It began as a question: What if we dedicated one print issue every two weeks to a different neighbourhood and wrote about it in detail. Find the stories that make that community unique and interesting among the city’s more than two dozen formally identified neigbhbourhoods.
The question became a challenge, and the challenge became the Vancouver Special neighbourhood series, which is wrapping up after 14 months.
To the best of my knowledge, no news organization has done a project of the scope and breadth of Vancouver Special, and I can see why. It was a lot of work.
It was also worth it. We confirmed the notion that Vancouverites like to read stories about their own neighbourhoods. We discovered they also like to read stories about the city's other neighbourhoods, whether east side, west side, north or south. As with many of our readers, none of us knew what we would find when we started our journey. I wasn't expecting rabbit agility enthusiasts in Dunbar. Or an activist turned knitter and mom in Hastings-Sunrise. A Musqueam hip hop artist and mother who raps in the Musqueam dialect. An Arbutus Ridge barber who plays the accordion in his shop between clients. A Downtown Eastside drug addict whose life was saved by his dog.
In a city beset with well-documented problems, from social isolation to unaffordable housing, we found that many Vancouverites work hard to make a difference. Setting up coffee spots in traffic circles in Mount Pleasant. Leading bell ringers in Shaughnessy. Helping troubled kids find focus in Renfrew-Collingwood through paddling and making lonely newcomers in Victoria-Fraserview feel at home. Organizing community dinners in Marpole. Young foodies starting innovative fusion restaurants in Chinatown and longtime hash slingers maintaining British tradition in Point Grey.
What did we learn the most? That Vancouver is indeed special. But then, we knew that going in.
As part of our wrap-up, we asked our staff writers for their favourite stories from the past 14 months. Links to those stories can be found below. We also asked photography editor Dan Toulgoet for his favourite photos from the series.
Mike Howell: “As a reporter for more than 20 years, I’ve written many stories about many people. Often, I don’t get a chance to track them down years later and find out whatever happened to them. I did this with Anna Hunter and I thought my story gave readers a different perspective of the one-time Anti-Poverty Committee member, who is now a mom running a small business in Hastings-Sunrise."
Cheryl Rossi: “Entering Master Chef Cafe is a refreshing step back in time in a city where developers have bulldozed too many beloved haunts and replaced them with tall, characterless concrete and glass structures. Even more charming than the cafe’s decades-old décor and disorganized paraphernalia are Master Chef’s co-owners, octogenarian couple May and Tony Fung, who run their humble business with pride, providing a meeting spot for Hastings-Sunrise residents of various ethnic backgrounds and means. In this increasingly unaffordable city it’s easy to focus on who’s doing better than whom. It was a treat to meet Tony, who’s so pleased with what he has."
Andrew Fleming: “My favourite Vancouver Special story to write was about the weekly comedy night at Kino Café. Not only did it give me chance to shake the hand of the man who shot the evil Cancer Man from The X-Files but it also provided an excuse to check out the local live comedy scene and shoot a video of their sixth anniversary party that’s available on our website. Komedy at Kino is also unique in the sense the performers are an interesting mix of established veterans and inexperienced rookies, not unlike the current roster of the Vancouver Canucks.”
Jennifer Thuncher: “The story “Building confidence one paddle at a time” impacted me on a personal level more than most. I attended one of the group’s meetings and sat as they shared a meal. The whole vibe of the night was relaxed and family-oriented. Children raced around and members chatted easily. The youth interviewed were thoughtful in their answers and their candour was touching. I think of them often and wonder how they are doing and where they are rowing next. It also helps that it is a story based on beautiful canoes and the outdoors. What is not to love?”
Naoibh O’Connor: “My favourite story that I covered during the Vancouver Special neighbourhood series was about the cohousing complex that’s going to be built at East 33rd Avenue near Argyle Street. It attracted my attention because many people, including me, wonder what it will be like to live in a development that demands such cooperation and interaction among its inhabitants. It will be fascinating to follow the story through the years and see if their optimism about living under these conditions is matched by reality.”
Megan Stewart: “There’s a hand-painted sign on Ontario Street that reads: “Slow. Children At Play.” You’ll pass this sign headed south from 12th Avenue on your way to an adult ball hockey game at Mount Pleasant Park.
For 18 years the ball has dropped at the centre of a fenced-in concrete court where hundreds of different players — mostly men — have come to play hockey. Covering this regular Sunday event was one of my favourite stories of our Vancouver Special series because the players had outrageous stories and because they’d returned to the neighbourhood even as their lives brought different jobs, the birth of children, and new homes in the suburbs. As is the case most weeks, as long as the puddles aren’t too big, the next game is 1 p.m. Sunday at 15th Avenue near Manitoba.”
Sandra Thomas: “The Downtown Eastside is a neighbourhood that almost wasn’t covered by the Courier due to a debate about whether it’s an official standalone community or made up from parts of other areas we had already covered. Regardless, it turned out to be my favourite neighbourhood of the entire series so it should be of no surprise my pick for best-of is a story about a little dog that helps his owner stay clean and deal with depression.
“Chico and the man who saved him” is about the unlikely friendship between resident Rob Dumas, who lives in a low-income apartment building in the Downtown Eastside, and a little shih tzu with a big attitude. Walking down East Hastings Street with Chico and Dumas on a sunny afternoon, it was quickly apparent the little dog also brightens the lives of many of the residents and regulars to the neighbourhood."