Vancouver: Not So Down

The appeal of the Downtown Eastside

Vancouver, Downtown Eastside / Photograph by Keetja Allard

I check into the Balmoral Hotel on the first day of summer. The lobby is tiny and hot and swarming with flies. “Are you staying a day or a month? ” asks the receptionist through a slot in the Plexiglas. “A month,” I reply, and he begins to fill out the registration. While he writes, I read the house rules: “Guests allowed upstairs with two pieces of ID. No guests after 6 p.m. No throwing things out the windows. No smoking in the elevator…”

“I hand the receptionist $380, and he hesitates with my change. “$375, right? ” He responds by pushing $5 through the slot. I shove the bill deep into my pocket alongside my last $130, the remainder of a month’s welfare stipend at the time, and my budget for my time here.

Two steps and I’m in the elevator, squeezed in beside an old man. We’re both bound for the seventh floor. He smokes a hand-rolled cigarette on the way, a flouting of the rules that thankfully masks the stench of the urine-steeped linoleum. “Seventh heaven,” he mumbles when the elevator jerks to a halt. I let out a nervous laugh. The corridor looks anything but heavenly.

I jiggle open the sticky lock on my door and feel some relief. The window is bare, and the bed squeaks at a mere glance, but it won’t be bad as long as I keep my shoes on. Someone has even decorated: five hot rod posters are pasted to the walls. I run water in the sink and adjust the shard of mirror to my height. After unpacking my two-burner stove, I make myself a cup of tea. Then I put my shoulder into the wooden frame, forcing the window open.

Vancouver is a young city with a young skyline. My view, however, is of its history, bathed golden in the setting sun. Across from me are the Carnegie Centre and the Roosevelt Hotel, two century-old buildings of brick and stone. The Carnegie was once a library, then a museum, then it was boarded up, and now it serves as a community centre. The Roosevelt was long ago converted from a hotel into single-room occupancy (sro) housing. Curtains blow out from the windows, and I notice that others, too, are watching the street from above.

There’s plenty to see: rooftop birds nesting, Chinese men playing cards in a den above an abandoned grocery, and crack and heroin being bought and used in the alley between the Carnegie and the Roosevelt. The “Lane of Shame,” as the police call it, is part of a maze of sidewalks, back streets, and parks that make up the area’s open-air drug market.

The drugs, however, are only one dimension of the Downtown Eastside that interests me. There are many dimensions, and above all there is the whole — the community — and the degree of disconnect between the people who live here and the world beyond its fifteen-block radius. Scores of journalists have exposed the troubles here, and an army of politicians, academics, social workers, activists, clergy, and police have attempted to address them. Some fifty charitable organizations work the dtes, tending to its approximately 8,000 low-income residents (half the area’s population). The Downtown Eastside remains wild and depressed in many ways, but not for want of trying.

The cornerstone at the base of the portico at the Carnegie Centre reads March 29, 1902. Since then, the building and its inhabitants have witnessed constant change, documenting and even mythologizing the neighbourhood over the years. In the lobby, situated on a wall amid numerous missing-person posters, hangs a timeline of the area. It begins at a peculiar spot: “25,000 years ago, the weight of a giant ice sheet, one mile thick, pressed the Downtown Eastside 1,000 feet under sea level.” Over millennia, the ice receded until “11,000 years ago, the dtes slowly rebounded from the sea.

“I smoke a cigarette on the veranda, use the courtesy phone to check in with my wife, and wind up in the library. There, a very pregnant woman shuffles about with an armload of books. Dark-rimmed glasses, pulled-back hair — the librarian, no doubt.”

These are full of stories on the Downtown Eastside,” she is soon telling me, standing before two filing cabinets. “You might need this to sort through them.” The list of headings she hands me runs eight pages, headings divided into subheadings. I could conceivably spend my entire stay in the dtes in a corner of the Carnegie Centre’s reading room, whose high ceilings and stained glass windows lend it the fedora-and-greatcoat feel of bygone times. Indeed, the media’s fascination with the area goes back many decades, to when the city’s three dailies were all located here.

I take the thick “2000+” file to a table by the window. At first, it’s hard to concentrate. Below, in the Lane of Shame, two guys are arguing about dope. Then someone yells, “Six-up!” and a siren squawks.

