Dear younger friends, I will take you to a Vancouver you never knew! I was born in Quebec City and made my way very gradually to the “green city,” with a stop in Ontario for university studies, a quarter of a century in Alberta to bring up our children, and two enchanted years in New Mexico. When the nest was empty, we accepted my husband’s transfer to the West Coast to start our life again as a couple.
I had already made short trips to Vancouver but it had not won me over. It was the rainy season. First surprise – most of its denizens seemed to be impervious to the rain, strolling in it without umbrellas or raincoats! After renting for a few months, we decided to settle in the heart of Kitsilano. A detached house with a small garden back then sold for about $150,000.00. The neighbourhood, with its lingering touches of the hippie era, endeared me with its cultural diversity, its small shops and its incredible number of restaurants. It was a predominantly Greek area but also home to many people of European descent.
Vancouver started to work its magic on me. Its transit system may be criticized, but I had two buses at 7-minute intervals, much better than in Edmonton where certain routes operated on the hour, a mortal danger in -40 C temperatures. And here, one doesn’t get eaten alive by mosquitoes and black flies! I found a seniors’ hiking club and discovered many trails in the mountains (pre-Grouse Grind!) and on the islands. Kitsilano Pool, newly revamped, however, did not yet have lanes for lap swimmers!
Our neighbourhood public library offered books in French, and the newspaper Le Monde. A few bookstores, alas bygone, sold books, records, newspapers, magazines and crossword puzzles in French and other languages, such as Sophia Books and the late lamented Oscar’s. The big bookstores, such as Duthie’s, have also folded, as well as some who dealt in used books. Paper yields to electronics.
At some point, I was doing volunteer work at an elementary school with a French immersion program. My main job was to type title cards for the library on an old electric typewriter, and I was so happy when Chinese pupils addressed me in French. I was filled with joy when I discovered a French newspaper that welcomed my participation. Yes, you guessed right, La Source!
The skyline has since totally changed. The skyscrapers had not yet taken over downtown, and the high points were the Hotel Vancouver (now The Fairmont) and All Saints Anglican Cathedral. Woodwards’ department store was the buyers’ mecca. Canada Place had not opened its sails. The north shore of False Creek offered a panorama of dilapidated former industrial buildings. Telus Science World and the Plaza of Nations only appeared at Expo ’86. And the North Shore mountains were left to their natural fauna before being invaded by fancy human housing climbing ever higher (where the rain and the snow are heavier!). On the residential front, demolitions were a rare event and the fences were low, encouraging neighbourly relations. The back lanes were edged profusely with wild flowers and berry shrubs. I think that we will be the last ones left in our little bungalow, surrounded by big boxes with their high palisades and anonymous residents.
In spite of the changes, I am happy living in Vancouver. The locals are friendly, and I meet them every day on the bus, on the street corner, at the library, while gardening, and there are often remarkable coincidences. There still exists a population that is not captive to its electronic gadgets and remains conscious of its surroundings. I can say that I have found a place where I can thrive in many ways and, I hope, contribute to its pleasant and relaxed atmosphere. Vancouver is a city that offers incredible diversity without leaving Canada.