Finding Stanley in Vancouver’s Stanley Park

Stanley Park is Vancouver’s crowning glory. Its dense rainforest and pristine coastline belie its location at the doorstep of one of Canada’s largest cities. I visit the park often, usually for cycling, but I rarely take the time to truly appreciate how the park came to be and what it has to offer. I realized how little I knew about the park, including who this Stanley guy is. So, last week, I spent a slow, relaxed day in Stanley Park, on and off my bike, stopping at monuments, reading plaques, strolling through gardens, riding along lesser used trails, and finding Stanley, among other notable people.

A walk or a cycle on the Stanley Park Seawall—an 8.8 km (5.5 mi) paved path around the peninsula— is the park’s most popular activity and a great way to see many of its landmarks and views. I’m always awed by the scenery, but today I’m contemplating the creation of the seawall (it took over 50 years to build) and the contributions of Jimmy Cunningham—the man responsible for constructing a large portion of the seawall. A master stone mason, Jimmy spent 32 years of his life (starting in 1931) heaving massive granite blocks. Even after he retired, he regularly returned to monitor the wall’s progress until he died at 85. Thank you Jimmy! The last stone was finally laid in 1971 .

Fittingly, Jimmy Cunningham and his wife’s ashes are buried by Siwash Rock, a beautiful and much-photographed sea stack along one of the most picturesque portions of the wall.

My favourite section of the seawall is along the sandstone cliffs on the northwest side of the peninsula. I love the smooth cliff walls and the way the path hugs their rounded contours.

The seawall brings ever changing scenery. There are wonderful views to downtown Vancouver, mountain panoramas looking toward the North Shore, and lovely beaches; even the industrial scenes of the Port of Vancouver provide an appealing contrast to nature and slick-looking downtown.

I’ve cycled past the wire mesh-enclosed cannon countless times and now I finally stop to read the plaque. The 9 O’Clock Gun, as it is called, was cast in England in 1816. In 1894, under the direction of the Department of Fisheries, it was brought to Stanley Park and originally fired at 18:00 on Sundays to announce the close of fishing. The daily 21:00 (9 p.m.) firing was later established as a time signal for the general public and for ships in the port. With few exceptions, it has been fired every night for about a century. For several months at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was changed to fire at 19:00 in support of essential workers.

The totem pole display at Brockton Point is a good reminder that the Stanley Park peninsula was once home to the largest indigenous settlement in B.C.’s Lower Mainland. The park sits on the traditional land of the Coast Salish First Nations, including the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh. Usually I cruise right by, but today I take a closer look at the intricately carved poles that tell stories of a nation’s or family’s history.

The seawall path that skirts the three sides of the peninsula is connected on its “neck” side by a trail along Lost Lagoon. It’s a magical place filled with birds—herons, ducks, Canada Geese—and flowering gardens. I check out the gardens along the gravel paths between Lost Lagoon and the Stanley Park Pitch & Putt, which, by the way, is so beautiful that I could be tempted to try golf. My timing in early May is impeccable; the rhododendrons and azaleas are at their peak.

I’ve done a full circuit of Stanley Park’s perimeter and now I’m about to explore the interior. But first, I stop at the Stanley statue, slightly hidden away at the park’s original south entrance. Strangely I had never given any thought to who Stanley was… perhaps some old British admiral? Lord Fredrick Stanley was the Governor General of Canada (The Queen’s representative) from 1888 to 1893. While the park was largely the vision of the City of Vancouver’s Park Board, under then Mayor David Oppenheimer (who also has a statue), the park was dedicated by Lord Stanley in 1889 and bears his name. But that’s not the interesting part, and perhaps I’m the only dummy (in Canada) who didn’t get the connection. Yup, Lord Stanley, an avid ice hockey fan, gave Canada its treasured national icon, the Stanley Cup—the championship trophy awarded every year in the National Hockey League.

Some of the park’s biggest attractions like the Vancouver Aquarium and miniature train (closed now due to COVID-19), and hidden gems like Beaver Lake, old-growth trees and spectacular gardens are located in the middle of the park. Until now, I’d never been to these spots on my bike— what a mistake.

The spring colour palette of the Shakespeare Garden is dreamy. Soon the rose garden will be in bloom. With no functions currently being held at the Stanley Park Pavilion, the grounds are ultra peaceful.

