Heritage sites in the Langara area, a look at our community’s past

26 SW Marine Drive

The Chrysler Building's brick wall is braced with metal poles while it undergoes restoration. Click for Flickr photo gallery

By BEN INGRAM


Every city is in some way adorned with a legacy of historic buildings, those fixtures of the past which provide a window into the character of previous days.

Vancouver is of course no different. Places like Casa Mia, a mansion built by bootleggers in the 1930s, offer more than just shelter from the storm. They give the city a story, one which can be shared with visitors and newborns alike.

While the rum-runner mansion, currently rumoured to be on the market for more than $10 million, offers an appealing story of high-class gangsters, all of Vancouver’s heritage buildings have a tale worth telling.

The Langara area is home to several heritage sites. They may not be as flashy as the others, but they each represent a worthy piece of Vancouver’s past.

The nuclear family

The Chrysler Building on 26 W Marine Drive is one such example.

It was built in 1956, a direct product of the post-war boom. Canadians were spending more than ever, families were growing and the consumer age rolled full-steam ahead.

All that stands now is the front wall, protected by a top-rating on Vancouver’s heritage register. The site has been rezoned to allow for the building of a retail complex centred around a large Canadian Tire store.

Marco Bordignon, project coordinator

Marco Bordignon points to the old wall's black support beam. The lead-filled beam will anchor the wall to the new building, he said.

Marco Bordignon is the project coordinator on the site.

“They’re using it like a showpiece,” Bordignon said of the intended design. The building’s remains will be fixed against the opening wall of the store, facing outwards towards Marine Drive. He said that a great deal of care is being taken to protect the wall while the new stores are constructed.

The new store was designed by architect John Cheung.

“Part of the agreement is to make sure we retain the wall, [but also] that we have to restore the wall,” Cheung said, speaking of his design for the retail giant. The wall suffers from damaged brickwork and needs supports to prevent it from collapsing while the new complex is constructed.

While the people who worked there didn’t have high status jobs or stories worth making a movie about, their legends are told just as much. The nuclear family and white-glowing television sets, when smoking was okay and letters had to be physically written.

Award-winning design

While a brick wall might not be much to look at, the Langara area is also home to sites that are protected because of the shear beauty of their design.

One example is the Unitarian Church on W 49th Avenue.

A natural wood interior welcomes light and perfected acoustics.

Reverend Steve Epperson knows all about it.

“You’ve got wood, you’ve got lots of light. He wanted to build it so you’d have that sense of inside being outside, bringing nature in,” Epperson said.

The building was designed by Wolfgang Gerson in 1964 with a careful ear towards acoustics. While serving primarily as a church, the building doubles as a highly regarded concert hall.

Reverend Steve Epperson outside the sanctuary

Epperson stands beside a plaque dedicating the building to its creator

So much has the building been praised for the brilliance of its design that it has also been given a top-rating on the heritage register.

Windows into the past

The Langara area is also home to sites that are valued because of their age.

Sir William Van Horne Elementary will be celebrating its centennial this year during the month of May. Built in 1911, the school continues to educate the children who grow up in our neighbourhood. Even at the age of 100, the building is a well-maintained window into the areas past.

Close to that is the C.G. Johnson house on W 58th Avenue. Built in 1912 by one of Vancouver’s wealthier individuals, it later became a nursing home in 1938. Like the school it stands well-preserved, an age-old building amongst freshly dry-walled suburban houses and sprawling retail outlets.

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Feature: How to make the perfect compost pile, a definitive guide

Two stakes and a net is all you need if you follow these easy steps

Here in Vancouver, 30 per cent of collected garbage is made of biodegradable materials. These materials can be easily composted, but are instead dumped into the trash. While the city has set its sights on a 70 per cent diversion rate by 2015 – meaning the goal is to have most of the waste avoid a landfill – it requires the willful participation of the population.

Constructing your own compost is actually an easy process, requiring very little expertise. Follow these simple instructions to put a dent in your waste contributions.

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Growing sustainability through education: teaching children environmental responsibility

These brightly coloured fish were created by the kids of St. Augustine's Elementary. Photo by Yai&JR.

 

Childhood education is perhaps one of the most underrated ways to build towards a sustainable future. While adults are busy trying to change their habits, public education offers the opportunity to instill the values of sustainability in children from the very start.

As public schools often strive to be positive fixtures in their local communities, there are always plenty of opportunities for young green minds to apply these values in an impactful way.