The headlines from the past few years were a curious blend of misery and hope: “How Much Longer Do We Have to Live in Fear? ” “Fed-up Merchants Tell City to Arrest Junkies,” “New Hopes for Pigeon Park Take Flight,” “Vancouver’s Future Rising in the East.” Much of the hope resided in getting away from what some termed the “poverty industrial complex” by developing the area. With the downtown core all but built out, gentrification was underway. Cocktail lounges and art galleries were cropping up around such seedy locales as Pigeon Park, and condos were going into the once-boarded-up Woodward’s building. Corporate and government money was pouring into the area. Everyone, it seemed, was taking a saintly stab at the Eastside’s troubles, whether in the form of grand plans from above (“Can the Olympics Help Turn Around This Neighbourhood?”) or innovations from below (“Spa Gives Poor Women New Look, New Attitude” ).

I hear horseshoes echoing in the alley. Gendarmes on horseback; vaulted ceilings and stained glass; articles about rat infestations, epidemics, illiteracy, and human and animal feces piling up in the alleys. For an instant, my surroundings take on a rather medieval air.

Medieval the surroundings may be, but that didn’t mean Eastsiders were thrilled about the approaching enlightenment (“Kerfoot’s Plan Spells Ethnic Cleansing,” read the headline above one story, about a local developer’s desire to build a soccer stadium). This is the rub of the Downtown Eastside: some find life better here than elsewhere. Add them to those who have known little but the life they’ve made here and those who simply don’t fit in anywhere else, and you have a place with a certain magnetism.

The boxing club in the basement of the Astoria Hotel is often left unlocked during the day. You simply go to the back of the building’s street-level beer and wine store on East Hastings and disappear down the stairs. As long as the cashier recognizes you as a boxer, you can enter anytime and train. In the forest green gym, guys skip rope next to crates of empties, and water drips from the ceiling. Some of the province’s best fighters have come from the Astoria — Eastside immigrant boys such as Olympian Manny Sobral and Commonwealth Games medallist Geronimo Bie.

Antonio Dos Santos is not of their calibre. He is, however, the best the club has to offer these days, and on a lazy afternoon I walk the ten blocks from my sro to the Astoria to watch him spar.

When I arrive, he’s suiting up. Unlike his opponent, he straps on the most cumbersome headgear, which makes his head appear too big for his body. I give him a thumbs-up, and the bell rings. The boxer closes in on his opponent.

Antonio, who is in his thirties, told me he left Angola a decade ago. His first walk on Canadian soil was through the dtes after arriving at the Port of Vancouver. The area has long been a clearinghouse for Canada. In the mid-nineteenth century came the first major wave of Anglos, then the Chinese, the Japanese, the Greeks, the Scandinavians, the Jews, the Eastern Europeans, the East Indians, the Italians, the Portuguese, the Chileans, the Vietnamese, and the Central Americans. They came mostly in waves, but sometimes, like Antonio, alone. Initially the draw was the neighbourhood’s proximity to jobs. Sawmills and canneries dotted the shore — suitable employers for those unfamiliar with the local language and customs. Though these industries have all but vacated, immigrants continue to arrive, lured by cheap rent and the concentration of social services.

Antonio’s Eastside story began when, after fighting rebels in Angola’s jungles for four years, he deserted the army and sneaked onto a freighter. Somewhere across the Atlantic, he said, he was discovered hiding in the engine room. “The Filipino sailors hate me, they beat me as a punching bag,” he tells me. “Then the Greek captain, he threaten to drop me in water and even had the Filipino guys prepare a raft with food. I was never so scared in life. All I see was ocean!” Antonio’s life was spared when the ship’s engineer intervened. The stowaway spent the rest of the voyage on half rations in a dark cabin.

When the ship docked in Vancouver, he was instructed to stay quiet and blend in with the crew. Captain, crew, and stowaway walked the short distance from the port to Main Street. There they started drinking, stumbling from strip bar to dive bar until everyone was drunk. “Suddenly I am alone — they go, and I had no money, no papers, nothing!”

For four days, he ate at soup kitchens and slept on the street. When he tried to improve his sleeping arrangements, trouble struck again. The shelter wanted identification, which he lacked. The authorities were called, and Antonio was taken away. He spent the next year in detention, he said.

He had boxed as a boy in Angola and took it up again in prison. But the real fighting wasn’t done with gloves. “I fought at least once in week. One time, I smash a guy’s face with my head,” he explained, pointing to a scar above his eyes. “They catched me, and put me in little room. But worse thing is when on the day of release from jail, they tell me I have thirty more days for fighting.”

