Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Apostle to the Poor

Reverend Andrew Roddan had an understanding concerning the unemployed during the depression. He realized transient workers had long been a vital part of the Canadian economy and he understood the wanderlust of the 'boxcar tourists' of the Great Depression. “The Bohemian instincts find expression in the life of these men,” he wrote, “free to come, free to go, to work or wander, sleep or wake, calling no man their master.”

Roddan knew that most of these men weren't in the predicament they were due to laziness and he shared his views in the book God in the Jungles (1931) - recently re-published as Vancouver Hoboes and I will review that for you sometime next week I hope. This was long before the term homeless was so common and used to explain away poverty and mental illness.

The Reverend had a respect for these men travelling the rails."It requires lots of nerve and stamina to stand the racket on a freight train," he writes. "Some of these men have no food when they start. They trust to luck and plan to live by begging at each divisional point on the way across. Those who are old hands and know the ropes get by, some of them in great style; but the other poor beggars have a rough time and often they are hungry."

Roddan placed a lot of the problems on something called 'canned heat'. This was a process where cooking oil was made of wax and then impregnated with alcohol."It makes them blind, it makes them mad, and finally they take the count." He said.

The First United Church was just down the street from the Empress Theatre. Roddan's son, Sam, once recalled his father shaking his fist at the building and muttering, "To the Devil with their plays and tomfoolery. "There's more tragedy right here on this street and down these lanes than those actors will ever get on their stage. And here we don't need any makeup."

Reverend Andrew Roddan served the poor of this city until his death on April 25, 1948 at the age of 65.

Like his father, Sam Roddan was known to the less fortunate of the Downtown Eastside. This writer, soldier, artist, teacher and story-teller encouraged those in Canada's poorest postal code to fight for justice. His paintings showed the beauty and pain of the area.

Sam contributed writing and some of his paintings to the Carnegie newsletter - a publication put out by the Carnegie Community Centre, just down the street from where the First United Church stands today and continues the elder Roddan's work of helping those who need it. From the little I have read of him, Sam Roddan seems to have been an interesting, caring man who died June 8, 2002 at the age of 87.

So that was a look at two men in my community who devoted much of their lives to helping the poor. The information on Sam came from The Carnegie Newsletter - December 15, 2004 and I gleaned the information on his father, Andrew Roddan, from ABC The photos? I took those from the Vancouver Lookout.

I hope you find the beauty around you.