At Home in the Hood: Stories from Prince George's Inner City VLA neighborhood

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Series starts January 20


The VLA neighbourhood of Prince George was originally built to provide affordable housing for World War II veterans. 


Today, the neighbourhood has a reputation for being poor and crime-ridden.


But for many people - it is home.


In January 2014, CBC Radio in Prince George will be airing stories from people who live in the VLA.

We'll meet the children, teachers, seniors and other citizens who call the VLA home.  


And we hope to get people talking about why there's a divide between "the hood" and the rest of Prince George.

Special live event January 24

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On Friday, January 24 CBC will hold a live event -- an educational, interactive, musical, food-rich Town Hall on the VLA.


It'll be at "Youth Around Prince George - YAP" at 1160 7th Avenue.   


We hope you'll join us at noon for a lunchtime discussion led by CBC.


Following the Town Hall, we will turn the stage over to the Coldsnap Music Festival.

We'll groove to the Boom Booms, a Vancouver band focused on addressing issues of poverty around the world and at home in B.C.


The event is free -- and open to all.


Please pass this invitation to anyone you think may be interested and see you in January.

For updates, visit

RSVP on our Facebook page at or by emailing

If you have questions -- or ideas -- call our CBC office at 250-562-6701.

Part One: Welcome to the VLA

A daytime shooting

On August 14, 2010 a man was shot and killed in the VLA neighbourhood Prince George. Residents heard the shots ring out and later saw the body lying in the street. We revisit that day to kick off our series.

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Some facts about the VLA:

  • it is home to some of the poorest families in Prince George
  • it has the highest rates of crime in Prince George, the city dubbed "Canada's Most Dangerous" by Maclean's magazine
  • a decade ago, it was found to be the worst in the province for healthy child development
  • the Fraser Institute consistently ranks schools in the VLA near the bottom of its school reports
  • average home prices are less than half than in other neighbourhoods in the city

Reza vs the VLA

As a result of these problems, newcomers to Prince George are often warned not to live in the VLA. However, when Reza Akbari was new to Canada, fresh from his home in Iran, he was given no such advice. Here's his story:

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The occasional bullet

We also wanted to hear from people who call the VLA home, so our producer Robert Doane took a walk around the neighbourhood. He found a diversity of voices and discovered a student who feels like the area is safe, if you don't mind the sound of the occasional gunshot:

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A brief history of the VLA

Finally, we wanted to know how the VLA wound up being Prince George's "hood". It turns out that in order to understand the hood, you have to understand your history- so we get a little help from two students at UNBC who have been researching the area's history: Lisa Krebs and Willow Arune. They take us from the burning of First Nations village to the end of World War II, right up to the end of a once-thriving neighbourhood on the banks of the Nechako River.

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Part two: a nine-year-old cleans up, a movement is started

Meet the 9-year-old cleaning up the hood

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Clive Keen of the Prince George Naturalists Club considers how to incorporate a downtown neighbourhood and trailer park into an improved Hudson's Bay Slough trail the club is working on.

Even though Prince George's VLA is in the heart of the city, it's still close to nature-- if you know where to look. We explore the Hudson's Bay Slough with naturalist Clive Keen, and Eco-Guardian Raia Patrick-Prince.

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Bonus: a full tour of the Hudson's Bay Slough with Clive Keen

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No car, two kids, and it's thirty below: the reality of life for Prince George's poorest families

When Cathy Wiegand moved to Prince George as a teenager in the 1960s, the VLA already had a reputation. She says gangs, which were then referred to as "pods" had already formed, and her parents didn't like her going out at night.

Years later she returned to help lead the development of the Carney Hill Neighbourhood Centre, to help provide service and childcare to the poorer families of the VLA. One of the people she helped was Toni Carlton, a single mother with few resources. Toni says the centre helped her find a community in the VLA, and when Cathy retired, Toni took over the job of running the centre.

Listen to Cathy and Toni speak about the challenges they see facing the VLA:

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"There's a lot of you need to do this, you need to do that... when you have 15 programs you need to get to in a day and still do a job search on top of that, as well as still pick up your kids by 2:30... why would you want to get out of bed some days?" - Toni Carlton

Panel discussion: is there hope for the hood?

As part of our coverage of the VLA, we held a special edition of our joint review panel. Our guests discuss the challenges facing "the hood", possible solutions, and whether it is fair to call the VLA a "hood" at all.

