Remember that?

The city was cedar scented …

It was a small pulp mill just Howe Sound and, even standing under the Birks clock at the corner of Georgia and Granville, when the wind whistled down the sound you’d be reminded of the backbone of the local economy. The odour of the mill pervaded the entire city. “Woodfibre”, we’d ruefully remark, while waving our hands under our noses. When it wasn’t Woodfibre in the air, there was the tang of fresh timber. Sweeney Cooperage was just about where BC Place Stadium is now. Until it closed its doors, in 1981, the lost art of barrel-making used to take place just a few blocks from the downtown core. The city was cedar scented; that’s what home smelled like.  

At the best of times I’m inclined to be nostalgic. At the worst of times, I’m an inveterate sentimentalist. Mention Woodward’s, and I’ll show you my collection of buttons proving I sat on Santa’s knee. I still crave the date squares – we called them Matrimonial Squares – that the coffee shop on the loop at UBC used to offer. Recently, I came across something in my archive of Things I Can’t Throw Out. Chopsticks. Vintage wooden chopsticks with the name spelled out in red foil letters.  

Marco Polo.  

It was the smorgasbord – the fluorescent yellow Lemon Chicken, in particular …

For me, there was no finer destination in the city than the Marco Polo. It opened its doors as a dinner theatre but that’s not what drew me in. It was the smorgasbord – the fluorescent yellow Lemon Chicken, in particular – and the amazing carved screens writhing with dragons. Damn, but I loved that place.

But I loved all of Chinatown.  And not just for the restaurants.

Photo of the interior of Vancouver’s Chinatown Museum. Supplied by the Chinatown Storytelling Centre.

Compressed into about four or five city blocks, it seemed to be a place out of place, a time out of time. Immigrants have a tendency to crystallize a moment in time. While my Scottish parents trundled us off to local Highland Games, my truly Scottish cousins in Glasgow went to the mall. It stood to reason that I knew more about caber-tossing than my relatives back in Scotland did. Chinese immigrants who’d made their way to Vancouver preserved a way of life that enchanted me. The street may have been given over to retailers selling teapots and paper parasols, but the alleyways and second floors were given over to family life and to gaming.

The alleyways in Chinatown had a life all their own.

The alleyways in Chinatown had a life all their own. Dining at one of the alleyway ‘Door’ restaurants indicated a sort of louche sophistication. There was a Red Door and an Orange Door, but the Green Door was the premier of these legendary underground restaurants.  It was a tiny place, announced only by an unmarked door in the middle of the 100 block of the alley behind East Pender. It had the charm of a speakeasy and you couldn’t knock the beef with broccoli.

In a moment of dizzying altruism, I parted with my Marco Polo chopsticks. If you’d care to genuflect before them, head to the Chinatown Storytelling Centre on East Pender in the heart of Chinatown. The Centre is a terrific museum that tells the story of the many waves of Chinese immigrants who made their way to BC. Asian Heritage Month will be wrapping up shortly so it’s a particularly good time to spend some time in this historic quarter. And round out your day with a visit to Chinatown BBQ. You don’t enter through the alley, but it’s got all the charm of old time Chinatown.  

Sign up for the newsletter if you’d like two tickets (value, $20) to visit the newly opened Chinatown Storytelling Centre in Vancouver. If you’ve already signed up, you’re in the draw already.  Tickets are valid for entry until the end of 2022. Good luck!!

This week’s question for readers:


Submissions to last week’s question:

How green are you? What’s your eco-warrior badge of honour? Do you compost?

Thanks for your column on composting.  Prior to retiring I was the Manager of the North Shore Recycling Program and we spent a lot of time promoting home composting and helping residents to compost properly.  The composter you had was problematic in that the organic material tended to clump together and, as you mentioned, it became much too heavy to rotate.   We recommended the Garden Gourmet composter, one of which I have had in our yard in North Vancouver for eight years.  It’s easy to use for composting coffee grounds, tea leaves, vegetable and fruit scraps as long as you include enough leaves, stir it up and ensure the material is covered with leaves.  We have had no problems with rats or flies.

Allen Lynch

Wow Jane, this technology marks a paradigm shift in composting and opens the door for much wider application. The possibilities are endless. It’s really quite remarkable. Thank you for showcasing this.

