Coupland
Credit: Courtesy of Grosvenor Ambleside

The West Vancouver development is home to Douglas Couplands latest installation

Renowned artist Coupland talks his newest installation and whether West Vancouver is doomed

Famed author/artist Douglas Coupland and Vancouver-based Grosvenor Americas (a subsidiary of the international real estate development firm Grosvenor Group) have something of a tight relationship.

The company’s new waterfront community and shopping district, Grosvenor Ambleside, is home to 98 residences and four Coupland works. Of course, it’s up to the beholder to judge whether he saved his best for last with Tree Snag.

Although it isn’t as tall as some of Coupland’s other pieces, Tree Snag is no slouch, at two stories high. “The piece relates to travel experiences and adventures I had with my friend and neighbour, the painter Gordon Smith,” he says when asked what he wanted to convey with the installation. Smith passed away last year at the age of 100.

CouplandGrosvenor Ambleside

“I want people to feel an almost supernatural sense of being on the West Coast, as was experienced by us in our voyages up B.C.’s coast. We were born 60 years apart, but we each recognized the coast’s magical essence....I also spent many summers at Ambleside, so there are extra layers of memory there for me.”

The Coupland-Grosvenor partnership came together partly thanks to the artist’s connection to the area. But Coupland isn’t a big fan of other developments in his neighbourhood. “With all this money, you’d think there’d be better architecture, but new West Van architecture is horrific, and most of what was good has been torn down,” he says.

“At least Grosvenor is a beautiful building. If you go to Sydney or Auckland or Melbourne, all of the new architecture is stunning. In West Van, most new houses look like they were designed by Grade 12 students using free downloaded software.”

Entrepreneurial paths

For another Grosvenor Ambleside partner, the development represents an opportunity to further connect with a community. Bob Mehr, founder of Pure Integrative Pharmacy, opened his 16th location (and his third in West Van) at Grosvenor Ambleside. He hopes to use the tried-and-true strategy he’s employed since launching his first outlet in Shawinigan Lake back in 1999.

“Going through that experience, I realized how important it is to connect with the community,” Mehr explains. “I got to know it better and better, and it gave me the foundation we have today. That’s where our focus is—I don’t have the corporate mentality at all; we give full autonomy to all of our locations.”

As for the development itself, Mehr is excited about being involved. “This one is definitely more prominent than the others we have on the North Shore,” he says. “Grosvenor does a good job, builds great buildings. It’s nice to be in the same high-quality building as other brands that stand for quality, service and innovation.” 

CouplandGrosvenor Ambleside

Mehr, whose business is part of a complex that also houses Meinhardt Fine Foods and Heirloom Vegetarian Restaurant, among other tenants, pursues a business strategy that may have some similarities to Grosvenor’s.

“You look at a person holistically—not only do we want to look after their prescriptions and medications, we also want to look after well-being,” he says. “We want to make sure they have the right diet, that they look after themselves, they do the exercise—we want to be the hub for your health.”

“Why would you want outsiders?”

But there’s still a larger debate about what West Vancouver should be, and what it might become.

Asked if the municipality can be a destination for people from the surrounding regions, Coupland balks at the question: “Why would you want outsiders? West Van is like Santa Barbara or Atherton in California. Having outsiders isn’t the point. But it still needs a good hotel very badly.”

He’s also not exactly optimistic about what the future holds for the area.

“It will probably become even more of a dumping ground for global capital flight. I wish I could be more upbeat, but it’s inevitable,” Coupland predicts. “I think it’s also the only municipality in Canada with a shrinking population, and I think the average age is something like 79—and there are almost no human beings living here between the age of 21 and 40. It has a massive demographic hole.”

But he paints a prettier picture when talking about his latest work, and whether it’s looking mournfully at the past or excitedly at the future.

“I’m unsure if Tree Snag is forward-looking or sentimental,” Coupland says. “Will we (and not just West Vancouverites but all B.C. residents) be good custodians of the world we now inhabit? I hope so. I think so.”