Although the aquarium is closed, I’m happy to take a break at its entrance and marvel at the bronze killer whale sculpture created by Bill Reid, Canada’s most renowned Northwest Coast Haida artist.

There are 27 km (17 mi) of trails through Stanley Park’s dense coniferous forest with trees towering over 50 m (164 ft) tall. While this area was logged prior to it becoming a park in 1888, many giant trees were spared because their massive size or location precluded their felling with axe and blade. Most people spend their time on the ocean view seawall, so the impressive forested trails are serene, as is pretty Beaver Lake.

Stanley Park’s most famous tree is just a shell of its former self. Known as The Hollow Tree, this deceased 1000 year-old Western Red Cedar left a huge hollow stump with a circumference of about 18 m (60 ft). People have been posing for photographs inside the tree since cameras were first available. In 2006, a massive windstorm caused major damage to the trees in Stanley Park. The Hollow Tree was left leaning at a dangerous angle and the Vancouver Parks Board considered cutting it down. A public outcry resulted in a huge fundraising effort that enabled the construction of a metal support that holds up the Hollow Tree.

My exploration of Stanley Park was on bicycle and on foot. For those who prefer to drive, Stanley Park Drive runs along the perimeter of the park, adjacent to the seawall. Many of the same views can be had, except where the steep cliffs make it impossible for the road to directly skirt the coast. On the flip side, the awesome views high up on Prospect Point and over the Stanley Park causeway are best seen from the road access.

Many of the landmarks mentioned in this post are pinpointed on the map below.

I felt deeply satisfied after a day of exploring the park and discovering things that I’d only previously rode by, or never thought to take a closer look. And, having been on bike and carrying a packed lunch, the entire great day didn’t cost me a cent.

No visit to Vancouver is complete without a trip to Stanley Park. For detailed information about the park, including access, parking, maps, etc. visit the City of Vancouver’s park website.

Categories: Biking, British Columbia | Tags: , , , , | 50 Comments

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50 thoughts on “Finding Stanley in Vancouver’s Stanley Park

  1. Andy Catton

    You forgot to mention the unique battle of Britain memorial garden near the tea rooms

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  2. Pingback: Staying local: Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Park | Writes of Passage

  3. This just reminds we get to see so many new things in our day to day lives if we keep our eyes open. Nice pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much. I’ve learned to slow down (partially imposed due to the pandemic) and notice the day to day things with more appreciation. Glad you could stop by; and thanks for your comments.

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  4. This was the perfect antidote to my exhaustion, Caroline. With a cup of tea in hand, it felt like a much needed travel break. Your photos really bring the park to life, and I love all the snippets of information. Those spring colours are so beautiful. The weather looks like it was perfect for your outing. What a beautiful place you call home.

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    • Thanks Jolandi. I’m glad it helped. I also found it therapeutic to take my time and look at things in more detail rather than racing around trying to get in a good workout. I saw the park in a whole new way.

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  5. Like most others, and you, I did a big AHA when I read about the Stanley connections! Big city parks like this are real treasures, a fact I was reminded of when in Boston this past weekend (where the parks do not match Stanley Park’s magnitude but are still such an oasis in the urban scene). I’ve heard so much about your park from family and friends (and bloggers!), and I hope it’s not too much longer before I get to see it for myself.

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    • I agree. Urban parks, big and small, add so much to the quality of life in big cities. I haven’t been to Boston since the 80s but I remember it being a nice city. I’m glad you’re able to get out and about. There’s so much to explore in that big, diverse country of yours. I’m looking forward to the re-opening of the Canada-U.S. border.

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  6. I loved this post Caroline. Gorgeous photos. And it couldn’t be more timely. Because I suspect there will be some solo travel in my future (Don’s get up and go has never been as insistent as mine lol) I decided to have a Solo Travel Adventure day once a week, as if I was in a foreign country (ie no driving, no getting Don to help with planning or research, etc) so I could get used to doing it alone. My first adventure will be this Wednesday – to Stanley Park! I’ve been several times recently with friends (and yes, the azalea walk at the moment is magnificent!) around the edges of the park but I long to explore the centre, get in amongst the forest. So that’s my plan. Perfect post for me right now. And yes, everyone who comes to Van should see Stanley Park. And just to help you feel better I too had not made the connection between Stanley the park and Stanley the cup.
    Alison

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    • Thanks Alison! I’m doing much the same thing as you with a solo adventure somewhere around town. I aim for once a week. I find it very enjoyable, and Mike gets a break from me! He can get frustrated when I stop too many times to take photos and read signs. I haven’t been to Queen Elizabeth Park in ages and may do that on Thursday. Enjoy your solo time at Stanley Park. Beaver Lake was pretty but I wish the water lilies had been out. There are lots of forested trails that radiate from there. I also like the forested trail that leads to the Siwash Rock lookout. I still have much to explore. Have fun!

