Progress at Alma Blackwell

September 18, 2021

A few days ago, I wrote about the problems residents were having at the Alma Blackwell housing site on Adanac Street which the Entre Nous Femmes Housing Society (ENF) wants to demolish and rebuild. Today I am happy to report that the tenants’ loud voices, including at the community meeting held last week, have elicited a hopeful statement from ENF.

In their notice to the tenants, ENF note their organization has undergone organizational changes at both the Board and staff levels but that they are committed to “continuing the legacy of providing inclusive, safe, and affordable housing for women, families, and seniors at Alma Blackwell,” and they understand that “the news of the redevelopment was challenging to receive.”

They note that ENF have not yet made a formal development application to the City and thus “tenants will not need to move until Fall 2022 at the earliest.” They further commit to hiring a Tenant Relocation specialist “to ensure a smooth transition for each tenant.”

“In the meantime, we will be continuing to offer relocation options to tenants in our own portfolio when these opportunities arise. We encourage tenants to accept relocation opportunities that suit their needs when they become available – these offers are optional, and all tenants may choose to remain at Alma Blackwell until the end of the Four Month Notice to End Tenancy if they wish to do so. We are not permitted to issue tenants a Four Month Notice to End Tenancy until our Development and Building Permits are approved by the City, and the City will not approve these permits until we meet the requirements of the [City’s] Tenant Relocation Protection Policy (TRPP), including finding alternative accommodation for all eligible tenants.”

They anticipate holding a Tenants’ Meeting as soon as they have the TRPP specialist in place in order to discuss further details.

So, it looks as though the concerned tenants have some breathing room at least, and perhaps have time to persuade ENF that demolition of the current building is not the best solution. Just as important, ENF is now very aware, if they were not before, that both the tenants and the community as a whole will be watching developments with a keen interest.

The Killing of Alma Blackwell

September 14, 2021

In the early 1980s, a small group of women decided they needed a safe affordable place to live and to develop a community for women and their children. To achieve their ends, they established a Housing Society called “Entre Nous Femmes” which eventually built and developed the 46-unit Alma Blackwell housing project at 1656 Adanac Street, named after the grandmother of one of the group’s founders.

Alma Blackwell rapidly became the community the founders hoped for. Many women in need and their children lived in the housing project, often for decades. It has continued to thrive as a community and its success created the ability for the Housing Society to build more and more similar projects until today, ENF has eleven buildings in Vancouver.

Although not legally structured as a co-op, the ENF project operated within that milieu: the residents helped build and maintain the buildings, and controlled the Society. However, as the years passed, the governance became more and more removed from the residents, more distant, until today the residents are not only not allowed to be directors of the society, and are routinely refused access to the Society’s minutes, they even find it difficult to find out who is a director of their Society.

That change in governance has been matched by the recent unwillingness of the Society to maintain the property in a fit and livable manner. Moreover, a number of vacancies have occurred over the last couple of years which the Society has seen fit not to fill — even while the City suffers its worst ever housing crisis. This led to suspicions that something big was afoot — but the Society would not explain to the residents except to suggest that the Society did not have the funds needed to keep the building in good repair. When asked for details of the repair costs, the Society refused to respond to residents’ requests.

In April this year, Vancouver City Council approved a motion that doubled the height of buildings allowed in certain zones, including the RM-3A zone in which Alma Blackwell sits. Almost immediately thereafter, plans to demolish Alma Blackwell and replace it with a much larger building were bruited and the residents were given, by a consultant hired by the Society, an unofficial official eviction notice.

Since that time, the Society has essentially refused to speak with the residents except to pressure several of them to accept relocation to other facilities. The Society has no formal Tenant Relocation Plan, is not offering any compensation, and in at least one case offered a resident a mere 24 hours to decide whether she and her child would move from the their decades-long home and move to another building, the details of which were not disclosed.

This story, and plenty of others, were movingly told by Alma Blackwell residents at last night’s Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) meeting. All the talk was about how great a community had been fostered at Alma Blackwell; people have lived there long enough to have children and grandchildren. They are a close-knit family-like community with good and close ties to the rest of the neighbourhood. Many of the residents are teachers at Britannia.

