Vancouver Up To Its OLD Tricks

March 8, 2017

As a community activist one of the first things you learn is that the Vision dominated council is not interested in hearing from you. They don’t want to know what you have to say and it is assumed by many that their decisions on development projects and urban planning have been decided by them and their cronies well before any meaningful public input or response can be gathered.

In the not too distant past, at least, this elitist we-know-best attitude also permeated a number of important civic departments, especially planning. Their methodology shifted, over the course of a decade or more, from a bottom-up City Plan approach to a top-down EcoDensity insistence that those at the top can do the thinking for those at the bottom, i.e., the residents of the neighbourhood about to be pillaged and altered beyond recognition.

That’s the case today, and oddly enough, it was also the case in 1910. In that year, the engineering department wanted to radically alter the shape and appearance of Salsbury Drive (the details are not germane, but can be found here). However, as the “Vancouver World” reported, the residents were outraged:

“They protested. They signed petitions. They went down to city hall. They got a committee of the board of works to look over the situation again. It was all useless. Wilful board must have its way.”

And by that September, the “World” was able to say that the work had been a disaster and city taxpayers and property owners both will be on the hook for “more thousands than have already been spent” to fix.

Sound familiar?

Does it make me feel angry that residents have been messed around here for more than a hundred years, and therefore it is somehow “normal” in Vancouver? Or do I feel the cold dread that this will keep going on until the people of our city wake up and realise that Vision Vancouver is the developer’s plaything and not your friend?

Either way, things have to change.


What’s Happening By E. 2nd?

January 18, 2017

wonderbucks-1

For some months now we have been reporting that the Wonderbucks store at 1803 Commercial is about to close due to staggering rent increases.  The closing date is just a couple of weeks away now, and there are signs and rumours swirling around about how this is a much bigger development play than it seemed at first.

There are stories being told that a number of alternatives were suggested to the building owner, alternatives that would have increased his current revenue; but that he turned them all down. There are rumours that a deal with a major pharmacy chain fell through (as if the Drive needs more pharmacies!). Now, I’m being told, the tenants in the apartment block next to Wonderbucks have been handed eviction notices.

This begins to smell like a major land assembly operation going on here. It could just be a coincidence, I know, but history teaches that there are very few genuine coincidences.

When asked about an earlier development in a different block, City planner Andrew Pask assured me there were strict guidelines on assembly in Commercial Drive; and I am certain that a frontage stretching a full half-block would not fit within those guidelines. But who knows these days?

Both these buildings in that half-block have significance for the cultural history of the neighbourhood.   The wide single-storey structure occupied by Wonderbucks was built in 1924 by Alexander Fraser and his brothers to house their Crystal Dairy. The rear of the building housed stables for horses and sheds for their delivery wagons.  By the mid-1930s they were the largest independent dairy in Vancouver. On the Commercial Drive side, they ran a hugely popular milk and ice cream bar which was upgraded several times in the 1940s and early 1950s to compete with other youth spots in town.

Unfortunately, the economics of the dairy industry created a need for consolidation, The Fraser family sold out to Palm Dairy which in turn was swallowed up by Turner Dairies. The Commercial Drive operation was seen as surplus to requirements and was essentially shut down in 1952.  By 1955, the building was owned by the Acme Novelty Company also trading as Select Music Company, and they sold coin-operated equipment until 1968. After that, it was an Italian dance hall called the Melodi for a while, and by the mid-1970s it had became home to a succession of cheap produce stores. Now, it has been the delightful Wonderbucks for almost two decades.

Next door, at what is now the Salonika Restaurant on the ground floor and two stories of apartments above, we have a slightly longer history as the original building dates from 1912. However, the success rate for businesses was not high here and there was a rapid turnover, mostly of furniture stores. In 1928, Harry Hipwell bought out the owner of the Grandview Furniture Exchange and for the next twenty years, he and his family operated a furniture and, later, appliance store from this building. When they closed the branch in the 1950s, one “new and used furniture” store followed another into the space in quick succession.  The building was badly damaged by a storage fire in 1968 and was vacant for a few years. Eventually some Italian coffee bars moved in from the 1970s through the 1990s, and most recently, a Greek restaurant has taken up the storefront.

