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Photo courtesy of Burnaby Now.

Chum salmon swimming in Still Creek. Photo courtesy of Burnaby Now.

For the first time in at least half a century, chum salmon have returned to Vancouver.

There have been efforts to clean up the heavily polluted Still Creek, which flows from central Burnaby to east Vancouver, going on for a few decades.

In early November, chum salmon returned to the creek and have swam as far up as the Renfrew ravine, marking the first salmon in the city of Vancouver for “at least half a century,” according to one expert.

“Sometimes a salmon’s olfactory memory isn’t as sharp and they’ll stray off, accidentally sort of stumble in there and colonize a new habitat,” said Ken Ashley of the Rivers Institute at BCIT.

Ashley explained over the phone how the salmon could have possibly known to swim through Still Creek to spawn after so many decades.

Ashley said that chum salmon use their sense of smell to follow the same spawning route year after year. If those routes are disturbed in some way, though, they are able to use their sense of smell to find another stream suitable for spawning that may have been used decades ago like Still Creek.

“It’s a good evolutionary device for salmon to have,” said Ashley, who said it’s useful in cases where a stream becomes flooded by rain or dammed up by humans.

Another explanation for the chum’s return to Still Creek is fish hatcheries that stock streams with chum fry and eggs from fish hatcheries in order to introduce them into a wild habitat.

What was once the Lower Mainland’s most polluted waterway is now home to one of the most amazing spawning habits in the animal kingdom. The high school biology geek inside me is stoked.

Friends roll up their sleeves to help with renovations at the Commercial Street Cafe. PHoto courtesy of Nadene Rehnby.

Friends roll up their sleeves to help with renovations at the Commercial Street Cafe. PHoto courtesy of Nadene Rehnby.

Family-owned cafes on “The Drive” are popping up all over.

One of my managers, Chris, recently quit after several years of working at the Rio Theatre to open up a new business with his roommate Margot and neighbours Nadene and Pete. The Commercial Street Cafe (3599 Commercial Street) opens tonight at 7 p.m. The Tangent Cafe (2095 Commercial Drive) opened just shy of a month ago on October 12, and is owned by Nate and his husband Linda.

Commercial Street Cafe is a new endeavor for the gang, who have roots in graphic design, publication,  management, makeup, just to name a few.

“My wife and I both have a passion for good food and drink and thought this was a good way to share it,” said Nate of the Tangent Cafe.

Community ethos

It seems like both businesses got some advice for getting their feet off the ground from that song by The Beatles – no, not “I Am The Walrus!” (that song only makes sense under a certain influence anyways) – “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

“We relied a lot on family and friends to do a lot of work, like repainting chairs,” said Nate. For most of the other dirty work, they hired outside contractors.

The Commercial Street Cafe was brought to life over 5 days of sweat and love. Numerous friends and family helped Chris, Margot, Nadene and Pete repaint and refurnish the old corner store to make it into the space they were dreaming of.

The Drive

The community-oriented vibe on Commercial offers the perfect haven for indie, mom n pop cafes to thrive.

The Tangent Cafe is the product of a re-branding of the previous restaurant at that location, so Nate and Linda renovated quickly to facilitate a quick turnaround so as not to lose out on regular customers of the old business.

“It’s been decent … we’re quite busy on the weekends for brunch,” said Nate.

They live on Commercial Drive so the location was a no-brainer.

The Commercial Street Cafe is just down the road from Chris’ gang, too.

“There are lots of places like this .. [Commercial Drive] is something of a destination in the region,” said Nate.

It’s nice to see that when you get out of the downtown core, there’s more to be had than just a Starbucks, Blenz or Waves – quality and service with a smile hasn’t gone the way of the pager and let’s hope it never does!

Vancouver City Council voted yesterday to rezone land along East Hastings St. for condo development, a decision that community activists are speaking against.

The site is located at 955 East Hastings street. The Wall Financial Corporation has proposed a 12-storey mixed-use project for the site.

“It provides desperately needed social housing, below market rental, light industrial, retail which, thanks to the motion today, could include a much needed grocery,” said Vancouver City Councillor Andrea Reimer via email.

The site was zoned as M-1 industrial land, but council’s vote today rezoned it as CD-1, or comprehensive development area.

As per Wall Financial’s plan for the development, there will be commercial/retail and light industrial at street level. It will contain 352 housing units with 23 units aimed at people on social assistance.

Anti-gentrification advocates speak out

However, the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP), an activist group, is opposed because they see it as the gentrification of the Downtown Eastside (DTES).

“We’re opposed to this project that it will have the same effect that Woodward’s had on the western part of the Downtown Eastside,” said Ivan Drury, researcher/organizer with CCAP.

Drury said that only 7% of the social housing in the development will be rented at welfare rates. While city council upholds that the development is creating social housing, Drury said that the planned development threatens 154 current SROs in the area through gentrification of the neighbourhood.

However, Councillor Reimer said there has been an interim rezoning policy for the area since March 28, 2012, and there will likely be a new rezoning policy in the near future as a result of citizen-led groups CCAP and Local Area Planning Process (LAPP).

“With the policies this development was approved under no longer in place, and control over the future policies directly in the hands of the community, it’s not possible to spark development. The planning process is the signal property owners are waiting for, not this rezoning,” said Councillor Reimer.

Sex trade workers could be displaced to unsafe areas

Another issue CCAP has with the rezoning and future development is how it may displace sex trade workers who work in that area.

