Best Of the City — On The Drive

February 28, 2013

It’s that time of year again:  WestEnder’s Best of the City 2013 has been published, and the Drive did pretty well once again.

  • The Reef Restaurant (Food: Caribbean/West Indian), Memphis Blues (Food: BBQ), Donalds (Independent Grocer), Liberty Wines (Wine merchants), Home Hardware (Hardware stores), and Van City (Financial Insitutions) all won their categories.
  • JJ Bean (Coffee chain) and Daily Catch (Fishmongers) came second.
  • Havana (Food: Caribbean/West Indian), St. Augustines (Pub), Uprising (Bakery), La Grotta (Cheese) and Mintage (Vintage Clothing) placed third.

Congratulations to them all!

First & Commercial

February 28, 2013

If you’ve only known the Drive for the last, say, 25 years, you could be tempted to believe that the Il Mercarto Mall on the northwest corner of First and Commercial has been there for ever.  Not so.

That site has a long and sometimes troubled history, some of which I have described at the Grandview Heritage Group blog.

The Over-Building of Vancouver

February 26, 2013

Mayor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver crew at City Hall continue to push for ever more densification.  Vision and their allies claim that we need to keep building to solve the housing affordability crisis, even though this strategy has been tried since before Sam Sullivan’s EcoDensity days, always without success — the ever-increasing cost of property in Vancouver since, say, 2000 proves the failure.

This desire for more new building — which only helps the development industry keep the money flowing — is creating an alarming situation where Vancouver is being over-built.  Proof of this claim is to be found in the 2011 Census data.

The 2011 census for Vancouver shows that there were a total of 286,742 private dwellings in the city.  A “private dwelling” is defined as “a separate set of living quarters designed for or converted for human habitation in which a person or group of persons reside or could reside.” In other words, a house, a condo, an apartment, or anything similar. The same census shows that only 264,573 of those dwellings were occupied by “regular” residents of Vancouver, i.e., those folks who claim Vancouver as their place of residence.

The difference of 22,269 dwellings (8% of the total) is made up of vacant dwellings or dwellings occupied by people who do not claim Vancouver as their place of residence.  

Stats Canada has not yet provided a breakdown of the 22,269 dwellings, so we are obliged to make some assumptions.

One of the abiding beliefs in Vancouver is that non-residents are driving the Lower Mainland housing market. Clearly, if one out of every twelve dwellings is occupied by non-residents then this claim is patently true.  However, supporters of “Vancouverism” (Vision and others) say that is just a myth and isn’t so; and who are we to disagree?

Which means that most of these 22,269 dwellings are vacant.

It gets worse:  That 22,269 number does not include buildings that were under construction at the time of the census.  Nor does it include the vast numbers of additional units that Vision Vancouver’s majority on Council — generally against strong neighbourhood opinion — have approved since the census.

And lest Vision and its surrogates try to say the 2011 figures were just a blip, the relevant figure for 2006 was 20,592 showing that under Vision’s management this problem has grown by 10% and, of course, continues to grow as Vision continues to feed their development buddies.

The Census figures clearly show that, either the non-resident occupiers are distorting the housing marketplace or that Vancouver is seriously over-built.  Given the arguments by Vision and its pals that the former is not the case, then the latter must be true.

Reason #208 NOT to use Facebook

February 25, 2013

Media theorist Douglas Ruchkoff has decided to quit Facebook.  Hard to believe it took him so long, but some of his reasons are worth repeating:

“It actively misrepresents us to our friends, and worse misrepresents those who have befriended us to still others … Facebook does not exist to help us make friends, but to turn our network of connections, brand preferences and activities over time — our ‘social graphs’ — into money for others …

“The true end users of Facebook are the marketers who want to reach and influence us. They are Facebook’s paying customers; we are the product. And we are its workers. The countless hours that we — and the young, particularly — spend on our profiles are the unpaid labor on which Facebook justifies its stock valuation …

“That innocent mention of cup of coffee at Starbucks, in the Facebook universe, quickly becomes an attributed endorsement of their brand. Remember, the only way to connect with something or someone is to “like” them. This means if you want to find out what a politician or company you don’t like is up to, you still have to endorse them publicly …

“Through a new variation of the Sponsored Stories feature called Related Posts, users who “like” something can be unwittingly associated with pretty much anything an advertiser pays for. Like e-mail spam with a spoofed identity, the Related Post shows up in a newsfeed right under the user’s name and picture. If you like me, you can be shown implicitly recommending me or something I like — something you’ve never heard of — to others without your consent.

None of this is new to those of you who have read my previous reasons not to use FB, but it is good to point out that others are beginning to realise the danger that FB poses.

