This self-guided walk features the works of artists who have created works of art employing environmental art practices, using only natural materials and with sensitivity towards the plants and animals of the park. The walk begins at the Stanley Park shuttle stop, east of the round-about off Georgia Street.
If you’d like to read more about this project, consider reading this essay written by Kamala Todd titled (Un)divided PDF file (2.3 MB).
Due to the nature of these artworks, some may no longer be in place due to natural decomposition.
A note on Stanley Park
The beautiful area now known as Stanley Park was once home to many Indigenous peoples and remains a culturally significant area for the local First Nations people today. Stanley Park is on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. The park’s villages were occupied for thousands of years by First Nations and newcomers before their eviction in the 20th century.
While you walk through the lush greenery, you might reflect on the many people who have entered this space for many purposes during its long history, and the many people who enjoy it today.
|Elevation change||38 m|
Unceded means that First Nations people did not give up land or legally sign it away to Britain or Canada. Vancouver and 95 percent of BC are on unceded First Nations land. In many parts of Canada, treaties were signed with First Nations that gave incoming settlers rights to much of the land, but in BC very few treaties were signed.
Want to learn more? Read First Peoples: A Guide for Newcomers PDF file (5.4 MB)
As you walk along the seawall and among the trees of Stanley Park you'll be treated to scenic views of downtown, the northshore mountains and an urban forest ecosystem like no other. Scattered throughout the park are works of art, both natural and man made. This walk invites you to take in the majesty of the natural while viewing some of the works of art created by local artists using only natural and organic materials. These pieces are all subject to the elements like sun, wind, and rain, or the activities of animals and insect. They'll naturally return to the earth over time so view them while you still can!
The route indicated for this walk has sections of paved walking paths and compacted gravel surface. This route is wheelchair accessible. All of Beaver Lake Trail and the trails leading to the two points of interest are virtually level, with some gradual slope on adjacent trails.
Points of interest
Artist: Shirley Wiebe
I was in search of a site for an envisioned series of soft sculptures when I first became aware of the bear pit during a survey walk. The enclosed concrete environment was formerly part of the Stanley Park Zoo until it closed in the mid 1990s. An adjoining building has been converted into a demonstration salmon spawning hatchery that is managed by the Vancouver Aquarium. Situated in the middle of the park, the pit now appears utterly dilapidated and in sharp contrast to the meticulously landscaped surroundings. Nature is already reclaiming the area – vines claw their way up from the moat below while a massive yew tree extends its branches overhead, and various root systems determinedly penetrate the barricading concrete wall.
Earlier in the summer I had discovered a material called BioNet that is being used as part of the massive Prospect Point reconstruction. I learned that BioNet is the trademarked name for a biodegradable erosion control blanket made up of shredded coconut fibres stitched with jute. After some experimentation, I worked with a sewing process to create various amorphous shapes that I stuffed with wood chips from the park. The forms, entitled Hibernators, are quite malleable and capable of assuming lifelike and emotive postures.
I had observed that park visitors still pause to lean against the bear pit railing hopeful of something to see. In a parallel process to the restoration of Stanley Park, Hibernators is intended to revitalize the zoo through an intervention that draws attention to its potential as a viewing stage or theatre. A transition between what was there and the future. The forms interact with each other and the site in a drama that is subject to the viewer's interpretation.
This installation is a result of collaboration with various individuals from the Parks Board, the Stanley Park Ecology Society, the Vancouver Aquarium, and a private contractor from the construction site who originally donated the BioNet. Each phase was facilitated with hands on assistance, from the delivery of wood chips that arrived at the art studio in the park, to the individuals who helped carry the forms into the pit. For me, the finished work is akin to the period at the end of a sentence.
The bear is one of the last true symbols of the primal, natural world, and many ecologists believe that how humans respond and protect their lands and their future will be the most honest depiction of how serious we are about preservation of our environment and the natural resources within it.
K'aycht'n ! (We Hold Our Hands Up To You!)
K'aycht'n ! (We Hold Our Hands Up To You!)
Artists: Davide Pan & T'Uy'Tanat Cease Wyss
This work honours the land and all that it provides. Huy Chexw A, Siyam and Siya! We have taken materials from throughout the island and we hold our hands up, we honour what the earth has to share with us!
The Skwxwu7mesh Snichem language has existed in this land for time immemorial, and is not spoken as regularly as it was pre-contact. The indigenous plant life we chose for the works have been, and continue to be, used by the local Indigenous people from this land. Placing the language on the works, as well as using the plants, draws attention to the language, and is an honouring of both the language and the plant life, which, through urbanization are both at risk of disappearing from the land.
