Diagonal, in opposition

Vancouver is a beauty. With its downtown beaches and mountain views, it has to be one of the most picturesque cities in the world. But it’s also got some awfully grubby nooks and crannies. I discovered an endless supply of those a couple of years ago when I moved to an east side neighbourhood bordered by Kingsway, a street that runs diagonally from Main and 7th Avenue all the way to Burnaby.

It’s a real mess of a road. It’s out of sync with the rest of the city, screwing up the grid system and confusing local residents, who aren’t ever sure exactly where they are when they’re driving down it. Or maybe that’s just me.

Besides its perverse directionality, Kingsway is also interesting because it’s in a state of flux these days. With increasing numbers of professionals and young families moving eastward from more expensive westside neighbourhoods, Kingsway is starting to gentrify. Excellent restaurants and coffee shops (along with shiny new medicinal marijuana dispensaries and vape shops) are starting to pop up along the westernmost stretch of Kingsway, scattered among some of the grottiest, most ramshackle real estate I’ve seen in this city.

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Some of it is really quite beautiful.

Kingsway has a long history — it predates the street grid system, following the original wagon trail that ran from Gastown to New Westminster. In fact it was originally called Westminster Road but had its name changed to Kingsway in 1913 when the city fully committed to the cockeyed route and paved it.

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The road has even inspired a book of poetry — Kingsway by Michael Turner. Turner sees Kingsway as a way of thinking about cities and their residents. In Turner’s words, it’s “diagonal, in opposition,” but despite its oppositional nature it’s also a perfectly familiar urban landscape. The street’s endless string of strip malls and rundown restaurants is a stand-in for similar strip malls and rundown restaurants across the country. Kingsway, according to the book description, is “a place to get lost, to lose oneself—both a starting point and a destination.”

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It’s been both of those things for me over the past couple of years. My walks up and down Kingsway have exposed me to a side of Vancouver that I’d never paid much attention to. The street has changed the way I see Vancouver, but it’s also become my home.

A few months ago I started to photograph some of my favourite Kingsway sights and post the pictures to a dedicated Instagram account called vancouverkingsway. I was delighted last week when the local blog Vancouver Is Awesome discovered the account and wrote it up in a post. They’ve posted about a few other local Instagram accounts recently and I’m proud to see mine among them.

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It feels like there’s a little more pressure now, though, to explore a bit further and capture some of the more distant reaches of Kingsway. I’ve barely explored the first fifteen blocks.

In fact there are at least a dozen more crazy doorways and weird shop windows just between Fraser and Knight that I need to visit.

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I ran across this map last week, created by a Simon Fraser University student. It handily charts all of the locations Michael Turner mentions in his book of poetry. It will serve as an excellent guide as I start to travel farther east up the Westminster Road.

There are still so many miles left to photograph.

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