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Housing-related protests a Vancouver tradition

Occupy Vancouver in front of the Art Gallery. Occupy Vancouver has ended up being one of the most important issues…

By Samuel Chambaud , in Housing , on November 17, 2011 Tags: , , ,

Occupy Vancouver in front of the Art Gallery.

Occupy Vancouver has ended up being one of the most important issues in the run-up to the municipal elections, ranking right up there with housing in terms of what concerns the city’s voters the most. Its organizers view housing as one of the local arm of the movement’s key issues.

Public protests, both peaceful and not, but especially those that involve housing, or rather a lack thereof, have a long history in Vancouver.

Michael Barnholden, an English instructor at Emily Carr University, recounts the many housing-related revolts that have occurred in the city over the years in his book, Reading the Riot Act, a brief history of riots in Vancouver.

In the 1930s, for example, Vancouver City Council, which owned real estate in the neighboring cities and towns such as Burnaby, repossessed homes there when the regions went bankrupt, leading their residents to start rioting.

A group of 35 soldiers, protesting the fact that they couldn’t find any housing upon their return from the war, occupied the Hotel Vancouver in 1946. Some 1,000 veterans and their spouses subsequently lived there until 1948, before the hotel got demolished the following year.

More recently, the Woodward’s building in the Downtown Eastside was occupied by a group of activists seeking social housing from the provincial government. The 2002 Woodward’s Squat, also known as “Woodsquat,” was an important issue in the municipal campaign that saw Larry Campbell elected on his promise to address homelessness.

Visiting the Occupy Vancouver camp, Barnholden noticed a placard on which the two main contenders, Mayor Gregor Robertson of Vision Vancouver and the NPA’s Susan Anton, were featured alongside local real estate mogul Bob Rennie, with a caption that read: “For developers, by developers.”
“It shows that despite political changes, the real estate market will still pull the strings in Vancouver,“ he said.

Placard seen at Occupy Vancouver.

Housing concerns of Occupiers

Members of Occupy Vancouver also see housing matters as an important component of their struggle.

“It is the most usual, the most obvious and the most local issue in Vancouver,“ says Max Winther, one of the main organizers of the housing rally that took place last Saturday.

Whinter contributed to draft a document titled Housing is a right, not a commodity, which addresses housing problems in Vancouver.

Endorsed by the Occupy Vancouver General Assembly, it details what its authors contend is the growing corruption, gentrification and speculation of the Vancouver real estate market.

Housing also preoccupies Maureen Fishpond, a member of Occupy Vancouver’s media committee. She plans to vote for Randy Helten, of Neighborhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver.

As she said, “Helten advocates for a better use of public lands and is committed to defend historical areas of Vancouver that are threatened by the construction of condos.”


A chronology of protests

  • 1907: Rampant racism toward Asian immigrants led to the 1907 Anti-Asian riotsin Vancouver. It was fomented by the Asiatic Exclusion League, an organization that aimed to bar Asian people from North America, and in particular did not want to them to own private property.
  • 1935 and 1938: Unemployment riots began when workers from the surrounding areas of Vancouver were dispossessed from their houses. The Vancouver City Council, which owned real estate in the neighboring cities and towns such as Burnaby, had reclaimed the homes after the regions went bankrupt.
  • 1946: A group of 35 soldiers returning from war occupied the second Hotel Vancouver on the ground that they couldn’t find any housing back home. They announced that the vacant hotel would be used for veterans housing purposes. About a 1000 veterans and their spouses went to live there until 1948, before the building was torn down in 1949. They were backed by a large scope of local politicians.
  • 2002: The Woodward’s building in the Downtown Eastside was occupied by a group of activists seeking social housing from the provincial government. The Woodward’s Squat — also known as “Woodsquat” — was an important issue in the municipal campaign that saw Larry Campbell elected on his promise to address homelessness.

Based on Michael Barnholden’s book, Reading the Riot Act, a brief history of riots in Vancouver.