2 — 2978 West 2nd Ave.
Vancouver V6K 1K4
Kitsilano, British Columbia
I arrived in the Kitsilano district of Vancouver 44 years ago, having put as much distance as continentally possible between my Newton, Massachusetts draft board, two unsmiling FBI agents, and their offer of a free trip to Vietnam, or three years in prison. I didn’t like my options.
At that time in the late 60s, Kitsilano was Canada’s Haight-Ashbury, a place westbound malcontents stopped because the Pacific was big and cold. The district held a hill overlooking English Bay, and served as a low-income, oceanside community populated mainly by Greek immigrants. In the evenings, they would set nets to catch the smelt moving shoreward on a rising tide. And the hippies, myself included, would lean against the beach logs, and sing the sun down.
But as often happens in neighbourhoods where rents are cheap and iconoclasts plentiful, gentrification has transformed Kitsilano. The old 4th Avenue office where the environmental organization Greenpeace began sits today above a store that sells 700 thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets. Like New York’s SoHo, you can find in Kitsilano places for microderm abrasion, but not macramé; Pilates, but not …well, not openly sold pot. The
district has, instead, drawn the preternaturally tanned, the mortgage indebted,
the aspiring 1%. Kitsilano’s few remnant hippies face being run over on 4th Avenue sidewalks by Lululemon-clad, Starbucks-caffeinated mothers pushing Ben-Hur-style $750 baby chariots. So much for The Revolution.
The real attraction of the place was — and remains — its location, situated as it is with impressive views toward Vancouver’s North Shore mountains, snow-covered until mid-June. Bald eagles utilize the pine in my front yard to eviscerate their prey, dropping fish bones and bits of fur onto my sidewalk. Beavers work the marsh in a nearby park.
A cynic might see in Kitsilano’s gentrification that its old hippie ethos was overwhelmed by late 20th century consumerism. But the attitudes of the young, bike-riding generation now living in the district’s basements suggest otherwise. They are the 99%, and know economic and environmental events matter. Many values the hippies once espoused — thoughtfulness toward the Earth, caution in over-consumption, choosing idealism over nihilism — are coming back after a generational hiatus. As Forrest Gump
said of his chocolate box: You never know what you’re gonna’ get.