“The reason they’re down there is because there are no residents down there. They’ve been pushed there by police and by the judgmental gaze of homeowners,” said Drury. “It’s still not a safe place or an acceptable way for women to be working, but they’ve created a community and they look out for each other.”

“The motion passed by council asks staff to work with applicant at the design phase to ensure it is safe for existing sex trade in the area,” said Councillor Reimer.

There are some people who say the DTES would be better if it were gentrified. An article on Vancity Buzz from September 17 says, “The proposal, if approved, will solidify the gentrification that is already underway in the eastern edge of the DTES. It would be a shame if the neighbourhood opposition and/or city council got in the way of this development. It’s exactly what the neighbourhood needs at this point.”

CCAP challenges that thinking. Through interviewing over 1200 DTES residents, they found that the marginalized people who live there feel a sense of community that’s unique to the neighbourhood. Their sense of belonging is very important and needs to be protected.

“Out of violence they’ve created systems of care, camaraderie, and systems of support, and that’s something we need to protect,” said Drury. “If we lose it we’re losing the soul of the city.”

News 1130 reported today that Bon Wong, proprietor of well-known East Van eatery Bon’s Off Broadway, received the Bad Boss Award from the Employee Action Rights Network (EARN).

Bon’s serves greasy spoon-style chinese and diner food, but is relied upon by many East Vancouverites (including myself) for its answer to a hangover cure on a plate: the $2.95 breakfast special. Two eggs any style, bacon/ham/sausage, toast, and hash browns (INSIDERS TIP: ask for garlic & onion in the hash browns. sends them to another level!) smothered in enough grease to coat your stomach and send you to the bathroom before the day’s over.

“One of the ways the costs are so low or the prices are so low perhaps is that people aren’t being paid what they’re legally entitled,” says EARN’s chairman Stephen Von Sychowski.

According to EARN, one current and one former employee have alleged that Bon Wong pays his employees under the table, below minimum wage and offers no overtime or vacation pay.

A sworn statement from a current employee says that bussers are paid $7 an hour (with a $10 tip-out from each server on shift) and servers are paid $6 an hour (plus tips). The statement also says the employee worked 11 an 12 hour shifts without overtime pay, was paid from the till, and provided with no T4 forms.

As reported in The Province, however, Wong denies the allegations against him. “A couple of staff got let go, so that’s where the story is coming from,” he told The Province. He upholds that liquor servers are being paid $9/hour and kitchen staff are being paid $10.25/hour.

Wong does, however, get tipped out $2 per hour from each server because he often works alongside them when business gets slammed during a rush.

“I’ve been working in this business for 30 years. If I was a bad boss, nobody would be working for me,” he told The Province.

I’d really like to look into this story further. Bon’s is a mainstay for my coworkers and I to converge and catch up or “recover” over the cheapest meal in town. Wong has always seemed like a pleasant man, rolling up his sleeves and working alongside his employees; it would be a shame were it all a sham, and I’m going to reconsider supporting a business which mistreats its employees.

However, working for an independent business owner myself, I understand that sometimes it’s hard to make ends meet and employers sometimes need to cut corners temporarily and employees need to either accept that and have some flexibility or quit if they’re unhappy with it. I can’t speak for what the conditions at Bon’s are like, obviously, but I know I’ve had to sit out late or bounced paycheques from my employer. It was maddening at the time and going to the Labour Board has crossed my coworkers’ minds on more than one occasion… but the money came through eventually, and I’m willing to sacrifice temporarily if it means my employer can stay in business and I get to keep working at a job I love.

Several places in the Downtown Eastside will be serving up free turkey dinners this Thanksgiving to those in need.

The Union Gospel Mission on 601 East Hastings will be open on Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Keela Keepling, senior public relations manager, told the Vancouver Sun will be carving up 170 turkeys.

On Wednesday, to avoid overlap, The Door is Open at 373 East Cordova will dish out its turkey dinners.

Finally, on Sunday, October 14, The Salvation Army’s Harbour Light at 119 East Cordova estimates to serve 1,800 people from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The dinners are available to both the homeless and the working poor who are not homeless, but unable to buy food.

It’s heartwarming to see the community providing for those in need all year round, but especially at holiday times. For people who have little else it must mean the world to know there are people providing and looking out for you.

Homelessness Action Week 2012

In the spirit of Homelessness Action Week, the Union Gospel Mission is also going to be holding walking tours of the DTES from October 9-13.

At the East Van Love 6.5 tweetup on September 27, Derek Weiss (Manager of Community Engagement at UGM) said the best gift you can give the homeless is “the gift of presence.” Simply looking them in the eye and acknowledging they exist can feel like a HUGE thing.

As someone who walks through the DTES often, this hit home for me – I started considering how often I do this myself. I do think it’s absolutely ridiculous that I have friends from the ‘burbs who try to avoid walking on the same side of the street as the homeless – REALLY!

But, I did think about how little I connect with people on the street and avoid their eyes so they won’t ask me for change.

So I started trying something new – looking them in the face, smiling at them, and if I don’t have any change I tell them “I’m sorry, I don’t have any today.”

It’s not much, but I hope that just knowing they aren’t invisible counts for something.

I’m going to attend a walking tour and try to get to a couple other HAW events, and I encourage anyone who’s hesitant to interact with the homeless to do the same.

They aren’t animals, they aren’t scum, and they exist.

Let them know you’re aware of that, at least.

camille

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