Tulips And Vase

February 23, 2013

Tulips and vase

Tulips and Vase” (2008), acrylics on canvas, 16″ x 20″

For a better view go here.

U-Turn In The Brain

February 23, 2013

For most of the last twelve months I have been concentrating my research efforts on the first twenty-five years of Grandview’s existence, say from 1890 to 1915.  I have collected a vast amount of data (much of which I have yet to publish), created some research aids, given presentations, written short pieces (here and here, for example) about that period, and generally immersed myself in that time and place.  It has been great fun.

However, now that VPL cataloguing has completed their work on the “Highland Echo” files we donated, I have decided that writing volume two of my history of “The Drive” has to take precedence. It is a bit of a shock moving my brain from the stump-strewn streets of 1905 to the raucous vibrancy of the 1960s and 1970s.

It also means I am back to camping out on the seventh-floor of VPL for the next many months as I work my way through the Echos from the early 1970s to the late 1990s.  When I was researching the first book, I had access to the physical copies of the paper; this time I have to make do with microfilm versions.  After three full days of work, I can say that this is much harder work and I really miss the tactile experience of turning pages.  Still, it is the best information available about the time and place — at least until I start interviews with real people later this year.

Luckily, I have the Grandview Heritage Group and their exciting discussions and projects to keep me in touch with the full range of our wonderful neighbourhood’s history and heritage.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores

February 21, 2013

This week’s book was the masterly novella called “Memories of My Melancholy Whores” by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  It is a slim volume (just 117 pages) that I wolfed down in two return trips on the #20 bus to the library.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Written in the first person, Garcia Marquez tells the story of an unnamed 90-year old man, a writer of sorts who suddenly falls in love with a thirteen year old virgin whom he has procured from an ancient madame as a birthday present to himself.  His love is unrequited and unconsummated (his choice) but changes his world completely.

This is a remarkable paean to old age, to the process of aging, to unexpected love, to music, to solitude and desire. It is the work of a true master of his craft and I loved it.

It is devastatingly sad to know that there will never be more books by this extraordinary artist.

Shane Koyczan Against Bullying

February 21, 2013

Back in the 1990s — yes, Virginia, there was such a time — I performed a lot of spoken word; mostly at Bukowski’s on the Drive, but also in Slams around town.  I was privileged and awed to share the stage on many occasions with a wunderkind, Shane Koyczan, who really was already in a class of his own.  I remember crying with pride and joy when Shane performed at the 2010 Olympic opening ceremony: he truly deserved that global exposure.

Now, he has produced another glorious statement, this time in support of the campaign to end bullying:

Bravo to Shane, once again, and the others involved in this important work!

Coffee For Canadians

February 19, 2013

Starbucks-208x300Earlier this year I noticed that Starbucks had begun advertizing a coffee just for Canadians.  Well, that wasn’t a new idea, as I discovered.

Going through some old “Highland Echo” editions yesterday, I found a notice by Torrefazione Coleira — a coffee shop which had just opened on Commercial Drive where JJ Bean is today.

On 22nd April 1971, they announced that “we are now making a special blend of coffee just for Canadian people.”

Commercial Drive — forty years ahead of Seattle!



Urban Daffodils

February 19, 2013

urban daffodils

William Smith and The Discovery of Geology

February 18, 2013

This week’s book was “The Map That Changed The World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology” by Simon Winchester, another Christmas present from the ever-loving.

Winchester is an extraordinarily prolific writer with at least 18 full-length titles to his name, most of which have been very well received, and scores of magazine and TV articles. I have previously read his “The Professor and the Madman” (about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary) and “Krakatoa.”  He has developed a non-fiction style that is eminently readable while packing in an immensity of well-researched material.

William_Smith_(geologist)His story of William Smith, the low-born farmer’s son who first understood the stratification of geological layers and, more importantly, the value of the specific fossils found in each layer, is brilliantly told.  Smith’s trials and tribulations, including a period in debtors’ prison — many of which were a direct result of the English class system in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are described in detail, as is his ultimate triumph and celebration as an old man.

In between this very human story, Winchester weaves a clear portrait of the science that Smith discovered — the lie of the ancient rocks across England — and the great hand-coloured Geological Map that he finally published in 1815.  An item of particular interest was the use of his discoveries by those — the majority — who still believed that the earth was just 4,000 years old, while many scientists quietly, secretly, realized that Smith had shown the earth to be a far more ancient object.

A very good read.

Happy Birthday Yoko Ono!

February 18, 2013

Yoko Ono — musician, artist, filmmaker, and uber-activist for peace — is 80 years old today.

Yoko Ono

This wonderfully intelligent and creative woman does more in a year than most of us do in a lifetime.  I hope she keeps it up for many many years to come.

