The Heatley Block

Has been saved!!!!!!!!!!!!- written February 4th-2010

I recieved a phone call from the Vancouver Public Library that the Carnegie Library was never moving and neither is the children’s library in the school. The fate of the Heatley Block is still in question.

The Heatley block is located at the corner of Heatley and Hastings Street.  It was recently purchased by the City of Vancouver and is operated by Atira Property Management.    Rogan Sinclair along with his partner Kim, are the site managers for the Heatley Block.  They have recently moved in with their kids Christmas and Mickey this past year.  The previous building they were in was located at 29 west Hastings street next to Army and Navy, not super kid friendly, but they managed.  I met Christmas and Mickey at Strathcona Community Centre where i have worked on and off for about 12 years.  They were all very happy about this move to the Heatley Block. Close to the school, way more space for them as a family, quieter, and places to play outside, 2 parks just down the street.   They are adaptable kids, they’ll figure it out if their new home gets torn down.  They already are.  They have been going around with petitions, Mickey told me they have  3 pages filled up already.   Their parents are bound by who they work for to not respond, but their kids aren’t.  I feel really proud of them that they feel empowered enough to respond, and i want to support them how i can.  I guess that’s why i’m writing about them, a small way of helping.   They are 2 very good reasons amongst many as to why the Heatley Block should stay put.

The proposal goes something like this:  Tear down the Heatley block as well as the adjacent building belonging to Pivot Legal Society(who will sell their building to the city for this project)  and build an 8 storey tower containing 200 square foot boxes of housing and a brand new library on Hastings Street, with some new retail space.  This part of the plan is still a little fuzzy for me, maybe hard to believe, but the Children’s library at the School would be closed and moved to Hastings Street as well as the Carnegie Library.  There has been an alternate proposal by a residents group to move the proposed new library in to the oldest part of Strathcona Elementary School, also slated for demolition.

So why is any of this wrong, new library, new affordable housing, all good right?  No actually, its all supposed to sound good, just like South East False Creek,which has seen all but 20 percent of its affordable housing squeezed out, and the future of that is still debatable. The high costs of construction can be trumped out to add a few more floors on, make the project half market or more and why not throw a Starbucks downstairs, not out of the realm of possibility, their is much history to draw upon.  So why  should it stay put?  Carnegie Library for starters is one of the most used libraries in the City.  The Children’s library at the School is also well used and very convenient and safe for the kids, that don’t have to walk out to a highway to get their books.  For all of the new residents who are too freaked out to go to Carnegie for their books, they could go to the oldest part of the School that could house a full collection with an expanded children’s section.  There are also a number of viable local businesses at street level, including the most recent tenant Spartacus Books, which has been in and around the neighbourhood for over 30 years.

We don’t seem to get the concept of heritage and why it is actually important.  Our idea of heritage is gutting the interior, keeping the facade and popping a tower in the middle.  Not heritage.  Heritage is about people and memory and story and the feel of places that have had thousands of people run through them. People who have witnessed decades of changes.

Home is different than housing. This concept has been forgotten In the flurry of guilt and shame around the issue of homelessness and poverty in our city, “lets just house as many people as we can, 200 square feet, better than nothing”.  Tell that to the Sinclair’s, who after a very long time in housing, just found home.


4 responses to “The Heatley Block

  1. Thanks for posting this very well written, heart felt, and articulate article on the Heatley Block. I am part of group of people working to save the Heatley Block and was at the recent meeting with the Library Board where the Heatley Block Preservation Society presented their arguments for saving this landmark neighbourhood building and for locating the new full service East End Library in the 1921 Strathcona School Building. At that meeting we were challenged by one of the library board members to define “heritage” and what we meant by “preservation”. I would like everyone interested in saving the Heatley Block to think about those two terms and if they can spare the time, to send me their thoughts. Heritage seems to have become a word that has been reduced to something much smaller than how I see it. Living in Strathcona, a neighbourhood that had to fight city hall to keep their neighbourhood at all makes me feel that every building that those early neighbourhood residents and activists saved is precious. They are touchstones of sort. When we see them, we are reminded of our history. Who we are. What we fought for and won. When the physical reminders of our community’s past have been removed, be they memorial cherry trees in Oppenheimer Park or buildings like the Heatley Block, something as core as our roots ends up being taken from us. With the visible reminders gone, memory becomes fuzzy, identity blurred, pride diminished… For me, the fight to save this building for the neighbourhood and the people who live there and the businesses that bring healthy foot traffic to East Hastings is such a natural thing to do… How do we make the powers that be get it too?

  2. There’s more to what the City is doing than destruction of history. They are gradually eroding a neighbourhood. The Heatley Block is just one symptom of the overall ailment.

    The way to effect change is first through education so we all understand the issues, and second by community involvement and action.

    People need to stand up for this neighbourhood.

    There are some informative community meetings coming up to discuss the issues at hand. On September 9, 2009, 7:15pm at the Strathcona Community Centre we have a guest speaker on addictions, low-barrier housing, harm reduction (in preparation for the Gabor Mate dialogue on September 28). Bring your questions and concerns.

    The last time people really stood up for the neighbourhood was in the early 60’s when the City tried to run the #1 Highway through Strathcona and Chinatown.

    Maybe it’s time we rose to the bar that our predecessors set.

  3. Loring Bohach, a member of the Library Board came to the Strathcona Residents Association meeting tonight and announced officially that the library/city successfully purchased another site for the East End library. The Heatley Block has been saved!

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