During the long arc of the pandemic, I perfected the art of preparing for a day outdoors. It helped that I had a toddler with a puppy-like enthusiasm for playing outside, which meant twice-daily journeys in search of space to roam. Small children are impervious to poor weather, and I gradually accumulated a collection of sturdy outerwear to fortify myself for our excursions. My backpack was always ready with snacks, water, sunscreen, extra layers and even a book (too optimistic). In five minutes, we could be out the door, on our bike and headed to the beach, which is where we found ourselves most of the time.
Beaches in summer get all the glory, animated by the manic energy of Vancouverites emerging like a cicada brood after the rainy season. At the height of its postcard-worthy perfection, the beach provides an antidote to our most common urban complaints. Instead of rainy, expensive and lonely, we get sunny, free and teeming with life.
But, during the pandemic, I remembered a forgotten truth from childhood: the beach is worth visiting all year long. When I was little, I could spend all day at Jericho, digging in the sand, racing in and out of the waves, climbing over the logs—even in October.
Those logs are one of my favourite things about our beaches, though they’re easy to overlook. They’re such an intuitive, enduring part of the landscape that it’s possible to believe they are a natural feature, or that you might find them on beaches everywhere. But they’re a Vancouver idiosyncrasy, thanks to landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander, who had them added to the city’s beaches in 1963. A practical environmentalist, Oberlander was appalled when she found park workers at Jericho burning logs that had broken off from logging booms and washed up on shore. It’s impossible to imagine this level of bureaucratic efficiency in 2021, but with a single phone call to Parks Board deputy superintendent Bill Livingstone, she successfully made her case for using those logs as seating rather than destroying them.
Nearly 60 years later, this idea is still benefitting beachgoers looking for a spot to relax, myself and my toddler included. After locking up our bike, we’d head out onto the sand in search of an unclaimed log to orbit for the day. My daughter would immediately busy herself with the important work of shovelling sand into a bucket or hunting for shells while I sat and unpacked our supplies: snacks, drinks, the book that I might read four or five pages of, if I was lucky. Occasionally, she would take a break from her work and clamber up to sit beside me, the wind-smoothed knots in the wood helping her up.
It may be too cold to swim most of the time, but everything else I love is still there: the salty air, the rushing music of the waves, the seals popping their heads out of the water like friendly Labradors.
The logs were easy to take for granted until they were locked up in fenced enclosures, in March 2020, to prevent people from gathering during the early stages of the pandemic. Suddenly my familiar Jericho looked bare, bereft, strangely generic—like any logless beach anywhere else in the world. When they were released from log jail by the Parks Board a few months later, I rejoiced. Suddenly the beach had definition again: places to sit, places to gather, places to play.