Walking the Centennial Seawall of West Vancouver in British Columbia

View of West Vancouver from Prospect Point at Stanley Park (Credit: MCArnott)

I can’t say that I would take up dancing in the rain, but I am enjoying its drumming sound on my umbrella as my wellies (read: Wellington boots) splash in puddles.

I have not completely adapted to the rainforest climate of the Pacific Northwest, yet. As a non-indigenous Vancouverite, I would rather cocoon on a wet day, but I admit that the cocktail of marine and mountain air is invigorating. It’s one reason the seawall is so popular, rain or shine.

Orientation to the Vancouver Seawall

Map of Vancouver seawall (Courtesy: Blockwalk.ca)

Map of Vancouver seawall (Courtesy: Blockwalk.ca)

The seawall is a paved waterfront promenade that covers approximately 35 kilometers (21.1 miles) in total, including 22 kilometers (13.6 miles) of Vancouver’s downtown waterfront. The map on the left shows (in a bold yellow line) how it starts in Kitsilano, loops around False Creek, sneaks under both Granville and Burrard Bridges, and stretches to English Bay before making another loop, this time around Stanley Park (8 kilometers/4.1 miles). The Vancouver proper section ends at the Convention Center on Coal Harbour.

Or, you can cross the 1.5 kilometers (.93 miles) pedestrian lane on the Lion’s Gate Bridge to West Vancouver, and continue north to the 1.7 kilometer (1.05 mile) Centennial Seawall (built to mark the 100th anniversary of the municipality). At the end of the Bridge, a left turn leads to a short wooded dirt trail — and the dog park — before joining the West Vancouver Centennial Seawall. Note that there is no seawall on the right at the end of the bridge (in North Vancouver).

The seawall is usually divided into two lanes: One for walkers, and one for bikers and inline skaters, but in West Vancouver it’s for walkers only. And since Vancouver is a dog-friendly city, dogs have their own enclosed grassy lanes in some areas. 

In Your Bucket Because…

  • You discover the “other side” of Vancouver.
  • You see all kinds of ocean traffic: kayaks, sailboats, barges, tugboats, freight-liners, and cruise ships.
  • For walkers, joggers, strollers, wheelchairs, and your four-legged-friend.

Walking the Centennial Seawall

View of North Vancouver from the Shangri-La Hotel in Vancouver and the twin-peaks lions in the background (Credit: MCArnott)

View of North Vancouver from the Shangri-La Hotel in Vancouver and the twin-peaks lions in the background (Credit: MCArnott)

My walk begins in West Vancouver, at Dundarave Village, at the western end of the Centennial Seawall. This starting point has several advantages for anyone staying downtown Vancouver:

    •  Experiencing some of the North Shore both by bus and on foot.
    •  Having the option of walking back all the way to downtown.
    •  Walking all or part of the Stanley Park seawall.
    •  Taking the bus back (at the North Shore entrance of the bridge).

I am, therefore, walking in the direction of the Lions Gate Bridge: The ocean is on my right. On the other side, two elusive crouched-lion-shaped peaks crown the range of the North Shore Mountains: Don’t be surprised if they hide in fog or clouds just as you get ready for a snap shot! Known as the Lions Gate, they are the symbol of Vancouver — and gave their name to Lionsgate Films, and to the B.C. Lions football team.

The seawall extends on to the Lions Gate Bridge that connects Vancouver to the North Shore through Stanley Park (Credit; MCArnott)

The seawall extends on to the Lions Gate Bridge that connects Vancouver to the North Shore through Stanley Park (Credit; MCArnott)

I could be lured into the Beach House Restaurant instead of walking in the rain, or I could opt for a shorter walk on the pier: Even on a short walk, the salt air would give me a sense of wellbeing. But I’ve got it in my mind to walk the path today, rain or no rain. So I walk.

My attention turns to a 2.5-ton ball of black granite mounted on a pillar, close to the restaurant. Donated by the German community, the Friendship Globe floats on a thin pressurized layer of water and can be turned by a light finger stroke.

