The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Sunday, January 14, 2007


by Tamara Lee

Vancouver is preoccupied with them. The media chock-a-block full of stories about them.

A real estate agent gets fined and her life threatened for trying to improve her view of English Bay, thus her property value, by killing two trees along the Sea Wall. Wealthy folks in Lions Bay barricade themselves, and remain vigilant against widening the Sea-to-Sky Highway and the loss of some of their beloved trails. And Hydro crews blame property owners’ reluctance to trim trees near hydro wires as key to explaining the weeks-long power outages after the storms of late 2006.

It’s sort of embarrassing sometimes, when even those of us who would never call ourselves tree-huggers get obsessed about the loss of trees. Tree-love is very BC, and we protect them like identity.

I grew up in North Vancouver, surrounded by old growth trees and new growth middle class. The ‘70s was a burgeoning time for the suburb of North Van, where we built our first home high up on Mountain Highway on a cul de sac amongst the evergreens and pines. With a secret magic forest at the end of the block, where Steven Cornya and I would catch tree frogs and show each other how we peed, I too became enchanted by trees.

That bit of forest has been replaced by two monster houses, and now you’ll need to drive much further up the mountain, up where the multi-million dollar homes are, to find that musky scent of moss and pine.

Trees, it seems, grow on money.

They line nearly every street here, with the money shots being Pacific Spirit Park and that other, now-infamous, one. Stanley Park is a candidate for one of the most beautiful places in the world, a sort of museum to the old growth forest that’s been plowed down and built over. During the series of windstorms over the past months, the park has taken quite a beating, and everyone here has an opinion on what to do about rebuilding it. Rebuilding a forest, oh the irony.

Camera crews and looky-loos click and tsk, and people rally together to start a save-the-park fund. From high profile locals to people from across Canada and overseas, park-lovers everywhere are sending money by the bucket-full to help restore its natural beauty. The provincial government, finally weighing in, has promised some $4 million and the federal government, looking for a solid Vancouver win in the next election, is offering its help, too. Meanwhile forest companies are hovering over it all, wringing their hands in anticipation of what will prove to be a very profitable natural disaster for them. I’ve stopped reading the latest coverage on it, because the whirl of do-gooders has started to make me anxious, and I just can’t watch anymore.

During that first storm, several transients who make the park their home went missing, and the park wardens were worried about their safety. When one transient came out of the park the next day, clearly shaken up from his ordeal amongst the towering and tumbling evergreens and cedars and 100km winds, the news stories clucked about how amazing it was he’d survived that wild night in the forest, and what a story he’d have to tell his friends.

A week into the cleanup, the crews heard the yelling of another forest-dweller. The city decided to comb the park for others. They had no idea how many they were looking for. More proof that no one really knows the full story of Vancouver’s homeless problem.

But the forest-dwellers who lost their homes in the park might serve as a reminder, were anyone listening, to the real wreckage here: that we can allow a growing number of homeless fall victim to intense poverty, but we can rally together so quickly to save our beloved fallen trees.

See, there’s an Olympics coming. And as long as there’s that, there’s money for the important things except, it seems, figuring out what to do about the increasing poverty seen on our beautiful, yet tree-lined, Vancouver streets.

If a tree falls, indeed.


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Right on, kiddo! We were talking about that not too long ago with some friends -- how much grief there was over the loss of trees in Stanley Park. How little over the loss of people to poverty. Thanks for writing this, Tamara.

Sun Jan 14, 11:17:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Anne C. said...

I can't help but grieve for the trees.

Mon Jan 15, 09:37:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Patricia said...

this is great Tamara, I too grieve for the trees, however, people and poverty are the problem, however, are never the issue at hand, I heard on the radio coming into work that they've raised over 2 million dollars for the park restoration through private donations, I too found myself wondering what would happen if they put this money towards shelters, or housing, schooling for that matter, hospitals, the elderly, anyway, don't get me started...xoxo thanks tamara, powerful writing..xo

Mon Jan 15, 01:03:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger tamara said...

Thanks for reading, gang.

So much more could be said on this subject, of course.

And certainly I feel badly about the trees, I do. It's my home and I'm used to things being as they are, but it was a natural disaster. I am more saddened by human neglect and foolishness, like the woman who killed the trees on the Sea Wall.

I can't help but wonder if some of the mania here in Van is that selfish grieving, the kind that resents change.

Mon Jan 15, 01:42:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

One of the issues is that it's easier to replant trees than it is people With the homeless you have to address addiction and mental illness along with poverty.

Mon Jan 15, 01:54:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger tamara said...

Yes, a daunting task. Replanting is so much easier to manage. Closing down the mental health institutions was one of the most ill-advised cuts the government has initiated. These are the folks who have a hard time being in shelters, remembering their meds. It's just so painfully sad to see so much of it on the streets, and the stories I hear my friends who work at the shelters. Money would really, really help. But so would better management.

Mon Jan 15, 02:01:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

It's easier to love a tree than a person. It's easier to blame a person for their own predicament than a tree for their's. But easy isn't right.

Last night, I was having dinner with another white middle-class friend a nice restaurant in Toronto. It was really delightful; we laughing and eating. A homeless man came in, approached our table and asked for some change. The restaurant manager moved in like lightening and shepherded him out the door. Then he came over an apologized to us.

I guess he was sorry that he'd been unable to stop poverty from intruding into our affluent experience.

The homeless man moved along the sidewalk. We went back to our dinner.

I have nothing to say about this situation that wouldn't be an attempt to soothe my own prickling conscience.

Mon Jan 15, 02:16:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Excellent post. This is the way I feel when I overhear a passionate discusion about the financial needs of the humane society or the work of canine/feline rescue operations - certainly our society should place the well being of our human members at the top of the list. But I understand that it is far easier to bring opinions together on the subjects of animal safety and the environment than on the causes and solutions to homelessness. How convenient this will be for the conservative government in the spring election.

Mon Jan 15, 03:34:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

I'd heard this post was good, Tamara. I wasn't disappointed. I think it's okay that people should want to rebuild Stanley Park. One ecologist suggested that the sections of the park not used by joggers, dog walkers, pic-nickers, etc., be left as is. The natural areas will regenerate themselves. Besides, there's nothing unatural about windstorms. The homeless, on the other hand -- wow. Talk about flipping over a rock and not liking what you find. I suspect most planners will just look away.

Tue Jan 16, 08:59:00 am GMT-5  

Post a Comment

<< Home