A history of tent cities in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley

FILE PHOTO: Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday October 15, 2014.
FILE PHOTO: Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday October 15, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

For years informal tent cities have not only been used as a form of protest but also for the practical use of housing people who do not have homes.

Over the past decade tent cities have been popping up more frequently in the Lower Mainland from the Woodward building squatters to the temporary encampment in Oppenheimer Park to more recently the Maple Ridge homeless settlement.

While tensions have been increasing as the tent cities continue to rise up in cities like Vancouver, Victoria, Abbotsford and Maple Ridge, at the centre of these protests are issues of homelessness, available services and affordable housing.

READ MORE: Vancouver mayor doesn’t reach 2015 homeless goal

And even though camping is generally not allowed in public parks due to local bylaws, a 2009 B.C. Supreme Court decision now negates that if there is no other type of shelter available.

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Tent cities over time

Stanley Park Protest: February 2000 — The widening of the Stanley Park causeway ignited a protest with activists strapping themselves to trees and staging a sit-in.  Ironically, a similar cyclist safety improvement project was given the green-light last month with nary a protester in sight.


Woodward’s Building: September 2002 — Initially it started with a group of street people occupying the abandoned Woodward’s building and after a court injunction to have them removed, about 50 protesters took to living in tents on the sidewalk outside the historic structure for nearly three months. Their protest, along with the help of former Vancouver city councilor Jim Green, resulted in the building’s redevelopment and the revitalizing of the Downtown Eastside.


Olympic Tent City: February 2010 — As a protest to the increased gentrification of the DTES, just under 50 people set up a tent city. The event garnered plenty of media attention, as it was done three days after the Winter Games’ opening ceremony.


Olympic Village Tent City: February 2011 — A coalition of community groups set up a tent city to protest the Olympic Village and the broken promises made by the City of Vancouver regarding housing for the homeless.


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South Fraser Perimeter Road: April 2011 — Demonstrators set up a temporary camp on River Road in Delta to protest the South Fraser Perimeter Road development. The new highway eventually opened in December 2013.


Occupy Vancouver: November 2011 — In support of the international Occupy movement that started in New York City protesting economic inequality, political corruption and environmental destruction, Occupy Vancouver protesters pitched their tents in front of the city’s Art Gallery. It lasted five weeks before fizzling out.


Abbotsford Homeless Camp: July 2013 -February 2015 — Due to lack of shelter space, Abbotsford has struggled to deal with a burgeoning homeless population in recent years. The city came under fire in 2013 for dumping chicken manure on a homeless camp, and in 2014 another homeless camp was controversially evicted. In May 2015, the federal government announced a $400,000 program in Abbotsford. The city will receive the funding over three years.


Oppenheimer Park: July 2014Downtown Eastside residents and protestors pitched their tents in the park after saying they had little choice. It was either the park or single room occupancy buildings infested with mice and bedbugs. The protest ended after four months due to the City of Vancouver being granted an injunction to remove the tent city. The city expanded shelter space and announced two new homeless shelters to help house the campers. It was estimated that there were 150 people living in the park during the protest.


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Maple Ridge homeless shelter: July 2015 — At one point this summer there were more than 65 people living in a makeshift tent city in a wooded area behind the Salvation Army on Cliff Drive in Maple Ridge. In October action was taken to open a temporary low barrier shelter. It will have 40 cots, offer three meals daily and have washrooms and laundry facilities.