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February 24, 2011 Walking Home Projects takes a walk through Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, Market Alley and Yue Shan Society’s Interior Courtyard with a stop at New Town Bakery

WH Pender February 24th, 2011 Guest Review

by David Gawne

February 24th was cold and windy, and the sun was busy behind the clouds the whole day. Besides producing a lot of snot and chattering teeth, the cold and wind gnawed at everything but our zeal, for the group had silently resolved to be as hard as the nails that were left out of the Chinese Gardens’ building plans. We resolved also to enjoy ourselves, and there is scant reason why one would not in such a beautiful setting as our first stop, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden: It is a place where one stands in the idea that produced it; everywhere there is harmony, balance, and the pursuit thereof.

Our group exploring the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden – amazed it was built without power tools or nails (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Another interesting stop on our walk was Market Alley, where there were already a number of people who took an altogether different interest in it, and who for the most part ignored our presence. And how strange! We went from harmony and balance to dark recesses and isolation in a block and a half. I almost felt like our group was in the wrong place — that perhaps one of the muttering pigeons would ask for our ‘papers’, frisk us for bread crumbs, and send us on our way. Instead, we learned about the history of Market Alley and the Wing Sang building and Rennie Collection, and I wondered who else might have designs for this area of the city. I figured it could use anything but more bird poop.

Walking past the back of the Wing Sang Building (which houses the Rennie Collection) in Market Alley (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

We on the other hand needed food, so we eventually entered a chinese bakery/restaurant called New Town Bakery on East Pender Street, taking in the sights (including the historical murals of a local artist Arthur Shu Ren Cheng) along the way. The bakery was a special stop for me, not only owing to the all-important and delicious calories I consumed, but rather owing to the conversation we were finally able to conduct without all the usual accompanying teeth chatter.

One of our favourite stops – New Town Bakery on East Pender (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Here, Walking Home Projects Director Catherine Pulkinghorn and I and a few others discussed travel. The themes of exploration and disorientation naturally presented themselves, and we each had a story of times in other places to amuse one another with. And now I suppose that this experience falls into such a category, for I don’t live or work in Vancouver, either. It was one of those ‘other times‘ for me and one in which I am reminded of the expression, ‘Boots on the ground win wars.’ Declaring war on disorientation, though, marching around Chinatown and the DTES, had left only my self to be won over. Success!

David Gawne

February 24th, 2011 – The Map of Where We Went:

Guest Review

On February 24, 2011 I joined Walking Home Projects for their Chinatown / DTES walk. We met @ the Pender / Carrall intersection and proceeded to visit various architectural and cultural focal points, including the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Chinese Cultural Centre courtyard, various Chinese family societies, Market Alley, and New Town Bakery. My favorite part of the day was walking through a very narrow, locked alleyway that led to an interior courtyard belonging to The Yue Shan Society.

The narrow alleyway into the interior courtyard of the Yue Shan Society (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Catherine Pulkinghorn, founder of Walking Home Projects, explained that this courtyard was constructed in traditional Chinese architectural fashion built by the family societies, or tongs, during this time period. Unfortunately during the early 1900s in Vancouver, racist bylaws and curfews were put into place and Chinese Canadians weren’t allowed to congregate on the street in the evening. These typical Chinese interior courtyards and alleyways became even more useful and necessary as they were the only way Chinese Canadians could legally be outdoors, shop, sell goods and congregate at night and get to each other. The interior courtyard of the Yue Shan Society is the last interior courtyard of its kind in Chinatown in Vancouver.

The interior courtyard of the Yue Shan Society (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

It was a privilege to be let into this secret world – a mystical, “Harry Potter-esque” place. It was equally as sobering to realize that this interior courtyard became a necessity in such an overwhelmingly racist, narrow-minded time. Thanks to Catherine Pulkinghorn and Laurie Dawson for another informative, fun and enlightening historical walk!

