Vancouver, BC
West End Jepson-Young Lane since 1 July 2018
one name
The World Turned Upside Down [excerpt]
Thinking of St Paul’s brought back to me memories of an earlier epidemic. When I arrived in Vancouver in 1989, I trained and then served on the helpline for AIDS Vancouver, answering phones in booths tucked away in the office in an old warehouse building off Seymour Street. By the time I became involved, things were still in crisis, but service organizations such as AIDS Vancouver were up and running, even if we lived with the constant presence of death, watching Dr Peter Jepson-Young’s weekly Dr. Peter’s Diaries on CBC, following the slow, inevitable progress of the virus in his body.  Several of our volunteers had been nurses at St Paul’s when the first wave of infections emerged, and they’d told us stories of an earlier time, when the epidemic first hit, and they did not even know the disease that they were dealing with, or the precautions that they should take.

HIV, of course, was very different from the coronavirus we are now dealing with: much harder to transmit, acting more slowly on the body, but also far more stigmatizing because one of its modes of transmission was unprotected sex. Thinking back, though, it strikes me that the city was different, too, in a significant way. St Paul’s was much taller, somehow: many of high new buildings, including the Wall Centre opposite the hospital, had not been built. Our AIDS Vancouver office off Seymour Street was on the edge of a Yaletown that had not yet been gentrified, and beyond it was the cleared, fenced-off, grey gravel-covered moonscape of the Expo lands, awaiting redevelopment. On Seymour Street, I’d walk out after my shift past the “meat rack,” a row of sex workers waiting for passing cars to stop.

That part of the city has retreated now: there are new condominiums on the False Creek end of Seymour, a park and a cinema, the service organisations still there, but discreetly hidden away in the first few floors of the glass and steel towers. Vancouver has become more divided. As a student, I lived in a dilapidated shared arts and crafts house in Point Grey, not far from the university, with four roommates. There are few such houses in the area now. Some have been demolished, and replaced with family homes, others lovingly restored but reverting to being prosperous single-family dwellings. When I ride my bike on Eighth Avenue up to UBC, I’m often passed by Range Rovers and Porsche SUVs, dropping off children in bright emerald uniforms to the exclusive Point Grey Academy, founded after I left Vancouver that first time, in 1994.

Photo © Pulau Ujong blog

8 April 2020
Pulau Ujong, Singapore