The Vancouver Courier
Friday December 18, 2009
By Cheryl Rossi
New book tells southeast tales
Seniors write about loneliness, finding community
Philip Stephen knows how precious it can be to have an intimate understanding of a grandparent's history, and he hopes a new book, Stories of Southeast Vancouver, will be appreciated in a similar way.
"When my grandfather passed away, he left a bit of his life story to all the grandkids and I still have that," said Stephen, a visual artist, writing teacher and editor. "This book could become something like that for some children or some grandchildren where they can have a window into the world of their family history, and maybe feel a little bit more connected to Vancouver in the process."
Stephen will gather with 30 contributors today, Dec. 18, at Champlain Heights Community Centre to launch the soft-cover, colour book of photographs and short memoirs, some printed in handwritten Chinese characters.
The Southeast Vancouver Seniors' Arts and Cultural Society hired Stephen with the help of a $500 Neighbourhood Small Grant from the city. Working with Lorna Gibbs, president of the society, he collected slices of life in Southeast Vancouver from a range of seniors who frequent Champlain Heights and Killarney community centres and South Vancouver Neighbourhood House.
Stephen was struck by the recollections of Bert Massiah, vice president of the seniors arts and cultural society, who wrote about moving around constantly as an army brat and finally finding a sense of home in West Fraserlands, where he loves to watch the tugboats, float plans and eagles on the Fraser River.
Loneliness, separation and finding community are threads that run through these glimpses of history. One writer, Ben Li, a music teacher from China, wrote about how disconnected he felt when he first visited Southeast Vancouver until he joined a seniors singing class at Killarney Community Centre and became a choir leader.
Li also wrote about how difficult it can be to find gathering spots.
Southeast Vancouver Seniors' Arts and Cultural Society is dedicated to seeing a seniors' centre built in the area that would serve as a meeting place for older adults of all ethnic backgrounds.
"I work at two community centres and South Van Neighbourhood House and we're constantly begging for space, you know putting dividers down a room so two quiet groups can operate at the same time," Gibbs said.
Stephen, a 32-year-old who lives near Trout Lake, had mainly worked with teens to develop their writing and wasn't aware of the Southeast Vancouver seniors' plight before he signed on to their writing project. Now they have a new disciple.
"Seniors have such an amazing breadth of life experience and stories that they're an amazing resource to our communities that are too often shuffled aside
The more they have something to do and an avenue to contribute and be involved with the community, the more our communities are enriched," he said.
"A seniors centre would be great for them to have. It seems like almost a horrible injustice that there's 11 on the West Side but none here."
The launch is at 3350 Maquinna Dr. in the community centre's upstairs lounge at 11 a.m. Stories of Southeast Vancouver, $15, can be ordered through Champlain Heights Community Centre at 604-718-6575 or through svsacs.org.
© Vancouver Courier 2009