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Jim Deva plaza may soon be reality in Davie Village

Proposal to rename permanent plaza for late community hero moves forward

Jim Deva’s long-time friend and co-worker Janine Fuller would like to see his community contributions publicly commemorated. Credit: David Ellingsen

Plans to name a permanent plaza in the gay village after late community icon and Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva are progressing, says Vancouver city staff.  

In an April 10 memo to Vancouver mayor and council, city planner Kevin McNaney offered an update on design plans for public space improvements in the city’s West End, including the development of a permanent plaza at Davie and Bute streets.

Council had directed staff last October to report back on consultations done during the Heart of Davie Plaza pilot project, which ran from July to September 2013 and collected input from about 800 local residents, business owners and stakeholders. Council also asked staff to consider options to commemorate Deva, who died suddenly last September. Deva spent decades of his life fighting for gay rights and freedom of expression.

According to data collected from surveys and open houses on the Davie Village plaza, 80-85 percent of business owners and residents support the creation of a permanent plaza, as long as it’s well executed.

Proper investment and design, comfort and safety, infrastructure conducive to community events and programming, space for public art, and vibrant colours were just a few of the recommendations made during the consultation process.

The city is still consulting community members, residents and business people in the area, as well as Deva’s loved ones. Barb Snelgrove, who sits on the City of Vancouver’s LGBT advisory committee and has been instrumental in the proposal to re-name a revamped plaza in Deva’s honour, urges community members to tell her what they’d like to see.

So far, preliminary designs for the space include a designated seating area, power and water features, and a living LGBT museum to “celebrate the rights we’ve won over the years,” McNaney says.

“We’re wanting to talk to [community] members young and old about history and LGBTQ rights in Vancouver and British Columbia,” McNaney says. “We really have to have consultation with the community about this.”

Gay city councillor Tim Stevenson says he’s thrilled with staff’s work on the plan so far. “I’m very pleased and excited. What’s transpiring is exactly what I was pushing for when I brought the motion to council.”

Stevenson is optimistic that council will unanimously approve the “excellent plan” to honour Deva this summer. “I really would be shocked if the NPA or the Green Party voiced any opposition to it,” he says.

“Jim is a real icon in our community,” Stevenson tells Daily Xtra. “Little Sister’s was really an oasis for people in the community where they could go and be themselves. We’ve had a revolution regarding rights in the gay community and Jim has been key in that.”

Deva’s long-time friend and co-worker, Little Sister’s manager Janine Fuller, would like to see his contributions to the community commemorated.

“The work he’s done in the community, and importance that Jim has made to our lives, and the legacy and history of what he’s left, needs to be commemorated,” she says.

Fuller says she supports the idea of renaming the plaza in Deva’s honour, though says other options may be worth considering too, such as a memorial to him in nearby Nelson Park, or renaming the park in his honour. Something to recognize “someone so special in all of our lives,” she says.

Meanwhile, she says, Deva’s memory lives on in simple ways. “A day does not go by that someone doesn’t come into the store and talk about Jim and how important he was to their life,” she says, her voice catching.

Deva’s partner, Bruce Smyth, tells Daily Xtra he supports the idea of commemorating Deva and will follow the community’s lead on how best to do that.

“I’ve heard changing Nelson Park to Deva Park, Davie Street to Deva Street, and it’s all fun,” he says. “But we’ll see what people want. If that’s what people want, that’s what I want.”

“You know Jim,” Smyth says. “It was never about him. It was all about the community, and I’m of the same vein.”

Smyth says he would like to see a permanent plaza in the Davie Village that’s open year round with lots of patio seating. He also supports the idea of the plaza housing a living museum commemorating gay rights and history. “I’m totally about that. I think it’s a cool idea, and Jim, he’s a part of that,” he says.

City staff are planning to host two more public open houses, one on Saturday, April 25 and another on Monday, April 27. Staff say input received from the open houses will help inform the plaza’s design, concept and improvements.

The proposed design will be presented for more community feedback in late May or early June, and staff are expected to present their final draft on the plaza to council for approval in July.

If council approves the recommendations, construction could begin this fall, with the goal of opening the new plaza in the spring or summer of 2016.