Catherine Kendall is a community development consultant who has spent many years working in the VLA at the community resource centre Hadih House, Dawn Hemingway is the chair of the school of social work at the University of Northern British Columbia, Ivan Paquette is a singer, songwriter, and youth mentor, and producer MC Philosophy who spent time living in the VLA.

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Listener feedback:

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We are sharing listener comments on our coverage of the VLA, as well. One message reads:

"In 2011 our grouphome for youth at risk received a donation from anonymous residents of the hood that had been collected at a neighbourhood barbecue there. And they said it was in appreciation of all that we did, and we all appreciated their concern and their thoughtfulness. There are people with heart living in that area of town, and they should be applauded."

Val Reimer writes:

"What kind of community is the VLA?  The kind of community where you actually see your neighbor and they dont just drive straight into their garage which leads into the house, the kind of community where you can visit with your neighbor over the fence and ask him or her for a cup of milk."

And Norman Dale comments:

"The VLA... seems to be a place where people who have pretty low income live. No doubt the vast majority of them want the same things everyone else in the city seeks. I think the neighbourhood suffers from stereotyping and that what you (Daybreak North) are doing is an excellent step towards appreciating the place more than most of us do."

Part Three: Hood rats, hatchet attacks, mail delivery, and Christmas

"Just a little old neighbourhood in Prince George"


To get a feel for Prince George's VLA, we explore the neighbourhood with the mailman, and find out how many Christmas lights it takes to decorate the inner-city trailer park.

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We also spoke to a Jackie Rioux. She used to deliver mail in the VLA, and says residents of "the hood" are targeted by money loans and fast-food flyers.

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Former gang member avoids the VLA

Alia Pierni has seen the darkside of the VLA. As a gang member she was an "enforcer", performing violent acts to collect on debts. She has since left that life behind, and became a national star on the TV show "Redemption Inc." She says that today she tries to avoid the "hood" because of the memories of her former life.

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The senior hood rat

Willow Arune is a former Vancouver lawyer who has retired to study history in Prince George's VLA. She's also a great storyteller: listen to her take on life in "the hood".

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Part Four: Carrots in the garden, detox in the basement, and the neighbourhood watch gets called a snitch


Delivering supplies to those in need

It can be difficult for people living in the VLA to get supplies, which is where the Carrier Sekani Family Services soup bus comes in. On Mondays and Wednesday it brings supplies- and other types of help- to those who need it. Patrick Coons started the service nearly a decade ago.

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A safe haven, or a haven for parasitic people?

We round up a variety of perspectives on the VLA. A young woman says it's completely safe, another family moves away after too many break-ins, a city councillor wants to get ride of "parasitic people" who ruin the VLA for everyone else, and a resident uses four-legged friends to make sure all is well.

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The neighbourhood watch gets called a snitch

Lee Stewart is proud of his home in the VLA, but a daylight shooting made him take action. He started a neighbourhood watch in order to "observe and report" everything that happens in his hood- and not everyone shares his point of view. Marissa Harvey shares the story.

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Carrots in the garden, detox in the basement

Derek Joyce is a singer-songwriter and a nurse who decided to make the VLA is home. Along with his roommates, he's changing the house he lives in from a violent gang hangout to a community hangout. Wil Fundal pays a visit.

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Part Five: The VLA at night, a mother's loss, and hope for the future


Street soccer, inner-city boxing, and high-stakes poker: the VLA at night

We've heard nighttime in Prince George's VLA neighbourhood can be dangerous, so We take a walk around after dark and find street soccer, a boxing club for inner city youth, the Predator, and a high-stakes poker game.

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A woman's death haunts a community

One of the main features of the VLA is Hadih House. It's a large home converted to a community gathering place that provides family resources, drop-in hours, lessons in cooking and canning - and at Hallowe'en it's converted into a pretty cool Haunted House for the neighbourhood kids.

It's also a place Alvine Tom hoped to help people heal from the wounds of their past. She struggled with drug addiction, alcoholism, depression and anxiety, but believed she had left the demons behind her. A coroner's report indicates an overdose led to her death- although her family believes she was a victim of violence.

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What is in the VLA's future?

To wrap up our series, we ask people in the VLA what they think is in its future and get predictions from gentrification to safer places for kids to play.

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