Tara Anderson

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February 3rd, 2011 – A Bloggers Walk to the Rennie Collection + immediate neighbourhood

WH Pender Street February 3rd, 2011 The Bloggers Walk

Review by: Laurie Dawson

This being a pilot year for Walking Home Projects, we have been trying out all sorts of things: morning, afternoon, evening walks, which day of the week we have walks, what groups of people we ask to walk with us from elementary school to Emily Carr students to members of various teen groups to adults interested in urban planning, activism, fashion, drawing, and public spaces. We invite various people to present on our walks from architects to historians, artists to educators and to the people who live on the particular street we are taking a walk on. We’re even trying out different events (keep your eyes peeled for stuff coming up on Mapping and maybe even a letter-writing party; and you can check out our past events here). Through all of this we rely on collaborations, partnerships, local businesses, volunteers and people who are interested in learning more about their city.

A typical walk usually comes about after hours of meetings, phone calls, emails, visits, research and discussion which Walking Home Projects Founder & Director Catherine Pulkinghorn puts in along with the Walking Home Projects’ team. Then we plan the actual walk, make maps, paperwork, gather RSVP’s, grab our umbrellas, cameras, recorders and go.

I had proposed this “bloggers walk[1]” to Catherine for a few reasons. The first being that I am really excited about the variety of online resources about Vancouver. The more I looked for blogs and websites devoted to the city, the more and more I found. (Beyond Robson, scoutmagazine.ca, Vancouver is Awesome, Miss604, Style Quotient, and others like woodwardsmile.com, Rain City Chronicles, Vancouver125, CBC’s Vancouver125, and snarky great news from the Vancouverite which I can’t seem to find an active link to anymore). At this meeting, I got drunk on possibilities of future, collaborative walks which could possibly spring forward from this bloggers walk. Can you imagine an Instant Coffee skip about town, or what particular streets the folks at Vancouver is Awesome could tell us stories about? What about the ‘Comedians of Vancouver walk’ or ‘Radio in the City walk’ or even social media stories themselves pointing at where in the city groups of strangers got together in a tweetup or flash mob and why. The second reason I proposed The Bloggers Walk to Catherine was because we are nearing the end of our pilot year and would like to get the word out about Walking Home Projects in order to keep ourselves going. The social media landscape is prolific on its commitment to posting local events and promoting local organizations. I figured if we could get some of these digital wizards out on a walk with us… well, see the last sentence from reason number one.

So as a test, and the first time in the history of Walking Home Projects we relied on social media alone. No word of mouth, no contact list, no previous meetings and interviews, no ‘I know you from this group or organization’, no friend’s acquaintances brother’s boss, no connection other than what appears to be a shared avid interest in the urban environment. Online. We contacted 40 people through Twitter, blogs, and email. And waited.

Inside the Wing Sang Building and Rennie Collection, Bob Rennie preserved the original alleyway (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

To our delight, responses started to trickle in. But here’s the thing with social media, and maybe even the thing with making plans in Vancouver itself, it’s one thing to tweet about something and another thing to show up. My belief in that magic-instant-serendipitous-connection the internet offers cutting through the need for hours and hours of pre-walk preparation was ill-founded. In our unscientific, one-walk test, we found calling people works; and emailing them works as well as scotch tape holding together a broken iPod. It works, but only kind of.

Getting a good look at artist Thomas Houseago’s work at the Rennie Collection (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

That said, we had 15 people confirm and we did a walk with six people in total. Which is honestly, pretty awesome considering the rain came down in a fury, pelting the sidewalk like pennies. It was a day made to hide. Which made it a perfect day for a visit inside the Wing Sang building to see the Rennie Collection. Our docent, Emily Carr student and photographer Jennifer Chong, was an excellent source of information on the Wing Sang building, artists Amy Bessone and Thomas Houseago’s work and she even wrangled us a quick visit inside the original Chinese language classroom Yip Sang built for his 23 children. This was such a highlight, to step inside this preserved room and literally feel, touch and see Vancouver history.

The original classroom Yip Sang built in the Wing Sang building on East Pender Street (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

After a good walk through the Rennie Collection, we walked to the corner of East Pender and Carrall where Catherine Pulkinghorn talked about our Fall 2010 Program, Walking Home Carrall Street. We then walked through part of Market Alley and stopped to get a good look – from the alleyway viewpoint – of the Wing Sang building we were just inside. From the alley we could see the three floors had been been renovated to house the gallery. Before that we looked at 34 Market Alley and discussed how Vancouver’s drug laws came into existence. Coming out of the alley onto Columbia Street we stopped for awhile to talk about the unknown future of Pantages Theatre. Zoe, who writes the blog woodwardsmile.com – life within a mile of the Woodward’s Development – pointed out the historical mural done by artist Arthur Shu Ren Cheng.

