A Former Garbage Dump and Shanty Town
In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the City of Vancouver acquired a large chunk of the southern part of the recently reclaimed False Creek basin through the non-payment of taxes. Much of the land became a convenient garbage dump for road works material such as old asphalt and concrete sidewalks. Even the odd automobile found its way into the dump. As the Depression wore on, the dump and surrounding area became home to a crudely built shanty town occupied by out-of-work men. Local families sent the cow down to graze on the grass, while a few brave kids used the unfilled parts of the creek as a local swimming hole. Eventually, the City of Vancouver laid out a park on the portion of property between Hawks and Raymur Avenue, but the three-acre plot on the other side of Hawks behind the firehall continued to collect junk and grow weeds.
Random Acts of Gardening
In the early 1980s, local artists and neighbourhood activists began to look at this unused parcel and random acts of gardening began to appear, as well as sculptures. For many years, Michael Banwell’s primary-coloured houses sat on the berm at the northern end of the site. After soil tests said it was safe, a two-year lease was signed with the city, formalizing the emerging garden. Workers began removing junk, scrap metal, and concrete and volunteers transformed the former junk yard into a flourishing vegetable patch within two years.
Formalizing the Garden
The garden is three acres and includes plots for residents and a number of community groups, a heritage apple orchard with over 600 espaliered trees, a herb garden for the use of local residents along with bee keeping, composting programs, and an acre set aside for wildlife. A bird count in the 1990s identified over 100 species using the garden. While the Strathcona Community Garden developed and became a solid part of the community, it still went from lease to lease always with the threat of eviction until Park Board policy caught up with the gardeners.
In 2005, the Park Board signed a 25-year lease with the Strathcona Community Gardeners Society, a non-profit charitable organization which members join each year to renew their garden plots. With a formal community garden policy in place – based in large part on the experience of working with members of the Strathcona Garden, new gardens were soon being built and promoted by the Park Board throughout the city.
Longtime member Martin Borden values the Strathcona Community Garden as a place where he can work with others on community projects, growing food and supporting natural habitat. “For over thirty years it has remained an oasis in the centre of the city, bordering on both residential and industrial land,” he says. “It now contains many mature trees, a wetland, apple orchard, bee hives, and plots where local people can grow their own food and spend time in a natural setting. The garden has faced many challenges over the years, but continues to thrive through the efforts of volunteers who see the value in creating and maintaining a green refuge in Vancouver’s east side.”
- Strathcona Community Gardens website.
- John Atkin. Strathcona: Vancouver’s First Neighbourhood. Whitecap Books, 1994.
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