More than 100 years ago, Victory Square was the location of Vancouver’s provincial courthouse until the building was ripped down in 1912. Years after the new courthouse settled into the building now known as the Vancouver Art Gallery, a 30-foot-high cenotaph was built at the foot of the park’s slope near Hastings Street in 1924, serving as a memorial to Vancouverites who lost their lives in the First World War.
The park was once the centre of the city which is where Central City Foundation derives its name, and why the non-profit organization holds its annual Fair in the Square celebration at Victory Square, under the shade of the city’s oldest maple trees.
“Central City has been here in Vancouver’s inner city since 1907,” said the organization’s president and CEO Jennifer Johnstone while Sunday’s festivities began. “We’re named Central City because when we first started, central city was Abbott and Water Street. It wasn’t in Surrey — Surrey was just trees then,” she added, referring to Surrey’s adoption of the name in recent years.
The group was started by people who wanted to help their neighbours and, despite growing into a $36 million foundation, it hasn’t strayed from the founders’ original intentions.
The group builds homes and funds many non-profit organizations that help improve the lives of inner city residents (some of its many projects include the Abbott Mansion and the Cosmopolitan Hotel on the Downtown Eastside).
Johnstone had the idea to have a neighbourhood party nine years ago, to celebrate the organization’s 100th birthday. While some details have since changed — the Central
City staff do not spend two days in the nearby Vancouver Community College gymnasium packing snack-bags to hand out, for instance — the spirit of the event has grown with each passing year.
“The first year was funny. We had no idea what we were doing. We decided we really wanted to let people go home with something so we set up an assembly line all through the gymnasium, packing granola bars, chips, and all sorts of snacks for people to eat with their burgers,” Johnstone said. “People asked, ‘So are you going to do this again?’ and I said, ‘In another hundred years!’ We were exhausted before the fair even started. We’ve learned a lot since then. It’s pretty fantastic.”
VCC is an important partner in the celebration as students in its culinary arts program baked cupcakes and barbecued enough burgers to feed the two thousand people who visited the park until the party’s mid-afternoon end.
In addition to free food, they were also treated to a range of performances that ranged from musical theatre from Project Limelight and poetry from Rachel Rose to music from
Coldwater Road and Christine Magee, the latter who has performed at all nine Fair in the Square celebrations.
“In this 21st century, as neighbours, we’re often a little more connected online than we are in person. And this is an opportunity for us to really bring neighbours together,” said Johnstone while surveying the many tables of different organizations that lined the square’s walking paths.
“This is about people coming down to give something to people. This is a sharing event.”