British Columbia

Vancouver's Strathcona neighbourhood finally gets a library

The Vancouver Public Library has opened its newest branch in the Strathcona neighbourhood, where people have been working to get a proper library for decades, and the new building includes a 21-unit affordable housing facility for single mothers.

'There's going to be a lot of books checked out here,' says mayor at opening

The Vancouver Public Library came under fire for directing staff not to use naloxone on an overdosing patient. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

One of Vancouver's oldest inner-city neighbourhoods finally has a library.

"There's going to be a lot of books checked out here," said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson at the grand opening on Wednesday.

Robertson noted that the people in this area have waited years for a library. The building also includes a much-need affordable housing complex, the mayor said.

"It's going to be a fantastic library for this community, for Strathcona," Robertson said.

The $28.5 million project on East Hastings Street at Heatley Avenue includes 21 units of affordable housing for single mothers and their children.

"They've waited many decades for their own library, and even more amazing to have housing on top — housing for moms with families who are at risk of homelessness," he said.

Includes housing complex

The new library features high ceilings, rows of computers, meeting rooms, plenty of books, magazines, DVDs, and an Indigenous name, nə́c̓aʔmat ct Strathcona.

nə́c̓aʔmat means 'we are one' in the Musqueam language.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson shares some remarks at the grand opening of the Vancouver Public Library's nə́c̓aʔmat ct Strathcona branch. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

'We've been through so much'

Anna, who only gave her first name due to a concern for her personal safety, is moving into one of the new apartments with her nine-year-old son later this month.

"Me and my son, we never had [a] beautiful building in our whole life, and it's very meaningful to us, because the transition from shelter to shelter — we've been through so much," said Anna.

The housing facility, called Cause We Care House, is operated by YWCA, and cost $10.2 million, including a $700,000 operating endowment. That capital was raised by YWCA from various donors.

"I don't know, I've never seen any condominiums, but probably it looks similar to condominiums — very, very, great equipment."

A welcoming package waits on the kitchen counter for the new tenants moving into a suite at the YWCA Cause We Care House. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"Right now [we're] living at a harm reduction building, because we were victims of domestic violence, and we've been kind of living, like, a tough life," she said, adding that her son had never had a room of his own.

'Oldest neighbourhood in the city'

The City of Vancouver put $18.3 million into the 11,000-square-foot library portion of the project, and the mayor withdrew the first two books before the doors were opened to the public.

"I checked out the history of Strathcona and a history book of Canada's Native Peoples," said Robertson, referring to the John Atkin book, Strathcona: Vancouver's First Neighbourhood, and An Illustrated History of Canada's Native People, by Arthur J. Ray.

VPL board chair Kyla Epstein (right) checks out a book at the new library in Strathcona right after Mayor Gregor Robertson (centre) checked out the first two books. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"In Strathcona here there's been a reading room at the Carnegie Centre, so for decades now, that's been the only library resource for Strathcona and the Downtown Eastside, and obviously the population has been increasing and a desire to have a real library branch has been there," he said.

Sandra Singh, chief librarian at Vancouver Public Library was thrilled to be opening the library.

"This is the oldest neighbourhood in the city, and it was really the only neighbourhood that didn't have a full service library branch," said Singh. "It has been decades of work on behalf of the library."

Singh said libraries in every neighbourhood serve the same function, but there were design considerations for the generally low-income neighbourhood.

Sandra Singh is the chief librarian at Vancouver Public Library. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"We certainly did put more community meeting rooms in this branch, because this is a very active community with many community groups that support the life of the community," she said.

"We know that there's a lot of people living in very small spaces in this neighbourhood, so we did provide some more smaller breakout rooms and we were really trying to think about the public spaces as well," said Singh.

"People have been waiting for this branch for a very long time."

nə́c̓aʔmat ct Strathcona, one of VPL's largest branches, opened its doors on Wednesday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

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