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You hear it a lot from people: Vancouver is a lonely, unfriendly city. But I just don’t see that. When I’m walking down the street, any street- it could be Granville, it could be Main, I am struck by the number of people who find a reason to stop and talk. It helps that I’m pushing a stroller occupied by an adorable baby, and usually people want to give him a smile and say hello. I personally think people just need a reason to stop and interact. Everyone’s looking for a way to connect, it’s just harder to talk to an adult than to a baby.
Vancouver, for me, feels like a small town, although it didn’t when I first moved here thirteen years ago for school. I remember settling into my dorm at UBC and determining that the next day I would hop on any bus I could and try to figure out the transit system, and also find Zulu Records (I knew it was somewhere…) Back then the city seemed big, gritty, full of unknown nooks and corners. It wasn’t long, however, before I somehow expanded to fill the city and the city reduced to feel more like home. During our university days we’d go out to Disco Night at the Commodore, or see shows at Richards on Richards (will there ever be a venue that compares?), or study down at Wreck Beach. When I graduated, I left campus for a moldering duplex on Maple Street with my best friends. I left that place for the eastside, a small basement suite next to Trout Lake. By this point, Vancouver was known, comfortable like a favourite sweater. We’d play baseball in the park, meet regularly at JJ Bean before heading to work, ride on the backs of our friends’ motorcycles.
It was during this golden time that I met my husband at a coffee shop. Vancouver became our playground; we’d make a new plan every Saturday to explore a place we hadn’t spent time in before. Deep Cove, Railtown, Tower Beach, Whytecliff Park, finding the best Italian espresso on Commercial Drive (it’s from Abruzzo Cappuccino Bar)- we pushed our boundaries further outward, and as we discovered friends we had in common, the city shrank even more.
We moved back to the westside, into a cottage-like basement suite on Balaclava Street. There were parts of the suite where I couldn’t stand up straight, but we stayed there for five years because of the cheap rent. UBC kept its hold on me- I’d gone to school, worked on campus, went back for a second degree, then somehow got another job there. It’s a beautiful place, though I’d describe my relationship with it as love/hate. It certainly drained away a huge percentage of my income over the years, whether for tuition or parking.
And then we finally moved into our dream neighbourhood, close to Jericho Beach, a place with two bedrooms! And I was pregnant. This is when I learned once and for all that Vancouver is not this anonymous, unfriendly city.
We lost the baby. And during the two days we spent in and out of St. Paul’s hospital we got texts and phone calls of love and support from friends all over the city. I remember being wheeled down the hallway for surgery, clad only in one of those unflattering hospital gowns, my face red and puffy from crying for two days straight, and there with flowers in hand were our close friends. They’d thought I was going to be sleeping in my room and were caught off guard when they saw me lying flat on a gurney barreling down the hallway, so they instinctively tried to hide. When I caught them plastered flat against the wall, completely embarrassed, we all laughed and had this great moment of hilarity in an otherwise miserable time.
People sent flowers; we came home multiple times to meals that had been left at our door. I’ve never felt so loved as I did then.
We ended up eventually having a baby boy. My heart healed, and those friends who’d been at the hospital the first time were also the first people to visit us and hold tiny Wyatt. More friends made us meals. Amazing people like midwives and acquaintances with their own new babies came alongside us as we became parents. We’ve never felt alone. Not once.
So when I think about Vancouver, loneliness doesn’t even enter my mind. Instead, I think of a small, tight-knit town where everyone knows everyone. Where a community that has grown around us has matured and become family. And this town just happens to be one that can still take my breath away, no matter what season we’re in.