Best of the City: On the waterfront

Matthew Yeomans tries to find his balance on a slackline at Maffeo Sutton Park on the Nanaimo waterfront.  - TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/ The News Bulletin
Matthew Yeomans tries to find his balance on a slackline at Maffeo Sutton Park on the Nanaimo waterfront.
— image credit: TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/ The News Bulletin

The slack line bobbed violently.

I struggled for balance, gripping the forearm of Matthew Yeomans as my right leg swung in a wild pendulum.

“Imagine yourself rooted,” called out Michelle LaFrance. “Look at the tree.”

The hard vibrations turned into a smooth shake and then stilled, leaving only my knee to tremble. I gently put my other foot on the slack line, wobbling and still holding Yeomans’ arm in a death grip as I walked the small distance between two trees at Maffeo Sutton Park.

LaFrance and Yeomans are Tuesday regulars at the downtown waterfront, where it’s not uncommon for someone to come up, take off their shoes and give the slack line a try and where the two know they’ll encounter interesting people. It’s communal, Yeomans said of the park. “Interesting people congregate here.”

The downtown waterfront – a blend of trail and parkland – has gone from industrial site to a social and recreational hub over the past 65 years, drawing thousands of people each year.

People can walk around Cameron Island, past floating restaurants, storefronts, fishing boats and yachts and the mouth of the Millstone River.

The waterfront is a space that hosts farmers’ markets to festivals, where people can hop on a ferry to Newcastle Island, contemplate public art or listen to street entertainers and concerts in the park.

You might see fishermen hauling in a catch, Lucy the seal waiting for bait to be tossed in the water, or sea otters scampering along the rocks.

Nanaimo resident Randy Fred enjoys the serenity of the waterfront and meeting people, he said, from a bench on the crab pier. His nephew Stanley George and friend, Kaleb McGeorge, were crouched nearby, close to the water’s edge with their fishing rods in the water, as they waited for little flounders to bite.

He’s blind, Fred tells me when I ask who is who among the boys sitting at the pier. He is also a former book publisher and a writer. At one point he started up a book publishing company, Theytus, with the late Joy Leach, Nanaimo’s former mayor, not knowing a thing about book publishing, he said, adding it’s since been sold.

Kaleb suddenly pins down a flopping flounder, which wriggles from beneath his fingers and begins to flop. “Get me a knife,” he says.

I left soon after he got his fish, leaving the boys and Fred to continue along the waterfront. I stopped to talk to a Winnipeg tourist who paused in front of Georgia Park to listen to a classically-trained singer and loves the shops and the walkway next to the ocean, and met a young man with a ball python draped around his neck. He was keeping it partially hidden under a blanket, knowing if seen, people would want to touch it. Her name is Sweetie, he tells me, as a small crowd stopped to gawk.

I asked to take a photo – but made sure I didn’t get too close.

As I headed back to my car, I thought about what Yeomans said about this place and I couldn’t help but agree. The waterfront is where interesting people come to congregate.

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