Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Last Lesson of the Children's Zoo?

My dad has always been a photographer. He snapped off photos of practically everything as I was growing up, and -- being a TV producer -- he also acquired a 16mm movie camera and shot miles and miles of footage of things in our lives (as well as stock footage for his show, Klahanie).

One of the earliest pictures he has of me is as a 2-year-old, standing nose to nose with a fawn in Stanley Park. A little baby with a little baby. (I remember a couple of years later, my mother took me to a concert, when Leonard Bernstein brought the New York Philharmonic to Vancouver (did he really play at the Forum?) -- and they played Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun. I thought it was a nice piece about a baby deer.)

But back to Stanley Park. It was my first encounter with a wild animal. Later, when the "Children's Zoo" opened, we got to get up-close-and-personal with a lot of animals you wouldn't ordinarily see; and while staged shows in the Aquarium and caged -- or otherwise boundaried -- animals in the rest of the zoo were interesting, there's no substitute for that kind of contact with another species.

Amid all the hubris of the "saving" of the Bloedel Conservatory in Vancouver, there was the nemesis that the Stanley Park Children's Farmyard -- formerly called the Children's Zoo -- would be closed. Its last day will be January 2, 2011 -- the day after the annual Bright Nights Christmas festival closes. The reason? It lost a quarter-million dollars last year. Bloedel was also a money-loser, but that was blamed on construction of the Canada Line, which limited road access to Queen Elizabeth Park and the Conservatory for a couple of years. (How a viable business can go into the tank because of only two years of limited access is a question for smarter economic minds than mine, but to this unlearned and uneducated one, maybe there were problems before then? Here's one: I was born and raised in Vancouver, and have not set foot in the Bloedel Conservatory in well over 30 years. Hmm.)

But maybe it's easier to "sell" a Conservatory -- with a built-in spectacular view of Vancouver and the North Shore from the top of Little Mountain and a gourmet restaurant -- as a tourist attraction than it is to promote "another petting zoo". After all, bringing in the tourist dollars is a bigger deal than something that would entertain and educate young local children and deepen their appreciation of animals and, by extension, farming and the source of their food. (I had no problem with the knowledge that the little lamb I played with on one Sunday could well be the star of someone else's souvlaki the next Sunday -- after all, it wasn't the Stanley Park Children's Abbatoir ...)

(A loss in the neighbourhood of $250,000? The City of Vancouver is spending 100-times that much, setting up separated bike lanes.)

You want to know how to bore a young kid to tears? Take them to a flower and plant exhibit. That's probably why I haven't been to the Conservatory since the mid-70s: too many memories of wanting to be someplace else. But I could have spent hours at the zoo -- the "regular" zoo or the children's zoo -- no problem. But that little bit of joy for a kid -- some gentle education -- sadly takes a back seat to economics.

Kids are being required to grow up too fast these days. (There are "advocates" who want them to explore their sexuality while they're still children, which reminds me of Goldie Hawn's one-liner on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In in the 1960s about petitioning Congress to lower the age of puberty); maybe this is just another sign of the times. You want to go to the Children's Farmyard kid? Sorry: it's closed, 'cause it wasn't making money. Why is it important to make money? Well, lemme tellya .....

The last lesson of the Children's Zoo? Sad, dontcha think?

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