These cultural and social histories are important components of what make our community so interesting and special.  Some, like the Wonderbucks building, are important enough to fight to keep.


Driving Right-eously

January 1, 2017

Today is the 95th anniversary of the change in British Columbia from driving on the left side of the road to driving on the right.  I think quite a lot of Vancouver drivers are still learning about this.

 

driving-change

Vancouver World 1922 Jan 3, p.1


RIP, Fidel Castro. A Hero For Our Times

November 26, 2016

fidel-castro

Fidel Castro is dead and the world is so much emptier for that fact.

I didn’t support Castro’s politics (though much of it tended to be better than most — look at Cuba’s health care system, for example, a success against every barrier the US could throw against it), but I supported the bravery of standing up for fifty years to an imperialist Superpower that had missiles and a huge army less than a 100 miles away.

More than the military threat, the US for two whole generations attempted to destroy the Cuban economy and people by sheer economic terrorism. Luckily, the world would not stand for that, and even Canada never flinched from business and tourism with Cuba.

Whenever self-righteous Americans point to the wreckage of Cuba’s economy and the poverty of the people (compared, say, to most parts of the US), remind them that this was caused directly and deliberately by American leaders.

 


False Memory Syndrome

November 22, 2016

kennedy-and-johnson

Fifty-three years ago today, my mother and father visited their closest friends, Ron and Betty, who lived a few miles from us in West London. I was in the backseat of the small black car.  It smelled of leather and my parents’ cigarettes. I was sullen because I was just turned 14 years old and I had far better things to do than visit my parents’ old fogie friends to play cards.

I remember this all so clearly because, just as we pulled up outside Ron and Betty’s row house, the car radio broke off its normal programming and a solemn voice replaced the happy chatter.  The voice announced that President John F. Kennedy of the United States had been shot and probably killed.  I can still feel the goose-flesh that crawled over my skin. I remember the loud gasp as my father realized what had been said.  John Kennedy was one of my father’s heroes, and he was mine too. He was our hope for the future, and now he was dead. Nothing else about that evening do I remember. I’m sure my folks and their friends discussed the assassination, but that has passed from recall.

Within two years of that day, though, JFK had — in my eyes at least — fallen from the pedestal upon which his charisma, his beautiful family, and his martyrdom had placed him.  He was quickly revealed as just another centre-right US politician who was happy to send the boys to war, who was happy to squander the nation’s wealth on weapons and imperialism, who had no answer to segregation but brother Bobby’s federal agents.  We also learned (perhaps we always knew) he wasn’t quite such a great family man, either; that Camelot was an expensive sham.

Kennedy and his people lived in the tuxedoed world of High Society that was soon to be swept away by the real world of Soul on Ice and Revolver.  We might have hated that big Texas bully who followed Kennedy, but it was Kennedy not Johnson who pushed the US into South Vietnam, and it was Johnson not Kennedy who brought forward the Civil Rights Acts. Looking back, we can now see that both Kennedy and Johnson were equal participants in the cabaret that is America the Superpower. Unfortunately for the truth, Kennedy will always have the smile, the beautiful wife, the cute John-John and Caroline, while Johnson will always be pulling the ears off those damn beagles.


The Invasion of Grenada

October 25, 2016

On October 25, 1983, the United States invaded the tiny Caribbean nation of Grenada (“Operation Urgent Fury”).  The 1,500-strong Grenadian Army, along with 600 Cuban allies, were considered such a strategic threat to the Imperial Power that Ronnie Reagan sent in the Marines, lying through his teeth to his erstwhile ally Margaret Thatcher all the while.

Lest we forget:  opposition to the power will be crushed ruthlessly no matter how petty it makes the power look.


Happy 6,020th Birthday World!

October 23, 2016

According to the calculations of Archbishop Usher of Armargh, today is the earth’s birthday.  His calculations led him to believe that God created the world on October 23rd, 4004 BC.

Now, there are those who say his math is wrong, but let’s not quibble on our birthday!