Glass City, Vancouver, where towers of glass rise 25 floors above the concrete avenues, might also be called Green City, writes Damien Enright

While locals rush to campsites in the Rockies or to the islands on every holiday, back in the city they make enlightened use of natural resources.

A prime example is the Neighbourhood Energy Utility, an unobtrusive building providing 70% of the space, heating, and hot water for the apartment blocks in the district where my son lives. Self-funded, it uses sewage as a renewable source, substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

From the window of his 10th floor rented home in a 14-storey block (no 13th floor; the Chinese, who constitute 27.7% of the city’s population, consider number 13 to be malign) we reckoned some 2,000 apartments had this long-term energy security, and could devote their roof space to gardens.

The streets below include cycle lanes and walking lanes. Bins for recyclable and non-recyclable waste are everywhere, and they are used. Parks, gardens, and trees abound. Empty lots are exploited for city garden allotments until they are built upon. Large timber grow-boxes filled with earth and compost are set out in neat array and planted with vegetables or flowers by anyone who applies to use them. The Chinese community are especially keen and efficient gardeners.

Meanwhile, tales of wildlife sightings in the ecologically-friendly Glass City abound. Bring up the subject in any gathering, and everyone has a tale to tell. I can now contribute my pennyworth.

The other evening, walking home from a recce of the north bank of False Creek, the Pacific inlet that cuts into the centre of downtown Vancouver, I saw that a narrow waterway ran inland under the path ahead. It looked neglected; neglected in a city usually means wildlife.

“You’d never know. It could even be beaver territory,” I told my wife.

Incredibly (who would believe me?) I turned out to be right and arrived there with perfect timing. The dark waterway, about 5m across, wasn’t neglected, but left to nature.

I heard bird song immediately. The margins had reeds, broken bulrushes, overgrown banks but, because it was ecologically-aware Canada, there were no discarded cans or water bottles. However, there was a rock, solitary in the calm water, that grabbed my attention because of its shape, rounded on top.

After a minute or two, the shape moved and, in the semi-darkness, I made out the profile of a mammal and, from its size, decided it had to be a beaver and, because it was on False Creek, probably none other than Justin Beaver (called, as mentioned last week, for Justin Bieber, the Canadian pop singer) himself.

It was too dark for decent photos but, after our forthcoming camping expedition to Vancouver Island and Tofino, I will return and try for better shots. Meanwhile, my Photoshopped efforts shows Justin chewing on a stick, and Justin in the water as he swam up the creek (but not ‘without a paddle’ because beavers’ tails are shaped like oar blades) to his lodge. Around it were felled trees and trees with trunks encased in anti-beaver wire.

It was a fine sighting. Next, I hope, will be skunks which, apparently, can be nasally detected before one sees them. Then, raccoons. My son’s pal says he heard someone at his front door and feared a burglar but, from a side window, saw three raccoons standing on one another’s backs, the topmost reaching the door handle which it was busily trying to open. Thieving raccoons.

There are also the cat- and dog-snaffling coyotes. Cats are easy prey if caught where they can’t climb out of danger, and small dogs. Large dogs, however, require pack strategies.

A single coyote will let itself be seen. The dog will give chase. The coyote will run into the cover of trees, of which there are thousands in the city. There, a pack of its comrades will set upon it from all sides, and even a large Alsatian or fierce bull terrier cannot survive.

Re our camping expedition, I’ve just learned that, next weekend, almost all campsites with 200km of the city are booked out. We may have to go wild camping. We hope not to encounter bears.

We have found Canadians to be outstandingly courteous and helpful. On a recent expedition, lost on the roads through the marshy delta of the Fraser River, I stopped at the Ideal Gear & Machine Works to ask for help.

There, we enjoyed the kindness of strangers when the president of the long-established company, builders of the winch system on the historic trawler depicted on the Canadian five dollar bill, directed us to the highway home.


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