It seemed a unanimous opinion of the large gathering at the meeting that it is simply ridiculous to destroy a perfectly good low-income community just to build a larger facility that will have to start from scratch once again after a gap of who-knows-how-many years. It is pointless from a neighbourhood point of view, and it is highly destructive to the current residents, families who have spent years developing and nurturing that community.

Councillor Jean Swanson attended the meeting and will be asking a number of questions of staff. However, she was pessimistic about the chances of reversing the course of this development, given the current majority on Council and the previously-approved zoning adjustment. No matter. The wider Grandview community needs to speak up about this, and I hope we can speak so loudly that we cannot be ignored.

The Future of Affordable Housing in Grandview

September 8, 2021

Changes Update

September 1, 2021

After posting the most recent Changes post, I learned that Spade Coffee at 1858 Commercial has also closed permanently. They had one of the most evocative websites.

That means we have 21 vacant storefronts this month rather than the 20 shown previously.

Changes On The Drive #121

September 1, 2021

I’ll begin this month’s edition with an overview of the Drive from the Seattle Times by Brendan Kelly last week:

“At first, this neighborhood will confuse you with its pleasantly startling mix of cuisines, ethnicities and income brackets — that’s a good thing. In just a few blocks, you’ll pass places advertising injera, sushi, tandoori, mezcal, Italian coffee, samosas, Cuban sandwiches and Vietnamese food both upscale and down-home. Upscale pet accessory stores live next to well-worn used bookshops; some people on the street look like they have a lot of money, others look like they don’t have much. Andy Yan, an urban planner with Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, says this coexistence is explained by gentrification in slow motion. Commercial Drive was an Italian stronghold, then a multiethnic neighborhood, and is now attracting the “bobos” (bourgeois bohemians).”

Well, that’s us all over, isn’t it? In the meanwhile, it was the perfect day for the walk this morning; my kind of weather.

My southern Drive correspondent advises me that City Avenue is expanding south and north. I have noted for the last couple of months that they are displaying their produce in front of what was a Cash Exchange office at 2283 Commercial. I’m told they will also be taking over the old restaurant space at 2277.

Tangent Cafe, 2095 Commercial, Cafe Deux Soleils at 2096 Commercial, and Prado at 1938 Commercial all get good reviews in I Live In East Vancouver‘s brunches on the Drive.

My correspondent also tells me that Frank of Frank’s Jewelers, 1937 Commercial, has died, but that his wife may try to keep the shop going.

The Del Ray barbershop at 1798 E. 4th gets a shout out in the Hive’s list of Vancouver’s Best Barbershops.

What used to be LaLa’s at 1748 Commercial is still vacant but there is a sign saying that Cob’s Bakery will be opening soon. That is interesting on a couple of levels: first, we have a large number of bakeries on the Drive already; second, we used to have a Cob’s here and it closed more than a decade ago.

Note that J,N,Z at 1729 Commercial is closed for their summer vacation.

Another of the great brunches on the Drive is Mezcaleria at 1622 Commercial.

The new Loula’s Tavern at 1608 Commercial gets another review.

Exposure Home at 1616 Commercial is closing out.

My personal favourite, the Dime at 1565 Commercial, makes it onto the list of best brunches on the Drive.

The Vietnamese cafe Merci Beaucoup at 1468 got a great review on one of the local message boards: “The Pho broth is probably the best I have ever tasted… and I’ve tasted a lot! Banh Mi is so fresh! If you haven’t tried it yet you don’t what you’re missing!”

The Community Cash store at 1340 Commercial has closed, now dealing online only.

Havana at 1212 Commercial also gets a high five in brunches on the Drive.

The Arcane Tattoo Parlour at 1111 Commercial has finally closed, moved to East Hastings.

The DownLow Chicken Shack at 905 Commercial has proven so popular, they are opening a new location at UBC.

Vacancies on the Drive this month: 

2283 Commercial (9 months vacant), 2277 (26 months), 2247 (3 months), 2223 (30 months), 2111 (16 months), 2057 (9 months), 1983 (3 months), 1816 (16 months), 1748 (13 months), 1733 (12 months), 1728 (16 months), 1678 (12 months), 1503 (8 months), 1305 (16 months), 1303 (2 months), 1301 (11 months), 1191 (4 months), 1126 (3 months), 1111 (1 month), 902 (11 months).

