GRANDVIEW’S SUCCESSFUL HISTORY OF ACTIVISM
The communities of Grandview and Strathcona both provide students for Grandview’s Britannia Secondary School and have a long history of successful student activism, citizen activism and political activism.
This independent spirit has persisted to the present and in Grandview there are now 19 housing co-ops, more than anywhere in British Columbia, as well as a woodworker co-op, a glass co-op and a car co-op. The REACH community health centre was created in 1969, and the East End Food Co-op started in 1975 and is now Vancouver’s oldest food co-op. Commercial Drive’s CCEC Credit Union received its charter in 1975 while the Peoples Co-op Bookstore, founded in 1945, moved to Grandview in 1982. Commercial Drive in particular is also known for still having many small, locally based businesses and very few chain stores
When freeways were cutting swathes of destruction through North American neighborhoods in the 1950s and 1960s, local citizen activism blocked their advance through Strathcona and Grandview. As a result today Vancouver is famous for this unique lack of freeways, and people from all over happily remark on this unusual feature of the city.
The 1968 citizen uprising against the destruction of dozens of city blocks in Strathcona under the name of “urban renewal” lead to the formation of the first citizen committee allowed to have equal power with government in planning and decision-making. These activists were successful in stopping all such federally funded plans across Canada. Instead of funding to demolish homes, new funding was provided to help fix them up.
After their work in Strathcona many of these young local activists went on to have successful careers in politics. Mike Harcourt, later became a city councilor, the mayor of Vancouver, an MLA and then premier of British Columbia. SFU student and activist Shirley Chan later served as Harcourt’s executive assistant and chief of staff. Margaret Mitchell later became Member of Parliament for Vancouver East.
Some of the Britannia students that were involved in the movement to stop the destruction of homes in Stathcona and Grandview moved on to working on the creation of the successful Britannia Community Centre in 1976, the largest multiplex of its time in North America. One of the student activists, Enzo Guerrero later became the Executive Director of the Britannia Centre.
Activist Tom Durrie is known today for his recent work in saving the York Theatre on Commercial Drive. In 1967 Durrie, a teacher and an activist, became the head of the New School, a progressive new version of a high school on Commercial Drive at 15th Avenue. This was one of the first alternative schools in British Columbia and its example influenced new programs in the regular school system.
Durrie later was part of the Free University established in 1969 on Venables Street that provided free classes for 3,000 students. After the university closed in 1974, activists established the Vancouver East Cultural Centre (the CULTCH) in the same old church building on Venables at Victoria Drive.
In 1971 the Militant Mothers of Raymur blocked railway tracks to get an overpass built. Their children’s school was across the street but the children were forced to cross railway tracks to get there.
It was two graduates of Grandview’s Britannia High School, both MLAs for Vancouver East, that produced North America’s first socialist government in 1973. Bob Williams, a Britannia graduate in1950 and Dave Barrett, a Britannia graduate in 1948, formed the core of the new government, producing numerous popular legislative initiatives such as the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC). As a city councilor in 1965 Britannia grad Bob Williams successfully fought the proposed freeway extension of the new Georgia Viaduct through Strathcona and Grandview.
The first president of the Grandview Ratepayers Association was Harry Rankin. He served from 1952 to 1956, and then became the president of the Grandview Community Centre Association. In 1966 he became a popular progressive Vancouver city councilor and served until 1993, usually topping the polls. During this period Libby Davies, one of the founders of the Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA) was an activist city councilor, and today she is the Member of Parliament for Vancouver East.
In 1989 local activists successfully blocked the construction of a high-rise building at Broadway and Commercial Drive with the cooperation of local progressive city councilors Libby Davies and Harry Rankin.
Vancouver is divided into 21 local areas, but only Grandview has a citizens’ meeting every month as a local area council, the Grandview Woodland Area Council. Grandview even has its own community-based planning group, Our Community Our Plan, which meets every Tuesday at the Britannia Centre.
Bruce Macdonald 08 August 2014