Strathcona, Vancouver

Located in East Vancouver on unceded Coast Salish land, the area that is now known as Strathcona has a long history as a culturally diverse gathering place. Prior to the arrival of European settlers, it was a longstanding summer campsite for the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations1. By the 1890s it had become a key settlement area for migrant labourers of Chinese, Portuguese and Italian descent,  working in industries that included the Hastings Saw Mill Co., which was built on the grounds of the Kumkumalay campsite between 1865-18672. From that time on, Strathcona  has been home at various points to sizeable Japanese, Eastern European, Black, Jewish and Vietnamese communities. A strong Indigenous presence also continues in the neighbourhood today.

Our youth research team interviewed a diverse range of Strathcona community members to learn more about the immigrant experience in this neighbourhood. Some grew up in Strathcona and left by choice as adults. Others were forcibly displaced from the area. Some have made their lives in the community, while others yet have only recently arrived. Between them, they remember many pivotal moments in Strathcona’s history: The ongoing displacement of First Nations residents; the internment and consequent displacement of  Japanese-Canadian residents during WWII;  The razing of Hogan’s Alley, Vancouver’s first Black neighbourhood, in the name of a freeway and urban renewal; the historic fight of the Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association (SPOTA) against those same urban renewal plans; and, more recently, Strathcona and Chinatown’s struggles with gentrification. They also remember local sports teams, community programs, festivals, friendships and alliances with pride. We hope you’ll enjoy these glimpses into their important stories. We also hope that you’ll participate in our ongoing conversation about newcomers and neighbourhoods by considering the questions we’ve posed in response to their reflections. How is the newcomer experience in your neighbourhood similar to that in Strathcona? How is it different? What can we do to better support newcomers in Canadian neighbourhoods?

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Intercultural Dynamics in Strathcona

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“It was the original immigrant hub. You have the ships coming from the Orient landing there, just down the street. The lumber mills… The Canadian National Railway, bringing the immigrants from the United States and Eastern Canada and Asia. It was the first wave of real diversity. And to me that’s a valuable experience for anyone to have. Being cloistered in your own ethnic group doesn’t expand your mind.” – Elder Larry Grant

“We were a real sports community here. We had an Italian soccer team called the Sons of Italy and we played all over.” – Lorenzo Crema

Our storytellers remember both intercultural alliances in Strathcona and racial discrimination. How do you experience intercultural dynamics in your neighbourhood?

Community Hubs in Strathcona

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“Strathcona Community Centre is a place that the community sees as its own. It’s not just a place where you come and do something and leave. The people you see in the centre are the people you see in the community.”- Harvey Eng

“Strathcona for me starts with Strathcona School. When you’re an inner city project teacher, you’re out and about in the neighbourhood as well as in the classroom. You’re living in a community. The kids used to come into my yard, and visit from time to time. I’d meet people and parents in the stores.” – Miki Maeba

Many of our storytellers spoke about the public school and the community centre as important neighbourhood hubs in Strathcona. Which sites in your neighbourhood are important to you, either as a newcomer or long-time resident?

Displacement in Strathcona

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“Unfortunately when you’re told that you can no longer live in a community, you lose the investment you have made in that community. Economically, socially, culturally. Over generations, you don’t get that back. There was a time in Vancouver where this was the only area where Black people could live. And then they were told they couldn’t stay.”- Randy Clark

“We had to fight. We had to do it to save our house, initially. There were no politicians, no city councillors at that time who came from the East Side. There was a lot of discrimination against working class ethnic neighbourhoods. Basically, they thought they could do whatever they wanted in the community. Getting involved meant learning how to have a voice, a political voice, and learning how to use it.” – Jo-Anne Lee

The part of Strathcona known as Hogan’s Alley was torn down in 1970 to make way for the construction of a freeway. The rest of the neighbourhood survived thanks to the activism of the Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association (SPOTA) and their allies. What else do we lose when a neighbourhood is demolished?

Current Activism in Strathcona

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“I’m able to go to Strathcona school, to the Chinese school, to Strathcona park, MacLean Park and Chinatown because of all these amazing people who stood up against the government. And I love hearing that they didn’t just galvanize around the freeway or the firehall. There was also a political movement that grew out of it.” – Melody Ma

“Chinatown and Strathcona is my neighbourhood. It’s like a village and it’s threatened with imminent erasure. And I want to stop that or slow it down so that my kids can grow up and enjoy the neighbourhood.” – Louis Lapprend

Strathcona as it exists today is the result of committed and creative community organizing. What can be done now to ensure that Strathcona remains an inclusive neighbourhood? What strategies can other neighbourhoods that are threatened with demolition borrow from Strathcona?

Arts and Culture in Strathcona

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“As my husband and I began exploring and learning more about the community we lived in, we started uncovering richer and richer layers of artists, and history, and cultural treasures, and great stories. The more we found out, and the more we started participating in local activities – at the Ukrainian Hall, and the Strathcona Kids Dragon Band at the community centre, etc. – the more we participated, the more involved and active and committed we became.” – Savannah Walling

“For me, this neighbourhood is a treasure box: filled with cultural wealth – a home for Coast Salish since time immemorial, a gathering place for immigrants. I like seeing visible evidence of cultural history around me. The waves of Chinese immigration, Jewish and Ukrainian immigration, all these different waves. I like to see that history very much present. ” – Savannah Walling

What has allowed diversity to exist and thrive in your neighbourhood? What do you think makes a strong neighbourhood?

1. City of Vancouver, 2014; Schatz, 2010
2. City of Vancouver