Historical Mural on corner of Columbia and Pender Street by artist Arthur Shu Ren Cheng (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

This was another highlight of the day, how fluidly a participant can become a presenter during a Walking Home Projects’ jaunt. This collaborative nature is key to uncovering much more about the city than I would have ever known myself. Zoe shared with us that she had approached Arthur Shu Ren Cheng for an interview, as he was painting the mural. You can read that on woodwardsmile.com and by clicking here. Note at the bottom of her post she includes an interesting map!

Historical Mural by Artist Arthur Shu Ren Cheng on Columbia Street near the corner of East Pender (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

We ended our walk at the Walking Home Projects studio in the Yue Shan Society. Catherine pointed out the renovations to the courtyard done by architect and activist Inge Roecker as a part of the Bright Lights temporary public artworks program commissioned by the City of Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics. In fact we continually make good use of the umbrellas from this exhibit! Alfred De Pew who writes Just Between Us at the Vancouver Observer came on the walk with us and told us about local artist Tom Carter who is very interested in Vancouver history. You can read his interview with Tom Carter here.

We finished our walk with stories inside Walking Home Project’s studio at the Yue Shan Society (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Standing in the studio with the hopes of drying off, the group of us traded stories, information and possible leads. Even after a rollercoaster of a day wondering who may or may not show up, I was starting to get excited on possibilities for future Walking Home Projects collaborations! Which is a great way to end a walk, feeling like there is so much more out there you need to discover.

Laurie Dawson

Inside the Wing Sang building three floors were removed to make space for the Gallery. You can also see Amy Bessone’s painting and Thomas Houseago’s sculptures, part of the Rennie Collection. (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

If you are interested in collaborating or coming on a walk or to an event, please email us at walkinghomeprojects[at]gmail[dot]com.

[1] I use the word “bloggers” as an umbrella phrase to include writers, critics, students, people in business, media and more. Basically anyone who is contributing online whether as a part of a website, twitter feed or blog.

The Map of Where We Went – February 3rd, 2011:

Please click below to hear Walking Home Projects Director Catherine Pulkinghorn leading a walk in Chinatown:

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January 27th, 2011 Walking Home Projects Woodward’s walk + special screening at NFB

WHPender January 27th 2011 Walking Home Projects Explores the Woodward’s Development Part II
Review By Sam Knopp

The meeting spot for this week’s Walking Home Projects walk was a little unusual, as instead of the typical street corner, the instructions given to all the participants were to meet at the top of the strange spiralling staircase in the central atrium of the Woodward’s Development.

The stairs in the Woodward’s Development atrium – our meeting point was at the top! (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

For me, this mysterious meeting location set the stage for a day that would be full of strange and unexpected discoveries! With all the guests finding their way up to the last shaky steps (as the uniquely designed staircase is only supported at its base) Catherine Pulkinghorn, Walking Home Projects’ Director, introduced the group of young adults to the development and got us to take vantage of our “viewpoint”, the word which was to the theme of today’s walk.

One possible view from the top of the stairs in the atrium of the Woodward’s Development (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Looking out into the atrium, we discussed the evolution of the building from its past to current usage and took note of some of the present features. The Woodward’s Development is understood by many to be the largest mixed use project in North America, featuring market and non-market social housing, office space, retail services, a daycare, and a university campus, all within one city block! Whether or not the project will be successful is still long to be determined but as we looked out into the atrium, we could all appreciate the various amenities this sheltered public space offered: a place to host events, like the current installation, Iqaluit, with the PuSh Festival; a venue to display Stan Douglas’s powerful public art piece Abbott and Cordova; and a gathering place for all, safe from Vancouver’s elements.

The overpass between the Woodward’s Development and parkade offers a spectacular view of Vancouver’s Cordova Street (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Making our way down to the second floor, Catherine led the group through the building to a pedestrian overpass that connects the Woodward’s Development to a 6 story parkade. Stopping in the elevated glass tunnel we were given a new viewpoint of Vancouver and specifically Cordova Street, which was directly below us. It was a unique perspective as we found ourselves somewhat at par with the buildings around us, allowing us to more fully recognize and appreciate the historic structures that dominate this neighbourhood but also become more poignantly aware of the rising condo towers, pushing their way east.

