is one of them. As such, it has two paths: one paved (for bikes), and the other gravel (for sneakers). It’s very flat and there are a few observation decks that allow the tired or bored to lean out over the Fraser River and try to count the squashed cars being loaded onto barges in Surrey. 

The park is a study in contrasts: squashed between the working Fraser and the railway, with the Skytrain almost directly overhead and the busy industrial thorough-fare Front street just beyond, it still succeeds in providing a pleasant amble through greenery.

Plants, as is carefully laid out on several didactic posts, are “left to grow naturally”, in an attempt to create many wildlife habitats. Presumably someone weeds out the invasives like loosestrife and himalayan blackberry to keep it natural to this area. The brush is trimmed that abuts on the paths making it almost seem manicured. For wildlife in May I noted several spotted towees and a lot of sparrows that moved too quickly for me to figure out what kind.

Access to Sapperton Landing is difficult. By car the only way is a right turn onto Cumblerland from Columbia Street. Cross two sets of tracks and watch out! The road is only one lane. Parking is several hundred metres from the entrance, behind what I think was a customs house. Sapperton is the closest SkyTrain station.

Photo credit: Don SchuetzeBy the mouth of the Brunette is an old government wharf with a few fishing boats, and a lot of warning signs. At the other end, the trail ends suddenly where there’s no more land. A dumpster keeps you from sauntering onto Front Street. When the rest of the Greenway is completed you’ll be able to walk or bike to Vancouver along the Brunette River, or to the New Westminster Quay if you go the other way. Right now, however, if you don’t feel like risking Front street you have to turn back and admire the graffitti on the berm past the tracks.

Walking one way and back with a small dog and surly teenager took about 40 minutes, with pauses to take the occasional photo.

Sapperton Landing is important historically: this is where the Royal Engineers made their camp, where prisoners for the penitentiary were unloaded, and where the colony of BC was governed. Actually that was probably up the hill a bit, but this is probably where they sat down at the end of a long day, swung their bare feet into the water and smoked a pipe.

Sapperton Landing (The Brunette-Fraser Regional Greenway) is a pleasant stroll today, but will probably be amazing once it’s connected to the rest of the system.


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Hyack Square to be transformed this summer

At the foot of the staircase leading the Quay, there has long been a lonely brick-paved square that always seemed to attract ne’er-do-wells. This gap between the new Sally Ann and The Keg has been simply a place one passes through.

If you’ve been through the area more recently, you’ve probably noticed construction in the square, and a big sign announcing a pending ‘Hyack Square’ revitalization in the space. I always wondered just what was coming there, and today I found out (PDF link): it’s not just beautification but building the community focal point that the area has lacked for so long. The once-lonely square will become a summertime gathering place for families, with a children’s water feature and an amphitheatre for music and other outdoor performance.

Also included in the revitalization:

  • New decorative paving
  • Street furniture & lighting
  • Decorative screens
  • Historical features
  • Ornamental plantings & lawn areas
  • Public art

Parks & Rec is coordinating a summer performance series in the amphitheatre through July and August, and we’ll be sure to add the details to our event calendar when we know more.

The project is supposed to be completed by the end of May. The grand opening is set for June 20.

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Urban Wildlife Series: Squirrels

 The Urban Wildlife Series will take a look at wildlife we share our city with. This is the second in a series. You can view the others, as they are added, by clicking here.

I should subtitle this post “Rats With a Good Public Relations Team and Bushy Tails” because really, squirrels are just that. I have to admit I actually really like squirrels and when I saw this guy in a movie a while back, I really truly did laugh out loud because they really captured that insane caffeine addicted nature of squirrels. 


In any event, I have two squirrel related anecdotes to share:

When I moved to the Lower Mainland, one of the first items on my agenda was a trip to Stanley Park and I can clearly remember being told by the popcorn vendor to “Be careful of the squirrels!” . I can remember laughing to myself as I walked away from the cart, happily munching my popcorn and thinking “Pffft, whatever.” I was still chuckling a few moments later when a brazen squirrel decided my leg made a convenient ramp to the treasure I was holding and skittered up to my shoulder, stole a handful of popcorn, and skittered away in a matter of seconds. I was stunned that a) he did it, b) he hardly weighed anything, and c) he had really sharp little claws!

