Travels Through East Vancouver

Crossing East Van

In Art on June 2, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Coming home from work later than normal a few months ago, I was greeted by a massive LED-lighted cross spelling out the words EAST VAN as I traveled over Main Street and made my way towards home on the eastside. Damn, an awesome sight to behold. But I wondered where the hell it came from, and for what purpose it was towering over my neighbourhood. At first, all I could come up with was the Olympics, that shit-show of corporate greed and nationalism wrapped up in the cloak of so-called amateur sport. But who the hell from the Olympic Committee would pick this symbol I wondered? And are such neighbourhood markers going up around the city to highlight the diverse little places that make up Vancouver? But it seemed too permanent for the Vancouver Binennale - a bi-annual showcase that installs works in various media as a celebration of public art.

Turns out, it’s a little of both – a public art venture about neighbourhood markings funded through Olympic dollars granted to the city for the arts.  And I suppose, if something had to come from dirty money, this is almost as good as it gets in terms of a “line in the sand” between us and them.

This piece by Ken Lum is the artist’s homage to his neighbourhood, to what we locals call ‘the republic of east van’, to the place and people this little blog celebrates. At some 60 feet high Lum’s East Van cross sits near the corner of Clark Drive and Great Northern Way, marking the spot where Vancouver’s major trucking route cuts between this fast-gentrifying neighbourhood (once and still belonging to immigrants and labourers) and the Finning Lands – a long-time industrial wasteland being re-made as a multi-institutional post-secondary campus. It’s generated a lot of buzz, this cross.

Defend Grandview Park…. from the People?

In Development, East Van Institutions on May 18, 2010 at 10:56 pm

Only on Commercial Drive could a community park redevelopment engender the creation of three different ad-hoc “groups”. The issue? The redevelopment of Grandview Park, one of a number of East Vancouver parks slated for a facelift over the past few years. Like other redevelopment projects (Victory Square, Oppenheimer Park, Victoria Park), there is a shut-down period of approximately eight months scheduled in which to complete the work (July until March) during which time local residents will have to content themselves with Victoria, Strathcona, or Mosaic Parks, all in the immediate vicinity. From what I can tell from the park plan the intention is to:

  • re-do the children’s play area and water park
  • tear down the rotten tennis court that is rarely used as a tennis court and replace it with a multi-use court that apparently will allow bike polo (this was not on the original plan, but has been added following community consultation)
  • improve street visibility of the park to “cut down on crime” (I have to note here that since my first visit to the park twenty years ago there have been no less than three improvements to visibility in the park for exactly this reason).
  • increased seating – benches and picnic tables (most of which were removed from the park about a decade ago in order to reduce loitering and “crime”)
  • improve park drainage (which they have tried to do on more than one occasion)

All pretty standard stuff right? I mean, cities redevelop parks all the time with many of these same objectives – including the one about reducing the amount of drugs flowing through a given neighbourhood – and people don’t pitch huge fits. But not in East Van.

The WISE

In East Van Institutions on February 22, 2010 at 3:30 pm

The posters are yellowing on the walls. Cracks in the ceiling seem to grow with every beer I finish. Someone is glued to the TV screen, watching Eddie Murphy in Beverley Hills Cop II. Darts are bouncing around the place, the players probably too drunk to have access to sharp pointy objects. At a table in the back a loud rant about the municipal election competes with a loud rant about organized labour and the need for a general strike. Just across from us a group of four huddles around drinks, their conversation a conspiratorial whisper about some upcoming political action. And at our table, people drop in and out of rambling discussions about books, and unions, and radical gossip about whoever and whatever.

It’s the WISE Club, and I’ve been coming here since the early 1990s when I discovered the spot after a folk music show in the upstairs hall. Meg’s been dropping in since she moved to the city in the mid-1990s. And though no doubt on countless occasions we’ve been at different tables here, engaged in different debates about exactly the same kinds of things, it’s only in this last couple of years that we’ve come together, the spot that was each of ours now the spot that is both of ours. Drinking-hole. Dank basement. Gathering place of communists, anarchists, writers, musicians, ne’er-do-wells, students, folkies and local drunks – and we’ve been all of these at various times in this place. It’s the WISE. It’s exactly what we want. But it sure as hell ain’t what it started out to be.

In 1957, Peggy Campbell, a Brit now living in Canada, contacted a Vancouver radio station with her name and information, hoping that she might track down others recently-immigrated from the UK for some social time and reminiscences of home. Responses came in, a little group was formed, and at Lochdale Hall on February 28, 1958, the WISE Club was officially founded. Taking its name from the acronym for Welsh, Irish, Scottish, English, the club based itself around regular gatherings for cards, darts, billiards and the like.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.