3 min

WISE Hall not in jeopardy, city says

Gentrification behind increase in complaints, petitioners speculate

Pat Hogan has attended many queer events at the WISE Hall over the years and says she loves "the ambiance, the communities it caters to, and all the memories held in those walls." Credit: Shauna Lewis photo

The City of Vancouver and the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch say an Eastside venue that’s home to many queer events is not in jeopardy of losing its liquor licence, despite concerns circulating in the community.

Since January, the WISE Hall has been the target of approximately 10 excessive noise and loitering complaints from residents who live near the popular 1882 Adanac St venue.

An online petition in support of the WISE Hall had attracted 1053 signatures as of April 26. Though the petition acknowledges that the space is not in danger of closing, losing its liquor licence would be “catastrophic” for the revenue the hall requires to survive, it says.

“The Wise Hall has been a beacon of arts, culture, and a hive of social activity in East Van for more than 50 years. But as a wave of gentrification sweeps across this neighbourhood, recent arrivals have taken exception to this wonderful institution,” the petition says.

“The purpose of this petition is to show support for the Wise Hall and everything it adds to the community, and to ensure the City of Vancouver doesn’t give into a small smattering of NIMBYs. Don’t let a couple of ne’er-do-wells ruin a truly unique institution that is valued by thousands of Vancouverites.”

The city says patrons need not worry.

“We’re not at a point where we’re initiating any enforcement action, but we’re cognitive of the concerns,” says Tom Hammel, from the city’s licensing department.

“This year we’ve received six to seven complaints,” he confirms. “Prior to that, we’ve only received one or two a year in the last few years.”

Hammel says the city does not know why it’s received more complaints about the WISE Hall this year, but he speculates that grievances could be from a handful of new tenants in the area.

“The recent complaints seem to be from one or two people, or a small number of people, complaining,” he says.

While the city won’t release the complainants’ identities because they’re considered confidential, Hammel says the complaints were signed.

“We’re basically facing some neighbourhood complaints, and we’re working on ways to deal with it,” says the WISE Hall’s general manager, Erin Frizzell.

“We don’t want to ruffle any feathers at this point because we’re getting cooperation from the liquor board and the city,” she adds.

Frizzell is reluctant to comment further because the club is in productive talks with the city. But she confirms that maintaining a liquor licence is “paramount” for the club to remain operational.

Since being notified of the complaints, the WISE Hall has taken steps to increase security during weekend operating hours and has put up signage in and around the building reminding patrons to stay within designated smoking areas, the city says.

Hammel says a few complaints are rarely sufficient reason to revoke a liquor licence.

“Losing licensing doesn’t just depend on the number of complaints a venue has,” he explains. ”We base our response on the location of the venue, the frequency of complaints, the types of complaints, whether we’ve investigated the complaints, whether the police have been called. There’s a number of variables.”

Still, he says, the city is keeping an eye on the situation. “In general we’re very supportive of live performance venues in the city, but we also must take complaints into consideration.”

For now, Hammel says the WISE Hall has been “very cooperative.”

The liquor board agrees.

“The branch has contacted the complainants and met with the owner of the licensed establishment. We’re satisfied the licensee is taking the necessary steps to address the situation,” a ministry spokesperson told Xtra April 24.

The WISE Social & Athletic Club was created in 1958 as a members’ club for ex-patriots from Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England. In 1961, the WISE Club incorporated as a non-profit society and has been located at its current East Vancouver location since 1963.

For the last 50 years, the WISE has hosted a wide array of artistic, cultural, political and social events, including many private and public queer-focused gatherings.

Pat Hogan calls the WISE Hall an “eastside landmark.” Hogan owns and runs the Sounds and Furies Production Company, which has hosted various dances and workshops at the hall over the last two decades. She says she’s thrilled to hear it has no immediate closure concerns.

“It’s an important spot and much more affordable than other places,” Hogan says. “I have attended and held many events there over the years and truly love the ambiance, the communities it caters to, and all the memories held in those walls.”