Shoroplova, Nina. 2020. Heritage House Publishing. 278 pp. $ 29.95. Paperback.
Note: Nina Shoroplova is a member of Nature Vancouver
Book review by Terry Taylor
If you live in the Lower Mainland, you have probably been to Stanley Park. If you live in Vancouver, you probably think you know Stanley Park. Once you read this book, you will realize that you really do not know Stanley Park. It is a book that is difficult to classify. Is it a tree book, a horticultural book, a history book? It is all of these. A work produced by an author who truly feels the spirit of place when she visits the park. An author who states that she knew little about trees until she considered writing this book. But she certainly knew her subject extremely well by the time she began writing.
Browsing through the book, the first feature you will notice is the photographs – lots of them. From many historical ones to the high quality images taken by the author herself. You will see photos of things none of us have experienced, and if you grew up in Vancouver you will probably see ones that will bring back memories of long ago. The one that I noted was of the old Lumberman’s Arch, I have a hazy recollection of seeing it in my pre-school days. One scene that nobody alive today has seen is the sign directing traffic to keep to the left.
The first chapters deal with the history of Stanley Park, with information about the Salish people who lived there before it became a park, and the unfair treatment they received when the park was created. Siwash Rock, the Hollow Tree, and the origin of Lost Lagoon are all covered. Much of the pioneer history of the park and of the city was recorded by Major Matthews, the first Vancouver archivist. The author points out how instrumental he was in preserving the historical beginnings of Vancouver, that would have now been lost. She also writes of Pauline Johnson who recorded the First Nations legends about the park. Within these first chapters are descriptions of the native trees along the trails, and the old growth veterans that still survive along these trails.
The majority of the chapters deal with the cultivated trees, groups of trees or shrubs, and gardens within the park, with well researched historical information about those features. Brockton Oval. The gardens around the Stanley Park Pavilion. The Shakespeare Garden. Chaythoos and the opening of Stanley Park in 1888. The Park Board offices. The totem poles of Brockton Point. The walkway around Lost Lagoon. The causeway. The seawall. The cherry trees at the Japanese War Memorial. These are just a few of the features you will learn about in detail.
I found some of the following descriptions really fascinating. Have you ever heard about Martha Smith’s lilac bushes, and the sad history that surrounds them? The famous Seven Sisters which were cut down for safety reasons many decades ago, or so we have always believed. The author’s meticulous research, however, ascertained that one of them is still growing there. What is the story of the double row of London plane trees at Lumberman’s Arch? Stanley Park has some magnificent rhododendrons. Did you know that they came from a world famous nursery at Royston and were brought to the park by Alleyne Cook, a horticulturist who specialized in rhododendrons?
Ancient cultures tended to identify with special sacred natural places and sacred groves of trees. There was the belief that such places had a spiritual power within them. It is referred to as the spirit of place, or by its latin name – genius loci. The author of this book has felt the genius loci of Stanley Park, and that vibrancy is captured by the pages of this book. Read it and think about whether you really know Stanley Park.