West Vancouver’s British Properties is in many ways an opposite world from the West End. Charles Gillis writes in Maclean’s about children and their social development in this exclusive and wealthy ‘hood.


Photo by Simon Hayter

But the area’s soaring property values have been eclipsed this fall by a different, equally dramatic measure of well-being: fully 43 per cent of kindergarten-aged kids from the neighbourhood qualified this year as “vulnerable” on a standard index of childhood development, according to an annual state-of-the-city report—a third more than last year and four times the level seen 10 years ago. The kids were assessed on the Early Development Instrument (EDI), a tool used by all 13 provinces and territories to measure school readiness based on language skills, emotional maturity, socialization, physical health and general knowledge. Officials with the West Vancouver Community Foundation, the non-profit organization that publishes the report, believe language is the biggest factor. About 41 per cent of residents in West Vancouver are first-generation immigrants, they note, and the number is steadily growing.
But the language barrier alone doesn’t explain the slow development of the Properties’ pre-schoolers. The neighbourhood remains a redoubt of the world’s blessed and clever, from software tycoons to famous architects. Its sons and daughters enjoy every advantage over their less wealthy peers, be they excellent genes or infinity pools in which to learn the dog paddle. Yet the proportion categorized as vulnerable puts the area on par with low-income immigrant neighbourhoods such as Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park, whose residents face the same linguistic challenges and a fraction of the disposable income to address them.
It’s been enough to make community leaders in West Van reconsider assumptions about money’s power to close social and cultural gaps. Nancy Farran, chair of the city’s community foundation, has gone so far to suggest that the trappings of wealth themselves—live-in nannies, perimeter fences, winding approaches guarded by electronically controlled gates—discourage neighbourhood youngsters from socializing, deepening the linguistic divide. . . .
. . . .  Though prices in the Properties remain at historic highs, he notes B.C.’s 15 per cent tax on foreign buyers has sliced into sales volumes, suggesting a reckoning that, from a community perspective, could be salutary. It would at least provide a breather, allowing those who came to stay to rethink the value of a lifestyle so exclusive that their children seldom venture beyond the hedges.