A great viewpoint to see buildings in Vancouver: at the top of a parkade (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Continuing through the tunnel, and up to the roof of the parkade, we found another unexpected and even more spectacular viewpoint of the city. It was exciting to remember that one can take advantage of all sorts of public spaces, not just the ones on the maps. After surveying the rooftop and its various views we looked back towards the Woodward’s Development and its enormous beacon, the glowing red “W.” Like last week’s walk with a group of elementary school kids, I once again took a shot at presenting and shared some of my knowledge of the history of Woodward’s. Now in a new location and with a more mature group, the vocabulary became a little larger, information a little more detailed and the content focused largely on the history of “W,” which was first put atop the department store in 1944. Prior to this, the store had a large spotlight which could be seen as far away as Mission and Abbotsford, but at the beginning of WWII it was removed due to fears that is could be a target for an enemy attack! Near the end of the war, Woodward’s decided to reinstate its presence in Vancouver’s skyline, but replaced the bright white light for some red neon, appropriate consider Vancouver’s multitude of neon at the time. The sign quickly became a landmark of the city, as it stood out amongst Vancouver’s much shorter skyline (at the time). Placed on a replica of the Eiffel Tower – that stood on the one man peanut butter factory on top of the Woodward’s store – the “W” and the Woodward’s Department Store stood out as something different and uniquely Vancouver.

Presenter Sam Knopp letting us know that the classic “W” stands on what used to be a one-man peanutbutter factory! (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Taking in one last view, we then headed back to the Woodward’s Development where we were given a private tour of the National Film Board’s (NFB) offices by Production Supervisor Kathryn Lynch, and then treated to three short animated films in the NFB’s private screening room. The selection of films, curated by Catherine, gave us a unique look into the work of one of Canada’s most important illustrators, Ryan Larkin, and his struggles with drug addiction.

NFB Production Supervisor Kathryn Lynch shows our group an editing suite (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

The first film was of Ryan Larkin’s groundbreaking short, Walking, which was produced in 1969 and its colourful vignettes, explore how we walk, had us hypnotized and amazed at the potential power animated films can have. The second film, Ryan, by Chris Landreth was actually a biopic of Ryan Larkin’s life after his rise to fame, where succumbing to drug and alcohol abuse he was left homeless. Again many of us were surprised at the potential an animated film could have to evoke such a strong emotional response but now also deal with very serious and real issues. And finally the last film, Spare Change, was again a Ryan Larkin creation, made in the final years of his life after he got clean and off the streets. Together the three films provided a very powerful portrait that left all of us deeply moved. Thankfully these amazing works are not just viewable in the NFB’s private screening room but can be watched, along with hundreds of other independent films, on the NFB’s website.

One highlight of the walk was visiting the NFB offices in the Woodward’s Development (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

With the day coming to an end we made our way down to the atrium where we made a quick stop to the original “W” before saying our goodbyes at the Audain Gallery, in the SFU building. Wrapping up our day we were all excited by the different things introduced to us during our walk – the unexpected views, knowledge and resources – and the opportunity to use them in our futures.

Sam Knopp

The Map of Where We Went – January 27th, 2011:

January 27, 2011
An Exploration of the Woodward’s Development by Alicia Wooding

Last week I was given the opportunity to explore the building where Lester’s Army is based with fresh and wide eyes. I was invited along to an exploration of the Woodward’s Development with Walking Home Projects. The idea of these walks is to share knowledge and experience with members of the community, and to give people an interesting insight into the world they encounter every day.

Another view of the fantastical stairs in the atrium of the Woodward’s Development (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

The group met at the top of the spiral staircase in the Woodward’s atrium. I have never actually been up there and it was unnervingly shaky, but provided a great view. When the whole group was present we were introduced to Walking Home Projects Director Catherine Pulkinghorn, and to one another. We were invited to focus on viewpoints of the atrium and crowded the ledge to see the artwork around the building.

