An urban oasis at Art Phillips Park.

Story & Photos by Dianne Maguire
(click on photos to enlarge)

Behind the busy escalators and ticket machines of Burrard Skytrain Station, transit users can wander out to the charming little oasis from the noisy bustle.

This is now known as Art Phillips Park. Set in a steep-sided grotto filled with greenery and surrounded by cherry trees that blossom every spring is a fountain encircled by bricks and a stone bench. The central spray can be heard splashing as you walk up to Melville or Dunsmuir, the streets that converge at the far end of the space.

Cascading waterfalls at the Bank of China …

Art Phillips was Mayor of Vancouver from 1972 to 1976, a relatively short time, yet his influence on the look of our city has continued to this day. He believed public art and park spaces were an important part of city planning.

This park, originally named Discovery Park, was the location of an auto dealership. Phillips persuaded the owner to sell the land to the city so it could be made into the first new park in downtown Vancouver in 1924. He also persuaded private interests to cover half the costs of creating the park. The original design proposal was by Don Vaughn and Associates. Art Phillips went on to transform the polluted False Creek area into the housing community it is today.

… to the Bank of Montreal tower.

When he died in 2013, the park was renamed in his honour.

Across Dunsmuir from Art Phillips Park is a magnificent waterfall with five levels of cascades and pools, interspersed with outcroppings of water plants and bushes. It is located in front of the Bank of China, and the lower levels stretch towards the Bank of Montreal Tower.

“Spirits in a Landscape” by sculptor Abraham Anghik Ruben.

The only name I could find for this impressive design was the Bentall Bistro Falls – referring to the restaurant behind one of the showers spilling into a stepped pool. I watched seagulls walking across the uppermost block, stop and study the passersby.

I tried to capture their curious glances, but they were camera-shy.

If you turn right on to Thurlow Street and walk down to West Georgia, you will find a sculpture that has captured birds and animals in a bold cone shaped structure. This is a bronze by Inuit sculptor Abraham Anghik Ruben from Paulatuk, NWT, who now lives on Salt Spring Island. BC Gas commissioned the piece, which stands outside the company building.

Titled “Spirits in a Landscape”, it features various elements of the natural world and, like much of Anghik Ruben’s work, is based on myths and legends. The bear cubs and birds are topped by an eagle with outstretched wings that represent a flame of fire.

The patina of the sculpture and its dark grey colour is deceptive – only my research convinced me that it wasn’t made of soapstone.