Much like with Jennifer Aniston’s cheeks, it’s common to look at Vancouver’s beautiful beaches and wonder: are they real?

To be clear, this is not a drag on Jen (I would never), this is a comment about society’s impossible standards for women over 40 in the entertainment industry and a cheap way to trick you into reading an article about civic sand distribution policy. Gotcha! Another classic VanMag prank! You should’ve seen the look on your face!

Accusations that our local sandy hot spots are not exactly natural have been thrown around for years, much like a Spikeball being bounced at Kits Beach by three Australians who are pretending COVID doesn’t exist. After all, much of the shoreline along Western Canada is rocky, much like my Spikeball analogy. Think about it: isn’t it sort of strange that anywhere there’s a lifeguard chair, there’s also soft sand? A little too convenient if you ask me.

I first took this mystery to my intrepid City Informer FanZone Club™, an exclusive, members-only cohort of people who have not yet blocked me on Instagram. They pointed out that the first clue that this rumour is unsubstantiated is that our beach sand isn’t nice enough to be fake. “Too dirty,” was the not-unfounded critique of the sand, which, in its defence, is literal dirt. But if someone was going to go to all the trouble of trucking in sand, my InstaFans argued, why wouldn’t it be the white-sugar texture of Maui’s shores, or, alternatively, at least not full of cigarette butts?

There’s a saying in the detective business: “If it looks like sand, and smells like sand, and you’ve ruled out that it’s not cat litter because you legally aren’t allowed to have a cat, you can probably taste it at this point and see if it also tastes like sand.” So I went to the beach to get up close and personal with the soft stuff. I tried out all the usual sand-related activities: building sandcastles, shaking out my blanket and inadvertently spraying it into the face of a couple next to me who were just trying to have a nice break-up, and burying a haunted doll my grandma left me in her will. I am by no means a sand expert, but there was no denying it: this was sand, all right.

Byron EggenschwilerIllustration by Byron Eggenschwiler.

But it was an email to the city (subject: “write my article for meeee”) that really cracked the case. Some of our beaches have always been this way (longstanding local Indigenous populations called naturally sandy English Bay Í7iyel̓shn, which means “good footing”) but for those waterfront parks that were a little less comfortable, sand was manually dredged from the bottom of the ocean and brought up to the shore. So it’s not that the sand isn’t really ours, it’s more that nature has been rearranged a little, much like the face of a talented actor just trying to sustain a career for herself in a notoriously superficial world. Sunset Beach, for example, is created from sand repurposed from the mouth of False Creek; at Spanish Banks West, the sand bars were bulldozed right up onto the beach. The sand has been right in front of us all along, just like whatever character Jen and her beautiful cheeks are playing in a romantic comedy.

Well, with this beach mystery solved, I’m on to the next: How do those logs always wash up on shore in such perfect rows? (Is it because I buried that haunted doll?!)