Wendy and Christie’s Story

What struck me the first week my daughter Christie and I moved into the Seafield was the sense of camaraderie amongst the neighbours packing hiking and camping equipment out to cars in the back lane and standing around at the foot of the hallway stairs laughing and talking. It reminded me of a university residence but over the years it has also felt like a seniors’ home, a co-op, and on occasion all three of these at once. At the time I wondered if Christie and I could ever feel part of this. We had only moved two blocks up the street, but I was a single parent and there were no other children in the building.

In 2009 Wendy and Christie’s family will be celebrating 100 years of living in the West End with Christie perhaps holding some kind of record for being a fifth generation West Ender (any challengers?!). Christie’s great-great-grandfather’s memorial service in 1912 was at the Anglican church two blocks away, and every generation since then has lived a significant part of their life in the West End.

For Wendy and Christie, the Seafield has now been home for 31 years, and we have hoped to be able to call Seafield home indefinitely, especially since there is such an incredible sense of community here. And yes, we became part of it. But at this time of near zero-vacancy rate in the West End, some owners want to get rid of long-term tenants because “they begin to think of their suite as their home….” Well, why not?

We’ve always paid the maximum allowable rent increase and we’ve looked after our suite well and been considerate of our neighbours. Why wouldn’t landlords want to keep such good tenants? In some cities in Europe, people live their whole life in one apartment without feeling threatened with being forced out.

The Seafield has always been a social building. I have a vivid memory of coming home from work one day (prior to the invention of the cordless phone), and seeing several doors ajar with 50-foot extension cords crossing the hallways and a couple of cats sniffing along the lines trying to locate their human companions. Our Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve dinners always include other Seafielders. And the everyone-invited Canada Day barbecues, Christmas parties, Hallowe’en events, as well as routine summer barbeques have been part of Seafield life for so long. And of course there have been the Valentine parties, birthday parties, and progressive dinners (moving from one suite for appetizers, to another for main course, etc.).

Seafielders have also always had ties with others in the neighbourhood, such as during the Shame the Johns campaign in the mid-1980s. I remember one activity that involved decorating a Christmas tree in our mini park followed by an everyone-welcome event featuring hot apple cider in a suite at the Queen Charlotte building just down the block. And neighbours in the area routinely met on our front steps to go on the annual Peace Walk all those springs. This Hallowe’en a resident from the apartment next door came over saying, “I just had to visit, because you may not be here next year.”

Aside from the sons of Mr. Herrington, the original owner of the Seafield, Christie was the first child to grow up in the Seafield. Despite being the only kid in the building for so many years, Christie was fully accepted. At nine or ten she had an in-apartment business, which others seemed to appreciate. She had bought an old floor polisher for $3.00 and, because the Seafield has hardwood floors, she used to rent it out to neighbours for 25 cents a time and this included carrying it up and down the stairs to them. Was this the beginning of her interest in sustainability? (Why not share one floor polisher rather than each owning one!) Of course she did cat sitting in the building too.

What about all those birthday parties in the Seafield and so many of Christie’s daycare friends staying here overnight? Christie was fortunate to be one of the founding kids of Pooh Corner Day Care located on Lost Lagoon. Several of us parents worked very hard in establishing Pooh Corner as the first daycare for under-two-year-olds in B.C. Not an easy feat. We rescued that beautiful old building, the Stuart LeFauve House, from demolition when the city council decided that the parks commissioner was no longer to have housing included in payment for the job.

We made a successful pitch to the parks board for the Lost Lagoon house and then had it converted into a wonderful daycare facility. When I walk past the beautiful heritage building today, I am warmed by the thought of how many kids have since enjoyed attending this daycare with its blossoming cherry trees on the lawn within view of the swans on the Lagoon.

Many of these kids came from single parent families living nearby in one-bedroom apartments. In fact the West End was a great place for single-parent families—parents being able to walk to daycare and walk to work avoiding commuting time to instead spend it with our kids. Some of Christie’s best friends date back to daycare. Transient West End as so many used to think? Not true!

Also, as daycare parents we figured that it didn’t take four parents to take four kids to the beach, so we ensured that one parent always had the day off. Similarly we took each other’s kid home for the night whenever a parent wanted to go out for the evening. I only remember paying for a babysitter once; the rest of the time the kids shared dinners and stayed with each other. As kids with no siblings, these kids became very close. Later in her teen years I remember Christie’s girlfriends coming here to the Seafield to dress together before school dances. Yes, it is definitely possible to grow up in a city apartment and have pleasant memories of having done so.

More recently when I (Wendy) had a mobility problem, members of my medical care team spent an inordinate amount of time trying to convince me to move out of the Seafield because the building has no elevator. I could not get them to understand that the incredible assistance available from neighbours in the building was far more valuable to me than any elevator could be. When I needed the help, neighbours were bringing in groceries for me, rescuing my laundry downstairs, taking my garbage to the basement, etc. The medical personnel simply couldn’t imagine such a tight-knit, caring group.

Surely the Seafield represents the kind of supportive micro-communities that our planet needs. With an aging population and many people living a plane trip away from their biological families, we need to encourage the creation of helpful, extended families, because hopping on and off planes for the slightest reason is no longer feasible. Seafielders are like extended family. We certainly hope that the Seafield can continue to have such a culture, to be such a community, and that it isn’t destroyed as a result of the West End’s renoviction movement.

Surely this is what city life can be and should be in a vibrant, livable city made up of a variety of kinds of housing, housing that enables residents to experience this kind of connectedness, rootedness. Vancouver’s neighbourhoods can have and can maintain this sense of community as long as citizens and community planners are involved in determining the overall nature of the city rather than simply leaving developers and landlords to decide the fate of neighbourhoods.