On Christmas morning, Patrick Levesque woke up to the perfect elements for his big day. A thick coat of snow had accumulated overnight in Vancouver, British Columbia, providing a magical backdrop for the wedding proposal that he had been plotting for months.
He whisked his partner of more than five years, Callum Snape, to Sunset Beach in the city’s West End before dawn, under the guise of taking their annual holiday photo together.
“I was stressing a little bit because he is a travel adventure photographer,” said Levesque, 40. “He’s used to being in all these epic landscapes and tops of mountains.”
Levesque chose a location that was both awe-inspiring and trending. The frame would feature majestic snowy grounds, crystal blue ocean water with a smattering of geese, and the focal point: a massive barge.
“The barge has been such a big story here in Vancouver,” said Levesque, co-founder of a local skin care and grooming business. “I loved how unexpected it was – kind of like how our relationship started.”
With a tripod and timer set up, he dropped on one knee and Snape, 30, said “yes.” The ensuing engagement post, with the barge centered in the background, amassed more than 22,000 likes on Instagram.
Before it became a part of Snape and Levesque’s love story, and a meme, the barge was collateral damage from an extreme rainstorm that devastated the Northwest in November. Heavy currents ripped the vessel from its anchor mooring, setting it free on the open water. There was fear initially that it might collide with the historic, four-lane truss bridge over Burrard Inlet, but the barge crashed ashore, perched atop a shallow bed of rocks, perfectly adjacent to the bustling sea wall and scenic Stanley Park.
“It’s very Vancouver, and of course, it’s set behind the beautiful skyline on the sea wall where it’s just gorgeous to walk around,” said Marie Hui, a Vancouver resident. “It’s also enormous. You don’t really see stuff like this often.”
As Vancouver officials scrambled to decide the fate of the nearly 200-foot, brick-red barge in the days and weeks that followed, passersby gravitated to the surreal sight. Clusters of people stopped and marveled. They took selfies and went live on Facebook. Like many art installations, the barge in Canada’s third-largest city piqued curiosity, sparked questions and drew comparisons.
“It looks a lot like Noah’s Ark,” said Adrian Lee, a 64-year-old Vancouver resident.
“Your mind kind of goes a little creative with it trying to figure out why it’s there,” said Todd Simon, 49, a recent transplant from Los Angeles. “Did someone put it there? Are they going to eventually move it?”
The city of Vancouver, along with stakeholders such as Transport Canada, the country’s transportation authority, and the owners of the barge, Sentry Marine, have tried several times to do just that. During moments of high tide, there were unsuccessful attempts to dislodge the barge off the rocks using tugboats and cranes. Dismantling the barge has reportedly been an option as well.
Frédérica Dupuis, a spokesperson for Transport Canada, said removing the barge is ultimately the responsibility of the owners, adding that the process is complex, “with several factors to consider, including safety, security and environmental protection.”
“The exact timing is yet to be determined,” she said.
Not that anybody in Vancouver is complaining about the delay. In a province where there are more than 36,000 active cases of COVID-19, pandemic restrictions are seemingly never-ending, and climate change is making a strong case for environmental concern; the originality and, well, the absurdity of the barge has been a breath of fresh air.
“I think it’s just something we needed right now, just to give us a laugh in a dark time,” said Hui, a local singer. On New Year’s Day, she took a video of a pair of women inside a homemade mini-Styrofoam barge, after their vessel was hoisted into the icy bay in front of the real barge.
Every local media outlet has latched onto the barge storyline. In December, requests on social media were made to decorate the barge with Christmas lights (it didn’t happen). Memes – such as the barge photoshopped as Vancouver’s next luxury condo building, a dig at the city’s notoriously unaffordable housing market – are mass circulated on social media. There is even a popular barge parody Twitter account.
“In Vancouver, we have a unique sense of humor, a unique sense of levity, if you will,” said Donnie Rosa, general manager of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation.
In fact, the Park Board, which, in 2014, famously approved the renaming of “Guelph Park” in the trendy Mount Pleasant neighborhood just south of downtown to “Dude Chilling Park,” in honor of an art sculpture that looked like, well, a dude chilling, saw a similar opportunity with the barge. On Dec. 15, exactly a month after the barge washed up on English Bay, the board erected a temporary “Barge Chilling Beach” sign.
“It’s been a tough year, why not bring some joy to this holiday season?” said Rosa, who is nonbinary, noting the temporary sign cost under a few hundred dollars. “The amount of joy that it has brought, I think it’s money well spent.”
“I did not expect to see a sign, which I thought was pretty humorous,” said Simon. “It’s a perfect Instagram-worthy shot.”
And really, if it is not on Instagram, then it never happened, right?
“I saw some stories about the barge on social media, and that’s how I knew I wanted to go here,” said Jasnoor Kaur, a young woman from Winnipeg, Manitoba, visiting her boyfriend, Ram Binner, who lives in a nearby suburb of Vancouver.
On a frigid January afternoon, Kaur, dressed elegantly, made the trek to Vancouver’s most fascinating temporary attraction to do a photo shoot with Binner, a professional photographer. He snapped dozens of shots of her. She planned to make the best one, which was taken at the barge, her new profile picture on Instagram.
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