On Thursday evening, I and some of the other COPE candidates attended the Theatre in the Raw production of "Bruce, the Musical" by Bob Sarti, with music by Earle Peach and Bill Sample. It’s at the Russian Hall at 600 Campbell in Strathcona until November 16 and well worth seeing.
Bruce Eriksen was a founder of the Downtown Eastside Residents Association and later a COPE City Councillor (1980-1993). The play covers the years during the 1970’s when Eriksen, Libby Davies, and Jean Swanson fought for the rights of Downtown Eastside residents and also to have the DTES recognized by City Council, and the people of Vancouver, as a neighbourhood and not "skid row" as it was sometimes referred to. The second act of the play focusses on the fight to have the old Carnegie Library at Main and Hastings converted to a community centre for people of the DTES to gather and meet, rather than having to resort to pubs.
Some of the people in the audience had lived – and in some cases, still live – in the Downtown Eastside. During the second act, I could hear people behind me saying "That’s right" and "Oh, remember…" and making soft exclamations of recognition. They had clearly lived through the fight to have Carnegie converted to a community centre, and even 30 years later, it still had emotional resonance.
Carnegie Community Centre gives people in the Downtown Eastside a place to go to meet and chat and play cards or read or get involved in other activities in the community centre. However, it provides more than that – it is a symbol of the Downtown Eastside as a neighbourhood, and its residents are part of a community – their neighbourhood is their home, it is where their friends are, and it has Carnegie as its hub. For all the poverty and substance addiction that still exist in the DTES, when we respect this neighbourhood and its residents, we are recognizing that hope for a better tomorrow has its roots in the community itself.