Antonio didn’t return to society a reformed boxer, a Rocky Graziano ready to make good. Instead, he stayed in local shelters and sros and spent the next three years disillusioned and drunk. Then one day, he stumbled upon the Astoria.

The bell rings, and the coach asks Antonio if he wants to go another round. “Sure, man,” he says with a nod, and the coach waves out his opponent and sends in a fresh face — one not yet bloodied. The bell rings to commence round seven, and the two men come together. It is immediately obvious that Antonio is holding back. The opponent is a greenhorn, and the Angolan is not one to take advantage.

Antonio isn’t a hard puncher, but he throws fast and has tremendous endurance. He was the welterweight champion of British Columbia in 2005 and 2006. His heart, however, is no longer in the amateur game. Recently, he turned pro in an attempt to make some money while his body is still able.

Antonio likes the Eastside. Compared to the Angolan army, it is “amazing,” “a dream!” He dresses in the latest hip-hop fashions, has three decent jobs, and lives in one of the area’s newer co-op apartments. In this respect, the dtes has once again performed its historical function, dusting off a newcomer and affirming in his mind the idea of material progress.

“Don’t forget, now — not just a clove of garlic. Chop in an entire bulb.” I nod, but the grocer isn’t convinced I’ll get the sauce right. In felt pen, he writes the recipe on the top of a can. Then he draws a large knife from his apron. “Some Parmesan to go with it? ” he asks, ready to cut into the wheel of cheese beside the till. “Not today, Angelo.” He bags my groceries: spaghetti and two cans of tomatoes. The tomatoes are Angelo brand, native to the region of Italy from which the Tosi family originates.

The cluttered storefront of Tosi & Company, on Main Street just down from the Carnegie, first caught my eye because of its eclectic display, and because it wasn’t boarded up like so many shops in the dtes. I rapped on the door until I noticed a sign that read, “Ring and wait a minute.” This I did, until a buzzer sounded and the door clicked open. It was cool inside, high-ceilinged and stretching back to catacomb depths. The walls were lined to the roof with all things Italian: olive oil, bocce balls, pickled peppers, espresso makers, biscotti. Handwritten signs were everywhere. Around the doorknob: Back in 5 minutes — gone out for soup. Above the office door: Parking for Italians Only. By the till: In God we trust — as for the rest, it’s cash. Above a barrel of olives: Don’t Touch! — by order of the Health Department. A hello came from the shadows, and Angelo appeared. He was energetic and healthy looking, his white hair the only clue to his advanced age. As soon as he appeared, he disappeared. “Tosi!” he rasped into the telephone receiver, then spent five minutes reading back a food order that ended with an entire wheel of Parmesan. Half of Angelo’s current business is wholesale.

Peter Tosi, Angelo’s father, founded the grocery in 1906, shortly after the family arrived from Italy. Like the children of many a store owner, Angelo grew up on the shop floor, above which the family lived. He spent his childhood in an area then known simply as the East End. The Skid Row moniker would come some decades later, and still later the current designation, the Downtown Eastside. The East End boomed in the 1950s, with shoppers stopping in at Woodward’s for groceries and household items. Restaurants, theatres, and watering holes abounded, and deals were to be found on everything.

Tosi & Company is the oldest family-run business in the neighbourhood. Indeed, family is what has kept the business here. “On his deathbed, my father made me swear never to close the doors,” Angelo explains. And other than the door buzzer, little has changed since the family patriarch opened for business. The founder continues to greet customers from a picture frame behind the till.

Other businesses, not bound by blood, began to leave the Eastside one after another. In the ’50s and ’60s went the movie and live theatre houses; then in the ’70s and ’80s it was an exodus of banks and small retailers. Then in the ’90s, as the drug trade exploded, large retailers like Fields and Woodward’s pulled up stakes. Retail space was converted into charitable facilities and convenience stores catering to the needs of addicts, or was boarded up.

Why the businesses left is a point of contention. The obvious conclusion is that drugs and crime kept shoppers away, but some say this was the effect rather than the cause. The Carnegie Community Action Project, for example, has argued that the proliferation of malls and box stores, along with cuts to social programs — and not the drug trade — gutted the once-vibrant commercial district. Drugs took over the streets only after the businesses had left.

