Main Street’s hidden park life


Dude: if you just visit Main Street for the shopping, you need to chill out.

Did you know that Main Street, from roughly Broadway to 33rd Avenue, has arguably the most parks of any major thoroughfare in our city, all within a few blocks of the Main drag? Neither did I.

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“The Main Street weekend tourists don’t even know the parks exist,” says Lauren Bercovitch, who writes the popular blog GrownUpParty.com and is a film and television producer. She’s also a wife and mom.

“When I first moved to Main Street from the West End four years ago, everyone walking down Main was ‘dude in a band.’ Now it’s ‘dude in a band with a baby.’”

It’s when Lauren became a parent herself that she discovered the plethora of parks.

Speaking of dudes, just east of Main and 7th, you’ll find the famous Dude Chilling Park, a citizen-victory that originally began as a gag, but captured the imagination of the neighbourhood when the City removed the joke sign bearing the name.

A petition was created collecting nearly 2,000 signatures, so the City made it official. Formally Guelph Park, Dude Chilling Park became a reality in 2014 (it also made international news, so much so that late night TV comedian Jimmy Kimmel joked, “between Dude Chilling Park and Mayor Rob Ford, I just might have to move to Canada”).

A few blocks south on East 15th between Main and Fraser, you’ll find Robson Park (named after Premier John Robson, the same namesake as our most famous downtown street).

“Super sketchy.” That’s how a longtime nearby homeowner described Robson Park when he bought in the 1990s (he didn’t want his name printed here for fear of the gentrification backlash). “It was pretty much a daily gong show, big mess, needles, but I swear everything changed for the whole neighbourhood when [the restaurant] Les Faux Bourgeois opened. The bourgeois actually showed up! You can call it gentrification, but the park is finally a good place for kids and families, and really, what are parks for?”

Next up, just east of Main and 16th, is the oddly named Tea Swamp Park. There’s a story. When you visit this park you might notice the surrounding lumpy sidewalks, crooked fences, and leaning houses. That’s because this area really was once a swamp, colonized by beavers before people. It remains a water catchment and one of several ancient peat bogs in East Van. Houses near Tea Swamp Park now have to drive pilings up to 50 feet deep to stabilize their home. In the early days, a special plant grew in the swamp that locals used for tea and medicine, hence the name that has stuck all these years.

Lauren Bercovitch’s favourite off-Main green space is Mount Pleasant Park, a few blocks west of Main and 16th.

“I love that half the park is people in their 20s and 30s hanging out and drinking or whatever, and the other half is families in the playground. It’s a happily co-existing community.”

Lauren and her husband live so close by, they can leave their baby sleeping in their home while hanging out in the park with their baby monitor cranked.

Continuing south, you’ll also find Grimmet Park on East 19th (it’s been there since 1931), Prince Edward (complete with old-school splash park), Riley and Hillcrest Parks (both revamped as part of the Winter Olympics legacy), and the crown jewel: the sprawling Queen Elizabeth Park at 33rd Avenue on Little Mountain, the highest elevation point in the City of Vancouver, and home to that crazy bird and flora conservatory dome.

You’ll mostly find Lauren Bercovitch closer to her home and community in Mount Pleasant.

“I’ve made genuine friendships in these parks, where I’ve actually exchanged phone numbers, like in the olden days.”

Dude: next time you’re on Main Street, get your hand-crafted matcha brioche vegan heritage donuts to go, enjoy some park life, and chill the #$%* out!

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