CBC Journalist Justin McElroy visited EVERY park in Vancouver and published his ranked visits here. One of those parks is a little strip of land that used to be called “the triangle” located at Kingsway and Fraser Street.
The park is now officially called McAuley Park, after the wonderful couple Harvey and Theresa McAuley who showed up at every public process event that involved their community at city hall, and were legendary as Neighbourhood Watch volunteers. Their community in east Vancouver has this couple volunteer their time and talent to whatever needed doing. In fact one Vancouver Police Constable who was the “go to ” person with Neighbourhood Watch said it was not unusual to receive up to nine calls a day from Theresa. They got things done, and they continued to politely question until they got the answers. They are both retired now, but I am sure they are still deeply involved in the community that they loved and that loved them.
There is another story about how McAuley park came into being, and it is more unusual.
The “Kingsway Triangle” was notorious as a place bad things happened, including shootings and murder. But in the same eastside neighbourhood Peter Wohlwend and Midori Oba lived on Windsor Street. Peter had headed up the Neighbourhood Watch in his area, but realized policing wasn’t the challenge, getting to know the neighbours was. He changed the name of the group he headed to the Dickens Community Group, after the school on Windsor Street.
Peter was a trained Swiss architect and had a feel for community and how it should function. His wife Midori is an accomplished classical musician and a tremendous gardener, with an eye for aesthetic and design. This couple were the people that placed a bench on the front boulevard outside their house when it was a neighbourhood frequented by drug dealers and on the prostitution stroll. They found the bench welcomed seniors carrying groceries home from Kingsway who stopped for a rest, and was frequented by grandmas and grandpas waiting for children to be released from Dickens Elementary across the street. The bench in many ways transformed how the community saw themselves, by providing a place to just sit and let that be an all right thing to do.
Peter and Midori went on to pilot the Blooming Boulevards program allowing the gardening of public space between the curb and sidewalk, now an award winning city wide program. And in their same way of not being defeated by anything, they decided that their very multicultural area would benefit by a multicultural picnic, and the Kingsway Triangle would be the perfect place to host that.
Peter first went to the businesses that were along the east side of the triangle, which included the first tire shop that was in Vancouver, that had been in the same ownership for generations. There were also several ethnic businesses that expressed a lot of discomfort at the idea of a picnic or barbeque, although they thought it was a very good idea. It turned out that the businesses were within a certain gang’s area, and that gang controlled a lot of the space, and for that matter a lot of those businessmen too.
Peter Wohlwend saw this as an opportunity instead of a hindrance, and arranged to meet one of the gang members to explain his intent of a multicultural barbeque on a weekend.
Legend has it that the business was conducted at the Lion’s Den Cafe across from the triangle park, and Chef Ken’s famously good jerk chicken sealed the deal.
On a sunny weekend Peter and Midori with a host of volunteers started what was to be an annual multicultural event on that triangle of land They had live music, they had dragon dances, they had kids performing and they had food that reflected the ethnic diversity of the community. It was a great success and the annual multicultural event knit the community together.
As Peter often said, the community using and acknowledging the space turned it from a grassy spit with a few flagpoles to a cared for place that was recognized and had good memories for the community. All the businesses benefited as well by meeting the neighbours who became some of their best customers. The annual event also served to be a turning point in the community, as more businesses opened up on Fraser Street, as outlined in this article in The Courier by Mike Klassen.
Peter Wohlwend passed away in 2016, and Member of Parliament Don Davies recognized Peter’s contributions to the community in the House of Commons. But for everyone that lives in the neighbourhood, they also know the story of how Peter Wohlwend created a park and community space on the Kingsway Triangle for local residents.