The culturally modified trees, or CMT's as they are referred to in forestry terminology, are present throughout the park, but are not always understood or recognized by visitors. We wanted to draw attention to this important cultural aspect that in itself, is an ephemeral art form. The gathering of cedar bark is something that has to happen when the tree is alive, so the bark is supple and pliable. This gathering has been a practice that is recognized by many coastal peoples. We wanted to honour that presence in this landscape, and to bring attention to it so that people understand the cultural significance and respect it.
Huy Chexw A!
Artist: Tania Willard
This piece explores the interconnectedness of Stanley Park's ecology and how the different uses, experiences and perspectives of both indigenous and non-indigenous people, plants and materials are interwoven. Referencing native plant and material usage in the plaiting of cedar and in the dyes created from hemlock and red alder barks, as well as the oyster shell buttons, this work is a meditation on the cedar as a tree of life and asks this cedar to share its story.
Narrative, history and experience become a part of the narrative ecology in this work, indigenous place and history, colonial injustice, settler naming and place, urban migration, immigration, this land has known many stories. This work becomes an offering, an offering to the land, to this cedar and a giving of thanks, recognizing of Coast Salish territory and honouring this land that has become home.
Working in Stanley Park I was influenced by the many layers of history here, those stories that are embedded into the land. In Entwined, the use of materials — for example the oyster shell buttons — reference events like the unearthing of the shell midden in 1888 at Whoi Whoi (Lumberman's Arch). The midden was unearthed and used in a mix with concrete to pave parkways. The midden was very large and thought to have been used for millennia, indeed this place is a special place for Coast Salish people. The digging and repurposing of the midden speaks volumes not only to this specific example of literally paving over of Aboriginal histories but to the state of Aboriginal injustice in Canada.
The ephemeral work, Birth was about exposing an interconnectedness of everything around us including ourselves to Creation and Life. Entwined is an effort to balance, to nurture and to heal. Positioning the work high in a cedar tree allows us to relate not only to a human scale but to a forest scale, where the Land is not subservient to us, the Land is us. Using materials from the park like cedar bark and red alder and hemlock barks, for dyeing the wool, allowed me to get closer to the land in Stanley Park.
The use of other introduced natural materials like wool and madder reference how natural materials are absorbed and assimilated into indigenous and other cultures as opposed to stereotypes that suggest Aboriginal people would do anything for things like iron and guns etc. The use of wool suggests West Coast Cowichan knits for the many generations of people, native and non-native, who worked the waters in fishing, canning or longshoring, with similar properties to cedar in terms of it's resistance to molds and it's ability to withstand the West Coast rain. Madder, the material used in dyeing the wool for this piece, was also used to dye the wool coats of the British Red Coats, so the red wool is suggestive of many layers, many strands of stories intertwined with each other.
Supported by an internal structure of cedar and natural fiber manilla rope, this braid is cradled in a streak of decay down the cedar tree it rests in. The cedar itself is half decayed with an east facing strip of live bark keeping it alive. Nurturing this decay, the braid is an offering to this cedar and to the land around it, to the insects that will find homes here, to the crows and ravens who may be entertained by the shiny buttons or the birds who may pull wool for their nests, I give thanks to this land and to the Coast Salish people who have and continue to nurture the land.
I chose this location because of the powerful cedar and the growth of fir and maple around it but also because I could see the ocean from here. As much as the seawall is great, I sometimes feel like it creates a separation between the forest and the ocean. In Entwined, I am attempting to bring it all together: ocean, forest, indigenous plant and animal life, the recognition of indigenous lands, knowledge and place, and a sense of wonder and meditation on our place within that, our place in the story ecology.
Kusktemc (Thank you)
All My Relations
Artist: Shirley Wiebe
Gardening practices in Stanley Park initially inspired the form of Cozy. Gunnera (giant rhubarb) plants are cut back in the fall, their massive leaves placed over the crowns to protect them through the winter. By spring the leaves wither down to a silvery and paper-thin snugly airtight cover.
Cozy acts as a protective cover for a severed douglas fir stump that was taken down by severe windstorms in 2006. The laced together maple medallions have been compared to scale or chainmail armour, intended to protect against being cut. The work addresses the importance of mature trees in the forest as it physically and symbolically shelters what remains of this tree. It is a nurturing gesture that acknowledges the care and attention our environment needs in order to continue looking after us. As the cozy covering decays, it will provide habitat in the forest for small mammals and other organisms living in the forest.