“That’s a really important point,” trustee Mike Lombardi of the Vancouver School Board said. “One of our goals as an establishment is to become the greenest school district in North America.”

The VSB intends to meet this goal through the adoption of a strategic sustainability plan, which according to Lombardi will be released this April.

The plan will outline long-term strategies including several initiatives based on student participation. The aim is to not only be the greenest school district on the continent, but to also educate kids on the value of such a commitment.

Lombardi said the plan will contain several different components, including food-based initiatives like composting and gardening. Recycling and energy conservation will also play a prominent role in the plan.

What this means: at the school level

Mike McEwan is the Principal of Edith Cavell Elementary School on West 20th Avenue.

“There’s all kinds of programs that go through the curriculum that teach kids about their responsibilities,” McEwan said. “It has to be something you’re always talking about.”

McEwan said that educators strive to integrate social responsibility as part of their daily lessons. From English to math, students often receive reminders of the importance of sustainability and conservation.

But beyond the classroom, schools recognize their role as fixtures of the local communities they serve. As such, students, educators, and parents often find ways to take these lessons outside of the school.

“The PAC (Parent Advisory Council) is interested in getting some kind of a teaching garden here,” McEwan offered as one such example. “Our leadership students are going to be involved in either the planting or maintaining of a traffic circle.” These roundabout traffic circles with gardens in the middle have become a regular sight on Vancouver’s roads.

Vancouver roundabouts may be a nuisance to drivers, but they offer more green space in a heavily paved city. Photo by Spacing Magazine.

 

Another example is the work of school kids around salmon enhancement. Community initiatives take the form of painting fish on storm sewers to remind locals to be careful what they dump down the drain.

“That whole social responsibility thread goes through a lot of what we do at all of the levels,” McEwan added.

What this means: cooperation with the city

Vancouver’s own commitment to a green future can, and often is, integrated with the aims of other levels of governance.

As a means of educating children, the city sponsors a two-person theatrical troupe called Dream Rider Theatre. Their mission: to educate kids in environmental awareness.

You can check out videos of some of their work here.

Schools like Edith Cavell Elementary can book the performances free of charge, thanks to city sponsorship.

McEwan said that educating kids in sustainability requires constant input from educators, the community, and parents. This is why it is so vital to integrate the lessons into the normal daily routines of schools.

Looking forward, McEwan predicted more cooperation between those tasked with teaching our youth.

“I would only expect that as these initiatives come forward, as it becomes more and more important, that we all take responsibility.”

 

 

Vancouver surgeon, Dr. Robert Taylor, receives the Order of Canada

Of the 54 people awarded the Order of Canada for 2010, 13 were B.C. residents. Dr. Robert Taylor, a professor at the University of British Columbia, received his for donating time and expertise to developing nations in need.

“I’m really busy,” Dr. Robert Taylor said over the phone when contacted for an interview. “I was just out the door, I didn’t even think I should answer the phone.”

Even when running late, the doctor comes across as apologetic, kind, and sincere. He speaks with a tone that is both calm and articulate, lending a sense that he truly aims to be helpful.

But Taylor is a busy man indeed.

When the Vancouver-based surgeon isn’t overseas helping war torn and struggling nations establish some semblance of proper medical care, he’s at home finding other ways to share his expertise.

Dr. Robert Taylor teaching a hernia repair course in Zambia, 2009. Photo courtesy of CNIS.

Taylor works in the surgery departments of both Vancouver General Hospital and Providence Health Care.

In addition to being a professor at University of British Columbia’s faculty of medicine, Taylor lends his services to the Red Cross and the Canadian Network for International Surgery, or CNIS.

A quick glance at the 66-year-old Taylor’s resume is enough to make even the most accomplished of us pause.

His initiatives in Vancouver include the establishment of UBC’s international surgery branch, as well as a colorectal cancer clinic at St. Paul’s hospital.

“At the request of the BC Cancer Agency…I initiated and developed the Anal Dysplasia Clinic at St. Paul’s,” Taylor wrote in his resume.

Since the early 1970s, the doctor has been on a wide array of humanitarian missions. The long list of countries he’s worked in includes Bolivia, Malawi, Uganda, and most recently, Sri Lanka and the Ivory Coast.

Working with the Red Cross in Sri Lanka, Taylor established “a sustainable surgical service in the north to serve the several hundred thousand internally displaced people from the long armed conflict in that region.”