Previous Changes On The Drive editions.

An Italian Day — Of Sorts

August 14, 2021

For two years now, the pandemic has removed Italian Day from our June calendar to our great loss. But now that we are beginning to re-open, the Italian Day Festival Society and the Commercial Drive Business Society are sponsoring a day of music and fun at the pop-up plaza at Grant & Commercial next Sunday.

Should be great fun!

Homicide in Grandview Park

August 7, 2021

In the middle of the afternoon on Thursday, a 60-year old long-term resident of William Street, Gilles Hebert, was assaulted and killed in Grandview Park. He and his partner are folks I have known for a long time.

The incident occurred at 1:30pm on a bright sunny day when dozens of passers-by must have been on the Drive, at the Park, or on Charles and William Streets. The police have apparently arrested a 39-year old man but they would obviously welcome any information that the public can give.

Anyone with information is asked to call VPD’s Homicide Unit at 604-717-2500 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-tips.


Update 8/13: I decided to change the title of this post from “murder” to “homicide”.

Changes On The Drive #120

August 1, 2021

As the title states, this is the one hundred & twentieth edition of Changes — one each month for the last ten years. Taking a quick look back through those posts, I am amazed at how much change has happened in the relatively compact stretch of fourteen short blocks from Venables to N. Grandview Highway that is the world of Changes. Unfortunately, this may be one of the least interesting editions as there are very few changes since the last post.

It sure was humid yesterday when I did the walk, though fortunately not nearly as hot as I had expected.

I have noted over the last few months the significant growth in the number of patios on the sidewalk. Most of them make a good deal of sense, but the brand new one outside the bowling lanes seems oddly placed as there is only a small snack bar inside and no other restaurants nearby.

The one new opening this month is Loula’s Taverna at 1608 Commercial. There is a good piece on the new place, and something odd about the bathroom here.

Image: Loula’s

There is a long advertorial about the Tandoori Palace‘s 20th anniversary at 1434 Commercial.

The Little Earth toy store at 1020 Commercial has a smart new sign.

Vacancies on the Drive this month: 

2283 Commercial (8 months vacant), 2277 (25 months), 2247 (2 months), 2223 (29 months), 2111 (15 months), 2057 (8 months), 1983 (2 months), 1816 (15 months), 1748 (12 months), 1733 (11 months), 1728 (15 months), 1678 (11 months), 1503 (7 months), 1305 (15 months), 1303 (1 month), 1301 (10 months), 1191 (3 months), 1126 (2 months), 902 (10 months).

As the graphs show, Commercial Drive is still deep into a pandemic slowdown. However, we are in far better shape that commercial streets in the UK where one in seven shops are now vacant: One in seven shops now vacant across the UK | Retail industry | The Guardian

Previous Changes On The Drive editions.

Britannia Plaza Market

July 8, 2021

It is a great idea to have a sort of farmer’s market at Britannia. And it is on right now, today, until 7:00pm. Then they will be back for the following few Thursdays. Good stuff!

Changes On The Drive #119

July 1, 2021

Well, I can really appreciate the fact that the heat dome moved east overnight; I doubt I could have managed the walk in the temperatures of the last couple of days. Even at this more “tolerable” level, I was struggling. I was surprised at the number of businesses that had remained closed because of the heat.

On the walk today, I noticed an ever-growing number of street-side patios. They have been growing apace recently but this month sees them outside the Portuguese Club, Sula, Kulinyara, Bombay Kitchen, Absinthe, and others. Now that these seem to be a permanent fixture, I was wondering how that will affect Italian Day and Car Free Day when cafes have brought their cooking skills into the street. I like the change a lot.

The former restaurant at 2277 Commercial is still vacant after two years. The change this month is that the hopeful stickers that have for about a year announced a new café to open soon have been taken down and replaced by the always-attractive brown paper. Not sure yet if that is a good or bad sign.

Poke 5, at 2247 Commercial, has closed, as has the Dollar Plus Store at 1983 Commercial.

The new Sal y Limon at 1752 Commercial gets a quick review in the Daily Hive.

