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A little story about something sweet that happens just off Cambie every day

Rosemary Blomeyer, left, walks to her favourite breakfast restaurant with new friend Jean Collette. (JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Rosemary Blomeyer, left, walks to her favourite breakfast restaurant with new friend Jean Collette. (JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Every Every morning around 8 a.m., Rosemary Blomeyer emerges from her basement suite in a Mount Pleasant home, tapping her umbrella along the driveway and sidewalk as she navigates her way to the residential street corner.

There, Ms. Blomeyer, a visually impaired German immigrant in her 80s, listens for the footsteps of passersby, flagging them down when they are near. Sometimes, this takes just a minute or two; other times, much longer.

At 8:20 a.m. on a frosty December day, a woman on her way to work hurries by Ms. Blomeyer, her brisk pace typical during the frenetic, morning rush. But then, she stops and turns around.

“I am blind,” Ms. Blomeyer tells her. “Could you please walk me to Cambie [Street] and 13th [Avenue]?”

The would-be passerby, a woman named Jean Collette, obliges. Ms. Blomeyer takes her arm and the two walk, slowly and carefully along the icy sidewalks, to the White Spot restaurant where Ms. Blomeyer has breakfast every morning.

This act of kindness has happened at least twice a day – once on the way to the restaurant and once back home – every day since Ms. Blomeyer’s deteriorating eyesight completely gave out more than a year ago. That’s roughly 60 strangers per month, though there are many repeat volunteers.

It is a charming occurrence in a city where residents recently listed social isolation as their most pressing concern, over poverty, homelessness or any other social ill. An oft-referenced survey conducted by the community-based Vancouver Foundation released last year found residents feel it is difficult to make new friends in Metro Vancouver and are worried about the growing sense of disconnection.

Continue reading here.

Lou Reed dies at 71

From Rolling Stone:

Lou Reed, a massively influential songwriter and guitarist who helped shape nearly fifty years of rock music, died today. The cause of his death has not yet been released, but Reed underwent a liver transplant in May

With the Velvet Underground in the late Sixties, Reed fused street-level urgency with elements of European avant-garde music, marrying beauty and noise, while bringing a whole new lyrical honesty to rock & roll poetry. As a restlessly inventive solo artist, from the Seventies into the 2010s, he was chameleonic, thorny and unpredictable, challenging his fans at every turn. Glam, punk and alternative rock are all unthinkable without his revelatory example. “One chord is fine,” he once said, alluding to his bare-bones guitar style. “Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.”

Lewis Allan “Lou” Reed was born in Brooklyn, in 1942. A fan of doo-wop and early rock & roll (he movingly inducted Dion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989), Reed also took formative inspiration during his studies at Syracuse University with the poet Delmore Schwartz. After college, he worked as a staff songwriter for the novelty label Pickwick Records (where he had a minor hit in 1964 with a dance-song parody called “The Ostrich”). In the mid-Sixties, Reed befriended Welsh musician John Cale, a classically trained violist who had performed with groundbreaking minimalist composer La Monte Young. Reed and Cale formed a band called the Primitives, then changed their name to the Warlocks. After meeting guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker, they became the Velvet Underground. With a stark sound and ominous look, the band caught the attention of Andy Warhol, who incorporated the Velvets into his Exploding Plastic Inevitable. “Andy would show his movies on us,” Reed said. “We wore black so you could see the movie. But we were all wearing black anyway.”

Continue reading at Rolling Stone.

Showing promise in B.C., prescription heroin now in peril

Larry Love, 62, a participant in the SALOME study, is photographed at the Providence Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

Larry Love, 62, a participant in the SALOME study, is photographed at the Providence Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
(Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

At 59, Doug Lidstrom says he is close to overcoming the heroin addiction that has dominated three-quarters of his life. Participation in a groundbreaking clinical trial has helped stabilize his habits and, perhaps within weeks, he will be among the first in North America to receive prescription heroin to help further combat his addiction.

But a swift decision by the federal government announced this week has halted Health Canada’s authorization of doctors to prescribe the drug. This means when doctors run out of Mr. Lidstrom’s three-month supply of diacetylmorphine (heroin) – which hasn’t arrived yet – the Vancouver resident must turn back to the conventional treatments that have failed him many times before.

In her announcement Thursday, Health Minister Rona Ambrose described the change as the closing of a “loophole” that allowed for the exploitation of a federal program. By banning doctors from prescribing “dangerous drugs like heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and LSD,” effective immediately, Ms. Ambrose made good on a vow of two weeks earlier, when her department first authorized the applications: to ensure it never happened again.

“This is turning me into a yo-yo,” Mr. Lidstrom said. “It’s playing with people’s lives.”

The Pivot Legal Society, which is representing Mr. Lidstrom and others in his position, will be exploring legal options that could include a constitutional challenge, said lawyer Scott Bernstein.

