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Why Vancouver? Why You?

Thank you to all entrants. Please visit the semifinalist page to view the top ten essays as determined by our panel and the public voting. Click here to view the top ten

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Vancouver The Melting Pot I Grew Up In

By Jeanette Girardi

Vancouver truly has its inspiring beauty. It catches you at every glance around the city. But I know Vancouver, because I grew up in the true Vancouver, the Vancouver of neighbourhoods of immigrants from all over.

I grew up on East 5th Avenue with Victoria Drive to the east and Commercial Drive to the west. We were a united nations on a little street where everyone looked out for each other.

Mrs. Shaw, next door, could open her kitchen window and put out a plank and my mom and she could have coffee, each in their own home. There was a Chinese grocery store and a Japanese grocery store on Victoria Drive on opposite corners; both did a good business. That is when they could have a butcher knife on a string behind the counter to cut a Popsicle in half for you.

The Portuguese family up the street would collect snails from the vacant lot next door to us, I never knew why. The Dutch couple across the street had a beautiful garden and always fed the birds. Mrs. Brown, beside them, would always sit out on her front porch and make sure we all behaved ourselves or she would tell. Then there was the Kwan family, I think they had a restaurant in Chinatown. The Italian family with the bright red stairs to the front door were always cooking something.

We also had the old streetcar tracks that angled through our street. This made it possible to go for long bike rides. We thought nothing of riding to Stanley Park for the day. To ride down to Hastings Street, we would go along Commercial Drive. You would pass through Little Italy with all the smells of cheese and coffees, and the famous Olivieri Ravioli store, where my future husband delivered pasta on his bike. Who would have known?

Travelling along Hastings, you could see the Ballantyne Pier and the many large ships out in the harbour. My dad would go down to the wharf and exchange labour for fish. I never would have thought then how lucky we were for some of the amazing cod, sole, halibut and salmon dinners. I would just say, “Fish again.” Riding our bikes along Hastings Street we would always detour to cut through Chinatown. It offered so much to see and do, live fish swimming in tanks in the front window of the grocery stores. Barbequed ducks were hanging in the opposite window. It is still another world in our city, Vancouver. Continuing along Hastings Street, the Marine building towers showing off its roof that has a snow top look. We always thought you were going to drive right into it on your way to Stanley Park. Then, shifting over to Georgia Street you would know you were getting close because you could see The Qube building suspended by cables. It was so original at the time. My dad always said it was a Polish man that designed it, and since my dad was Polish, this building has always stood out. But then again, I knew when you saw the Bayshore Inn and the inlet with all the yachts, Stanley Park was just beyond. I can’t forget the rental bike place with the tandem bikes to cycle through the park. Always on the look out for the ever magnificent police horses. The policeman looked so big atop of his steed. Then I would ask to pet the horse. The Stanley Park Zoo with the polar bears, otters, seals and monkeys just made the trip all the more wonderful. The artists in the park would amaze us as to how they could draw and colour a picture so quickly. Lumberman’s Arch with its fish n chips would bring the seagulls looking for hand outs. I must mention the Lost Lagoon and the giant fountain and row boats that could be rented.

Going home was another adventure we would come out of the park and head for the West End and venture along English Bay, seeing all the popcorn vendors with their wagons and smelling the fresh popcorn and hot butter.

Vancouver could never end the summer without the grand PNE parade and Exhibition. From the gates of the Exhibition you can hear them calling “Buy your tickets, Win a house! Win a car! The barns and show mart building offered smells of every food imaginable. Then the clang of bells from a distance would draw us to the midway of rides and trying to win a giant plush bear that no one knew what to do with later.

A short trip on the trolley bus would bring me to Woodward’s department store, where my mum worked in the main dining room. I got to sit in the waitress’ station and have dinner on Friday nights. French steak and cheese toast with a strawberry soda. You could never forget the famous Woodward’s Christmas windows and the sixth floor toy department. I wanted at that time to be an elevator operator with the white gloves announcing the items on each floor. Instead, when I grew up, I worked for the Bank of Montreal in Bentall Three main tower, and my husband to be worked for Royal Trust in Bentall Two.

This city is where the mountains and the ocean marry, creating bridges to join to the other side. Just like the people of Vancouver, the unique cultures unite which has created the diversity we call Vancouver today. The melting pot gets stirred and creates the aromas to savour, ever increasing our pallet for growth. Vancouver has changed from my memories, but, in a way, stays the same. Vancouver, the City of breathtaking vistas and outdoors waiting for adventure. With a variety of wonderful restaurants to end the day, while enjoying a fine glass of wine.

I spent my first twenty-three years living in Vancouver before getting married and moving to the suburbs. I hold my memories of this city dear to my heart. The friends that I have made while growing up are still, for the most part, the ones I know today. We still reminisce about our crazy days and how we survived. The weekend haunts of Pharaoh’s club in Gas Town and the great entertainment of Oil Can Harry’s, Sneaky Pete’s and a late night fill you up at On, On’s in Chinatown or Puccini’s on Main Street.

Living the life in the suburbs and having my family, I felt like I was living the dream. But I, too, have had tragedy give me a purpose to write or journal. When your loss took place in 1986, my son was born that same year. Little did I know about mental illness and that I would lose him in 2009. I still have a story to unfold as I remember my life and think of his. We will never understand what the mind hides but we always hold onto what the mind remembers with special thoughts of the past or good feelings. This is what makes me look for avenues to write something, to recreate a memory of a time gone past. I want to put together a collection of my reflective thoughts and my new understanding of this journey I’ve been on.

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