Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Jungles of Vancouver

During the spring and summer of 1931, makeshift shelters that housed homeless men sprang up around Vancouver. One such 'camp' was on the outskirts of the city dump - just ten minutes away from City Hall. Two hundred men lived there and it wasn't a place for the idly curious to visit.

This was not a well-defined town, resembling more of a maze than anything else. The trails were named after Vancouver streets and mushroom village was almost hidden from view by a thicket of willow. Here shacks of all sizes and descriptions were homes to people of numerous nationalities. These men ranged in age from their teens to their eighties.

The homes were made from various materials: some were packing boxes with the ends knocked out then laid end to end then covered with tar paper; others were a combination of barrels, boxes and tins; and yet more were configured out of sheets of corrugated iron placed together on end to form a tent like structure and overlapped to provide shelter from the rain. These must entered by crawling. There were also a few abodes that were made of lumber.

These were two room flats of many styles and shapes usually didn't have doors or windows though some did. Although a few had flooring, most residents walked on bare dirt. A large number of the men cooked and kept warm on an open fire though some residences had 'stoves' of sorts, assembled with scrap pieces of iron and stove parts.

This 'jungle city' was constructed of refuse found at the nearby dump. Which may account for the fact that the flies largely outnumbered the human residents. The residents of the jungle had to watch closely in order to salvage good material before the dump attendants pushed the 'trash' into the limy cesspool.

These men lived in dire poverty but some still managed to maintain his sense of humour and attempt to make this camp like a home. One abode was constructed of tea boxes and the enterprising 'home owner' had managed to salvage a door from the dump and with a lean-to roof and porch, the door made the structure look more like home. A young Polish man had a sign above his door that read 'This building is equipped with Frigidaire'. The Jungle City's city hall was a large structure with a pink parasol over head to shelter people from the rain. One resident had even tied an electric bulb to the front of his shack - always hopeful I guess.

The jungle city was a gathering of men who had lost everything - jobs, possessions, pride - but they all had hope that life would get better. These were the men whose passion and skill had helped to build this country. Now it seemed they had been forgotten.

I am getting the information for this blog entry from the July 25, 1931 edition of the Vancouver Sun newspaper. Friday, I will tell you more about these jungles.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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