Walking The Neighbourhood

February 16, 2013

Many of us of the Grandview Heritage Group took a long walk through the neighbourhood this afternoon. We were looking at the houses we have listed as potentials for the 2013 Centenary House signs and trying to whittle the list down to 25.  The walk started in the 2000-block of Pandora and meandered down to First and Woodland where we stopped for the day.

The weather was perfect; it started sunny and bright and, as the exertion of the walk heated us up, it turned cloudy and cool:  couldn’t have been better.

It was a joy to look carefully at so many of the heritage treasures that decorate our streets.  Even more pleasant was to meet a lot of the residents who were drawn to wonder why a group of people were peering at their houses so intently.  They all seemed genuinely pleased to talk with us and to hear about our efforts to preserve and advertize these glorious Grandview assets.

In a week or so we’ll finish the second half of our list, this time south of First.

This was tiring for an old fart like me, up and down our hilly streets, but well worth while.


February 16, 2013


Click on the image for a better view.

Expanding Commercial Drive

February 15, 2013

On Wednesday evening I attended the latest in the series of themed workshops connected to the ongoing Grandview Community Plan.  This one was about Transportation and I found it to be a most valuable exercise.  There were five tables — Motor Vehicles, Cycling, Walking, Transit and Commercial Streets — and I took part in the Walking, Transit and Commercial Streets discussions.

During the Walking session, many people agreed that the lanes are a vital part of Grandview’s walkability profile; that they provide both shortcuts and a different perspective.  It was generally agreed that they would be even better if they were better maintained and tidied up.

In the session on Commercial Streets — which for us means Commercial Drive and East Hastings Street — I managed to put forward an idea I have been pondering for a while:  that the retail area of Commercial Drive be expanded into the lanes on either side of the main street. This would increase the business area thus making available a broader selection of shops and services, it would allow owners of many businesses on the Drive to increase the density of their properties without altering the currrent Commercial Drive streetscape, and would bring even more diversity and interest to the Drive.

Obviously this wouldn’t work along the whole length of the Drive, but there are blocks where the Commercial Drive side of the back lanes are not filled with buildings and could accommodate a lively trade.  Also obviously, this will take some serious adjustments to the current zoning, and an acceptance by both merchants and residential owners backing on to the lanes.  But this might provide a creative solution to densification desired by the BIA without damage to an important heritage street.

The idea seemed to be welcomed by quite a few at the workshop, so maybe it is worth talking about.

Sunny Days!

February 15, 2013

Weather-wise this was the best day of the year so far, I think.  It was cool and bright and just fabulous for strolling the Drive.  Seems I wasn’t alone in thinking so as all the patios and sidewalks were filled with smiling faces.  Here comes spring!

True Love Never Grows Old

February 14, 2013


A Good Day

February 12, 2013

One of the benefits of living on the Pacific Rim — especially in Vancouver where multiculturalism blossoms — is the easy integration of Chinese and Japanese culture into our lives.

We started our day with dim sum at the Western Lake (of course). No matter how many times I eat there, it just gets better.  Today’s dishes tasted even fresher than usual, the flavours more perfect, and that is saying something!

We had thought of going there yesterday but thought that, it being both the day after Chinese New Year and a BC holiday, it would just be too busy for comfort.  Today, we were touched that the managers came over to us and were sad that we had missed a day that was indeed exceedingly crowded and which included a lion dance performance!.

Still, today’s food made us feel cherished enough.

We then set off on our own chores and I went to Murata out on Broadway west of Main.  Murata is a small shop that sells wonderful Japanese goods — tableware, clothing, fabric and gifts.  It is a precious gem of a place where I managed to find exactly the Valentine’s Day gift I wanted for my ever-loving.

A good day!

Triumphalism At St. Peters

February 11, 2013


Taken in 2009, I thought this would be a topical image to show today.  Click on image for a better view.

The End of a Failed Papacy

February 11, 2013

I woke this morning to find that Ratzinger has resigned as Pope.  As Martha Stewart might say: that’s a good thing.

Ratzinger supported the fundamentalist and anti-female doctrines of John Paul II and spearheaded the fight against Liberation Theology, the first movement in a thousand years that sought to bring the Church back to the poor and their welfare.

As a Cardinal-Archbishop he personally sheltered priests guilty of sex crimes and, as head of the Church’s review of child abuse he failed to act decisively.  Since becoming Pope he has again failed to rid the priesthood of this evil and has consistently refused to treat the victims with the respect and decency they deserve.

As Pope, he has accused Islam of being inherently evil, and has supported the use of the Tridentine Mass that specifically insults Jews.

And now he is leaving.  Good riddance.  However, he has filled the College of Cardinals with his deeply conservative cronies and so, no matter the colour or origin of the next Pope, he — always a he, of course — will likely follow a similar path.

ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς.