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A year before the last CPR usage of the tracks, SPEC organized nearby gardeners and Montessori daycare students to stand on the tracks and demand they stop spraying Round-Up as maintenance on tracks. The CPR of those days was engaged enough with the community to agree to do hand clearing in the areas adjacent to the schools and the gardens. Gardens started along the tracks as “Victory Garden’s” during WWII and were tolerated by BC Electric Railway Co until 1952 when CPR took over the line and continued to permit those gardens and, over the decades, allow others to be built. For as long as they ran trains on this line, gardens thrived along many stretches of the Arbutus Corridor - What happened to that CPR?
When CPR discontinued use of the line, SPEC urged that it continue to be a transportation corridor and began an education campaign to inform and solicit public input on its future. In 2004, Ivan Bulic and I created “All Aboard the Arbutus Corridor,” a public design context on the future use of the corridor. It drew 75 amazing (including professional) entries which were judged by a professional panel and publicly displayed in March 2005 at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design on Granville Island where awards were given out.
That same year, The Arbutus Corridor Cleanup Committee was created and volunteers and sponsors came forward to help. The overgrowth of tangled blackberries and accumulation of litter attracted rodents. Brandan Norman first tried to get CP to do the clean-up but they were not interested. On their first major project, volunteers removed 4 tonnes of trash and hundreds of bags of weeds and leaves in the Kerrisdale area. Over the years, SPEC has supported other areas being revitalized as biking/walking trails and pocket parks for the public.
About a decade ago CP Rail initiated a series of neighbourhood workshops along the corridor to solicit public input (modeled, after the highly successful SPEC’s design contest?). Workshops were well-publicized and very well attended and CP was well prepared with ample table staff and an artist for every table of participants to capture their ideas in both verbal and visual formats. SPEC attended every one of the workshops, to provide input, to assess the feelings in the neighbourhoods, and to be a voice of correction to any future manipulation of the data. What repeatedly came out was a desire that it remain a transportation corridor with commuter rail serving the area, but participants were open to residential housing in areas where it was compatible. A very high percentage of people wanted community gardens to continue to flourish along the corridor and a walking path safely separated from a commuter rail. This may be a tall order to provide, but that was the picture routinely expressed by the public.
I make these points not as a prelude to suggesting they give the land back. That won’t happen. But I do wonder at the ugly re-assertion of ownership and entitlement causing them to bull-doze gardens (albeit with court permission) that have existed along the tracks for 75 years and after walking away and leaving the clean-up of the corridor for the past 15 years in the hands of local residents who wrestled with blackberries to gain a little ground on which to grow carrots.
* A quick look at the history of the Arbutus Corridor shows that it has been a rail corridor for well over a century. British Columbia Electric Railway Company ran a commuter train along the corridor for 50 years from about 1900 until 1952. At one time it connected with an interurban network series of electrically powered commuter rail trains. This system was undercut by vehicles. (An immensely interesting story is that around the efforts by car manufacturers to buy up such commuter trains and decommission them in an all out effort to promote individual car ownership – but that’s a story for another day). When the electric rail commuter service ended, the corridor became part of the CP Rail line running diesel powered freight trains through the corridor until 2001.