In the Ivory Coast, Taylor also worked with the Red Cross to establish hospitals in war zones, following the announcement of a ceasefire.

Taylor practices stitch work with his students on a rather obedient patient, Zambia 2009. Photo courtesy of CNIS

His work as an ambassador of the Canadian medical profession earned him the Order of Canada in 2010, an award a co-worker said he accepted with humility.

“He was quite shocked when they told him,” Karethe Linaae of CNIS said. Linaae said Taylor was not expecting the award at all, and figured the phone call was to request a reference for someone else.

“He’s an amazing, giving, kind person. Very humble,” she said.

Linaae said Taylor is currently awaiting approval to visit Haiti with a group of Quebec surgeons, where he will work to establish medical facilities and train staff.

She added that he also teaches online surgery courses, allowing doctors in the developing world to continue learning once he’s left.

Sustainable Vancouver: A Guide to Eating Local in the City

This article is the first in a series on living sustainably in Vancouver. Stay tuned for more instalments. Photo by Natalie Maynor.


Eating Local

For the first instalment of sustainable Vancouver I decided to take a look at local food. Here in Vancouver, we are blessed with a wide assortment of local food options which can help make a sustainable lifestyle a reality. From seafood to local produce, much of our diets can be supplemented with local options.

When opting for local choices, consumers will often find that many of the things they enjoy are simply not available. Tropical fruit, olive oils, coffee – many of the staples we enjoy regularly come from abroad and are subject to many unseen costs. When picking up ingredients at the local grocery store, very rarely does one consider the hidden costs affecting our sustainability.

For example, bananas can be had on the cheap quite regularly, but the cost of transporting those bananas is one that remains hidden. While eating local can some times weigh heavier on the budget, the impact on our global carbon footprint is much lower. In no small way, eating local is much less costly for the environment as a whole.

“For food purists, “local” is the new “organic,” the new ideal that promises healthier bodies and a healthier planet,” said Time reporter John Cloud in an article which is now almost four years old.

Produce which is sold locally generally circumvents the need for harsh chemicals like pesticides, as the products are not expected to stay unnaturally fresh while they’re shipped around the globe. When buying organic, local products are usually of higher quality as well, lending more credence to the superiority of local food.

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The life of a Vancouver mall Santa is both lucrative and exhausting

Norm Pettersson, a former United Church minister, sits upon his throne at the Oakridge shopping centre.

 

The life of Santa Claus can be quite stressful at times, just ask Norm Pettersson.

A former United Church minister, Pettersson has been donning the bells and fur of Saint Nick for eight seasons now.

“It’s hard for Santa,” said Pettersson, who spoke of trials including visits from the elderly, rambunctious teenagers, crying babies and even sick children.

“The difficult parts are when you get children who are in the middle of chemotherapy and they’re coming as part of the family to do special things at Christmas.”

Pettersson said that while it can be emotionally challenging to make worried families smile, the best thing to do is just “Treat them normally. That’s what they want, to just be treated normally.”

The key to being a good Santa is enthusiasm and a knack for dealing with people from all walks of life, Pettersson said.

“The older kids and adults sometimes are just doing silly things. But it’s alright, you just play the game…Santa has the job of helping them have fun.”

His authentic look and enthusiasm of spirit caught the attention of Jack Scott, owner of Senior Quality Personnel. The company provides Santa services to events and shopping centres across metro Vancouver.

“The criteria is very strict,” said the 74-year-old Scott, a retired executive of a multi billion-dollar developing firm. “They have to like what they’re doing. Santa is a lot of work, and if you don’t like what you’re doing you just get exhausted.”

Scott said that his 35 Santas undergo thorough background checks and have full, natural white beards.

“The people who work for us are genuinely nice people…They’re just the type of people you like to be around.”

Spreading six weeks of holiday cheer across the city can be a stressful business, but the rewards are lucrative. According to Scott, the company expects to make up to $200,000 this year.

“A good Santa will make five to six thousand dollars over Christmas,” Scott said.

John Geissinger is the weekend Santa at the Metropolis shopping centre. He said the extra cash comes in useful during the Christmas season.

“I just got a new car, so it’s paying for that.”

John Geissinger waves from Santa’s workshop in the Metropolis shopping centre

 

“A good Santa is pretty much somebody who can take a crying child and stop them from crying,” Geissinger said, admitting his favourite part has been the great people he has met along the way.

“Things like that to me are absolutely priceless, the memories I’ll keep forever.”