History & Heritage
January 8, 2021

Narratives and Demographic Realities of the West End – 1


A few weeks ago, PT ran a post: “The West End The Way it Was.”   Its last line: “One of the best urban neighbourhoods in the world.”

Regular commenter Bob took issue:

(The West End) “was” one of the best urban neighbourhoods in the world.

The distinctive mix of demographics that made it unique: seniors, young immigrant families, the gay community, all are being driven out by the gentrification unleashed during Vision Vancouver’s and the BC Liberal’s tenure. The removal of St.Pauls to the False Creek Flats will be yet another body blow to the community.


There’s been a narrative like that in the West End as long as I’ve lived here.  Since the 70s people have said the unique mix isn’t what it was, or is in danger, or is no longer.

I understand what Bob bemoans: the perceived loss of diversity as the West End becomes upscaled and out of reach of the residents who gave it real character.  It seems they are being unfairly squeezed out by a rate of change – whether demographic, physical or economic – that’s too fast.

No arguing with what people perceive; that’s their reality.  But I learned as a councillor that people’s perception of the rate of change in their community is paradoxical.  As the rate of change slows down, in fact, people’s perception of change increases.  What was once unnoticed in a neighbourhood swept by turbulent change – like the West End in the 1960s – becomes the focus of attention when things slow down enough to notice.

But eventually facts have to match up with perceptions.  Change must be reflected in the measures of that change.   And thanks to the great work by the City’s Social Policy department, we have those measures in one place and can graphically see them illustrated.  Lots of charts.*

No amount of data from yesterday will necessarily convince those persuaded by the anecdotal changes of today.  However, these community profiles derived from the census do provide a base of comparison over decades. Are seniors, families, immigrants and gays being driven out.  And who has replaced them?

We can find out in this Profile of the West End**:


Big takeaway: the astonishing thing about the West End is its stability.  Even physically, the district west of Burrard and south of Robson is remarkable for how little it has changed from the 1980s on.

Chilco Street in 2009:

In 2019:

Not even the trees have changed.

Is this Denman Street in 2005 or 2019?

Read more »

Already asylum seekers from the U.S. are crossing the Manitoba border in the depth of winter (29 asylum-seekers cross border into Manitoba over the weekend – Mar 20)
What will happen this summer?  Is it conceivable that the Americans under a Trump administration would actually facilitate a mass exit of some of their estimated 11 million undocumented residents as a way to expeditiously encourage ‘voluntary deportation’?  ‘Walk north and we won’t get in your way.  Let the smug Canadians deal with the arrival of tens of thousands of illegals and see how they like it.’
It would be like a Mariel boatlift, when 125,000 Cubans were allowed to flee to Florida over half a year in 1980.
So what would we do if, say, 10,000 refugees arrived in the Lower Mainland in a week.  And another 10,000 the next.  And the next.
How would we deal with even the basics: finding accommodation and feeding so many?  Would it be a temporary situation or a new reality?
So far, any local official I’ve talked to hasn’t seriously considered the prospect, and as far as I know there is no anticipatory strategies being developed.  But then, it’s not likely that would be publicly acknowledged at this point.
Some thoughts:

  • Having seen the emergence of favelas in South American cities, the best people to call might be Brazilian and Colombian planners.
  • Would the destabilization of Canada be an acceptable outcome?  Would militarization of the northern border be demanded, or even possible?
  • Would there be a negotiated resolution as there was after half a year in the Mariel boatlift?
  • One wonders what the American people would think. Would it change their self-image, as it would the world’s, to see so many flee ‘the best and strongest country in the history of the world?’
  • And what would it do to us?
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