One thing, you mentioned worms. Years ago I brought home a few bags of spent coffee espresso grounds from a local Java shop and tossed it into my backyard compost box. I soon discovered that coffee grounds are like caviar to worms and they got very addicted to it, reproducing like no tomorrow. The box was soon teaming with wrigglers. That too was amazing.

Peter Gordon

For over 50 years, I have been adopting new habits to reduce my environmental footprint. My biggest pet peeve is seeing dirty food containers contaminating other recyclables in the blue box. I have even gotten out of a warm bed in the night, to retrieve a plastic container I had garbaged because I couldn’t get it clean enough to recycle. Crazy behaviour to some, but I couldn’t sleep knowing I had not recycled something, when all I needed was to use more elbow grease. I earned my eco-warrior badge of honour that night when I prioritized my green commitment over my sleep.

Paula Alvaro

I am trying to go the extra mile with composting.  I keep a container on my kitchen counter and put food scarps in it.  When full, I put the scraps in my food processor and turn it into a puree adding a little water as needed.  I do this about 3 times a week.  That’s over 150 times a year.   I did a hole in my garden and add the puree and cover it with soil.  Prior to starting this process my garden soil was so hard and compacted it was hard to grow veggies.  Now the soil is soft and full of worms.  I also keep an outdoor composter where we place grass clippings and sawdust from my husbands workshop.

Arlene from New Westminster

I am a Greenie, recycling all soft garden waste into the compost and the harder prunings into the green bin, along with any paper bags or cups or packaging that is food related. This year the city of Coquitlam gave us all a free bag of compost made from green waste! I use no chemicals in the garden and rely on a salt and vinegar mix to effectively remove unwanted weeds like bindweed (morning glory). 

In Fall all leaves, including bags from the neighbours, are used as overwinter mulch.  Not a leaf is garbaged!  We laugh as they get parceled out  to those of us fowl compost!I grew up in the 1950’s and my gardener mother  always made compost heaps.  I thought she was crazy until I had my own garden and realized how much valuable stuff was being wasted!  Now compost has become totally acceptable in most gardens and best of all these days, it is cheap!

I have two post and wire bins’ and they provide me with loads of rich , friable compost, spring and fall. Layers of torn newspaper seem to increase the speed with which the compost breaks down green waste  and I get assistance with the turning over by a resident skunk family, looking for worms!  They do a great job and we keep our distance!

Elizabeth Thunstrom

I bought a used waste disposal for $35 and a stainless sink for $10 and mounted them on a small wheeled cart, high enough for a 5 gal. bucket to fit under the discharge pipe.  We have a stainless one gal. bucked in the kitchen with a tight fitting lid for scraps, so when it’s full I run through the disposer into the 5 gal. bucket. I keep this bucket covered in plastic to keep it from smelling up the garage, and when it is full I dump it into our bin and put a layer of sawdust over it.  Ready to use in no time.

On a side note, my brother for some reason always thought I wanted to hear about his pooping prowess (which I most certainly did not), so I drew a bum on a piece of cardboard and cut a hole big enough to fit over the 1″ discharge pipe.  My wife videoed it on her phone while I ran a batch through, and sent it to him with a note saying I had a super new bran muffin recipe I could send him.

Joanne Anderson

Once I had a large garden and composted like crazy.  Now I’m a condo dweller with very strict rules governing our neat surrounding yards.  The mowing team whisks away every blade of grass, followed by leaf blowers who catch any cowering morsel that might fed a worm.  Yes, I religiously feed the green bin but I’m frustrated watching all that good stuff being carted away.  To satisfy my nurturing instinct I’ve lately taken to dicing up banana peels.  They dry nicely in a pasta bowl on my counter and my plan is to spread these nutritious tidbits into my potted rose bushes.  The Garden Police will be none the wiser and I’ll be so much happier!

June MacDonald

I’ve been contemplating the Lomi, but, at $500, my thrifty self has, so far, said ‘no’.  There’s no green waste pick-up from November to March where we are so I cringe each time I throw away peelings and carrot tops.

On the topic of composting:  My brother and I grew up green but we thought our Dad was just annoyingly thrifty.  In the outskirts of Chilliwack, water was metered and garbage was paid for by the can.  Thus, we had a big compost area, baths in no more than 2″ of water and were taught origami-like reduction of non-compostables.  My Dad was never so excited as when we got blue bins in Richmond (earlier than Chilliwack by years); he then brought his recyclables with him when visiting us.  I’m still ‘green’.

Julie Halfnights

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