While illicit injection drug use in Vancouver has declined over the past 15 years, it remains a hot-button issue, largely due to the longstanding epidemics in the Downtown Eastside and politically charged harm-reduction measures such as Insite, the supervised injection site that recently marked its 10th anniversary.

The issue was again thrown into sharp focus mid-week with the release of a B.C. coroners report into the death of actor Cory Monteith, confirming he died in a Vancouver hotel room from a combination of injected heroin and alcohol. Ms. Ambrose invoked his name in her announcement – “to make the point it touches on all aspects of our community,” she said.

Continue reading at The Globe and Mail.

From residential school to the NHL: the remarkable story of Fred Sasakamoose

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Fred Sasakamoose, a residential school survivor and the first First Nations NHL hockey player, sits in the Vancouver Giants dressing room where the WHL hockey team unveiled First Nations tribute jerseys in Vancouver, Sept. 19, 2013.
(DARRYL DYCK FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

There weren’t many bright moments in the nine years Fred Sasakamoose suffered through residential school, but one came six years in, when he was 12.

Up until then, he had quietly endured the physical, emotional and sexual abuse, pushing aside the thoughts of exacting revenge that so often came to mind. He diligently completed his daily chores, making the beds, scrubbing the floors and doing farm work that included chopping firewood and milking two cows daily.

Then one day, he was told he had “earned” a pair of ice skates. He beamed at the memory.

He and his schoolmates fashioned hockey sticks out of plywood, pucks out of tree branches and tape. For the three more years he spent at St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Sask., hockey games became his salvation.

“I wanted to be a hockey player,” said Mr. Sasakamoose, who turns 80 this year. “I wanted to be a star, better than anybody else. I wanted to be – and I got to be.”

He went on to become the first Canadian aboriginal player in the National Hockey League, playing for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1953-1954.

Continue reading at The Globe and Mail.

National Truth and Reconciliation event opens in Vancouver

A procession of residential school survivors during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, British Columbia National Event in Vancouver, Sept. 18, 2013. (Rafal Gerszak for the globe and mail)

A procession of residential school survivors during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, British Columbia National Event in Vancouver, Sept. 18, 2013. (Rafal Gerszak for the Globe and Mail)

By Andrea Woo – Vancouver

More than 60 years later, Amy George still vividly remembers the snap of the long, black strap hitting her little hands, the pain, and the resulting welts that would render her incapable of gripping a pen, or the chains of a swing set.

But the abuse she endured at St. Paul’s Indian Residential School in North Vancouver went far beyond the physical: For nine years, starting when she was six, she was taught by nuns to hate herself from the inside out, she says, to be ashamed of who she was.

“I was taught the worst thing in the world was to be an Indian,” Ms. George told a crowd of thousands on the opening day of the national Truth and Reconciliation event in Vancouver on Wednesday. “[They would say,] ‘You’re so hard to teach because you’re so dumb.’ And that stayed with me for the rest of my life.”

This week’s four-day event, put on by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, is the sixth of seven mandated under the Residential Schools Settlement Agreement between former residential school students, first nations groups and the government of Canada.

The commission, established in 2007 as an independent body to inform all Canadians about what happened in more than 120 years of residential schools in Canada, is expected to deliver a full report by 2014.

Each of the national events has been designated a theme under the first nations’ seven sacred teachings; it was fitting for Ms. George, now a frank, 72-year-old Tsleil-Waututh elder, to speak at the one fashioned in the theme of honesty.

In an interview afterward, Ms. George said it is her hope that reopening these wounds and sharing such stories will help the public better understand the struggles of the first nations.

“A lot of our people suffer from addictions,” said Ms. George, who herself has struggled with drugs and alcohol. “The general population has no idea. They just say we’re a bunch of lazy, good for nothing people. We are a people coming out of oppression and genocide. Those schools were built so that we would die.”

Continue reading at The Globe and Mail.

Toward peace of mind: Man’s illness brings him full-circle through B.C.’s justice system

Lyle Richardson, pictured at the Justice Institute in New Westminster, has been living with schizoaffective disorder and helps police recruits learn to deal with mental health issues in the field. (Ben Nelms for The Globe and Mail)

Lyle Richardson
(Ben Nelms for The Globe and Mail)

One of the best things about my job is that I get to meet all sorts of interesting people I’d likely never meet otherwise. Lyle Richardson, diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and the central figure of our mental health series (running today through Wednesday), is one of those people. Over the course of several weeks, two lunches, several phone calls and dozens of emails, he told me seemingly everything about his life, answering every question I had without hesitation. It was fascinating to learn about what a psychotic episode is like — the intensity of the voices, the fact those voices belong to people he knows — and the complexities involved in moving forward. Here’s the first of four instalments of our series. I hope you’ll check out the rest.

Exactly what the small piece of plastic was he can’t now remember, but held under his shirt that day some 15 years ago, Lyle Richardson had convinced the staff at a downtown Vancouver electronics store it was a loaded gun.

