St. George Rainway: Painting a Bygone Salmon Stream

Part of the "St. George Rainway", a road mural painting dedicated to a bygone salmon stream on St. George Street between 7th and 8th Ave East. Vancouver, BC 2012. Photo by J. Chong. Foreground is a laneway.
Part of the “St. George Rainway”, a road mural painting dedicated to a bygone salmon stream on St. George Street between 7th and 8th Ave East. Vancouver, BC 2012. Photo by J. Chong. Foreground is a laneway.

On a misty grey summer morning, we hotfooted by bike to see a brand-new road painting that memorializes a bygone salmon stream that ran through the Mount Pleasant Vancouver neighbourhood. That’s right –a somewhat bumpy road surface was graced overnight with a blue-green swirly art stream of salmon, frogs, trees and sea life in a quiet residential area. The road community art work was the St. George Rainway.

We arrived there at the right time –colours were still pure, bright and unblemished from the previous evening’s painting party.  Road traffic was quiet since rush hour peak activity if such a street experienced it, had died down.

Well, it’s doubtful that this artwork was conceived so quickly. There was public consultation with the community, some artists created and presented the design, the False Creek Watershed Society helped promote the public painting party evening

St.George Rainway painting begins at a traffic calming circle filled with a community garden. Vancouver BC 2012. Photo by J. Chong
St.George Rainway painting begins at a traffic calming circle filled with a community garden. Vancouver BC 2012. Photo by J. Chong.

weeks in advance, City placed some temporary traffic barriers and more volunteers were secured to paint and complete the 50 metre long painting within 5 hours on June 28, 2012.

It is remarkable what can be achieved by throwing down a well-designed painting on public road space if there is artistic vision, orchestrated effort of enthusiastic volunteers and some leadership.

St. George Street runs alongside a public school that has its fence already decorated with children’s salmon placard art – a common iconic sight at various Vancouver

St. George Rainway winds its artful way the full length of a street block. Vancouver BC 2012. Photo by J. Chong
St. George Rainway winds its artful way the full length of a street block. Vancouver BC 2012. Photo by J. Chong. Painted with community volunteers under artistic direction.

elementary public schools. The painted stream or “rainway” starts from a garden festooned traffic calming circle to nearly the end of the first block.

Painting imagery depicts seven stages of salmon, frogs, flora and fauna with multiple word translations of “water”.

While we were there, a few cyclists cruised along and various drivers drove hesitantly down the rainway. While it might have been the sight of us, 2 cyclists wandering around with their cameras , it was obvious some drivers were seeing the road painting for the first time also. Some cars inched slowly down the side of the road, not down the centre of the

"Shui" means water in Chinese. St. George Rainway painting. Vancouver BC 2012. Photo by J. Chong
“Shui” means water in Chinese. St. George Rainway painting. Vancouver BC 2012. Photo by J. Chong

road. Either a driver wanted to see more of the painting or allow us to continue photo-shooting. We weren’t sure. But at least, the fanciful stream painting, slowed down the drivers for a short residential street.

Rainway Painting Captures a Fleeting Image, Memory
The St. George Rainway is a touchstone that nudges pedestrians, cyclists and drivers to look, ponder, ask questions (What is this painting all about?) and contemplate the winding story of a lost stream and sea life prior to urbanization. We should welcome more inspiring permanent motifs that pull us outside and remind us what has been lost and what needs to be cherished for the future.

Salmon and other sea life swirl across St. George Street. Vancouver BC 2012. Photo by J. Chong
Salmon and other sea life swirl across St. George Street. Vancouver BC 2012. Photo by J. Chong

This painting too, shall fade in brilliance after the beating of rain, traffic, sunlight and snow. Catch and enjoy its ephemeral dream memory while you can.

Further Reading
Mount Pleasant Community Association. Mount Pleasant Watershed Society Blog.

Chong, Jean. Mosaic Park: A Creative Stream of Community Consciousness and Dreams. In Cycle Write Blog, Aug. 24, 2010.  For something a bit different: another public outdoor art installation with over 200 different mosaic designs that depicts a community’s wish for a water stream in their neighbourhood park.

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16 Comments Add yours

  1. timethief says:

    This was a great post Jean. I love the concept. You explained it beautifully and the photos are excellent. I

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    1. Jean says:

      It was wonderful to see this on a grey, overcast day in Vancouver. The colours seemed more luminous and livelier.

      Like

  2. Jean, what great photos – you managed to capture the spirit and beauty of those paintings. The last one was especially appealing. Thanks for sharing this!

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    1. Jean says:

      Maybe one day your area will have this type of wonderful, planned outdoor art. It can slow down car traffic.

      Like

      1. We do have some on the buildings but have never seen street painting here. Love it!

        Like

  3. sliceofshanghai says:

    Beautiful paintings! My favorite is the second from last – the one with “shui”, frog and all other sea life. Nicely done!

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    1. Jean says:

      It’s probably the 2nd road painting that I’m aware of in the Vancouver area.

      Like

  4. cherylmoore says:

    Some beautiful street artwork.

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  5. I wish we had this kind of painting downotwn where most people (including myself) rush through their hectic daily schedule, looking like robots. Sometimes, we need to stop and contemplate. Well, that’s precisely what I did while reading this post. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Jean says:

      It wouldn’t be surprising that Montreal will (if not already) have a road painting soon. I can’t imagine the irrespresible creativity of Montrealers kept down on this type of art!

      Like

  6. What a wonderful idea. I like the idea of street art that brings the community together; so different from standard-issue graffiti which is so often offensive and divisive…

    There’s something especially compelling about ephemeral, temporary art. You’ve captured and documented the whole thing beautifully, Jean. Great post, thanks for sharing! : )

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      May be one day this type of art will be in your area. With best wishes!

      Like

  7. icelandpenny says:

    This is wonderful! I’ll have to look for it the next time I’m in Vancouver.

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    1. Jean says:

      Hopefully the pavement art wouldn’t have faded by then. At least, our winters aren’t as long and hard with alot of ice and snow compared to many other areas of Canada.

      Like

  8. I had never heard of street painting before. What a cool idea! Glad you got to see it while it was fresh. Lovely pictures. Thank you for sharing something so unique with us.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Apparently the neighbourhood had refresh the paint colours 2 years later. But then, Vancouver doesn’t get much snow. Other Canadian cities would end up with some of the paint faded because of snowploughs or simply the cold winter ravages of ice and snow. It’s a lovely thing to see in a plainer neighbourhood.

      Like

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