Just east of the Central Business District in downtown Vancouver (marked by Main Street to the west, Hastings to the north, Clark to the east, and Great Northern Way to the south) lies Strathcona, one of the oldest surviving inner-city neighborhoods in Western Canada. Beginning as a community of Hastings Mill workers in the late 1800s, Strathcona quickly became home to a large ethnically-diverse, working-class population and, more recently, to a growing middle-class with an eye to denitrification. These days, Strathcona is a vibrant, diverse community with over 200 active community groups.
It is also the poorest postal code in Canada. Strathcona is home to the highest concentration in the country of dual-diagnosis individuals (who have both mental illness and substance abuse problems), substance abusers, and sex trade workers. Over 190 women went missing from the area in 1995 and, in a survey of over 360 street workers in the Downtown East side (of which Strathcona comprises a large area), 80% say they started working before they were sixteen. One coordinator at the Youth Action Coalition street youth centre asserts , without any hint of exaggeration that more money goes through this area in sex trade and drug trafficking daily than through the Dow Jones on the New York Stock Exchange. Here, the average life span of HIV positive individuals is eighteen months; the area has the highest rate of individuals acquiring the virus in Canada .
But a bicycle ride through Strathcona is usually a pleasant experience for me even knowing such bleak statistics. The season is early spring and the weather is blustery. On Pender, the cherry trees are about to flower and a parade of tiny children in raincoats is moving slowly towards the Chinese Cultural Society, past tall Victorian houses left over from the Hastings Mill days. On the bicycle route I pass the Union Street Market, one of the best places in town to buy fresh cheap bread daily, and at Hawks Street abruptly swing left and bump through a small green space to Prior, a busy thoroughfare connecting Enables with the downtown-bound Georgia Viaduct. South of Prior, residential land abruptly ends and factories and warehouses begin. The buffer zone between residential and industrial is the vast Strathcona Park, a huge brownish-green field used primarily in the summertime for team sports.