View of Stan Douglas’ “Abbott & Cordova, 7 August 1971″ from the top of the stairs in the atrium at the Woodward’s Development (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

From the top we had a great view of the $1 million photography project above the main entrance. The installation by Stan Douglas represents the 1971 Gastown riots and is quite an evocative piece. The enclosed area in the atrium is public space and often hosts local events and international art work. In the centre of the floor was the strange installation from the PuSh Festival (by Berlin, a theatre company from Belgium). The documentary installation, Iqaluit, results from two months spent in the Arctic Circle. The experience involves wearing infrared headphones and watching 7 different scenes from the region. When the visuals and eeerie sounds of the Northern Lights begin then you move to the next screen. When I started working at Lester’s Army, The Woodward’s building seemed like such an interesting and arty place, it made me feel like the offices housed there were edgy and creative. Which, it turns out, they are.

Woodward’s Development low-income housing and condominiums (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

The whole building has an interesting history. It is most famous for originally housing the Woodward’s department store, a family business that ran for 100 years. In the 1990’s the business collapsed and the space gradually became home to a squatter community. The Woodward’s re-development project has transformed the city block. The developer and lead architects redesigned the space into a multipurpose building combining low-income housing with condominiums, City of Vancouver and non-profit organization office space, businesses, Simon Fraser University and a public area. The open space in the atrium was designed to address the lack of plazas in Vancouver; the area is sheltered but has an outdoor feel and a basketball hoop! It also connects each of the buildings in the development to form an entire community space. Woodward’s is regarded by some as one of the most important models for mixed community use ever designed. There are television screens in the atrium that relay the story of the redevelopment in a stop motion film with audio if you are interested in finding out more.

Looking east on West Cordova Street (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Catherine next took us across to another building via an overpass above Gastown. Here we looked out onto Cordova Street from an unusual perspective that allowed a new look at the historic buildings. It was interesting to find out that Gastown is one of the oldest parts of Vancouver but is still less than 150 years old. Originating from England myself, that slice of history seems so fresh and new. Next stop was up onto the roof terrace to see the city from above. The panoramic view was great, the waterfront to the North and the clusters of tall buildings to the West. The newly erected neon ‘W’ on the Woodward’s building can be seen clearly from this angle as well as the original, heavier ‘W’ on the ground. This landmark of advertising is famous in Vancouver because of its visibility and was often used as a point of reference before the development of higher buildings. Before the ‘W’, Woodward’s originally used a beacon of light but this was removed during the war for fear of attracting attention.

You can see the side of new Woodward’s Development condos and the old “W” from this viewpoint (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

It was quite dull and brisk when we went out onto the windy parkade but the sights were worth looking at. The difference in architecture between the low-income housing and adjacent decadent condos was interesting to see. We were provided with an overview of the Woodward’s department store. The biggest in Vancouver for a long time and the food hall brought self-serve groceries to Canada (almost a shame because I love to think of giving someone behind the counter my shopping list and having them weight and wrap my groceries me…)

Sam Knopp presenting on the Woodward’s Department store with today’s iconic “W” in background (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Back inside we were shown around the western offices of the National Film Board of Canada. They are in the same building as the magazine and I hadn’t even noticed! The NFB are Canada’s public producer and distributer of socially relevant films. The group watched 3 short films in the private screening room (they can be seen online along with hundreds of artistic, cultural and thought provoking documentaries and films).

NFB Production Supervisor Kathryn Lynch talks to our group inside the NFB studios (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

The experience with Walking Home Projects was a fascinating way to appreciate viewpoints of our everyday world and an opportunity to become more engaged with the culture and history immediately around us. Some of the group had always lived in Vancouver and commented about the interesting perspective they had. Being a newbie to the country I enjoyed learning about the heritage and development of the city and how one region can have such a big impact on the culture.

Before visiting the Audain Gallery we stop at the original “W” (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Please click below to hear Walking Home Projects’ Director Catherine Pulkinghorn answer a question about gentrification and Walking Home Projects Intern Sam Knopp present to our group on the Woodward’s Department Store:

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November 19th, 2010 Walking Home Projects with Lester’s Army

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.

Sam Knopp

Where We Went Map – November 19th, 2010:

Reviews

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.

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November 2nd Gordon Price takes us to Woodward’s Development

November 2nd, 2010 Review Written by: Samantha Knopp We started our 5th Walking Home Carrall Street session at the new Woodward’s Development, one of the largest initiatives currently underway to revitalize the Downtown Eastside(DTES). Since it opened just a few