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  7. Glorious photos, Caroline. What a treasure this park is. We walked it when we visited but didn’t experience that part along the sandstone cliffs- wow. The flowering trees and people enjoying the outdoors gave me a happy lift. 🙂

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  8. It’s funny how we can visit a place so often and not pay attention to many of the small details. I’m glad you stopped at all the various statues and plaques to learn more about the history of Stanley Park and uncover all its various fun facts. What a great tour. P.S I had no idea that this Lord Stanley was the same dude after which the Stanley Cup was named after.

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    • Thanks! So true. When I travel to a new city I always do lots of research. I think sometimes I know more facts about cities I visit than my own home. Ok, so I’m glad I’m not the only one who knows little about Lord Stanley—definitely before our time😉 The guy did a good job getting stuff named after himself.

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  9. What a great tour of Stanley Park. I love how you took us on a full seawall and then interior tour. The flowers are gorgeous. The seawall is an amazing part of the park. You’re so luck to have frequent access to it. I can’t believe it took over 50 years to build the seawall. What a labour of love for Jimmy Cunningham. I have never connected Stanley Park, Cup and Glacier together before. Reading this actually made me look up Stanley Glacier (in Kootenays) and it was also named after the GG. We’re hoping this summer to travel more through BC. Hopefully travel restrictions are better soon as I’d love to make it to Vancouver and then travel north. Maggie

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    • Thanks Maggie. Wow, that Stanley sure got his name on a lot of things. That’s so interesting that the Stanley Glacier was also named after him. I read that Lord Stanley was very smitten with Western Canada. We’re also hoping that after Victoria Weekend, Dr. Henry will loosen restrictions and we can do a little more exploring further afield. Did I tell you that we managed to get reservations for The Rockwall? Very excited. It would be great to meet up with you if you make it to Vancouver.

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  10. Wonderful captures!! The garden is beautiful!

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  11. Morning, Caroline. From your essays and photos, I’d have to say that Stanley Park is one of the world’s greatest urban parks. An amazing place.

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  12. looks absolutely splendid! And wonderful views and colours! What a sensational day!

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  13. While I love learning about the Stanley Park Seawall, the 9 O’Clock Gun, the totem poles, and Lord Stanley himself, I can’t help but feel a bit jealous of such a beautiful and interesting park Vancouver has (and Jakarta lacks). I once told James that if I became a mayor of any city, I would create a lot of public parks. I just love them so much. Your photos are so gloriously beautiful, Caroline! So much so I’ll make a mental note to plan a visit to Vancouver around this time of the year.

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    • Thanks so much Bama. Maybe mayor of Jakarta is in your future!? I think public green space/parks are so important in a city, and I feel fortunate to have Stanley Park and other wonderful parks here in Vancouver. The spring (April/May) brings incredible garden displays and we’ve been very lucky to have lots of dry, sunny weather this season (not always the case). As long as you don’t mind a few rainy, cool days, spring is a lovely time to visit and not as busy as July/August.

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  14. Amazing post that made me want to go out and explore my area with a bike! 😊 The park looks absolutely beautiful, and the Shakespear garden seems absolutely dreamy! I would love to have a garden like that!! Thank for sharing 😊

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    • Thank you Juliette. I love the Shakespeare Garden too, and I wish the gardeners at Stanley Park could come over and create a little plot for me at my house…my garden needs help!

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  15. This was a fun tour… I recognize some of these locations from my visit 10 years ago. But I don’t recall seeing the sea wall and I definitely didn’t know all of the historical bits. Also, great photos! Do you happen to know what type of flower is in the Shakespeare gardens? They look bizarre.

