Cultural communities continue to grow

A street of Strathcona, one of Vancouver's oldest communities. - Photo by Kate Kovaleva

A street of Strathcona, one of Vancouver's oldest communities. - Photo by Kate Kovaleva

Michelle Vinci, 25, says that since moving to Kitsilano last year she already feels connected to her new community.

The neighbourhood’s network of cycling trails, yoga centres and running clinics “offers countless opportunities for leading a healthy lifestyle,” she says. Its proximity to the ocean and incredible scenic views give residents the sense of having their own private getaway.

When asked about what makes a great community, Michelle simply states that “great communities are found where people truly care for one another, and want to create a space that is inclusive, supportive and life-affirming.”

Vancouver’s 22 neighbourhoods

The City of Vancouver has 22 neighbourhoods, Kitsilano being one of them. According to the 2011 census, the city’s population is 603,502, a 4.4 per cent increase since the 2006 census.

The City of Vancouver states on its website that over 40 per cent of this growth took place in the downtown peninsula.

The City of Burnaby grew even more. Its current population of 223,218 marks a 10.1 per cent increase in growth from five years ago.

Metro Vancouver, which includes Burnaby and 21 other municipalities, along with one electoral area and one treaty First Nation, has a population of 2,313,328. It is also a steep increase of 9.3 per cent from five years before.

According to early archaeological records, the Coast Salish people inhabited what is now Vancouver as early as 500 BCE.
John Atkin, a civic historian and author, says that “Vancouver developed because of the Hastings Sawmill in the 1880s.” The railway terminal built in Vancouver further cemented its port city status.

“The oldest neighbourhood we think of today is Strathcona,” says Atkin.

Located east of Main Street to Clark Drive, and from Coal Harbour south to the False Creek flats, it is the longest surviving neighbourhood in the city. Although there was some settlement around Gastown at the time, it did not last long, says Atkin.

After the neighbourhoods of Strathcona and the downtown peninsula developed in the 1880s to 1890s, expansion grew to the area known today as Kitsilano. “Land developed because of the streetcars that were there,” says Atkin. The streetcars also went through the neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant, which is down Fraser and Main streets. “Somebody that had a piece of property they were developing would extend the line” and make a stop there, says Atkin. In this way, streetcars encouraged further development.

Vancouver's Neighbourhoods - Click to enlarge

Vancouver's Neighbourhoods - Click to enlarge

Drawing early boundaries in Metro Vancouver

According to Atkin, other neighbourhoods in Metro Vancouver are much older than Vancouver itself. Delta and Surrey both had settlements in the 1850s, which consisted of farming at the road intersections. Occasionally, someone would set up a store, around which other small commercial enterprises would spring up. “Each of these communities was their own town” observes Atkin.

In the case of present-day Surrey, once the question of drawing boundaries emerged, the authorities “drew larger cities which encompassed these little towns and the large farmland areas.”

When the City of Vancouver became more populated, it developed into three main municipalities, says Atkin. “The City of Vancouver originally extended to Nanaimo and 16th Avenue, then from Cambie and 16th was South Vancouver. The Municipality of Point Grey was the area to the west.”

There was a conflict of vision between the developers of all three areas. Point Grey wanted what they called a “beautiful community,” marked by parks, single-family dwellings and low population density. South Vancouver, by contrast, “was farmland and didn’t invest in roads,” says Atkin. Vancouver was commercial and developed differently from the two other municipalities. Somehow, “those three came together to make Vancouver.”

Population Change in Metro Vancouver. - Click to enlarge

Population Change in Metro Vancouver. - Click to enlarge

“Neighbourhoods are geography, but communities are not”

When asked about what community means to her, Kimberly Barwich, program director at the South Burnaby Neighbourhood House (SBNH), says, “I don’t think geography means community … if you live on Cordova Street you’re not part of that community unless you know people or feel responsible for that community. It comes down to one word – relationship.”

Although it takes effort to cross those initial boundaries, Barwich says it’s well worth the effort. “The more difference there is the more challenges there are to bring people together, but ultimately it ends up being rewarding.”

She says that neighbourhood houses are a good place to start if you want to be more involved, as they have the mandate of bringing people together. When planning programs for SBNH, Barwich considers what the community’s needs are and often finds that the answers are already there as well. “Communities don’t just exist, they’re built around people. Neighbourhoods are geography, but communities are not,” she says.