Lately, there has been a lot of ink spilled on the emerging culinary scene around Fraser Street. Last year, my Vancouver Courier column described how the arrival of new small businesses were making Fraser Street soar, and attracting new customers.
Food and beverage writers at Scout Magazine and Georgia Straight have similarly sung the praises of the “Fraserhood,” and its assortment of hipster cafés and delightful dining.
For the proprietors, rebuilding a business district along the blocks between 15th and 30th Avenue along Fraser Street we can reliably assume took some courage, and a lot of investment.
What everyone should appreciate, however, is the significant efforts of a handful of community members who are responsible for the area’s revitalization, and its subsequent impact on the high street.
Name checking everyone who rolled up their sleeves would be challenging. However, many of my past and present neighbours come to mind — Alain, Tom, Moya, Janet, Diego, Marie, Mauro, Norma, Terry, Gabriela, Bryan and Emma.
All contributed to the success of a local effort to clean up our streets, and make ours a welcoming community.
What had existed 16 years ago might come as a surprise to newcomers. Prostitutes and the leering drivers that sought them out occupied the street corners. Grow ops established themselves at several addresses. Kids had to watch out not to step on needles left behind by addicts on their walk to school.
These signs of neighbourhood decay could be seen from Kingsway all the way down to East 33rd Avenue. Though young families and community elders felt threatened by it, not everyone decided the situation was helpless.
According to those who were there, it was a backyard meeting hosted by Cathy Loukas that became the turning point. Loukas operated a family restaurant, and with her partner had invested a lot of effort into restoring an old property. Frustrated by what she saw, she put up posters inviting the community to talk about it.
In response, 75 people showed up that evening. Among the group was Sharole Tylor, whose industriousness defined the newly branded Mountain View neighbourhood group, and, along with the help of Jeannie Kamins, got the city’s first Country Lane demonstration project built.
Beside her was Jackie Larson, the longtime organizer for the Vancouver Youth Soccer Association, and a pillar of the community. Jackie was integral to an ambitious Keep Vancouver Spectacular clean-up program that tackled illegal dumping.
The nearby Ruth Morton Baptist Church offered up a larger space for the next community meeting, and more than 200 people showed up, as well as representatives of the local community policing office. When it came to doing the heavy lifting of coordinating safety patrols and community improvements, however, only a dozen folks stepped up.
In the direction of Kingsway, neighbours around the Dickens elementary school catchment were also agonizing about crime and prostitution. The late Peter Wohlwend was a central figure in rallying that community. He and his neighbour John Buckberrough involved themselves in the Dickens neighbourhood group, and organizing community patrols.
For years, Wohlwend managed a very successful email listserv that kept neighbours updated on local news and events.
Buckberrough was the longtime chair of the Kensington-Cedar Cottage CityPlan committee, which along with Tylor, Wohlwend and Anne Roberts — who later served on city council — championed a new library and grocery store at the King Edward Village development.
Big credit must also go to Lilli Wong, whose reserves of community spirit and generosity is unparalleled in my experience. I had the privilege to work beside her on several initiatives, including our community banners program, block parties, and the Fraser Street Stories place markers.
Over the years, I put my hand up for a lot of these activities, and still do. I even sacrificed a few articles of clothing after splattering them with graffiti clean-up paint.
While the community activity has tempered significantly lately, the contributions of these people in the past should not be overlooked in the success of today’s dynamic Fraserhood.
Let’s hope it serves as an example to others, and more people step forward to make our community as livable and friendly as ever.
– Originally published in Vancouver Courier newspaper