Another squirrel moment occured for me only a few years ago. Remember in my post about skunks I recommended AAA Wildlife Control? The reason I know they are a good company is that I had to utilize them to rid a rental suite above me (whose occupant was away in China on an extended trip and somehow I got roped into dealing with it) on not one squirrel, but an entire family of young teenage partier squirrels who were living the high life and wreaking havoc on open bowls of potpourri, boxes of cereal, and various houseplants. The AAA Wildlife guy told me that squirrels like to come down inactive chimneys and set up nests in fireplaces or empty attics. It took about a week to humanely rid the house of the party animals and the chimney was eventually capped with a permanent wire mesh cover to ensure no more critters moved in. 

What we most commonly see here in our city is called the Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), and it’s actually not native to BC. Grey Squirrels were introduced in Stanley Park (explaining the brazen popcorn thief I met) in 1909 and their population eventually expanded to include all of the Lower Mainland. These squirrels are grey or black and are much larger than Red Squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) or Douglas Squirrels (Tamiasciurus douglasii)  – also known as the Chickaree – that are considered native to BC. Additionally, there is a native squirrel capable of flight – the Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus). Okay, it’s not really flight – they glide –  but imagine a flying rat! The Northern Flying Squirrel is, by contrast to the other three species, noctural. 


All squirrels are opportunistic omnivores but are unable to digest cellulose – leaving them with a diet rich in carbs, protein and fats. Most will opt for nuts, seeds, conifer cones, and fruit, but will also dip into the insect buffet if hungry enough. Squirrels are chatty and noisy and generally considered to be pests. They certainly like to dig up parts of my garden after delicious grubs or to hide their treasures. Someone in my neighbourhood has either conveniently left a bag full of peanuts out for them, or is actively and purposely feeding them because I find peanut shells all. over. the. place.

The native species are generally territorial and it is these that are the stereotypical cheeky squirrels who give you an earful as you enter an area they consider to be theirs. Eastern Greys, on the other hand, don’t appear to care much and will travel wherever the mood strikes them and don’t care who shares their space, especially if you come bearing treasure such as nuts. The Eastern Grey Squirrel is running around with a target on its body – as an “alien” species, they have a great impact on the native squirrel populations and much money and effort is expended both privately and from various levels of government in an attempt to rid our communities of the  Eastern Grey Squirrel. I’m pretty sure it is a losing battle as squirrels are pretty prolific, with a female generally having two litters of one to three babies each year. In an unrelated note, squirrels are a popular food in certain areas of the United States and in Britain. Ew. 

Like skunks, squirrels are occasionally kept as pets and squirrel aficionados claim that squirrels can be trained to perform tricks are an highly intelligent. While researching this post, I came across one astonishing fact I will leave you with: January 21st is Squirrel Appreciation Day. Mark your calendars now for 2010. 

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A short stroll through Glenbrook Ravine

New Westminster isn’t known for its parks. They tend to be smallish, city-like green spaces, criss-crossed with asphalt paths and dotted with picnic tables, baseball diamonds and commemorative plaques. So it’s interesting to come across something a bit wilder, like Glenbrook Ravine.

In fact, it’s probably a park by default, being a ravine, but has potential to be a pleasant area for a stroll. There is a level gravel path, but it stops suddenly at the north end when it runs out of room.

Glenbrook Ravine (map)
Glenbrook Ravine (map)
Entrance to Glenbrook Ravine
Entrance to Glenbrook Ravine

This is where I’ve come in, off Glenbrooke Drive [(1) on the satelite image]. The path is steep and don’t even think about bringing grandma with her walker. It looks like there might have been a sign here at one time, but it’s long gone. The dog doesn’t have a problem getting down, and I suppose if I had proper boots it wouldn’t have been an issue for me either. Anyway, we made it down safely.

A small creek runs through the ravine, and there are plenty of signs of partiers, or “those damn kids” scrabbling up and down the west side, presumably into the housing complex off McBride. There were plenty of robins, a few chickadees, but not a lot else in February.

Glenbrook Ravine

Another entrance to the park, if you don’t mind stairs, is about halfway down, just off the alley behind Kwantlen Court [(2) on the image]. This one switch-backs on to the path and is much safer than the Glenbrook entrance.

The city has set up a number of sumps and drains along the ravine, including what looks like a drain to the Styx in the underworld.

Glenbrook Ravine

Towards the southern end, if you look up the western side you can glimpse where the B.C. Penitentiary’s cemetery is.

Glenbrook Ravine

The park ends (or starts) in the back yard of a community centre behind an apartment complex. There’s a pond and a small structure holding the Pen’s bell, complete with commemorative plaque! This entrance [(3) on the satellite image], is level and has easy access to a parking lot.

Glenbrook Ravine

With plenty of dawdling and letting the dog snuffle for signs of squirrels (none found) it took less than half an hour to go from one end to the other.