November 19th Review
Written by: Samantha Knopp
Today was the first of WHC’s smaller community walks and our small group was given the unique experience of seeing the city through the individual accounts of others. After meeting at Interurban Gallery we were immediately introduced to the three guests who would be providing this intimate glimpse into the city: Leni T. Goggins, the twenty-nine year-old creator and Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Lester’s Army, and her two comrades, Brandy Vincent, the Assistant Editor, and Gene Bougie.
Lester’s Army is a local magazine that explores the relationships between youth and seniors in Vancouver. But Lester’s Army is much more than a magazine; first and foremost it is a movement that strives to build bridges between seniors and youth by actively bringing the two groups together and allowing them to discover common ground. As such, Leni decided that the best way to introduce Lester’s Army to us was to provide a first-hand experience of what Lester’s Army is all about! And so it was that our group of young people met with one of the magazine’s favourite seniors, Gene Bougie.
After pulling our chairs into a nice close circle, Gene began at the beginning with a photograph of himself as a young boy, alongside his entire family at a reunion, inspired by an uncle finally returning home from World War II. The photo was taken outside of what is now Pacific Central Station, on Main and Terminal, and as Gene described the city of his youth, many of us who had gone on previous walks with other (younger) guests were excited to hear the history again from an actual eyewitness! As Gene brought out more photos and memorabilia, we were amazed at how much Vancouver has changed. The sepia photos showed an almost unrecognizable city, especially the single-story West End and industrial False Creek!
Gene Bougie showing us a family picture taken a few blocks away from where we sit at Interurban Gallery (photo credit: Laurie Dawson)
Gene then began to reflect on his experience growing up in Vancouver sixty years ago, including his personal difficulties recognizing the changes in the city, especially in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). Back in the 1950s, Hastings Street was the place to be and Gene painted a vivid picture of this bustling urban centre, describing his route on the street cars and the attractions in the area he used to frequent. Gene’s recollection of his adolescent years surprised many of us, not because of how different it was from our own more recent teenage experiences but because of the many similarities! Gene shared hilarious stories of underage drinking and general mischief-making (the two walked together more than once). This honesty was one of the most amazing things about our time with Gene, rivalled only by the wisdom he shared to go with the stories themselves, especially when he talked about the hardships. Learning about his life in Vancouver may well have given us the best insight into the city’s past so far, providing us with a tangible connection to times gone by.
Gene Bougie is such a great storyteller! Here he is mixing history, Vancouver and his colourful tattoo (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)
Despite Gene’s grey hair and soft, raspy voice, he somehow didn’t seem seventy years old – maybe it was his strong build, or his mischievous eyes and dashing grin. But first impressions can be deceiving, and as Gene told story after story from his life, seventy years suddenly felt too short for so many adventures! I think most of us would have been completely content if our walk had just been sitting and listening to Gene, but we had two other guests with stories to share, so the group regretfully said goodbye to our new-found friend and made its way to Lester’s Army’s office at the new Woodward’s Development.
Learning about Lester’s Army and looking at past issues (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)
Leni and Brandy led us through the non-profit sector of the Woodward’s Community Building and we soon arrived at a large office leased by Geist (Canada’s most widely read literary magazine), where Lester’s Army rents a space. Once the group had settled in around the boardroom table, Leni started to tell us about how Lester’s Army’s went from an idea to a reality, a story that began at the Purple Thistle. Leni was one of the first members of this youth-run arts and activism centre, and it was here that she was given the impetus and support to pursue her passion: writing. The centre’s director, Matt Hern, encouraged members to take charge of their education and that’s exactly what Leni did when she started writing cicles and documented those experiences through zines. Eventually, Leni decided she wanted to produce a larger platform for youth to write and express themselves, but also knew this publication should address the lack of connections between youth and seniors, a concern that was borne from a personal regret at the lack of relationship she had with her own grandparents. We quickly found out that Leni’s experience wasn’t unique. Her sincere and easy-going demeanour make her the type of person that people are willing to open their heart for, and that’s exactly what many of us did; we shared stories of frustration at unknown grandparents and disjointed families, which after our earlier talk with Gene seemed much more poignant. For Leni, Lester’s Army was the answer to this social problem. By bringing youth and seniors together and producing a magazine that reflects this shared experience, she hoped to provide a place for non-professional writers (both young and old) to get their voices out there and address these issues.