Stanley Park is in the heart of the city. In this urban forest one can also sense the sacredness and history that emanates from the land, regardless of human management. Cozy explores the social and physical relationships that take place in the forest and in the city, and how they shape the park. Each medallion has been engraved with the hopes, concerns, joys, and philosophies of many individuals who participated in the project. These contributions add life to a site that is already regenerating with wild flowers.
Artists: Davide Pan & T'Uy'Tanat Cease Wyss
Chewx Ma Hal7h! Siyam, Siya! T'Uy'Tanat, Kwi En Snas! Cease Wyss, Ni7amin! Greetings Important People Chewx Ma Hal7h, Ta'a's!Xapayay! Ptakwm! T'aka7ay! Skw'eʼ kwech'! Greetings Grandmothers! Cedar! Ferns! Salal Berry! Huckleberry! This work represents so much that is dear to my spirit, mind and blood. This land has not heard our language being spoken here for several decades, other than the rare moments where those who still retain the language come and speak it. To walk this land, this site, and to share the language as I learn it, through the guidance of our Young People who have been gifted with growing up with their Elders, has been an amazing part of my journey further into my culture. Through the plants and the language, I am learning to walk with more humility and with grace. My relationship with our songs and stories has become a deeper and more meaningful part of my on-going relationship with this place, and with the many village and gathering sites I encounter on my journey through Xway Xway to Kanaka Ranch. K'Ayatcht'N! I hold my hands up to you, plant spirits! - T'Uy'Tanat Cease Wyss
The great value of simplicity has been brought to the altar in this collaborative experience: Working with basic tools and the power and strength of nature to emphasize the importance of language and culture. Working with Cease has been, and will continue to be, a learning experience. Learning about the past and present of this land and trying to understand and evaluate our place in it. It is a privilege to work on this project in the jewel that is Stanley Park. - Davide Pan
Artists: John Hemsworth & Peter von Tiesenhausen
Listen is not necessarily about the sounds of this place but rather about taking the time to hear what the forest has to offer. This sculpture, carved from cedar remnants of the wind storm of 2006, is meant as a place of reflection - an opportunity to find a silence between ourselves and our environment. As the gap in the ancient fallen cedar informed what this space required, so too may we all listen more closely to the world around us.
Artist: Tania Willard
Influenced and inspired by branching structures and the symbiotic relationships expressed in structures and organs like roots, rivers, arteries, and the placenta, this piece explores these associations and how they link to culture, community, land and life.
Drawn to areas of the park I hadn't yet explored, I started down Cathedral Trail and was immediately struck by the amazing root systems overturned during the storm. Looking at the root systems, I was struck by how they resembled the branching of vessels in a placenta and how they themselves are organs facilitating many of the same functions for life as the womb and umbilicus. My partner and I had just had our first son, Skyelar, and when I looked at this root system I felt it as if it was a part of me; I felt the land through to my core.
In Indigenous concepts of land, language, storytelling and culture are all closely intertwined with the land itself. As a person of mixed Aboriginal (Secwepemc Nation) and non-Aboriginal heritage, I am also very aware of Vancouver and Stanley Park as the unceded territory of Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish peoples. I wanted to relate to this land and to give thanks for all the beauty that I have enjoyed here in the traditional home of the Coast Salish peoples. There are so many stories in this land, Aboriginal stories before this land had English names, animal stories, stories of change, of upheaval and stories of birth and survival out of that upheaval; stories of transformation.
In learning more about the park in the initial orientation with Park Board staff and Stanley Park Ecology Society input, I was amazed to learn about the hidden parts of forest ecosystems like mycorrhizal fungi and how this fungal organism connects the whole forest and cycles nutrients between plant species and more. This vast network under the surface of the earth is like the blood vessels of the forest. Having recently experienced pregnancy, I was moved to think of how connected we all are through these types of symbiotic relationships all around us. Indeed, in contrast to ideas of "survival of the fittest" and life as competition, there is a weaving of symbiotic relationships through every part of our world from mother and child down to micro-organisms in the earth.
For this piece I worked with a large, upturned rootball with an exposed root system. I stripped a layer of bark off of the root system to create a higher contrast and emphasis on the roots. Although the tree and root system are dead, the rootball itself has created new habitat. While working with it, I was awed by the new roots shooting through the soil on the underside of the rootball. Life is sprouting all over, stimulated by the devastation of the windstorms, ferns grow around the base of the rootball as well as patches of growth in the soil that is still held together by the roots. Suspended vertically like a wall, creating this view of the forest we do not normally get to see.
We are exposed to the mystery of life here. We are all connected to the land in some way or another.