The area we explored for the workshop, in and around Vancouver’s Woodward’s building, has a rich history and cultural diversity. This area is known as Downtown Eastside (DTES) and is adjacent and overlaps with Gastown, the current Chinatown, and former Japantown.
This area was settled by the Squamish First Nation and continues to have a significant First Nations population. Upon British colonization, the area became Vancouver’s original downtown. The Great Vancouver Fire of 1886 began here and destroyed much of the then new city and resulted in dozens of fatalities.
Chinese and Japanese immigrants to the province faced racist policies including the inability to vote and a head tax. During World War II, the Japanese in the area were forcibly removed, had their homes and businesses confiscated, and were placed in interment camps.
In the second half of the 20th century, Vancouver’s commercial centre and downtown businesses moved away from this area. As a result, it became increasingly poor, resulting in it being dubbed the poorest postal code in Canada. Vancouver’s policy of moving prostitution into the area contributed to an increase in crime and illegal drugs.
PHS, a charity founded in 1993 to help the homeless and addicted, began offering innovative if controversial programs in the area including North America’s first needle exchange program and a safe injection site.
The area has a long history of art and cultural projects and galleries. Vancouver’s punk rock scene began here as a result of access to cheap performance space and noise tolerant neighbours. Artists galleries can currently be found in various locations in the vicinity.
With an increasing demand for real estate in Vancouver, the City and businesses have been building new condo towers and opening businesses geared to hipsters and the affluent. Tech startups and universities have also moved into this area. This clash of cultures here has resulted in protests and controversies.
History and word cloud prepared by Glen Farrelly