Lester’s Army’s Leni T Goggins and Brandy Vincent (far right) connect youth and seniors through community projects and a literary magazine (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)
Making this dream a reality has been the focus of Leni’s life for the last four years. Ignoring the conventional “necessary credentials” for publishing, Leni instead chose to believe in her own ability to make things happen by working hard and being smart enough to choose the right people to collaborate with. Lester’s Army is about collaboration on many levels. Obviously the project requires the time and effort of a large number of participants, but the project also got its initial funding through the Vancouver Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council. With this money Lester’s Army was launched, producing its first issue in 2007. Since then it has been a sometimes steep but always deeply rewarding learning curve. The project continues to grow thanks to more grants, and the support and contributions of the community. It seemed too soon when we had to wrap up the session, and we were already one hour overtime! (Not that anyone seemed to mind.) Our experience today was moving. We left inspired by Leni’s great success story but also by the project itself and the realization of the important, but often unrecognized role that elders have in our lives and the larger social fabric.
Where We Went Map – November 19th, 2010:
Laurie Dawson November 19, 2010
Lester’s Army is a force. And that’s because Leni T. Goggins is behind it. I’m going to fast forward to the end of the Lester’s Army/Walking Home Projects November 19th event for a second because I want to say a word about Leni. At the end of her talk about what it takes to publish Lester’s Army Magazine, Walking Home Projects Director Catherine Pulkinghorn asked Leni what she is most proud of. Leni paused, adjusted her fantastic pair of purple glasses and provided us an answer that, much like Gene Bougie speaking before her, gave our hearts’ ventricles a good squeeze.
She saw something missing in her life and she figured out how to fulfill it on her own.
Creatively. While bringing two largely unconnected factions of the community together: youths and seniors. Plus, she started GranPaparazzi which is awesome (in my humble opinion).
Leni makes it happen by applying for funding for projects such as The Shelter Project, and making a magazine out of it, aka Lester’s Army. And by not getting paid herself, but that’s going to change. The word’s got to spread about this movement, one ventricle-squeezing story at a time.
Gene Bougie from Lester’s Army sharing stories and photos with our group about Vancouver and his own life in this city (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)
Freya C. November 19,2010
I am actually finding it quite difficult to start my response this time around. My emotional and intellectual responses to Friday’s little adventure are many, and the path they follow is far from linear.
some time later
Alright. I’ve decided to attack this in a completely linear, practical way, as a counter-point to my illogical thoughts and feelings. I arrived at Interurban Gallery a few minutes late, because I’m kind of tardy like that. It was, for various reasons (excuses, mainly), my first time at the gallery. We were there to listen to Gene Bougie tell us about his life in Vancouver, and I was completely blown away by the experience. I loved the tenderness with which he laid down his ghost of Vancouver over the modern skeleton that lay just beyond the gallery windows. I loved the way he unravelled the story of how he’d become himself without pretense, without telling us how to feel about it. I loved the way we all sat in a circle around him, and the expressions of delight and intrigue on our faces reminded me so much of the warm flicker on faces around a bonfire.
After he’d finished talking (long before I’d tired of listening), we milled about the gallery some, and then headed to Geist/the office of Lester’s Army. Along the way I mused about the city’s skyline, and how little I knew about the buildings. I decided then that not being able to name the towering buildings around me was sort of a personal failing, seeing as I’d been living here for sixteen years. By the time we emerged from the Woodward’s Development elevator and were following Leni down the hall, I had resigned myself to filling the gap in my knowledge at a later time and was focusing my thoughts on my more immediate surroundings. The office, though in some disarray, seemed loved to me. Lester’s Army was just moving in, and all around were interesting little artifacts. Although I desired to know the story behind the well displayed objects, and to dig through the boxes just to find out what treasures (or old papers, or tax forms, or whatever) they harboured, I held my tongue and headed into the little conference room. I’m honestly quite pleased with the whole experience. I found Leni to be inspiring and Brandy to be though provoking.
The thread of my brief acquaintance with Leni and Brandy got caught in the closing elevator doors as we left. Our descent in the little steel box broke the brightly coloured strand and left me plummeting into my usual icy ocean of teenage “what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life” angst. I know now that I don’t want to do what they’re doing, but that still leaves a lot options. I wasn’t really inspired by the idea that a ‘zine like Lester’s Army had been made out of next to nothing by a tenacious young woman. I was inspired because she made me remember that it could be done. I can make something. I can scoop in all the little bits of chaos in my life and construct something beautiful with them. That’s what Leni did. Maybe that’s what I’ll do.