The “W” (& Other Stories)

25 January 2023 – The W Story starts a few days ago, when my friend kicks her toe toward this battered old grate…

and cries happily, “Oh! The W! It’s still there!”

My reply is: “???”

She explains: this storefront, now the unisex 8th & Main retail shop at the S/W corner of (yes) 8th & Main…

used to be a Woolworth’s. Her father worked there; she had summer jobs there. Her voice trails off for a bit, rich with memory. As we move on again, she adds, “And now the old store safe is in Purebread, down on East 5th.”

And so, out for a walk today, I follow the “W” story to its other artefact, the safe in its new home. Once functional in a five-&-dime, it is now purely decorative in an artisan bakery, and looking very charming it is, too.

The young couple at the next table raise bright, curious eyes at me. I say this safe used to be in Woolworth’s, over on Main. They look blank. Not a brand they know. I say, “Now it’s 8th & Main.” They beam. That brand they know!

That’s the end of my W Story, and everything that follows, it turns out, is an O Story.

O-for-Ontario Street. Not that I plan it that way. Purebread is at the corner of Ontario, so I spend time on Ontario, and — as I discover — the street has a lot to say.

There’s the O’Neil House

built in 1908 as part of early settler history here on the edges of False Creek, later witness to neighbourhood decline and — cf. its restoration in 2013 — subsequent rehabilitation.

Right next door, the rehab & reinvention continues, as another heritage house is brought back to life.

And on their own gatepost, a story of good citizenship. Somebody has dropped a key…

and here it is, neatly and prominently displayed, in the hopes its owner might find it again.

Next, there’s the Ghost Ivy.

Oh, the ghost ivy! I am surprised, and ridiculously pleased. The gate at East 6th is open, and I get to see full length what I could only peer at, back in July.

My Ghost. Busted!! post of 12 July was the triumphant follow — the end of the story — for an earlier post showing the delicate tracery left after the brutal removal of wall-smothering vines. An erudite botanist friend then studied the evidence, and identified the ghost: English Ivy.

I am happy to see this splendid imprint full-length, especially as I suspect it will be scrubbed away next summer.

Finally and wonderfully, an epic Ontario dialogue of stories, a call-and-response of stories across the street, stretching north from 7th Avenue. All epitomized by The Gaze.

One looks out from the west side of the street…

and the other, from the east.

Two gigantic wall murals, each covering some 3,000 square feet, each painted during a Vancouver Mural Festival, and each brimming with further stories.

On the east, the 2018 creation of Michael Abraham and fellow members of the Phantoms of the Front Yard collective.

Though Abraham doesn’t say so on his own website, I was told during a VMF art walk that the characters shown on that busy wall reflect local characters and are a tribute to those characters and all the other neighbourhood legends.

You can stand endlessly in front of the wall, and endlessly imagine what’s going on, right there before your eyes.

Just as rich a set of stories over on the west side, though the mural is visually much quieter.

Animalitoland (aka Brazil-born Graziela Gonçalvez Da Silva) created Presence for VMF 2020 — early in our pandemic confusion and isolation. Through direct conversation and via social media, the artist asked people which words best identified how it all made them feel. Then, from A to Z, she wrote those words around her radiantly calming central figure.

From “Abundance”, ‘way up there…

to “Zeitgeist,” right down here.

I love all this…

but I have to tell you, I am somehow relieved to pat a small dog on the way home and say “Snappy collar!” to his owner.

Y’know? Get myself back to one single story, in the right-here-and-now.

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5 Comments

  1. I remember your ivy post. I love the ghost ivy and I hope it is allowed to stay. It’s ethereal; an unintended mural monument.

    Reply
    • Several others also remember that ivy post — I’m so pleased it struck a chord, for the pattern was truly beautiful. And still is

      Reply
  2. Blane Hogue

     /  26 January 2023

    The Heritage stories in this episode were especially interesting for me as I am heavily involved in built history conservation here in New Brunswick. The former Woolworth store is a good story as it is a great example of adaptive reuse of a building rather than what usually happens, which is demolition and all those bricks and other materials carted off to the landfill.

    Reply
  3. That was a delightful wander…hard to believe Woolworth’s drew a blank. I love your friend’s story and the saved safe down the street. The key is a story in itself, I guess, of a neighborhood and a city where doing the right thing is presumed to be the norm. I remember the ivy, too, and I’m happy you saw the whole wall. Great ending to the post!

    Reply

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