I wanted to take my 2.5-year-old son on an adventure in Stanley Park, Vancouver to find a big head, about the size of a person, carved out of a tree trunk. I showed a picture of it that I found online to my son. He immediately got excited. I asked him if he wanted to go on an adventure to find this “Big Head,” and he was ecstatic. This is my and my son’s first time to Vancouver. My wife’s second time but she had not been to Stanley Park.
When I showed the picture of the carved head to a staff person operating a tour service in Stanley Park and asked her where I could find this, she was shocked that she had never seen this before. That made finding it more intriguing. I asked the woman at the information booth and she said, “Finding it will be tough, but I can point out the area it is located in.” The mystery enticed me even more to find this head, accentuating the feeling of going on an adventure with my son. She marked it off on the map for us and off we went! I showed the map to my son, told him this was our “treasure map” and pointed out the spot on the map. He would from time-to-time hold the map, walk with it, and pretend to read it. He ran on the trail, chasing me and me chasing him. We saw colorful ducks. We saw a swan sitting in a huge nest it made for itself. We came across a turtle, held it, and took pictures with it. A very well-mannered raccoon kindly approached us, and we took pictures with it. After an hour and a half of trekking, we finally came to the area. I said to my son, “We’re here. The Big Head is in here somewhere. Let’s look for it!” That’s when we entered the unexpectedly disturbing.
The area was just off the main path. A couple of dirt paths led into the woods. The paths criss-cross and wound this way and that. So we wandered around in there, looking at the picture shown online and tried to find the tree trunk with the giant head. Inside the woods, I was reminded of Fangorn Forest in Lord of the Rings – Two Towers. There were other people in the woods as well. My first thought was that these people were also here looking for the giant head! We followed one or two of them, thinking they knew where it was, but it turned out that they would back track the way they came. In fact, there were quite a number of individuals meandering in these woods. They appeared to be walking aimlessly. Of course, I think we appeared to be walking aimlessly as we searched for this head. Some individuals that sat on logs and others wandered. I thought they were there for some solitude. There was a tent pitched in one area. And there were some that walked together in two’s. After 20 minutes of us searching with no success, an older man approached me.
“What are you looking for?” he asked.
I kind of didn’t want the reward of discovery to be taken from me, so I didn’t say I was looking for a giant, wooden head, carved in a tree trunk. “We’re just looking around,” I said with a smile.
He took a couple steps closer and said, “This area isn’t safe.”
That was weird, because I thought, Well, what are you doing here then? “Not safe from what?” I asked, thinking maybe he was referring to animals, like snakes, or the ground being too uneven and slippery. But again, what was he doing here then?
“Not safe from what?” I repeated. “What’s not safe here?”
“This area is for men,” he stated.
Now I was puzzled. I looked around the woods. “What do you mean it’s for men?” Were these guys monks?
“You figure it out.”
My wife, who had been searching in another spot not far from me, approached. I said to her, “He says this area is not safe, that it’s only for men.” My wife had the same surprised, puzzled look I had.
I asked, “Why would an area for men be unsafe.” I know. I wanted to really drill in on this and get to the bottom.
“This is place is for gay men,” he clarified. “By law, you have a right to be here, but I’m letting you know that it’s not safe for your wife and your son. You should stay on the main path.”
I politely thanked him for letting us know, because we were clueless about what we walked into. I suddenly did notice that there were only men in this area. We came across more than a dozen. I was reluctant to leave still, because we had an adventure to accomplish with our son! But nonetheless, we started to make our way out. And sure enough, as we were about to exit the area, a man who was wrapping up his tent shouted something belligerent at us. Once we were back out on to the main path, we saw one stranger walk up to another stranger, exchange a few words briefly, and walked off into the woods together.
My wife and I were disturbed by the experience. I was extremely perturbed that a group of people could capture a beautiful, public area for themselves for their diabolical purposes, adulterate it, and prevent others from being able to share this place. This was Stanley Park, one of the main attractions of Vancouver! We had more than a legal right, by law, to be there. We had an inherent right to the beauty of the place that is part of this earth. The man who warned me was respectful, but he made it clear to my family and me that we were not welcomed. We didn’t belong, as that was reinforced by the other man shouting at us. There was a part of me that wanted to finish our search for my son, but I didn’t know what we could’ve walked into while peeking around in the woods. So we did the prudent thing and walked away. My heart sink the most when our son asked where the big head was, and I told him that we couldn’t find it. We couldn’t complete our adventure.
Nearly three hours from the time we started on our adventure, we made our way back to our rental car and drove to our next destination – the famous Totem Poles in Stanley Park. When our son got out of the car, he saw the totem poles and said, “I found the big head!” He ran to the wooden totem poles with the many large heads carved into them, thinking that was what we had been looking for all along. My heart was lifted at seeing his joy and his sense of completing our adventure. On our drive back to the hotel, he said with reassurance, “Daddy, Daddy, we found the big head.”
I replied, “Yes, we did.”