The Door is Open

Bart Campbell

The Door is Open

The Door Is Open is a compassionate, reflective, and informative memoir about three-and-a-half years spent volunteering at a skid row drop-in centre in Vancouver's downtown eastside.

The Door is Open was a finalist for the 2002 Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize.



The downtown eastside makes up most of the V6A forward sortation area, which has the lowest median income ($5900) of all 7000 of Canada's postal prefixes. More than 10,000 poor people live there. Yet it is also Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood with many life-long residents. Once you get used to it the place can cast a peculiar spell and some people stubbornly stay on for years, decades, lifetimes. They stay because the rent is cheaper than everywhere else, and because the winters are warm, and because the downtown eastside is that rarest of places, a cheap slum with picturesque mountain and harbour views. And they stay because they feel at home there.

But the downtown eastside is no place special, really. There are skid rows in every other Canadian city. They are usually located downtown some place, with borders on the main business district, in neighbourhoods that were affluent and full of busy hope during their horse and buggy days. That is before the old mansions were converted into cheap rooming houses.

The name "skid row" originated over a century ago in Victoria amongst lumberjacks who patronized one seedy neighbourhood for heavy drinking and brothel visits when they came to town at the end of the logging season. They nick-named the place "skid road" after the greased log runways down which they slid lumber to the rivers in the logging camps. "Skid row" suggests fast, slippery descent, an unstable way of life, a hopeless address.

From The Door is Open by Bart Campbell ©2001. Published by Anvil Press.