After night of heavy drinking in Gastown at one of my favorite clubs in Vancouver The Modern, I ended up losing my buddies and trying to find my way to a bus stop to go home. I know the city very well and can find my way around pretty easily, but on this night I was too intoxicated to find my way home. Walking a couple blocks up I stumbled upon the heart of the infamous East Hastings Street. If any of you are from or know Vancouver, you know East Hastings (Downtown Eastside) is not the best street to get lost on as it’s one of the poorest and dirtiest areas in North America and is full of homeless people, drug addicts, prostitutes, and diseases.
Once I hit the street even in my drunken state, I knew I was on East Hastings and thinking to myself that I should probably find myself onto a safe street ASAP. I’ve driven through the area a couple times before but when your outside walking the streets what once was the most prominent streets in Vancouver it’s surreal. It was like I was walking through hell, seeing crack addicts shooting up before my eyes, people begging me for money, women trying to sell themselves and all the historical buildings and former businesses abandoned or used as drug fronts. It was just like what you see in movies and documentaries but worst.
After getting myself off that street and somewhere I felt safe I was thinking to myself about how an area like that can exist in such a beautiful city and country? How could an area with such a rich and colorful history be so poor and dark? Some of these people have chosen this path of drugs and homelessness some have been put through a rough life and haven’t had much of a choice. I don’t know what all is being done to clean this area up, but I know housing prices are only getting higher and the homeless rate seems to be increasing as well, so the city isn’t helping very much. I know the city is a major reason this area is the way it is, and the people with it. But I have heard there are steps to preserving some of the historical buildings and groups of dedicated people trying to fix this problem and to clean this area up.
I went online a couple months before this drunken night to studied and researched this area’s history, and after a few hours (crazy how much time you can spend on Wikipedia) I was immensely intrigued. The Downtown Eastside is one of the oldest neighborhoods, the most prominent and was once the core shopping district in Vancouver which centered around Woodward’s department store. The courthouse and the Carnegie Library were all located on this former cultural and entertainment district. As the city center moved more West, and suburban shoppers took advantage of local malls the Downtown Eastside began to deteriorate as pedestrians and traffic in the area quickly decreased. The city in the 1970′s de-institutionalized thousands of psychiatric patients and most were forced to live on the streets. Many businesses moved elsewhere in the city or closed down and into the 1990′s the Woodwards department store closed and with cheaper housing all of the crack addicts and homeless people made there way to East Hastings, which is now a city of itself full of thousands of these people and surrounded with empty buildings.
The empty buildings which seem to be deteriorating are some of the cities oldest and historical buildings with many great stories and memories in all of them. One of them is the Pantages Theatre built in 1908 and is the oldest surviving one in North America, it headlined some legendary acts such as Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth. Of course there is also Woodwards, some of the building has been demolished but the main part of the building is intact and is currently being renovated to my knowledge and being used for something in the future. Another used to be a public library, mueseum and city hall, called the Carnagie which is now a community centre and place for people to go eat and do various activities.
This area has an interesting history behind it and after that drunken night walking on “ground zero” of Downtown Eastside it makes me want to see this area and cleaned up and restored one day and it also makes me realize how lucky most of us Vancouverites are.
I have included videos I have found on Youtube which have interested me and I’m sure will interest you. One is a documentary style video, and the other two videos show an actual addict talking about his life and how it has ruined it, it’s pretty compelling because the guy seems like a pretty decent and smart guy.
Tragic Story of a Junkie on Hastings Part 1:
Tragic Story of a Junkie on Hastings Part 2:
Quick Documentary of Hastings: