One of the first things I noticed after moving to Vancouver was the city’s back alleys. Nearly every block is dissected by a secret little service road filled with dumpsters, loading docks and back entrances. The alleys are picturesque without being pretty, a bit dirty and dark and strangely fascinating: a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the inner workings of the city.
Well, it turns out that I’m not the only one fascinated with Vancouver’s alley ways. Local contemporary artist Ron Tran has developed a self-guided smartphone tour of some of the city’s alleys. The tour, called A Way to Go, is run in conjunction with downtown’s Contemporary Art Gallery. It’s been going on all month and is now in its final week. I just wish I had found out sooner because it sounds like a great idea.
Visitors to the museum, located at 555 Nelson St., get instructions on how to download a special app onto their GPS-enabled smartphones (If you don’t have a smartphone, you can check one out). The app directs users to specific alleys and then brings up a series of digital images, audio tracks and video files based on the user’s location.
Tran has given all of his alleys idiosyncratic names like Hidden Toast Alley, Red Alley and Screaming Alley (named after screams he heard while researching his tour). The idea is to emphasize the everyday aspects of Vancouver life – the unimportant stuff that most people discard or don’t take notice of. According to Tran, “[Most] of the main streets are named after provinces, trees, relationships to Canadian history . . . . I chose simple, mundane objects that people don’t pay attention to.”
The tour takes around an hour to complete. It’s not for everyone, as some of the alleys aren’t in the best neighbourhoods. But if you’re curious about seeing a different side of Vancouver, it could be a lot of fun.
Any other fans of Vancouver’s alleys out there? Has anyone done Ron Tran’s alley tour? Please share feedback below.