Art & Culture
March 29, 2021

1960’s Hippies of Fourth Avenue: Vancouver’s Haight Ashbury

The City of Vancouver was wondering what to do with the “hippies” who were concentrated largely in the Kitsilano area. A committee of “aldermen” from Vancouver City Hall called a “three man Council team” in the Vancouver Sun on October 12, 1967 “generally disclaims charges by Kitsilano ratepayers last summer when  the Fourth Avenue population was at its peak that hippies constituted a serious moral, sanitary and legal threat”.

The report concluded  that “more active interest should be taken by assisting hippies to get work and decent places to live, sending them social workers, inviting them to express their views before Council and by re-assessing youth activity programs in schools, churches and community centres”.

Sadly, the report also recommended “the acceleration of urban renewal programs and revitalization of depressed and blighted areas where hippie communities thrive”. These were the programs that would decimate Strathcona and threaten Chinatown in the early 1970’s.

Here’s a really weird clip of a show from 1968 hosted by commentator Bill Good. On a show called “Lets Go” there is a very twisty set of  interviews that are not too focussed, but do give a taste of opposing views at the time.

A youthful but conservative Mr. Good interviews Kitsilano’s ‘Hippies’ but does not really name them except for the late Doug Hawthorne who managed the “Psychedelic Shop” on 4th Avenue.

The show compares the 1960’s 4th Avenue “scene” to that of the great music and drug scene in  San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury, and then does surprising segues talking to people like singer Pat Boone, comedian Richard Pryor, Little Richard and even the Maharishi Yogi. Richard Pryor has the best line, saying that more people smoke pot than eat peanut butter sandwiches.

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A new work from the Vancouver Sculpture Biennale has appeared on the False Creek seawall at the foot of Drake Street – a shocking bit of red against the aquamarine palette of the city.

The Proud Youth by Chinese artist Chen Wenling is named after a popular Wuxia (Martial Heroes) novel, The Smiling, Proud Wanderer (Xiao Ao Jiang Hu 笑傲江湖) – literally to live a carefree life in a mundane world of strife.  It’s always read as a political allegory.

From a distance, it’s initially difficult to make out what’s going on.

Close up, “the red figure, naked and free, fully reveals his honesty and fearlessness. The cheeky expression and arresting pose are a celebratory call to the audiences, inviting them to embrace their inner child.”

Or, of course, to photograph it.  If not already one of the most popular Instagram locations in the city, it soon will be.




In another era (c. 1966, in front of the Vancouver Sun building*), this work would shock (naked boy, penis!).  Today, not so much.

Along with another popular piece brought to the city by the Biennale (A-maze-ing Laughter, at English Bay), there are now two contemporary works that explore the Asian body.



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The greatest loss in the heritage history of America was the demolition of Pennsylvania Station in 1964.  From the grandeur of the McKim Mead and White original in 1910:

To the bland and squalid replacement in 1963:

But now, with opening in January 2021 of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Train Hall, Pennsylvania Station is expanding into the adjacent neoclassical James A. Farley Building, the former main post office.  And that looks like this:

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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.

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Who touches every household during the pandemic and knows where seniors live? Canada Post still goes door to door in many areas, and knows whether mail is being picked up or not.

But libraries in the metro Toronto area went one step further during the pandemic when their public areas were closed down.

They called their senior library card holders-who number over 20,000-to ask how they were doing.

Starting last summer, twenty staff members made a list of their clients between the ages of 80 to 100 years and  have made calls to 10,000 individuals. That was so effective,  library staff are now calling the next cohort, those aged between 70 and 79.

The library staff ask how the senior is doing, and also lets them know what library services are available to them during Ontario’s lockdowns, and how they can continue to access reading materials. The staff explain how the curbside pickup service works, and also how ebooks can be borrowed. There is also a delivery service for those who are immobile.

Each call takes about ten minutes of staff time.

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April 1966 was a heady time in Vancouver~it was the year before Canada’s centennial year, and was the City of Vancouver’s 80th birthday. Oddly it was also the  80th anniversary of the so called “colonial” union between Vancouver Island and the mainland, and that’s what the  Provincial government wanted to celebrate.

At the time, Premier Bennett  of the Social Credit party had planned to create a “legacy public work” by building in secret a large water fountain on the north side of  what is now the Vancouver Art Gallery. It was still functioning in 1966 as the Court House. (The building became the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1983.)

The fountain with its very mod mosaic patterned floor and large spouts of water was truly an expression of the 1960’s. The fountain was supposed to be never turned off, and was designed by Alex von Svoboda who was an Austrian count that immigrated to Canada after World War Two.

Twenty years later, visiting  Architect Michael Turner, the  UNESCO Chairholder in Urban Design and Conservation Studies pondered at the UBC architecture school why a city in a pretty damp rainforest climate needed to have a large fountain continually spewing water. The fountain was plonked directly in what had formerly been a large gathering place for Vancouver citizens. The students in his class had no answers.

During the secretive construction of the fountain, the public space in front of the Court House was cordoned off by large wooden hoarding painted green and white, which just happened to be the colours of the Provincial party in power. The Berlin Wall had been constructed commencing in 1961 and the Mayor of Vancouver Bill Rathie wanted to ensure that everyone knew he was not responsible for the usurping of  this much used public space.

There was no love lost between the Premier and the Mayor.

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The Duke of Data at Simon Fraser University’s City Program Andy Yan suggested it first: if you have Christmas lights up on your condo railing or your abode, why not keep them up longer this year to get through the dark, dull, rainy part of each Metro Vancouver winter. No one will judge you, especially this year.

This idea of bringing in more light in the darkest part of winter is feasible too with the energy efficient outdoor lighting now widely used. And the idea of keeping Christmas lights up (or jazzing them up with colours that are not so directly Christmas festive) has been adopted elsewhere.

The City of Kitchener Ontario’s mayor Berry Vrbanovic is encouraging people to keep their Christmas lights up through January stating: “Seeing our neighbourhoods lit up with lights and decorations has been a wonderful way to feel connected as a community – I love the idea of stretching that festive atmosphere into the new year as we continue to get outside for safe neighbourhood walks and physical activity.”

And in Salem Virginia, residents are urged to keep Christmas lights up to honour the front line healthcare workers through January. This is part of a national campaign urging municipalities and organizations across the United States to keep Christmas lights up until January 31, and to spread the word on social media with the hashtag ##LightsUp4Heroes. In Colorado,the initiative is being embraced state wide.

There is also a historical precedent~in Great Britain, the feasting, decorations, Christmas cakes and puddings used to continue for a much longer period than what we typically do today, in tucking everything away by early January.

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