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My family’s deep roots in Vancouver provide me with a profound respect and a personal nostalgia for the heritage architecture reflected in the city’s many older houses, particularly on the West Side where heritage preservation has become such a divisive real estate topic.
I am a third-generation Vancouverite and proud of my working-class background and of how, while employed at the post office, my grandfather was able to buy a house on English Bay around the turn of 20th century. My Aunt Carrie, a dressmaker, bought a house on West 22nd Avenue shortly after World War II. My dad (who was also a workingman) and our family lived on West 2nd Avenue near Balsalm in Kitsilano.
My grandparent’s English Bay house is long gone, purchased by the City when it established the public beach many decades ago. Aunt Carrie’s house, now painted a bright blue, is still standing and in fact recently sold. My dad’s Kitsilano neighbourhood now sprouts condominium buildings.
At lot has changed in Vancouver since my grandparents’ time, but if they were alive today, I think they would share my pragmatic views on preserving older architecture. I believe heritage preservation must be balanced with the rights of owners to do what they choose with their property, following municipal zoning and provincial laws. It was a shame, for example, that Grandpa’s English Bay house was lost, but how many thousands of Vancouverites have enjoyed the public beach since?
I remember my dad telling us how polluted False Creek was years ago, how the Vancouver sky would be grey with smoke from coal and wood burning fires. Today, after virtually all the old industrial buildings have disappeared, high-density False Creek supports sea life, even the rare whale, and the city’s air and water is cleaner now than when my dad was a kid.
Change can be wrenching, but it is also inevitable and, oftentimes, for the good of the city and all its citizens. I am still a working-class woman and I aspire to live in a hometown that embraces the future while respecting the vision and traditions of those who built it.
I applaud the City of Vancouver’s heritage preservation actions, including the First Shaughnessy heritage district and its heritage registry, which celebrate and protect the architecture of the past.
It is only at the local political level, where future steps can be taken to preserve the past. Participation in local politics produces the greatest impact on our daily lives, and is the right place to be active to actually affect change in heritage preservation.
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