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    • Thanks Diana.There’s so much to see and do in Stanley Park it’s impossible to get it all in in one visit. I believe those pink pompom-like flowers are called English daisies, but I’m no flower expert. They make quite the statement in that mass planting.

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  16. I love this park! I just checked the map from Bend, OR to Vancouver Washington….8 to 9 hours, that’s nothing! We’ll be up there to explore!!

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    • Thanks Pam! You’ll have to add on another 5 hours to go from Vancouver, Washington to Vancouver, British Columbia! Hope you can come explore. How are you liking Bend?

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      • We will be exploring to our heart cont at up there 😍😍. We haven’t moved just yet, but plan to in about a year. There are days we just want pack up and go immediately!!

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  17. There’s so much eye candy here, Caroline. You really did go at the perfect time to see those gorgeous spring flowers! I must confess I’ve only ever visited Stanley Park once, specifically to take photos of Lions Gate Bridge during my early teens. At the time I was super into suspension bridges and I begged my dad to drive me up to those lookout points. Now that I’m an adult I wonder why I never had the curiosity or the urge to explore the park given all those childhood/teenage trips to Vancouver. Like you, I had no idea the man who gave his name to Stanley Park and the Stanley Cup were one and the same. And I barely recognize the downtown skyline – it has changed so much since I was last in Vancouver for (a very rainy) Christmas in 2005.

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    • James, there’s something for everyone at Stanley Park. I love that you were into suspension bridges…they are amazing. I’m not sure that everyone who has to cross the Lions Gate Bridge to commute to work finds the 3-lane, often traffic-choked bridge very pleasant. It’s definitely beautiful from a distance. I would have been quite embarrassed if you had known the Stanley Park and Stanley Cup connection. Next time you visit, try to come during drier season!

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  18. Really beautiful images! I love the seawall path and the colourful Shakespeare gardens … what a treasure you have to visit. And the bonus – it did not cost you a cent!

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    • Thank you! Yes, the seawall and the gardens are treasures. It’s also great to see how the gardens change depending on the season…I find spring especially pretty in Vancouver.

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  19. I am glad you finally discovered this beautiful park in detail. Like you, I knew about the Stanley Cup before the park and it was only while researching for my stay in Vancouver that I learned of the connection. As for the cannon, it reminds me of the daily Noon Gun at the Halifax Citadel.

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    • I find that visitors often know more interesting facts about a city than residents because of the research they do for their stay in a new place. I’d never been to the Stanley Park website until I wrote this post. I’ll have to check out the cannon at the Halifax Citadel.

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  20. Great post and amazing photos, Caroline. Before I start gushing over the natural beauty of Stanley Park, which is the true heart of Vancouver, I wanted to mention that there’s a similar practice with a firing gun at the Edinburgh castle. The One 0’Clock Gun is fired every day at 1pm, and it caught me by surprise many times when I lived there.

    We didn’t visit the Aquarium or had a chance to ride the Stanley Park Miniature Train, but we very much enjoyed walking through the majestic cedars and firs and visiting the park’s three must-see gardens. Exploring Stanley Park was an amazing experience for me as a first time visitor. Is there are a way to save the Hollow Tree? After all, it is one of Vancouver’s most well-known attractions. Thanks for sharing and have a nice day. Aiva 🙂 xxx

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    • Thank you, Aiva! I actually think you did the right thing concentrating on the natural attractions, like the giant trees and gardens. The aquarium and train are great, but it’s nature that makes the park extra special for me. Now that the Hollow Tree is propped up with a metal brace it should remain that way for quite some time.
      Interesting to learn about the gun at Edinburgh castle. Where we live, we can’t hear the daily 9 O’Clock Gun but I’m sure it makes quite the bang. You have a great day too. Caroline

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  21. When visiting Vancouver we have explored Stanley Park many times and loved it. I did not know the connection of Lord Stanley to the Stanley Cup. Your photos are gorgeous. So many of the beautiful blossoms we are currently envious of. 🙂

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    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who didn’t make the connection Sue. Truth be told, even my hockey obsessed hubby didn’t know. Perhaps if the the park had been called the Lord Stanley Park I may (or not) have put it together. Spring blossoms in Vancouver are amazing

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  22. A really wonderful selection of images here! I really cannot decide upon my favourite but I love that coast road!!! Thanks for sharing these! 🙂

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