When Mark Janssen first laid eyes on the Heart of Davie Village, it was love at first sight.
The pink heart, encircled by delicate strands of neon and emblazoned with the words “Davie Village” in neon white and rainbow across its chest, was installed on Davie Street in December 2017 as part of the West End’s fourth annual light festival, Lumière.
Below the heart sits a sign acknowledging the Village as the historical heart of Vancouver’s gay community, and paying tribute to the LGBT gathering spaces that made it home.
“The Davie Village beats in everybody’s heart that lives in that community,” Janssen says. “I think it’s a good representation of the neighbourhood.”
Originally from Winnipeg, Janssen’s connection to the Village started long before he ever moved here.
“Davie Village is important not just to BC but Western Canada,” says Janssen, who publishes a community blog called the Davie Village Post.
“There’s a sense of freedom for someone who is LGBTQ who comes from a small town in the Prairies, and they come to Davie Village and they see this, and they feel like they belong,” he says. “It’s a feeling of acceptance.”
The heart, which stands just west of Burrard Street, next to the Fountainhead Pub on the north side of Davie, salutes the bars, bathhouses, businesses and nightclubs that for decades have been essential gathering spaces for the queer community in the Village.
“The signs of those businesses were beacons for their community,” says artist Jim Balakshin, who designed the heart. He hopes his installation will act as a similar beacon for the community, especially to community members who might feel isolated.
Balakshin says he created the heart as a way to recognize the neighbourhood’s history of fostering Vancouver’s LGBT community. He hopes its retro style stirs a sense of vintage attraction, “while still being open to new meaning.”
Janssen sees the sign as a nod to community leaders like the late Jim Deva, who co-owned Little Sister’s bookstore, Barb Snelgrove and city councillor Tim Stevenson, who all worked hard to have the area recognized as an LGBT Village.
“They all worked very hard to bring the name Davie Village to the forefront,” Janssen explains. “We never want to lose that, so anything that can help increase the visibility is going to be a positive thing for the community.”
After discovering the neon-lit heart, Janssen called the West End Business Improvement Association, which organizes Lumière. They told him the sign was temporary and within a few minutes, he was on change.org starting a petition.
“I just did it instinctively. I didn’t want to see that sign go,” he says.
As of Jan 9, 2018, 723 people have signed the petition asking the City of Vancouver and the West End BIA to make the Heart of Davie a permanent fixture in the Village.
The heart is scheduled to remain on display until Feb 23, 2018, but Stephen Regan, the executive director of the West End BIA, says the petition should be helpful in finding a permanent home for Balakshin’s work.
“It always takes me a bit by surprise how much delight these things bring to people’s lives and how it sparks great conversations,” Regan says. “If there’s public support that’s demonstrated, it makes it a little bit easier for councillors to get behind it.”
Councillor Tim Stevenson says the installation is a lovely addition to the neighbourhood and he supports the movement to make it permanent.
“Maybe the community wants to discuss it more and to see what exactly they want from this in terms of a symbol,” he suggests. “I think this is quite appropriate and it’s quite joyous, really.”
Janssen hopes the heart will find a permanent home at the corner of Davie and Burrard, as he considers it the gateway to the Village, but says he would settle for a massive rainbow tiara with “Davie Village” emblazoned on it.