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Cultivating Community Resilience

March 2015

Transportation Vote: Exploring Opportunities and Concerns
SPEC Forum - March 26, 6 PM at 2305 West 7th Ave., Vancouver

SPEC Is pleased to welcome to the Transportation Forum on March 26th  Marnie McGregor of the Mayors' Council, George Heyman, MLA and Transportation Critic and Todd Litman, Transportation Policy expert, to answer questions and hear community concerns around the upcoming referendum. Not sure how to vote? Do you have friends or family who are unsure how to vote? You are welcome to join the conversation. This event is free, but we do ask that you register at or email us at

This event is FREE!

Stay tuned for a SPEC comment on the Transportation vote coming out next Tuesday, March 24th.

A Tale of Two Rails:
Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd vs Gardeners along Arbutus Corridor

These past weeks what we’ve been dreading has come to pass. The gardens, so lovingly built and tended, so integral to the community gardening legacy of Vancouver, have been ripped out. These gardens, built over several decades going back to WWII Victory Gardens, were allowed by CPR from 1952-2001 - the entire time it ran trains on the Arbutus Corridor. Who is this other CPR Ltd that has done this?

SPEC has long taken a special interest in the corridor because “Old Blue” the beloved building we occupied at 6th and Maple from 1981-2011 was right beside the corridor and beside some of the most beautiful community gardens in the city. One of them, Maple Garden, was started by a SPEC staffer, Barbara Atkins in 1991, and we felt a particularly heavy heart when the bulldozers took out Maple and Cypress gardens. 

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd is in a very serious struggle with the City of Vancouver that’s been going on for most of a decade.  They want either that the Arbutus Corridor be rezoned for residential development, in order to capitalize on some very choice real estate in a very hot real estate market, or they want to sell it to the City – for $100,000,000.00 (that’s 100 Million Dollars). The Arbutus Corridor has been zoned as a transportation corridor for over 100 years and the city has so far refused to rezone it, presumably looking ahead to a time when there will once again provide commuter service along that route.*  They also don’t have $100,000,000.00 laying around unused to hand over to CP so they have sat on a decision.  As long as CPR was also content to sit, this worked out well.  But CP has decided to up the pressure by resuming use of the rail line and brutally removing the community gardens, hoping (I guess) the public reaction would pressure the city and willing (I also guess) to take the public backlash.  It succeeded in pressuring the City who took them to court but the courts found for CPR and the destruction is underway.

I’m with the city on this because of the history, both the long ago history of railroad building and the recent history of neglect by CPR that has brought us to this point. The long ago history for this particular rail company goes back to 1881 when Sir John A. McDonald wanted a transcontinental railroad built to connect eastern Canada with the west and to forestall expansionist ambitions of Americans also swiftly moving westward. CP got the contract which eventually included 25 M acres of land and, coincidentally, about $100 M in public money in various forms (cash, tax benefits, ownership of rail already built at public expense, and a duration of monopoly rights on some lines). While the Arbutus Corridor wasn’t part of this transaction, (it was developed at the turn of the 20th Century as part of a regional commuter rail network*), CPR got a lot of public money and land to start a rail business and could, if they wanted to, consider that legacy and cut the gardeners a little kindness as they negotiate with the city.  The more recent past is that CPR ran its last train on the tracks in 2001 and has since been an absentee landlord of their property. 
(Continued here)

Urban Farmer Field School launch

SPEC’s popular Urban Farmer Field School is returning for it's 4th season! The program offers hands-on training in sustainable urban food growing and food making, facilitated by local experts.

March 24 - Your Food Garden: Design and Planning. Join Urban Agriculture expert Scott Bell for some hands-on learning on:
  • garden layout and mapping,
  • crop selection,
  • yield estimates,
  • planting calendars,
  • record keeping and a lot more!
April 2 - Introduction to Soils. Join soils and food systems expert and UBC professor Art Bomke to learn about:
  • soil types in Vancouver,
  • soil health,
  • soil testing, and
  • how to build soil fertility.
This year the program is run in partnership with Kitsilano Neighbourhood House. To learn more about these and upcoming courses, please see our Events listings below, and visit the Urban Farmer Field School website.


April 23rd, SPEC's 45th Anniversary Party!
Have you booked the date?

Register at, write to, or call 604-736-7732

School Gardens Program

While students were waiting for Spring to come around, they spent some time in the classrooms learning about vegetables and the amazing nutritious powers they provide for our bodies. See the story on the SPEC School Gardens Blog:

Supporter of the Month
A big thank you to WHOLE FOODS MARKET, Kitsilano Store!

SPEC was the recipient of the 5% Community Support Day in January 2015! Funds will help support our School Gardens Program. We are also happy to announce that Whole Foods Market, Kitsilano Store, will be supporting the 2015 Urban Farmer Field School and Westside Community Food Market with fabulous in-kind contributions.