Among the recent initiatives to bring business back to the area is a restoration of the Golden Harvest Theatre, a few blocks down from Tosi & Company. William Vince, a producer of the film Capote, spearheaded the project by buying the abandoned theatre in March 2004.”Don’t know anything about it,” says Angelo. He doesn’t bother much with what goes on outside his storefront. “What’s crack look like, anyway? ” he asked me once. “Yellowish and hard,” I replied. “Like Parmesan.” His forehead wrinkled beneath his toque. “Oh? “But Angelo knows his customers and his products well. “Of course I know Bianco!” he says, laughing, when I mention the Italian jeweller who made my wife’s engagement ring. “Cid’s shop used to be down the street from mine. He moved a while ago. Now he doesn’t have time to come over — too busy! He gets a friend to pick up his tomatoes. Cid’s stomach can only handle my tomatoes.

“I say goodbye, take my groceries, and head for East Hastings. As I walk, I count in my head. In the four blocks between Main and Cambie stand four empty lots and forty-eight vacant storefronts.

Friday afternoon, and the sidewalk is crammed with addicts sucking on lollipops. A preacher has come and gone with a sack of candy and prayer pamphlets, and now the pamphlets are underfoot and the candy drips from dozens of gaping mouths. At this busy crossroads, a block away from police headquarters and before thousands of passing eyes, stands a knot of addicts so thick pedestrians are forced onto the street. An orchestra of blackened pipes fills the air with an acrid sweetness.

In 2006, the Vancouver police declared a zero-tolerance policy on public drug consumption. People fixing up or smoking in plain view were arrested. The argument went that parts of the Eastside were out of control, but at the worst of times, the situation couldn’t have been worse than this. For a week straight, I’ve spent my afternoons watching the corner of Hastings and Main. A pattern has developed that even by the infamous standards of this intersection is hard to believe.

On this day, a small group of users smoke and doze beneath the leafy boughs that stretch out from the Carnegie veranda. Minutes before noon, a young, sharp-featured Southeast Asian dealer struts across Main Street, sentries and mules in tow. The sentries take up positions to watch for cops; the mules and dealer proceed to the shade. “A $10 rock to clean up!” the dealer shouts. Someone springs into action, using palms and shirtsleeves to clear the pavement of last night’s filth. Then the addicts are treated to some greasy takeout.

The dealer grins as the food is parcelled out. “Gimme the rock,” he says to a mule. The woman pulls a large cake from her sock. Eyes widen and lips narrow as he works the cake with a long pinky nail. The first rock he breaks off he gives to the woman. She immediately plugs it into a pipe and lights up.

Suddenly addicts appear from everywhere — on foot, on bicycles, a few in wheelchairs and in cabs. The dealer finds himself encircled, layers deep. From the crowded veranda where I sit, the scene looks like an overturned Ferris wheel. At its hub is the dealer, with his cake and a stack of lottery forms. Into the forms he breaks off individual rocks, $5 a ride. The money comes in all denominations, from all types. From whites, blacks, and aboriginals, some of whom are young, with muscles still visible, some of whom are young and covered in sores. There are older ones, too, covered in sores but without teeth, and other older ones who don’t look like users but still use, or who don’t use but buy the crack to extract special favours from the pale-legged prostitutes.

The addicts get on and off every fifteen minutes or so, and the dealer turns the wheel from noon to night. The dealer has reappeared. The first thing he does is replace sentries who failed him. Walkie-talkies are swapped. One of the sentries pleads miserably for his old job. I recognize him as a man who was hired on Monday and celebrated his new job by piercing his ear with a discarded syringe.”

When you get your shit, fuck off. Don’t smoke it here!” instructs the dealer. “I want all of you to stay low when you’re buying. I want to see over your heads.” Some of his supplicants drop into rice paddy squats. “Now who wants rock? ” he shouts, as though he were a street hawker selling opiates in the old East End.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, underground “vice dens” flourished throughout nearby Chinatown, the site of at least two legal opium factories. The Opium Narcotic Act of 1908 prohibited the import, manufacture, and sale of opiates for non-medicinal purposes in Canada, and soon afterwards Vancouver began to address its growing drug problem. In 1917, police chief Malcolm MacLennan, an early advocate of medical treatment for addicts, was murdered by a dealer. As the decades passed and drugs became more abundant and varied, strategies to cope with the problem diversified.

On the corner of Hastings and Main, they’ve tried just about everything. For most of 2003, the police managed to shut down the area’s drug trade, but only by posting an officer on each corner 24-7. When the vigil stopped, the city-funded Carnegie Centre took its own measures, spending about $600,000 to make its periphery less friendly to drug deals. Additional lighting was added, walls were torn down, and a veranda was built. Insite, the safe injection site, took much of the heroin action out of the Lane of Shame.

