I can’t say I’d take up dancing in the rain, but I enjoy its drumming on my umbrella as my wellies (read: Wellington boots) splash in puddles.

As a non-indigenous Vancouverite, I’d rather cocoon on a wet day, but I admit that the cocktail of marine and mountain air of the Pacific Northwest’s rainforest climate is invigorating and addicting. It’s one reason the seawall is popular, rain or shine.

Something About The Seawall

The seawall is a popular feature of downtown Vancouver and the North Shore. The downtown paved waterfront promenade covers some 35 kilometers (21.1 miles). It connects the Convention Center on Coal Harbour to Kitsilano, by looping around False Creek, sneaking under both Granville and Burrard Bridges, and stretching to English Bay before surrounding Stanley Park (8 kilometers/4.1 miles).

It continues to the North Shore via the 1.5 kilometers (.93 miles) pedestrian lane across the Lion’s Gate Bridge. At the end of it, turning left leads to a short, wooded trail and the dog park, before merging with the West Vancouver Centennial Seawall (from the 100th anniversary of the municipality). It then stretches over 1.7-kilometer (1.05 miles) to Dundarave Village.

The seawall is usually divided into two lanes: one for walkers, and one for bikers and inline skaters. In West Vancouver, it’s for walkers only, plus a grassy lane for dogs between 18-24th streets.

My walk will begin in West Vancouver, at Dundarave Village, at the western end of the Centennial Seawall. This starting point allows anyone staying downtown to:

  • Take the bus through the villages of the western side of the North Shore and walk back.
  • Walk all or part of the Stanley Park seawall on the way back.
  • Return downtown by bus, from the Park Royal stop on Marine Drive or at the entrance of the Lions Gate bridge.

The ocean is on the right from Dundarave to the Lions Gate Bridge. Up on the left, two crouched lion-shaped peaks stand guard on the North Shore Mountains. Don’t be surprised if they hide in fog or clouds as you get ready for a snapshot! The symbol of Vancouver, they gave their name to Lionsgate Films and the B.C. Lions football team.

The Centennial Seawall from Dundarave to Ambleside

Before I get started by the Dundarave pier and Beach House Restaurant, I give a push to the Friendship Globe: a 2.5-ton ball of black granite that floats on a thin pressurized layer of water, a gift from the German community. It’s one of the landmarks of the beach area, along with some play structures (and public toilets). After the damage from the past winter storms, the beach are is under reconfiguration.

On the ocean side along the way, large boulders keep erosion from tidal surges at bay, and retaining stone walls protect the small gardens of a row of individual houses.

Farther on, a cluster of apartment buildings faces the ocean and Stanley Park like sentinels, while kayaks, sailboats, barges, tugboats, freighters, and cruise ships occasionally pass by. With unobstructed views, all the way to Vancouver Island, the real estate prices are of a “Vanhattan” kind of way.

Walking the Centennial Seawall is like looking at a picture book: every stretch offers something. Here, it’s beach art such as the Granite Assemblage and driftwood sculptures, or multiple mini inukshuks (piled up rocks to signal special places). There, it’s a quaint community garden. Here and there, donated benches with messages on metal plaques invite walkers to rest and take it all in.

When I come upon Larson Park play structures, only a few kids with endless energy romp the grounds while their parents enjoy a few deep breaths. On the beach, logs of pine, hemlock, or cedar have escaped from the booms tugged to the sawmills of Squamish (a town located halfway between Vancouver and Whistle) and furnish the beach for visitors to lean, sit, or lie on. Today, the logs are inhospitably wet, but die-hard rain-joggers use them to stretch.

The heritage houses along the way offer a bit of history. The Navvy Jack House was built in 1861 by John Thomas, a Welsh immigrant and gravel worker turned entrepreneur. It’s being restored self-sustainably into a coffee shop. The Silk Purse house, repurposed as an arts center, recalls the romantic summer cottages typical of the late 1800s.

It has been 15 minutes since I began my brisk walk. The seawall has detoured behind the few homes along the beach. I further detour across Bellevue Avenue for a coffee-to-go from Crema Café. Vancouverites love coffee and often read the daily Vancouver Sun outside, under an otherwise sun umbrella.

The Last Stretch

Back on track, I walk behind Hollyburn Sailing Club and towards Ambleside Beach while screeching seagulls occasionally drop mussel shells… or something else.

I pass by the Ferry Building Gallery, another heritage house, and all that’s left of that service between the North Shore and Vancouver before the Lions Gate Bridge opened, in 1938. In early August, the Harmony Arts Festival takes place around here. Music performances, an art and crafts market, food vendors, and the sounds of different languages reveal the ethnic diversity of the local community. And ever-so-present are the sculptures by Squamish Nation artists such as the Spirit of the Mountain at Ambleside Landing, or the Welcome Figure on the beach.

Today, no picnickers relax in the lush grass (the rain has its perks), but a birthday party is set up under one of the pergolas while kids nevertheless frolic around.

My walk ends at the dog park, close to the Lions Gate Bridge where the Capilano River meets the ocean, and where the salmon migrates back. I enjoy what’s left of my coffee while mutts and pedigrees mingle, play, and court.

The rain has stopped. I close my umbrella, ready for my half-hour walk back under grey bulging clouds that tell me I’ll likely open it again soon.


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Previously published Buckettripper 2014 – revised 2022