Go Solar Tours are back! Our first tour this year will be on April 18 from 11:00-12:30 at the MEC store rooftop. Tours are supported by Bullfrog Power. For more information and to register for this free event, visit here. This first tour is part of the Wild About Vancouver Outdoor Education Festival, which takes place April 16-22.
Upcoming Events
There’s lots going on at SPEC this month, including the launch of another season of the popular Urban Farmer Field School, a forum on the Transportation Vote, and of course the SPEC 45th Anniversary Party. Be sure to keep up-to-date by regularly checking our Events listings.
March 24 – SPEC’s Urban Farmer Field School begins with Your Food Garden: Design & Planning, 6-8 pm at Kits Neighbourhood House, 2305 West 7th Avenue, Vancouver. For information and to register, visit here.
March 26 – SPEC is hosting a forum, Transportation Vote: Exploring Opportunities and Concerns, 6-8 pm at Kits Neighbourhood House Main Hall, 2305 West 7th Avenue, Vancouver. For information and to register for this free event, visit here.
April 2 – Urban Farmer Field School: Grow Organic Food in Small Spaces, 5:30-7:30 pm at UBC Botanical Gardens. For information and to register, visit here.
April 2 – Urban Farmer Field School: Introduction to Soils, 6-8 pm at Kits Neighbourhood House. For information and to register, visit here.
April 9 – Urban Farmer Field School: Solar Green Houses, 6-8 pm, 650 West 57th Avenue, Vancouver. For information and to register, visit here.
April 18Go Solar Tour, 11-12:30 at MEC (130 West Broadway, Vancouver). For information and to register for this free event, visit here.
April 22 – Urban Farmer Field School Earth Day Tour: The Pacific Northwest and Climate Change, 5-6:30 pm at UBC Botanical Gardens. For information and to register, visit here.
April 23SPEC’s 45th Anniversary Party, 5:30-9:30 pm at Kits Neighbourhood House. For information and to register for this very special event, visit here.
April 30 – Urban Farmer Field School: Bioremediation, 6-8 pm at Kits Neighbourhood House. For information and to register, visit here.

Volunteer for SPEC!

SPEC is always eager to work with volunteers who want to make a positive impact on our urban environment.  There are many ways to become involved, be it at one-off events such as beach clean-ups or on one of our committees. 
At the moment, we are looking for volunteers to fill these positions:
  • Videographer/editor for the Zero Fossil Fuel video series. If you have some solid experience with filming, lighting and sound recording and would like to help we'd love to chat with you!
  • Public outreach volunteers to help SPEC's Waste Committee

    For more information or to apply, please contact
Donate today - We depend on community members like you to run our projects
And you can follow us on the following blogs:
(Continued from A Tale of Two Rails)

 A year before the last CPR usage of the tracks, SPEC  organized nearby gardeners and Montessori daycare students to stand on the tracks and demand they stop spraying Round-Up  as maintenance on  tracks.  The CPR of those days was engaged enough with the community to agree to do hand clearing in the areas adjacent to the schools and the gardens. Gardens started along the tracks as “Victory Garden’s” during WWII and were tolerated by BC Electric Railway Co until 1952 when CPR took over the line and continued to permit those gardens and, over the decades, allow others to be built. For as long as they ran trains on this line, gardens thrived along many stretches of the Arbutus Corridor - What happened to that CPR?

When CPR discontinued use of the line, SPEC urged that it continue to be a transportation corridor and began an education campaign to inform and solicit public input on its future. In 2004, Ivan Bulic and I created  “All Aboard the Arbutus Corridor,” a public design context on the future use of the corridor.  It drew 75 amazing (including professional) entries which were judged by a professional panel and publicly displayed in March 2005 at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design on Granville Island where awards were given out. 

That same year, The Arbutus Corridor Cleanup Committee was created and volunteers and sponsors came forward to help. The overgrowth of tangled blackberries and accumulation of litter attracted rodents. Brandan Norman first tried to get CP to do the clean-up but they were not interested. On their first major project, volunteers removed 4 tonnes of trash and hundreds of bags of weeds and leaves in the Kerrisdale area.  Over the years, SPEC has supported other areas being revitalized as biking/walking trails and pocket parks for the public.

About a decade ago CP Rail initiated a series of neighbourhood workshops along the corridor to solicit public input (modeled, after the highly successful SPEC’s design contest?). Workshops were well-publicized and very well attended and CP was well prepared with ample table staff and an artist for every table of participants to capture their ideas in both verbal and visual formats. SPEC attended every one of the workshops, to provide input, to assess the feelings in the neighbourhoods, and to be a voice of correction to any future manipulation of the data. What repeatedly came out was a desire that it remain a transportation corridor with commuter rail serving the area, but participants were open to residential housing in areas where it was compatible. A very high percentage of people wanted community gardens to continue to flourish along the corridor and a walking path safely separated from a commuter rail. This may be a tall order to provide, but that was the picture routinely expressed by the public.    
I make these points not as a prelude to suggesting they give the land back. That won’t happen. But I do wonder at the ugly re-assertion of ownership and entitlement causing them to bull-doze gardens (albeit with court permission) that have existed along the tracks for 75 years and after walking away and leaving the clean-up of the corridor for the past 15 years in the hands of local residents who wrestled with blackberries to gain a little ground on which to grow carrots. 

* A quick look at the history of the Arbutus Corridor shows that it has been a rail corridor for well over a century.  British Columbia Electric Railway Company ran a commuter train along the corridor for 50 years from about 1900 until 1952.  At one time it connected with an interurban network series of electrically powered commuter rail trains.  This system was undercut by vehicles. (An immensely interesting story is that around the efforts by car manufacturers to buy up such commuter trains and decommission them in an all out effort to promote individual car ownership – but that’s a story for another day).  When the electric rail commuter service ended, the corridor became part of the CP Rail line running diesel powered freight trains through the corridor until 2001. 
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