Earlier in my career, I was a teacher at a high school in Vancouver’s east side. When I was first hired there in the late 90s, one of my colleagues told me that it was “a jewel of a community” and “the best East End school you’d never heard of.” And she was right. I grew up in Vancouver but had never even heard of this school, but as I began my tenure there, the reasons for its relative anonymity became apparent. It’s near an area of our city affectionately called The Drive, which is known for its cultural vibrancy, social justice advocacy, and eccentric personalities. With a student body of less than a thousand students, cloistered in a tight-knit neighbourhood of old wood-framed houses dating back to the turn of the 20th century, and quietly, humbly plodding through its history without feeling the need to trumpet its innumerable academic successes, its many charms drew me in like a siren’s song.
The school had been there since the late 1920s and was in need of some major repairs. Then, in 2001, a 6.6 magnitude earthquake hit our American sister city of Seattle. Its epicentre was 230 kilometres away, yet our building still swayed like a drunken sailor.
As you can imagine, that quake worsened the state of our structural disrepair, leaving a two-inch crack in the basement floor. I only know this because the custodian who cleaned my floor, Manny, confided in me after the quake, “We’re lucky this is an old wooden school. It absorbed everything. But our concrete took a beating downstairs.” Apparently, it also damaged a pipe causing water damage on the bottom floor. Manny was part of the crew charged with the clean-up.
That was a Thursday when I spoke with him.