As British Columbia’s travel restrictions remain in place, I continue to discover or rediscover local treasures. Last week’s excursion took me to Queen Elizabeth Park, a horticultural jewel in the middle of Vancouver. As I gazed over the resplendent spring gardens with views to the city skyline and snow-covered North Shore Mountains, I was shocked that I hadn’t been to Queen Elizabeth Park since we moved to Vancouver over 20 years ago.
At 125 m (410 ft) above sea level, the park is the highest point in Vancouver proper. I’ve hit the jackpot on this clear day with unobstructed views of downtown and the city’s distinctive mountain backdrop. A large arboretum on the park’s north slope features tree species from across Canada and creates a massive green foreground to the urban scene below.
I play with my telephoto to capture the North Shore’s iconic Lions. Aren’t they magnificent? I’m itching to get back up there when more of the snow has melted.
The Bloedel Conservatory sits at the centre of Queen Elizabeth Park. The domed, temperature-controlled structure provides a tropical habitat for more than 120 free-flying birds and 500 exotic plants and flowers. I’m not able to visit on my spur-of-the-moment excursion as COVID-19 precautions mandate pre-booking. But even from the outside it makes a striking statement.
The park’s Large Quarry Garden looks like an impressionist painting. Meticulously manicured lawns, gracefully contoured flower beds, and artfully layered trees and shrubs sit in a depression that was once the site of a basalt quarry. The quarry was closed in 1911 and the idea to transform it into gardens was conceived in the 1930s (talk about forward thinking). The park was dedicated in 1939 when King George VI visited Vancouver and is named after his wife, Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mum). It took until the early 1960s to fully complete the exquisite park.
I stop to eat my picnic lunch at one of the benches hidden along the little paths that wind through the gardens. It is such a peaceful sanctuary on this sunny, mid-week day. I wish the talented landscapers and garden gurus could do a makeover on my garden. I’d get them to plant dramatic ornamental alliums, cheerful pansies and delicate purple poppies (I’m a fan of purple flowers).
A smaller excavation site, aptly named the Small Quarry Garden, is perhaps even more charming than its larger counterpart. I’m drawn to the wildflowers, the arching stone bridge and the elegant Japanese maples.
Seasons in the Park restaurant is perched above the Small Quarry Gardens. Its outdoor dining space (the only section that is open while COVID-19 restrictions are in place) looks so inviting. I wonder why I’ve never tried this spot before and make a promise to myself to come back for a romantic lunch or dinner before the summer is over.
Queen Elizabeth Park has a delightful assortment of outdoor art. My favourite is a display called Photo Session, bronze sculptures of a man and his three photo subjects, created by J. Seward Johnson. Another one that makes me smile is Bruce Voyce’s Love in the Rain sculpture, a fun Vancouver twist on the love lock tradition.
I’m already planning my next visit to Queen Elizabeth Park in July when the Rose Garden is in bloom.
Like my Stanley Park day, my exploration of Queen Elizabeth Park was another free one. Unless you want to visit the Bloedel Conservatory or use the park’s recreational facilities like pitch & putt and lawn bowling, there is no cost to walk in the gardens. The park is easily accessible by car (with parking fee), public transit using the Canada Line, or via bicycle on Vancouver’s many designated bike routes (I used the Arbutus Greenway and W 37th Ave.).
For detailed information on park access and things to see and do, visit the City of Vancouver’s parks site.
Before I go, just a little promotion. I was honoured to be interviewed by fellow blogger Andrew from Andy’s World Journeys. If you’re so inclined, you can read the interview here. You might also be interested in reading some of Andrew’s posts—he’s been to an amazing number of fascinating, off-the-beaten-path destinations.