British Columbia

Search for Metro Vancouver's best neighbourhood: Grandview-Woodland, a home for urban Indigenous people

You won’t find an urban Indigenous neighbourhood in Vancouver like Chinatown, Little India or Little Italy. But what you will find is Grandview Woodland.

Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood has one of the highest concentrations of urban Indigenous peoples

Indigenous advocate Scott Clark's mother moved his five siblings and himself to Grandview-Woodland in the mid 1970s He still lives there today, now with three sons. (Wawmeesh Hamilton/CBC)

CBC Vancouver is highlighting different parts of the Metro Vancouver region as part of the search for Metro Vancouver's best neighbourhood. 

You won't find an urban Indigenous neighbourhood in Vancouver like Chinatown, Little India or Little Italy.

But what you will find is Grandview-Woodland.

Indigenous people live in every suburb of Vancouver. But the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood has one of the highest concentrations of Indigenous peoples. In fact, 2,300, or one in 12 of the area's 29,175 residents is Indigenous. 

Affordability is now causing Indigenous residents, among others, to move away from the neighborhood. But the area's street art, community centre and schools continue to reflect a strong Indigenous presence, even drawing displaced families back to visit the place they consider their home.

Indigenous housing projects anchor a large number of Indigenous residents in the Grandview-Woodland area, Clark said. (Wawmeesh Hamilton/CBC)

"We want to be here because our families are here, our people are here — the [Vancouver Aboriginal] Friendship Centre is here," said longtime Indigenous advocate Scott Clark, who's lived in Grandview-Woodland for 35 years. "There's a lot of activities, arts and places for our folks, so it's been very welcoming for us."

Indigenous origins

Grandview-Woodland is in East Vancouver and covers Burrard Inlet to Broadway Street and Nanaimo Street to Clark Drive. The area was a forest until it was logged in 1890, and the first house was built in 1891. 

No records were found indicating when the first urban Indigenous people arrived in Vancouver. But one clue could be the federal Indian Act created in 1876, which undermined traditional First Nations authority. Clark posits that the exodus away from communities could have started then. Later, residential school survivors estranged from their homes often found themselves in Vancouver.

Clark's history in Grandview-Woodland dates back to the mid-1970s, when his mother moved Scott and his five siblings there from Victoria.  Rent was cheap and Clark found fast company with like teens.

Indigenous elder Kat Norris says urban Indigenous people see themselves reflected in Grandview-Woodland's art, facilities and in each other. (Wawmeesh Hamilton/CBC)

"There were a lot of impoverished Indigenous families that lived here then," he said. "There was an element of crime and I hung around with other impoverished Indigenous kids."

Grandview-Woodland is home to hubs of Indigenous activity. The Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre, Urban Native Youth Association and Britannia Community Centre, where Clark is on the board of directors, are hotbeds of Indigenous activity. And the neighbourhood has eight community parks, which are a surrogate for being out on the land. 

But the biggest factor in the neighbourhood's large Indigenous population is Indigenous housing complexes. There are no fewer than 17 housing projects owned by Luma Native Housing and Vancouver Native Housing societies that are located in Grandview-Woodland.

"In the 1970s and 1980s when the feds and the province started building Indigenous housing, they chose to build in places with the lowest land value," Clark said. "That contributed to the large number of Indigenous people here."

It's our home

Indigenous elder Kat Norris has called Grandview-Woodland home since moving there from California in 1974.

Indigenous arts, culture and activism mostly happened in Grandview-Woodland, particularly after the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre moved to its current location from Broadway and Vine Street in 1979, she said.

Back then, urban Indigenous people were predominantly from B.C. and some from the prairies, Norris said. But that changed in 1976 when American Indian activist Leonard Peltier was brought to Vancouver to face trial for extradition to the United States. 

Seeing our people and our art makes me feel like we belong and that I am home.- Kat Norris

"I noticed a lot of Indigenous people from the prairies came here to support him and many stayed afterward," she said.

A big reason Norris said she and other Indigenous people stay in Grandview-Woodland is identity.

"We see ourselves, we see our colour and we see our people," Norris said. "When you go to Richmond or any of the other areas, you don't see yourself."

When Norris travels from Vancouver to visit family, she has to ground herself in her Indigeneity when she returns.

"I have to go for a drive or a walk down Commercial Drive," she said. "Seeing our people and our art makes me feel like we belong and that I am home."