WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. – A Vancouver-area church is offering more than just prayers of support for a group of longtime chess enthusiasts ousted from their regular gathering site inside a shopping mall food court.
The West Vancouver Presbyterian Church is planning a peaceful sit-in at the Park Royal shopping centre on May 1 following its usual Sunday service to protest the mall’s decision to forbid chess players from lingering too long.
“We’re not anticipating mass arrests,” Minister Glenn Inglis said with a laugh during an interview.
“This will be new for most of us. It’s just to give a polite affirmation to those who would like to continue their pastime, which seems quite harmless and actually quite beneficial.”
Park Royal informed a band of chess aficionados a couple weeks ago they would no longer be permitted to take up space in the centre’s food court.
In a letter sent to player Terry Fellows and dated March 22 general manager Karen Donald ordered the group to leave by the end of the month.
“We appreciate the group has met here informally for many years. However, as explained to you, the food court is not intended for non-patron use and must be kept available for our food court vendor customers,” Donald wrote.
“Our intent is to be respectful and reasonable,” stated the letter that the mall confirmed it issued. “If your group fails to comply it will give us no alternative but to reach out to the West Vancouver Police Department.”
Any hope for a quiet checkmate by the mall was quickly quashed when news of the ban made headlines, prompting public support for the players.
A Park Royal spokeswoman said Thursday that the mall is declining to comment.
Chess players have been at the shopping centre for decades, including Fellows, who is also a member of the West Vancouver Presbyterian Church member.
Inglis said it was Fellows who suggested the church show solidarity with the informal band of food-court players.
“We just want management to know that this seems like a service that does not disrupt their business. It adds a sense of friendship and community to malls, which generally lack that,” Inglis said, noting the need for places in West Vancouver where people can gather freely.
“There seems to be no logical reason why they would not allow this sort of fellowship and friendship around the game of chess to continue.”
The church has reached out to another place of worship in the city to ask if its congregation would like to participate in the sit-in and is anticipating a response soon.
Ashley Tapp, 16, has been playing chess since she was first drawn in by a public match in Park Royal as an eight-year-old girl. She’s gone on to represent Canada at two world youth championships.
Tapp’s mother said chess has had a profound impact on the entire family, but that her daughter hasn’t played a game since the mall ban came into effect on April 1.
“She’s afraid to go,” said Sophia Hague. “She doesn’t want to be involved with anything that involves breaking the law.
That hasn’t stopped other participants from shirking the ban. Hague said players reconvened in the food court Wednesday evening in frustration after mall management failed to come to a decision by a Tuesday deadline for a resolution.
George Ingham has been playing chess at Park Royal for years. He said the group initially thought the warning letter from mall management was a farce.
“We thought it was a joke, an April fool’s joke,” Ingham said. But the mall is beginning to understand we won’t go away, he added.
“How do you get people who have been coming here for 50 years say, ‘I’m not coming back?'” said Ingham. “Chess players never quit.”
— With files from Tamsyn Burgmann