Loula’s — the new Greek concept at 1610 Commercial brought to us by a group of local restaurateurs: Petro and Yianni Kerasiotis (Nammos Estiatorio on Fraser), Bill and Niko Kerasiotis and Marco Mirisklavos (Sopra Sotto), and John Pavlakis (Minerva’s on W. 41st) — has not yet opened, but I suspect we are just days away from that event.

Sopra Sotto at 1510 Commercial makes the list of the best pizza places to visit.

The former Beckwoman’s store at 1314 Commercial has for a few months now been operating as a fashion boutique. However, its long term future appears to be as yet another cannabis dispensary.

Havana at 1212 Commercial gets another shout out for best brunch.

Next door, the small storefront at 1206 Commercial, which has been a pop-up outlet for a while, is now the new home of Manifesto Hair salon which has moved from its long-time spot at 1126 Commercial. I wish them great success at their new location.

Kin Kao at 903 Commercial has announced it will be opening a new Vancouver location. The concept will be setting up shop at 317 E Broadway (the former location of The Black Lodge) this summer, according to its social media accounts.

I noticed a sign in the window of Bump n’Grind at 916 Commercial that they are under new management. I hope they do well.

Finally, and just outside my normal location range, we now have a Bunny Cafe. Just around the corner at 1696 Venables we have a space where you can go pet the rabbits!

Vacancies on the Drive this month: 

2283 Commercial (7 months vacant), 2277 (24 months), 2247 (1 month), 2223 (28 months), 2111 (14 months), 2057 (7 months), 1983 (1 month), 1816 (14 months), 1748 (11 months), 1733 (10 months), 1728 (14 months), 1678 (10 months), 1608-12 (18 months), 1503 (6 months), 1305 (15 months), 1301 (9 months), 1191 (2 months), 1126 (1 month), 902 (9 months).

Previous Changes On The Drive editions.

GWAC and Urban Critters

June 30, 2021

This month’s ZOOM meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) is at 7:00pm on Monday, 5th July. The main topic this month is urban critters — rats, and such — and how we can cope with them.

Special guest, Dr. Kaylee Byers will speak about the Vancouver Rat Project, Canada’s first interdisciplinary program of research which studies urban rats, the risks they pose to human health, and how we can better manage and live with them. Bring your questions.

Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 889 2493 9957, Passcode: 105840

I am sure there will also be questions about our diverse urban menagerie including skunks, squirrels, raccoons, etc.

Last year and winter, our patio was awash with rats, and nothing seemed to keep them away. This year, I have seen no signs of them at all. Last year, we had a small family of raccoons (Mom, Pop, junior) come visit every evening. This year, just junior seems to be around. I’d be interested to know the reasons behind these ebbs and flows.

In Memoriam: Frank & Danse

June 23, 2021

There was a great turnout for the memorial gathering in Grandview Park this evening for the late brothers, Frank and Danse Williams. We had drumming and singing and a few short speeches from members of the family. I suspect the celebration will go on late into the evening.

They will be missed by many.

Memorial Gathering for Frank & Danse

June 23, 2021

Just a reminder that there will be a gathering to remember the lives of Frank & Danse Williams at 5:30 this evening at Grandview Park.

Here is an older YouTube piece about their carving work:

Antiques Roadshow On The Drive

June 22, 2021

On Saturday evening (26th June), a group called Looking For Friends will be holding a show at Havana Theatre, 1212 Commercial, called Something Like The Antiques Roadshow.

According to ILiveinEastVan: “Hosts Jake and Carson are doing their own Covid safe interactive improv show that is their take on the Antique Roadshow. They will be evaluating your items on stage so feel free to bring something fun. This is an all ages event,” and is designed to be fun.

The show starts at 9:30pm and entry is $15. The few tickets left can be purchased through Showpass.

Housing On The Britannia Site

June 16, 2021

As regular readers will be aware, we have been discussing for a decade the possibility of putting low-income housing on the Britannia Community Centre site when it is renewed. There is a very clear division of opinion in the neighbourhood about whether housing should be on the site at all and, if there is to be housing, how many units can be accommodated.

As I say, we have been discussing this for about a decade and the City of Vancouver are now offering yet another chance for the public to give their opinion.

Whether you are for or against housing on the site, I hope as many residents as possible take the chance to share their views in this way

Important Date for the Calendar

June 15, 2021

I wrote earlier about the deaths of Frank and Danse Williams, whom many of us knew from Commercial Drive. I have been cheered by the comments on my blog and elsewhere that have celebrated their lives.

