6 min

How would you reinvigorate Vancouver’s gay village?

Dave Deveau. Credit: Chris Howey

The West End Business Improvement Association’s (WEBIA) AGM, scheduled for Sept 29, had to be postponed for a week because only 13 of its 800 members showed up.

The AGM will now be held on Wed, Oct 6 in the BIA’s boardroom and will proceed regardless of how many members turn out.

During the summer, WEBIA executive director Lyn Hellyar indicated to Xtra that the organization is planning to do a survey of the West End but remained tightlipped about what kind of information it is seeking.

Hellyar told Xtra on Sept 29 that the survey is still being fine-tuned.

“The marketing committee, when we meet next, we’re going to set a date” for its rollout, Hellyar said.

“I’ll let you know,” she promised, adding, “we’re still looking at the draft and we’re tweaking it.”

Rather than wait, Xtra decided to ask a few community movers and shakers and allies to weigh in on how they would revitalize the gay village now.



Eastside party promoter

The trend I have noticed is that a lot of queers are starting to create more of a queer presence on the Eastside.

I think what’s happening on the Eastside is that we’ve stopped taking ourselves seriously. At the East End parties, we dress up in silly costumes and something sort of magical happens, in that we really feel a sense of community, that we’re all in it together because we’re not there to necessarily be the sexiest person in the room, or to put on airs. We’re there having fun and we look really ridiculous, and there’s something really lovely and confident and empowering about laughing at ourselves.

So I wonder if that’s the key to reinvigorating the Village. I think what we need to do is really encourage a sense of culture. We have a lot of it at Pride, Pride in Art, at certain times of the year, but the idea of fostering an ongoing cultural theatre, be it gallery-space presence in the West End, will help re-entrench our community.

I think the next wave of what needs to happen in the Village is for us to have a space that all of us can occupy and use as a community together — the arts goers, the community leaders who are doing human rights work and support groups, and all of the health work that goes hand in hand.

To me, the reinvigoration of the Village is culture and shared space that we can all occupy together as a community.



Drag Sensation

I would change the bus stops, that pink colour. I don’t know why somebody decided to paint [them] in that shade of pink. It had to have been a straight person or a Dutch person.

Standing bars. You stand, you have a beer and you move on. That would be great to have in the Village as well. We have 1181. We need more of those. I’m probably going to be shot for saying this, but I’m not a fan of the PumpJack. But it has its place. Picture a place that was opposite to that. It’s cute and hip and small, where you went for just a standup cocktail.

Certainly having some affordable housing so the artists can come back into the downtown core. Fifteen years ago, it was vibrant. People were out because people could afford to live here. It was not a big deal going out, say, on a Wednesday night.

We need more festivals. Closing off Davie St, for instance, when we did the street party. The energy that it puts into the area is quite something. We may need to do that quarterly. It would have queer in the title: queer in art, queer comedy. And we block off a street, put a big stage up. It doesn’t even need to be Davie St. Why not use Bute, so the cars can still go up and down?

And we need an arcade. I love pinball. Or a pool hall. They might be retro but they would be great. You need these little interesting character spots.



pHresh Spa

Part of the challenges are that there’s been very little movement forward in terms of the 21st century. It’s a little rundown, and there’s slow thinking.

The businesses have to work together. The fact that the [WEBIA AGM] couldn’t [bring out] 15 people out of 800 businesses is not a good sign.

We need to work way more closely with events that take place. The OutGames and Pride are the classic ones to get involved in. We need to be doing something that is innovative and brings people together and basically gives loyalty to the people within one’s community.

Here at the BIA, we have a $600,000 budget. If we can work in harmony and leverage it: pitch the stakeholders from the tourism industry, English Bay, the Pride organizers, the merchant association leaders, and have a strategy in harmony with activities from the merchants — very community-driven.




One thing I would do is reinvigorate [the rainbow banners] with a street-running series of all the variations of Pride flags: the leather Pride flag, the bear Pride flag, the boi, the lesbian…

Maybe we can rethink pink. One thing that came to mind was white, this kind of gorgeous new fresh colour — a departure from pink being our totem colour and the Pride flag being this one monolithic [thing]. It tells a story of the evolution and the inclusivity of the Village.

It’s obvious that the West End is catering to gay men from the ’90s. All cutting-edge stuff is happening outside of the West End now.

One of the glaring omissions is there’s a lack of culture, a lack of arts space, and one thing I think would be incredible is a non-commercial arts space, possibly artist-run.

All the events that are happening — Queer Bash, Prance, Iron Rod, Spit — those are really mixed and they’re pushing boundaries because they go into different spaces. They move around the city, they’re flexible, whereas the West End seems dormant.

I don’t think we should lose that Village. At the same time, how does it become more flexible and how does it engage the new thinkers within the community, and the new identities within the community?



Little Sister’s

Davie Village has not had the kind of focus and attention that it deserves since the amalgamation of the Davie Village BIA with the larger West End BIA.

The Village is indeed the very heart and soul of the LGBT community in Vancouver. This does not take away from the vibrant communities in the East End or Gastown or Yaletown or Surrey. But without a vibrant, happening heart, the rest will dwindle into the giant miasma of a very diverse and accepting city.

[I’d like to see] an iconic Pride Gate that spans Davie St at its very heart. I envision an arch using the rainbow, probably transparent and illuminated. The Village is unique and different and should be branded as such.



Out On Screen

As Chinatown has been revitalized and held onto as a neighbourhood that marks the history of Chinese immigrants coming into Vancouver and Chinese community, I feel similarly that we should be doing something with Davie Village. That should be the future of Davie Village.

One of the things we’re excited about at Out On Screen is in July 2011, when Vancouver will be host city to the OutGames, we will be commemorating some of Vancouver’s queer histories in Davie Village. We’re excited about creating something that will be a history aspect, an installation in Davie Village.



Queer Arts Festival

What I would do is I would open a studio theatre in the gay village. It could be something along the lines of Havana’s, something where there’s always live theatre on, there’s always queer art in a small visual arts space outside the theatre.

For me, culture is an invaluable part of life, and I think that’s what the queer culture in the Village is missing.

Queer culture is not just drag. Queer culture is not just a leather show. There’s a whole spectrum of the arts. And the arts bring in tourists, theatres bring a sense of beauty, bring a sense of excitement.



Former city planner

What’s not being done is for the gay community to be made aware [of] the very important achievements of our community that have stemmed directly from the Village itself.

These are in areas of health, of civil rights, social issues and other items that are part of the fun. [Something like a] Yellow Brick Road to run along the three blocks of Davie between Jervis and Burrard. We’ll want to, at the very outset, take photographs of some of the people who are truly the animators behind it: the original five AIDS doctors to see if they’d be willing to be photographed; Janine Fuller and Jim Deva, who fought to preserve our right to read our own literature; Rob Atkinson, the very first elected president of the Pride Society…