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Gary Sim, November 5, 2003

Where did they all go? There were hundreds of them here on the island at one time, pulling carts and freight wagons, carriages and broughams, or saddled up and perhaps waiting in the shade of a foundry or machine shop for their riders to un-slip the hitch and ride them away. Quarter horses, Appaloosas, Clydesdales, Ponies and Percherons, equine pedigrees from around the world.

In 1926 the Council of the Vancouver Board of Trade “flatly rejected” a proposal that horse-drawn traffic be banned on the Granville Bridge during rush hour morning and night, the Council pointing out that this would “seriously interfere with commerce of the city”, especially on Granville Island.

Cartwright Street - right outside these very doors, under our very feet - the street of the makers of horse-drawn carts - the very name redolent of wood and chisel, iron and forge, lacquer, paint and glue. Working carts, fancy carts, buckboards and carriages, plain and painted, one horsepower, two horsepower, twelve or more for the big rigs.

Armstrong Carriage Works on Cartwright Street – the image of a brawny arm, sheening with sweat in the red glow of a forge, pounding ringing showers of sparks on the anvil – binding wheels in steel, forging axles, making carriages for horses to pull. But where did all the horses go?

When the horses had made their last deliveries and “got off work” for the day, putting their noses into a water trough or feed bucket, would they sometimes sense a change in the breeze, a wisp of fresh air, the scent of freedom - and lift up their heads with a shake and a whinny, take a slow deliberate walk out of the barn, across the pasture and down the unpaved road into the cooling twilight, and away?

One can see them perhaps ambling along a road or lane, merging into the evening shadows, walking slowly, trying not to look like an escapee, not breaking into a gallop, making their way discretely out of town, perhaps through the lush Fraser Valley up to the high plains of the Cariboo, where there were no fences and horses could run free.

Or maybe, on Granville Island on a hot summer’s day, a horse would idly sidle down to the water’s edge, looking thirsty or overheated, easing into the cool salty water, then a bit further out for a dip, a side-eye quick look back to see if the moment was right to escape, then a steady swim out to sea. If the tide was right the Gulf Islands or the North Shore were easily in reach…the horse could come ashore, shake off the salt water, and begin to graze from the water’s edge up the mountain’s side and out of sight into the forest.

Some nights on Granville Island you can still hear the hooves of the horses who didn’t get away, clattering around the roadways, muttering horse curses at the hard pavement and the slippery railroad tracks.

Finally, at the pause of night, the turning tide to dawn and light, the horses lie down, rest, and sleep.

There are no bad dreams.

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