My understanding is that a memorial to them will take place at Grandview Park on Wednesday 23rd June at 5:30pm. I hope that a good crowd makes it a fine evening and a fitting celebration.

Last Day for Poke on the Drive

June 14, 2021

Poke 5, at 2247 Commercial, is closing for good tomorrow night.

They were here for about three years and I never tried them, to be honest. They blame the pandemic for the closure.

It is unfortunate they are closing now just while other veterans and new places are beginning to re-open on the Drive.

Library Fines Forgiven!

June 12, 2021

I happen to think that a free and accessible public library system is one of the highpoints of modern life. But did you know that more than 70,000 Vancouverites are blocked from using our fabulous library and its services because they have outstanding fines exceeding $10? And that most of those 70,000 live in DTES, Strathcona, and Grandview?

Starting on Monday 14th June, and for two weeks thereafter, VPL will clear any outstanding fines and reactivate your library card—available to anyone, for any reason:

We want to offer people a fresh start by removing fines and fees from their library card. Fines create negative experiences for both our community and staff, and discourage individuals and families from using the library. By removing outstanding fines on Vancouver Public Library cards, we hope to reconnect people with their library and the collections and services they love and need to succeed.

People wanting to take advantage of this offer should go to their local branch, or go online to, or call 604.331.3670

GWAC and TMH: A Report

June 8, 2021

I attended the GWAC ZOOM meeting last night which featured a long discussion about Temporary Modular Housing (TMH) in general and the new building at 1580 Vernon in particular.

The meeting began with an overview of TMH in Vancouver by Steve Bohus. It was a very useful review and was applauded by Lisa Jimenez, a CoV planner.

The meeting was then turned over to Julie Roberts and Robbie Moza of Community Buildings Group (CBG) who are in charge of operating the new building which is scheduled to open in July. CBG operates a number of low-barrier homeless shelters in Vancouver, along with two TMH projects, one in Marpole which has operated very successfully for three years, and another at Naomi House which opened earlier this year.

The new TMH at 1580 Vernon will include 98 housing units, along with a community kitchen, common areas, and office space. Each of the housing units is roughly 250 sq.ft. and includes a private bathroom and a small kitchen area. Ms. Roberts played a short but enlightening video of the TMH at Naomi House which illustrated the kind of housing units that will be available.

CHG is currently working with BC Housing to select the first tenants who will be offered space at Vernon. There is an attempt to prioritize local homeless.

CHG also creates what they call a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) from the local residential community. The CAC is designed to help integrate the TMH within the local neighbourhood. In the case of 1580 Vernon, there are no residences within three blocks of the building and so the CAC will probably be peopled by the businesses that are close by.

CHG noted that there were significant community concerns before the Marpole before the TMH was opened. However, after three years of operation, there now seems to be good acceptance of the building and its residents.

I found the presentation and the discussion to be extremely valuable. I have been a strong supporter of this development, and the proposal for 1st and Clark, and I hope that this presentation helped soothed some of the concerns people may have.

It was good to see CoV Planning and BC Housing staff, along with Councillor Jean Swanson and two BIA executives, join in with the GWAC meeting.

R.I.P. Frank & Danse

June 5, 2021

Two of the Drive’s most colourful characters are now both lost to us.

Frank, on the right, and Danse, on the left, have been habitueès of the Drive for as long as I can recall, sometimes carving wood and sometimes just begging. They had several pitches but most of the time they had a spot outside Home Hardware at Graveley.

I found them a cheerful pair, always willing to chat. Danse could be a bit loud on the bus, but in a happy way; proudly announcing with his big grin that no-one had to bow to him as he passed.

A few years ago, they moved back to small-town Alberta, which they hated, and they soon returned to the friendlier streets of Grandview. Their support network included folks at Home Hardware, Tim Horton’s, and the Dime, and I suspect many others too.

Now, they are both gone. Frank died a few weeks ago and I heard this week that Danse had died in intensive care on 27 May. They will be missed.

I understand that their sister is coming up from San Diego for a celebration of their lives on 20 June in Grandview Park. I also hear that Home Hardware will be erecting a plaque in their memory on their wall.