Sidewalk prisms of Vancouver

I was a shy child. Consequently, I spent a lot of time avoiding eye contact by looking down at the ground. All this time looking down at my feet allowed me to regard the ground upon which I was walking. Thus it was as a child that I first noticed the purple squares embedded in sidewalks.

Have you ever been walking in an older part of the city and noticed a checker board grid of purple squares under your feet?

Sidewalk prism light mosaic. Photos: C. Hagemoen

Sidewalk prism lights mosaic. Photos: C. Hagemoen

No, they are not simply sidewalk decoration [wouldn’t that be nice?] but rather a system to illuminate spaces under sidewalks called areaways. Sidewalk prisms, also known as vault lights (or pavement lights in the UK), are glass prisms set into sidewalks in order to reflect the natural light from above, safely illuminating these subterranean spaces. [Why are they purple? The answer to that is at the end of the post].

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“Please wait a minute Mr. Postman”

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of her move to this Province, a friend of mine recently mailed out postcards from her extensive personal collection to all her friends. Each of the thoughtfully selected postcards contained a brief narrative about one of her many experiences over the past 25 years. It was a delight to receive such a personal memento in the mail.

Postcard from my friend along with a flyer (what I usually receive in the mail) arrived in my mailbox recently. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Postcard from my friend along with a flyer (what I usually receive in the mail) arrived in my mailbox recently. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Analogue experiences like this are far and few between these days thanks to the internet. There is no doubt that everyone loves to receive a handwritten card, however very few people actually take the time to write one these days. Since the advent of email, texting, twitter, Facebook and other digital technology there really isn’t a need, nor desire, to write and send letters (or cards) via snail mail. Even etiquette traditionalists, bowing to the new technology, agree that email is an acceptable way to deliver an invitation, thank-you note or business letter.

What does this all mean? It means the end of the conventional post office and mail delivery as we know it. I’m afraid that door-to-door mail delivery is going the way of the rotary dial landline telephone (remember those?) and I think that is a real shame.

Illuminated letter drop at the main Vancouver Postal station. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Illuminated letter drop at the main Vancouver Postal station. Photo: C. Hagemoen

It’s a shame because it’s not just about the lost art of letter writing and receiving hand written items in the mail. It’s a shame because it’s also about losing the tradition of having your mail delivered personally to your door by another human being.

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Bottle-dash stucco

There are several architectural features that quite distinctly define Metro Vancouver: the Vancouver Special, forests of glass condominium towers, west coast modernism and the oddest one of them all – bottle-dash stucco. Predominately found in Vancouver, bottle-dash stucco appears throughout the Lower Mainland  and occasionally in the rest of the province.

Bottle-dash stucco exterior

Bottle-dash stucco exterior on house in East Vancouver. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Also known as ‘beer bottle’ stucco, ‘broken bottle’ stucco or ‘crushed bottle’ stucco, ‘bottle-dash’ stucco is something of an enigma.*** If you are not familiar with what it is, houses with bottle-dash (unlike pebble-dash) have bits of glass (most often brown beer and green pop bottles), instead of the more commonly used rock bits, embedded in the exterior stucco finish. I have been curious about bottle-dash stucco since I was a child and first saw it on my great aunt’s house in East Vancouver.  Back in the 1970s and into the 1980s, it was quite common to see it on Vancouver houses of a certain era. When I decided to research bottle-dash stucco, I found that there was very little historical information about it.

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