The urban overlay of North Vancouver, the city, can come across as an amorphous mass without any sense of centre. Industry and commerce line the harbour front in a continuous stream of innocuous buildings. Inland is the repetitive grid of streets, for the most part small-scale residential houses with the occasional high rise apartment punching through the low slung skyline.
In the middle of that domestic streetscape, there is something interesting. A little jewel of a town plan first dreamt up in 1907. It’s called the Green Necklace, a fitting moniker for a string of parks that wraps itself around the neck of a modest city centre.
It was Edward Mahon, a land developer and founder of the City of North Vancouver, who proposed a grand boulevard to surround the then-fledgling city. He was no doubt influenced by the then-popular City Beautiful movement and the garden city concepts playing out in many European and North American cities. As Mahon said,
“Completion of this great public way, with the supporting parks and gardens, will perpetuate health areas and pleasure grounds within a short distance of every resident of the present city of North Vancouver, and our municipality will have the distinction of possessing the most spacious boulevard contained within the limits of any city in the world – a great artificial lung, encompassing the central town, breathing, pressing, forcing into it health and vitality…”
Major elements of the Green Necklace were established in those early years: Mahon Park, Victoria Park and the Grand Boulevard.
Of late, the City has been reviving the Green Necklace, year-by-year rebuilding linkages lost – or never built.
As it happens, the Green Necklace is only three creeks west of my Christmas abode, a walkable distance to a walkable urban circuit. Today’s adventure.
As with any walk in North Vancouver, this one is as much defined by the creeks I cross and follow as it is by the formal structure of the urban overlay. My Green Necklace circle starts at Centennial Theatre, at the clasp, so-to-speak, behind the neck and just north of the city centre.
My counterclockwise walk quickly skirts the red guard of public art figures inhabiting the front lawn of the Gordon Smith Gallery before depositing me in the woods of Wagg Creek Park. The urban grid struggles to compete with the watercourse, taking me in and out of forests and streets. But finally the ravine wins, sweeping me along a beautiful stretch of path that follows the creek waters tumbling over their rocky bed and deep down into the forested glen.
I follow the necklace, now circling west, crossing the sharply-defined shoulder blades of the city. It’s wearing a ball gown. A tight fabric of streets with the formal crescent of Victoria below the neckline. High rise residences line its edges. Down the centre is a promenade replete with benches and war memorial.
I start my swing up the other side of the necklace, passing through a neighbourhood of well-dressed Victorian and Arts and Crafts houses before heading north on the eight-block long Grand Boulevard. Well named. This is one broad boulevard indeed, with well-coiffed grass and trees. Modestly scaled homes line its edges, even more diminutive when seen at a distance from my trail as it follows the spine of the boulevard park. North Vancouver’s stately esplanade.
I wind back around the neck, passing through an unfortunate park of majestic trees crushed against the noise of Highway One, before arriving back at my starting point, Centennial Theatre.
It’s a pearl, this pedestrian necklace. A noble idea born in the mind of an astute land developer over a hundred years ago. He realized the importance of a continuous network of paths, linking a variety of experiences, both natural and man-made. He created a walk worth taking.
It’s late once again, as I start my walk home. Back down that charming Thain and Wagg Creek trail system and then up Mosquito Creek, my river highway, before finally emerging at dusk at my sister’s door. Hungry.