Any visitor to Stanley Park could not fail to notice one of its greatest assets: the seawall. For most people this is the way to see the park and to get a real sense of just how big the park is.
The views from the seawall are truly magnificent and varied at every turn. On the east side you can gaze upon the downtown skyline across the harbor and watch the many floatplanes take to the skies. As you make your way round to the north side beside Brockton lighthouse you can look out across the inlet at the north shore and the mountains towering above. If you are willing to make the long walk you will find yourself on the far west side of the park and to Third Beach where you can look directly down Burrard Inlet. If you continue far enough you will eventually leave the park boundaries and find yourself at English Bay.
The Stanley Park seawall stretches for 8.8 kilometers (5.5 Miles) and today is an immensely popular route for walkers, cyclists, rollerbladers and runners. It’s history, though, is rather interesting and compels one to take a second look at this remarkable piece of construction.
The vision of this beautiful walkway was thought of by W.S. Rawlings, a Park Board Superintendent who served from 1913 to 1935. The original plan was to simply have a wall that would protect the shoreline from erosion but his idea then evolved to create a marine walkway that would encompass the entire park.
The man who would take charge of the workforce in the construction of the seawall became something of a revered figure. This man was James Cunningham, a master stonemason, and this project was his passion.
Even when he retired he was known to visit the site regularly and keep an eye on its progress, such was his dedication. James Cunningham gave thirty-two years of his life to the seawall but was never to see it finished. He passed away in 1963, just as the most difficult section of the seawall was being built around Siwash Rock. One of the stones was left out of the face of the wall so that his ashes could be placed there and the project he loved so much could become his final resting place. The exact spot is unmarked but a small plaque near Siwash Rock commemorates this remarkable man.
The wall was built in sections as time and money allowed, and mostly at night during low tide. It was begun in 1914 and although most of it was built by 1971 it was not completed in its entirety until 1980.
It is a stunning achievement and to take a journey around the seawall is probably Vancouver’s best-loved activity. It is no wonder that people come in their millions each year to marvel at this beautiful walkway and to take in the sites that are always rewarding and forever special.