“I went in and held the plastic under my shirt and asked for all the money,” he recalled. It was an early morning in mid-September and he can remember the warmth of the sun. “The manager said to give it to [me], so they gave me the $600 that was in the till and I walked out.”

At the time, his motivation for the robbery was clear: The voices wanted him to fast, and to do so, he would have to get out from under the watchful gaze of the guardians who prepared his meals. Cancun seemed an ideal place to fast; to get there, he would need money.

About a year earlier, the New Westminster native was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia (typically characterized by delusions, hallucinations and breaks with reality) and dramatic mood swings. The milder symptoms of his adolescence had progressed into full-blown psychosis – a detour in Mr. Richardson’s road to adulthood that took him through B.C.’s mental health system.

His illness also brought him full-circle within the province’s criminal justice system, from being a robbery suspect, face-down and handcuffed on the streets of downtown Vancouver, to a speaker at the Justice Institute of B.C., where all municipal police officers in B.C. are trained and – as of this year – learn how to interact with the mentally ill.

The province has taken steps to advance its mental health system, investing in new facilities and launching a 10-year plan focused on preventing problems and on early intervention. However, mental health advocates point to lengthy waiting lists, gaps in care, and the alarming number of police service calls that involve people with mental illnesses as proof much is still to be done. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in B.C. has launched a campaign to make mental health an issue in next month’s provincial election.

A price tag can be put on how mental illness affects the economy – about $51-billion annually in health care and lost productivity in Canada, with about $6.6-billion of that in B.C. – but the emotional cost is incalculable and widespread. About one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness.

While only 1 per cent of Canadians will have schizophrenia, Mr. Richardson’s story shows the strong hold a mental illness can have – and the complexities involved in treating it.

Throughout high school, the symptoms “weren’t too dramatic,” Mr. Richardson recalls: “One day, I would be sleeping on the desk, and the next day, I would be on an emotional high, cracking jokes a mile a minute.” The graduating class at New Westminster Secondary elected him valedictorian because they knew he would make them laugh.

Next came a year at Simon Fraser University. Through an entrepreneurs club, Mr. Richardson landed a job as a junior executive assistant at a large venture capital firm, a position that afforded the young man free hockey tickets and occasional use of his boss’s Ferrari. On the surface, life was great, but Mr. Richardson began feeling withdrawn. When he was let go from the job, he didn’t mind.

The voices started when he was 23 or 24, familiar tones that were innocuous at first and even encouraging. One, for instance, told him to make a list of all the things he wanted to do. Mr. Richardson made that list, although he can’t remember if he ever accomplished those goals.

Even now, as a 39-year-old fully aware of his condition, it is impossible for Mr. Richardson to differentiate the hallucinatory from the real. The voices of his illness are as real as the voice of the barista who makes his coffee, the clerk who bags his groceries. They are, perhaps, even more real: “They kind of talk to my heart,” he said. “They affect me quite deeply.” So when the voice of a woman he quietly admired from afar told him to fast, he did. His weight dropped and he began acting out of character.

Continue reading at The Globe and Mail.

East Vancouver cultural institution The Waldorf Hotel to close

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The Waldorf Hotel in 1952 (Vancouver archives)

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The Waldorf Hotel in 1952 (Vancouver archives)

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The Waldorf Hotel in 1952 (Vancouver archives)

From the Globe and Mail:

FRANCES BULA AND MARSHA LEDERMAN

The closing of Vancouver’s Waldorf Hotel – which went from working-class hangout to a key city arts hub two years ago – spawned an online memorial Wednesday over the city’s inability to preserve interesting cultural spaces in the face of rampant condo development.

Dismayed responses from City Hall, major city artists and random patrons swirled on the Internet after the hotel’s young operators announced they would have to close their doors Jan. 20 because the hotel has been sold to the Solterra Group of Companies, a boutique condo developer.

Mayor Gregor Robertson, who issued a statement but did not give any interviews, said: “The Waldorf closing is a big loss to Vancouver’s growing creative community … [The] city is exploring ways to support the Waldorf continuing as one of Vancouver’s most unique and vibrant cultural spaces.”

The 1947 hotel is not on the city’s heritage register, but the land is zoned industrial, which gives the city considerable bargaining power with any developer who comes in wanting a rezoning to build condos.

The modernist-style hotel, with a restored Tiki lounge, two nightclubs and a restaurant, had generated an eclectic mix of activities since it opened in October of 2010, operating almost like a giant arts community centre.

There were concerts by local performers such as Grimes, Black Mountain and the Japandroids, other shows by leading arts figures such as Douglas Coupland and photographer Rodney Graham, a gallery, food-truck festivals, arts-group gatherings and more.

The hotel operators’ news release commented bitterly on the fact they had helped create the conditions for developer interest.

“The irony that the Waldorf was taken over by a condo developer in the very area we helped reinvigorate is obvious to anyone,” entertainment director Thomas Anselmi said in the release. The other hotel operators are Ernesto Gomez, Daniel Sazio and Scott Cohen.

Continue reading here.