One thing in Stanley Park is best kept hidden, or even better, destroyed.
Monty and I walked from Brockton Oval towards the Vancouver Aquarium. I had been thinking of the old Stanley Park zoo and wanted to see if any structures were still standing. As we entered the park area, the Vancouver Aquarium is on the right and a new washroom facility is on the left.
I walked down a slope and around the stone wall of the washroom building. The lower level had a rear door entrance and four windows looking into a maintenance room of some sort. Four windows … four windows? Wait a second. I think these are the windows that used to allow me to look underneath the water at the otters. Yes! Yes! I stepped back and looked at the stone building. Yes! This wall used to be a part of the otter pool. Otters used to waddle up a ramp and slide down into a pool. As a kid, I could run around the curve of the building and watch them swim underneath the water thru the windows. This wall had to be part of the original structure. I’m sure of it! I looked around for a parks worker to confirm -- no one.
I turned around to where the monkey enclosure would have been. It was gone. I could picture it with monkeys on one side and seals in a pool on the opposite side. Or maybe they swam around the monkeys, like a moat surrounding a castle. I could be wrong.
I walked west over one wooden pedestrian bridge and back again over another. No more zoo enclosures.
And then I saw it. The polar bear pit. It wasn’t an enclosure. It was a pit. A dark, concrete pit. Three or four times the width of a suburban swimming pool and four times as deep. Large tree limbs hung over top. The inside mossy ledges were covered with fallen foliage. Beer cans were strewn about inside.
I could still read a faded Do Not Feed the Bears painted sign on the cement pillar.
The commemorative plaque, now aged green, that hung on the wall of the enclosure, read
Presented to the Stanley Park Zoo
by the Hudson’s Bay Company
It might have said 1962. There were three or four more lines, but I couldn’t read them.
I turned around to look at the secondary pit and stopped faster than if a polar bear had been standing right in front of me. I stared at a thing in the bottom corner of the pit. It looked like a kids’ single bunk bed but with black metal bars all around. A bear cage. Was that used for sleeping? Transporting? Medical procedures? Had that thing been sitting there ever since the last polar bear died? Since the zoo closed about 15 years ago?
I had loved visiting the polar bears. We used to race around the fence barrigade in order to catch a glimpse of them. But now that I thought about it, they weren't in the concrete swimming hole at the top, they were always at the bottom of the pit. They just paced around, and around, down in the bottom of the pit.
I love to explore old, abandoned buildings, ghost towns and cemeteries but this relic involved suffering. It was disturbing.
Why did I come here?
I stood there for awhile and felt the negative emotions. Then I walked backwards from the polar bear pit, as if it was a creepy entity that I had to keep my eye on.
I spent the next hour or so hanging out with Monty and strolling the wet pathways of the forests. Be mindful of your feelings, good or bad. Breathe. Walk. Breathe. And then, my soggy dog did a slow motion nose-to-tail shake off and soaked me. I laughed and he grinned.
All was well again.
In memory of Tuk, a polar bear who lived his whole life at the Stanley Park zoo. He died in 1997 at the age of 37, after which the zoo closed permanently.
Photo by: U.S. Geological Society