It’s 9 o’clock on a July evening as I sit on the curb of Ontario Street in Sunset, watching bikers whizz by without helmets and children chat with grandparents in a language they’ll probably forget in a few years. I grew up in the blue house behind me, a house that overlooks a border that cuts my city in two. This is where the east side’s mishmash of Vancouver Specials and bungalows ends. This is where the west side’s monster homes and storybook cottages begin.
Tonight I’m sitting on a borderline of a different kind. Approaching my 24th birthday, I am pondering whether it’s time for me to face economic realities and move out of Vancouver.
I grew up feeling Vancouver was two different cities. One was the east side, full of mouthy characters like my Main Street barber from Hong Kong, who ranted about soap boutiques and vegan restaurants and other hip local businesses she didn’t understand. You could tell there were a lot of different people in this part of town by the United Nations of mother tongues spoken on east side buses and in east side supermarkets.
And then there was the Vancouver that was the west side. Whenever someone gave us their address and it was west of Ontario, we’d “ooh” and “aah.” Theirs was the land of million dollar homes. I once trick-or-treated in ritzy Shaughnessey’s fortressed heritage mansions, and housekeepers handed me the massive chocolate bars of west side legend while the owners waved to me from deep within cavernous foyers. The west side was as big as the east side, but fewer people lived here, and life felt quieter. Watching sunsets at Douglas Park with my west side friends – who said they shared a block with Mayor Gregor – people who strolled around the park seemed to enjoy them slower than their counterparts in the east.
In my lifetime, this is the only home I’ve known and the only home I feel I can know. I’m the first in my family to experience this feeling of stubborn rootedness. Everyone else has called foreign soil home at one point: Hong Kong, Peru, Australia, America, and even Nigeria. But for me, the three-tone chime of SkyTrain doors, blue mountains over every rooftop, and street names like Rupert and Renfrew give comfort.
I felt the east and west sides of Vancouver were two different cities because Ontario Street’s million dollar mark made it so. But now they tell me millionaires are the only ones who can live anywhere in this city. Buying in Collingwood and Cedar Cottage take the kind of money once commanded in Kerrisdale and Kitsilano. Anyone with an east side home, no matter how humble, can trade it in for an expansive property in a farther flung corner of the Lower Mainland, or beyond.
As someone young and starting out, a nagging voice keeps telling me that if I fight too hard to stay where I grew up it shows me to be timid, or spoiled, or arrogant, or all three. Another voice, though, tells me not to give up on my home.
Read full story in The Tyee here.