The West End is perfectly situated. Surrounded by beaches, this residential neighbourhood offers a gradual transition from a classic downtown core to the vast city forest that is Stanley Park. Homes with character provide a calming sense of place amongst tree lined streets and it is rare to see the park benches that are scattered throughout the neighbourhood go unused. Highly inclusive, this is where Vancouver’s LGBT population congregates, and where many elderly residents find themselves at home.
There are some that have been living in this neighbourhood for decades and remember the days when condo developments weren’t replacing the mom and pop shops that are integral to daily life. This is their story.
Hailing from Hong Kong, Ambrose moved to Vancouver almost 30 years ago and has been a resident in the West End for 5 years. “This is the only area I want to live in. Not even downtown. It’s one of the few genuine neighbourhoods - very diverse and extremely welcoming. It’s what the planners call the big P: Proximity.”
As he sketches the character homes that have come to define this neighbourhood, he goes on: “I’m not against development, per say, but if it hurts the majority, something’s wrong. It seems like there’s an off balance. I mean housing is always a problem around the world and Vancouver is just repeating and copying the Hong Kong model. When I came here there was no pre-sale - it didn’t exist.”
Gladys Bevan and Mary Powell
Seated on a bench, this is the park where Gladys and Mary met 3 years ago. “ You know, [the West End] hasn’t really changed much in the last 13 years [that I’ve lived here], but now it is.” Gladys explains.
When asked how they feel about these changes: “Well hopefully we’ll have a positive influence on [new residents]. Because this is a really different neighbourhood. It’s full of people that talk to each other and dogs. We know every dog by name - hardly ever know the people’s names. We don’t want to see it change a whole lot.”
Mary adds “And we integrate the people into [the neighbourhood]. We accept them and welcome them.” Despite this welcoming nature, there is a very real problem in terms of accessibility: “I had a house in the suburbs and I sold it to move down here - that’s the only way I would have been able to do it. How do the young people get going in Vancouver? They don’t! I think it’s going to become a social problem if we don’t help the young people more than what we are.”
David has lived for 48 years in what is now heritage home preserved and upkept by its tenants. As a long term resident he has witnessed how the West End has evolved over time. He has noticed that whenever there has been turmoil or conflict in the world, waves of new people arrive in the West End. This includes the many Syrian refugees that were housed nearby in the 3 story walk ups that are now either gone or being torn down.
“Up until recently, I saw that all of the changes were positive [but now] all those people that lived in walk ups, they’re being evicted. They’re being replaced by towers. Everywhere.”
Although new builds are appearing at every corner, they are not affordable, especially not for the middle income and elderly residents who have called this neighbourhood home for many years.
“The only negative I find is that it’s just happening too quickly. A lot of [places] are being bought by offshore money so they’re not part of the community. The West End was always a community but now people are just snapping up apartments and then renting them out.”
In speaking to these residents, one thing is certain - they are open to change as long as it benefits the people who actually live in the neighbourhood. In fact, the West End has and will continue to evolve for years to come, but only time will tell how its character and spirit live on.
Words by Melissa Gagné
Photos by Olivia Sari-Goerlach
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