BENCH CANOES OF THE SALISH SEA
see them sitting still on public benches in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Benches in parks and city squares, benches in bus stations. Dilapidated benches worn out by tired bodies dressed in Salvation Army clothes. They are people of all sorts, from all corners of the world, ravaged by substance abuse. I see people sitting on benches, among the shifting inhabitants of this neighborhood, who crouch in back alleys, stand on corners, line up in front of soup kitchens and the safe injection site, foraging the cityscape. I see all this as I drive by, my car-trunk stuffed with bags of groceries. I am a newcomer, an immigrant from a land of bombed bridges and lost hopes. I learn about the canals and creeks that used to crisscross what is now the Vancouver City, the passages used for eons by the Coastal Salish People. I learn that Vancouver now sits on land stolen from the Fraser River Delta swamp by the first white settlers. They filled in the waterways and disconnected the canoe routes to create this beautiful patch of land, this astronomically priced real estate. I admire Vancouver’s posh residences perched on rocky shores
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and high grounds overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I visit the North Shore reservations where I learn about cramped barges and canoes, about the exodus from the south shore. I learn that these mountains catch and accumulate the ocean’s moisture, soaking the land and old graveyards, once crowded with rows of tiny baby graves. Months of insistent rain, year after year, decade after decade, drain like tears into the Burrard Inlet. I stay in a low-cost rental until I figure out how to navigate this new world. Then I shift into a suburb, one of many good neighborhoods, once colonies of fishermen, loggers, and laborers, communities that worked hard to make a living in this isolated settlement at the end of the world. I keep away from the darkest cracks of the city. Newcomers mix up this unmelting pot where people live, work, play, and keep to themselves. People still sit on benches in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. They sit in twos or threes or fours in their unmoving canoes. They sit quietly as if waiting for the waterways to return.
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