New strategies and proposals are always in the works. There has been talk of a safe facility for smoking crack and a street-wide network of police surveillance cameras. With the Olympics coming to Vancouver in 2010, efforts to clean up the Eastside’s drug problem will surely redouble.

I return to the spot the following afternoon. The patch of shade next to the veranda is empty. Has the dealer been arrested? Has he run out of crack? Does he take weekends off? The pavement is clean and wet. No one is shouting on the pay phone or doubled over the bike racks. For the first time in days, this street corner looks like any other in the city.

“Not here!” a woman yells at an addict who is about to sit down and light up. She gives the pavement a couple of unwelcoming blasts with her hose, and he shuffles off. She lights a Colt cigar and takes a break. The woman, Julie Scott, keeps the pavement tidy and wet until the sun goes down. Then she unchains her Thermos from a post, rolls up the hose and takes off her name tag. For years, she and her husband, Jim, have been employed by the city to keep the nearby underground public toilets clean. “We’ve seen it all down there,” she says.

One Friday night, I make my way down to Potter’s Place Mission. I pass the safe injection site, more boarded-up shops, a pawnshop, a gauntlet of people selling porn mags and records, a rat the size of a cat, a junkie shooting dope into the neck of another, two mounted policemen, and a queue of shopping carts heaped with empties. At last, I reach the mission and take a seat in a pew at the back.

Three young aboriginal men are jamming at the front. “God is sounding better every day!” says a man seated a few pews from mine, laughing. An hour remains before the door to the street will be locked for the duration of tonight’s sermon. So far it is only me, the three musicians, the comedian, and a cat. The post-service dinner is being prepared for those who make it through the door before 9:30 p.m.

When the room is nearly full, one of the three aboriginals steps up to the pulpit. “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” he says. Then he takes off his ball cap and recites the Lord’s Prayer. Some in the front pews mumble along. One man has his shoes off; another is stretched out on a pew, asleep.

Peter Gurney is a pastor-in-training, and tonight has his work cut out for him. After reciting the prayer, the squat, tank-top-wearing protégé starts up with a gospel hymn: “This is the day that the Lord has made / I will rejoice and be glad in it.”

All goes well until a donated box of baked goods appears by the entrance. Suddenly no one is singing, because everyone is eating. The pastor chooses a snappier number, puts the lyrics on the overhead projector, and starts afresh. The wrapper rustling continues.

Gurney solos for a few bars before switching again. “Trading My Sorrows” is the new selection, and he is about a quarter of the way through it when a man jumps into the aisle and screams the lyrics back at him. The pastor has had enough. He grabs the drunk by the arm and escorts him to the door. At one point, they nearly come to blows. By the time they reach the door, however, the man is apologizing. His escort is forgiving. Had diplomacy failed, Gurney’s chipped tooth and scarred nose suggest the ability to resort to other means.

Pastor Allan of the Native Pentecostal Church presides over the remainder of the service. “Happy Canada Day!” he says as he takes over the pulpit.”

Fuck Canada Day! Are you going to talk about what the white man has done to us? ” one man responds. “Yes,” replies the pastor, “later I’ll be talking a little about the white man.” This catches the attention of some of the tattooed whites at the back. “White man! Hey, that’s racist!” yells one. Is this heading toward a race riot, I wonder? Pastor Allan steers us clear of this one. He begins to read softly from John: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.”

The congregation is hardly more respectful of Pastor Allan than it was of his opening act, though some do drop their meagre pennies into the collection plate. The grumbling starts to build at the back as the clock approaches 10 p.m. “Hey, it’s time to eat!” exclaims a man who has only recently woken up. “Yeah, let’s have that food!” adds another. For him, it no longer suffices to spit muffin chunks onto floor and violently clear his nose. He stamps down the aisle to check the clock. “Time’s up, Pastor, you’re five minutes over. Where’s the food? ” he says. The pastor tries to preach through the growing unrest. “Come on, I can’t take this anymore! It’s torture! Shut up or I’ll beat your head in!”
45The pastor pauses at this. “I pray that the poor person back there receives the spirit of the Lord!”

“I don’t need Him — give us food!” is the man’s retort.

Within minutes, dinner is served. Clean-cut volunteers pass up and down the aisle with jugs of coffee and juice. “Please remain seated. We are here to serve you,” says a volunteer to one of the three women in attendance.

