When I moved to the city of Vancouver, BC over 25 years ago, I came across an amazing place to practice Tai Chi Chuan. I first found out about the plaza beside the Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park from a new friend I had just met on my second day in Vancouver. He told me it was where a lot of people in Vancouver went to practice Tai Chi in the mornings. I decided to go and see this place for myself, and went there the next morning. When I first stepped onto the plaza, it was something I had not previously experienced. Spread out across the plaza and under the covered walkways were numerous practitioners from different styles of Tai Chi Chuan. There were people practicing by themselves and others in small groups moving in unison.
I found myself an area off to the side, and began to practice my Tai Chi form. It was really quite a wonderful experience to be surrounded by all these other people (who were strangers to myself), there for the same purpose. Before this, I had only been practicing Tai Chi in my hometown at class, or by myself at home or the lone practitioner at a local park. Shortly after I finished my Tai Chi practice, I was greeted by several of the other Tai Chi players and was warmly welcomed to their wonderful community. After this amazing first experience, I would go to the plaza for several hours in the morning every Saturday, Sunday, and any days of the week that I might have been off work.
In the mornings, everyone would find their favorite spots on the plaza and walkway, then go through their various Tai Chi and Chi Kung routines. Afterwards, some would leave and the others would stay to gather for some push hands followed by tea and snacks which several people would bring. It was a special place with an amazing atmosphere, with all the people practicing Tai Chi amongst the beautiful trees and flowers. Visitors to Vancouver from across the world who practiced Tai Chi would come to visit Queen Elizabeth Park and it’s wonderful Tai Chi practice spot.
I spent many hours in this special place. I would get there for 8:00 in the morning (after the first groups of people were finishing their early morning practice), and spend 4 – 5 hours there practicing my forms and pushing hands with the other Tai Chi practitioners at the park. This was where I first started teaching Tai Chi, when people came up to me and asked me to teach them. When my daughter was young, I would bring her with me, set her up with her toys and books to keep her busy while I practiced Tai Chi along with my new students. Over the years I formed many good friendships and met many others who enjoyed practicing Tai Chi.
This special space is now lost forever. The plaza was rebuilt by the city from scratch as part of an upgrade to the water reservoir which it was built on top of. A whole new plaza was designed, apparently with consultation from various Tai Chi and Chi Kung groups that practiced at the park. (Nobody consulted me!) I wonder how much consultation there was, and if any of the concerns or suggestions were considered in the design. The construction took several years to complete before the plaza could be used for Tai Chi again. In the meantime, the various groups and individuals had to find other places in the city to practice their Tai Chi.
When the new plaza was completed in 2006, it was a stark change from the previous design. In the old design, there was a large covered walkway that wrapped around the outside part of the plaza and fountains. In the mornings, much of the walkway, and parts of the plaza were full of people practicing Tai Chi. The walkway provided shade from the sun, and if it rained or snowed, it provided cover from the elements. You would have to weave your way through all the people practicing there.
The new plaza design was to have dedicated Tai Chi practice areas. At the time of the reconstruction, this sounded promising, but these spaces turned out to be little more than oversized bus stop shelters. The supports for the roof and the benches come out into the covered practice area. The roof is narrow and angled, providing little protection from the rain, especially if it is windy. As for shade from the sun, the roof is made of wooden joists with Plexiglas as the covering on top. Depending on the angle, the rays from the sun will come shining through the spaces of the joists and amplify the heat of the sun. The ground is an uneven mixture of the wooden deck and concrete pads which jut out into parts of the deck. Overall, the new design is not very Tai Chi friendly.
The old plaza design allowed for a sense of community, where many would gather after their morning practices to talk, have tea, and push hands. You had to walk through or right beside the people practicing Tai Chi on the walkways and plaza. As a result, there were a lot of smiles, excuse me’s, and good mornings to be had.
In the new plaza design, the practice areas seem isolated from each other. Instead of a sense of community being fostered, the individual groups now practice by themselves away from the others. There are very few who come to just practice by themselves. There is no more gathering afterwards for tea and Push Hands.
After the new plaza opened, I started going back to practice my Tai Chi there on the weekends. It was not long before myself and my students went back to the place where we had practiced during the reconstruction of the reservoir and plaza at the park. I would drop by the plaza every now and then, just to see who was coming back to practice. Many of the old-time regulars who practiced Tai Chi at the old plaza, much like myself, chose to not come back to practice regularly at the newly designed plaza.
The City of Vancouver, and the Tai Chi world as a whole, has lost a very special place to practice Tai Chi, and a welcoming place for visitors to meet others who share the same passion. On one of my visits back to the plaza, I ran into one of the older gentlemen who used to go the park every morning to practice. I asked him what he thought about the changes that were made… His response was “they ruined it”. He now only comes to the park and the new plaza for a walk every so often.