Sidewalking Steveston!

It was pretty cold and a little bit misty this last Victoria Day when we started walking around Steveston. I hadn’t visited since I was a kid, so I was looking forward to seeing it again. Steveston, for those that haven’t visited, is at the southwestern corner of Lulu Island in the Fraser River (Also known as Richmond). According to Wikipedia, Steveston was founded in the 1880’s by a William Steves. It has been the centre for salmon fishing along the Fraser River for decades. As a kid, I remember well going there with my parents to buy seafood off the dock.

The exciting part of heading here was that I didn’t know what to expect. In my mind, I had pictured the Steveston of my youth and then imagined that with all of the growth in Richmond there would be a lot of added density. I also knew that Steveston was home to one of the only pedestrian scrambles in the province.

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We parked a few blocks from the water so that we could get a good walk in and see some of the sights. We were there to go to a specific store that turned out to be closed on holidays, so we did decided to find a place eat instead.

First stop along our walk was to see the infamous pedestrian scramble. With the one in Victoria getting close to being done, I wanted to see one in action. When you get to the intersection of No. 1 Road and Moncton Street you will see the crosswalk making a giant square with a big X in the middle. The pedestrian space itself is covered with painted braided ropes. I stopped and watched a few light cycles. I want to acknowledge that it was later in the morning of a holiday and there were not huge pedestrian or vehicle volumes at the time, still it did not really work how I thought it would. The biggest challenge for me was that every pedestrian direction including the middle scramble was controlled by beg buttons. I also found the delay between vehicle and pedestrians cycles to favour the vehicles. Again this was not a busy time of day, it could very well be that the light cycle has been timed to deal with the expected pedestrian volumes. I am really hoping for a better implementation in Victoria and I am thinking that due to the higher pedestrian movements at Humboldt and Government that we can easily keep it with automated light signals for most of the day and avoid the suburban feeling of adding buttons. That said, with the poorly designed intersection at Pandora and Store any outcome is possible.

After checking out a few of the options. We decided on the Steveston Bakery because it looked like it would be both good and fast and it was. The chicken corn chowder was delicious! After lunch we headed for the main attraction the waterfront.

The waterfront was exactly what you would expect; docks, fishing boats and touristy restaurants. With my built up images of what I thought I would see I was surprised that it was still very quaint and small. I was expecting condos and shops along the street with ground floor shops but there was even still surface parking lots right across the street from the main docks. I think I had pictured something a little more like Sidney. And to be fair there are parts of Steveston that are a very similar in built form as Sidney but further from the water. I think the grey weather actually added to the feeling of being in a fishing port and seeing the boats brought back lots of memories of my childhood.

Despite not needing any seafood, I did the obligatory walk down to the dock and amongst the boats with the tarps up and the people buying their spot prawns right right off the decks. There was certainly a romantic and foreign feel to it that I think could easily be added to the feel at Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria, though you would have to increase the number of boats that are selling products and likely encourage locals to go down and buy stuff occasionally. Still even the strong seafood smell was pretty enthralling. The way that the tarps made the collection of boats into an almost indoor market was part of the magic of the place as well.

After the docks, we walked along the board walk towards the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. We didn’t go in as we didn’t have the time this time, however, having looked at their website online it certainly seems like it would be worth it, with lots of interactive displays on the former fishing and canning industry.

Walking north past the cannery you will pass the Steveston Hotel which is one of the most storied places in the little village. Beyond there you begin to see a lot more modern residential development though for the most part it looks as though they are trying to be sensitive to the scale and nature of the place.

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Steveston definitely left me with a want to come back on a nicer day when more of the shops would be open as I would expect it would be a very vibrant and busy place.

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