Looking seaward, I see the logs that have washed ashore. Pine, hemlock and cedar tree-trunks are tugged as booms to the sawmills of Squamish, a town located halfway to Whistler. Logs that have strayed “furnish” the beach for visitors to lean, sit, or lie on. Today, the logs are inhospitably wet; only die-hard walkers and joggers use them to stretch their muscles.

Off I go past the Dundarave pier, and past sandy steps leading to the water edge. I walk by large boulders that keep erosion and surf at bay on the ocean side, and along a row of houses fronted by small gardens with retaining walls on the other side of the seawall. Their narrow and deep design maximized the number of houses with ocean views.

It’s a peaceful setting, only interrupted a few times a day by the freight train to Squamish and beyond: Traveling at low speed, the train is a curiosity for visitors and a familiar sound for residents.

Shortly after, I approach a cluster of apartment buildings facing the ocean like giant lighthouses, with unobstructed views all the way to Vancouver Island. This typical setting in and around Vancouver has been associated with New York’s real estate prices and given the moniker of “Vanhattan.”

The sanded steps by the Beach House Restaurant and the starting point of the Centennial Seawall (in Dundarave on Vancouver North Shore) (Credit: MCArnott)

Walking the Centennial Seawall is like looking at a picture book: Every stretch offers something interesting. Here it is the Granite Assemblage: a combination of environmental art and play structures. There, it’s a small quaint community garden. Here and there, I see donated benches with messages on metal plaques — memorials to loved ones who enjoyed the seawall. And ever-so-present are sculptures by Squamish Nation artists such as the Spirit of the Mountain at Ambleside Landing, or the Welcome Figure on the beach.

It has been 15 minutes since I started walking. The seawall has now detoured behind a few homes built along the beach. I even detour across Bellevue Avenue to get a coffee-to-go from Crema Café. Vancouverites love coffee; on nice days it’s not unusual to see them sit outside, under what would otherwise be  a sun umbrella, and read the daily Vancouver Sun newspaper.

Back on track, I walk behind Hollyburn Sailing Club where children practice their maneuvers in the summertime. Meanwhile, hovering and screeching sea gulls occasionally drop mussel-shells… or something less appealing.

The Last Stretch: Ambleside Beach and the Dog Park

The Ambleside dog park is at the eastern end of the Centennial Seawall in West Vancouver (Credit: MCArnott)

I pass The Ferry Building Gallery, a heritage house that, in the early 1900s, was the ticket-office for prospective land buyers of the then-emerging community. Today it exhibits local artists; in August, the Harmony Arts Festival takes place here. Music performances, art and crafts market, food vendors, and the sounds of different languages reveal the ethnic diversity of the local community.

Ambleside Park is also popular for picnickers who relax on blankets in the green grass (rain has its perks), or play beach volleyball, soccer, tennis, or pitch-and-putt.

I am now at the dog park, close to the Lions Gate Bridge where the Capilano River meets the ocean. It is a great place to sit on a bench and enjoy what’s left of my coffee while mutts and pedigrees alike go about their own mingling, playing and, courting.

The rain has stopped. I fold my umbrella, ready for my half-hour walk back… depending on what will distract me on the way.

Practicalities

      • From the city center, take bus #250 (bus stop before the Shangri-La Hotel on opposite curb) to Dundarave/Horseshoe Bay. Exit at the last stop in Dundarave and walk toward the water (2-3 min.). Marine Drive in Dundarave is a quaint street worth the (short) detour
      • At the end of the dog park, the seawall becomes a trail to Park Royal shopping center. Go to the left and stroll in The Village (shops, restaurants, and cafes), or to the right until you get to Marine Drive: Take a right at the intersection until you locate the bus stop in the center divider (in the curve before the entrance to the Lions Gate Bridge). Or, you can walk onto the bridge (for great views), through Stanley Park (along the traffic), and get back to the city center (30 min. walk approximately).

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