A cup is handed to the agitator. “Don’t put your finger in it!” he sneers. The volunteer eventually returns to clean up the man’s regurgitated remnants. “He was just frustrated,” the volunteer explains, hands full of gobby muffin. “We all get frustrated. As a Christian, one must be understanding and tolerant.” A true follower of the New Testament. I am left to ponder whether some would be better served by the Old.

Toward the end of my stay in the Eastside, the days begin to grow awfully long. Visits with my neighbour, Bob, an ex–carnival ride operator, lose their allure as his tales become repetitive, and the baby gulls I routinely watch from my window will soon take flight. It’s around this time that I begin to truly appreciate what the Carnegie means to this place.

Eastsiders affectionately call the Carnegie their living room. Each day they come to the community centre by the hundreds, for many reasons, but mainly to beat the monotony and loneliness of life in the dtes. A thirty-three-year-old man named Tyler was among those who frequented the Carnegie. He is dead now, and his photograph is tacked to the lobby bulletin board.

The Carnegie theatre is dark and warm. Candles burn at the front, and a flowered cloth wreath hangs from the ceiling. At the front are a bouquet and an easel holding a collage of photos of Tyler. Eighties rock ballads play softly. The folding chairs fill; some visitors line the walls. Most are middle aged or older.

The music skips. Someone turns it down, and a woman steps up to the front: “My name is Colleen, and I . . . and I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone.” Her eyes fill with tears. “I was always worried about Tyler, about his self-destructive side, but I didn’t expect this to happen.” She found out, she explains, as she stepped off the bus after an annual five-day camping trip for the Carnegie community. A sob from the back momentarily unnerves her.

“I’d like to set the record straight,” she resumes. “So far, there have been no signs of foul play. Tyler was found lying on his back, dead from a possible heart attack.” She says he was born with an extra blood vessel close to the brain and had a plate inserted in his head when he was eleven months old, which caused recurring migraines throughout his life. At twenty, he moved from Kitchener to the dtes.

Colleen first met Tyler after he came out of a coma brought on by an attempted suicide. The Carnegie became his sanctuary. He worked for Colleen as a volunteer in the Carnegie’s kitchen, reception area, and computer room. He learned skills and made friends among the hundreds of other volunteers, all of whom work for cafeteria vouchers. Colleen found jobs for Tyler, but he never kept them very long. He had a bad temper and a drinking problem. Life beyond the Carnegie just didn’t work out.

“He was basically a good guy with a few flaws, who desired so much to be normal,” Colleen summarizes.

One after another, people come to the front to speak. A man sings “Amazing Grace” in a deep voice. As he finishes, a woman behind me remarks to another, “It’s good to know that if I get hit by a truck tomorrow, they’ll do something like this for me. God knows, my family wouldn’t bother.

“Colleen circulates a memory book, to be sent to Tyler’s mother in Kitchener. A few days after the service, I notice it on the reception counter. I take it to the reading room and begin to flip through the pages.

We will miss you a lot especially at the Carnegie Dances! You are in a better, place now so behave!! I hope you, are at piece now!! — Tracy xoxo

My man! I’ll always remember the time you wore your half shirt and had no shame. I loved it. You told me! When you got it flant it! Shit brother! I’ll do that! — Alfie

Tyler talked about his visit home to his mom. She said she wouldn’t loan him her car and how smart she was not to!! Also when I came here, Tyler always bought me something to drink on Karaoke nights. I’m an old Lady who Tyler was nice too. I will miss him. — Kelly

Someone said Tyler was a good guy trying to be a bad guy!!

The memorial service, the book, and notice of a wake to follow lead me to romanticize a bit. The Eastside doesn’t seem to need the “community” sloganeering of corporations, charities, and governments to acknowledge itself. It simply is a community. People know each other by name; they shake hands. And though they sometimes fight, even the violence bespeaks some level of intimacy. Indeed, long-term residency in the dtes is significantly higher than in the rest of Vancouver. People plant roots and move less frequently. It’s very far from perfect, but there’s something on offer here. Cheap rent and drugs aren’t the sole draw.

“Hey, Jennie, where are you? I need my skirt back! — Terra,” reads a slip of paper on the message board, next to the missing-person posters, next to the Eastside timeline. Whoever had compiled the dates on the display had indeed been thorough. Not many neighbourhoods would bother to trace their past back into the last ice age. Then again, most neighbourhoods have no use for a founding myth. Heavily laden, but rising.

Peter Valing is an award-winning journalist who lives in East Vancouver.

ONLINE EXTRA: To read more about Bob, the former carnival ride operator, visit here…

Peter Valing