June 18, 2016, 11:41 AM  |  News

The view from Crab Park at Portside, in the heart of the Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, is truly panoramic. To the west: the Gastown skyline and the pointed sails of Canada Place. To the north: the beauty of Burrard Inlet and the North Shore mountains. To the east: the ugly and ominous cranes of the Port of Vancouver’s Centerm Container Terminal.


The Port of Vancouver expansion will erase this view of the North Shore. Photo by Tobin

It was this eastern view that loomed large over Crab Park on Saturday, June 9, as a couple of hundred protesters braved overcast skies and misty rain to gather in support of this beloved Downtown Eastside park. With First Nation’s drum circles, political speeches, and free salmon sandwiches for all, it was a crucial rally for organizers and attendees alike. There was even some humour to the event: Jenny Kwan, NDP Member of Parliament, was presented with a large handful of wooden fish, carved from wood which had washed up on the beach of Crab Park. What the protest lacked in size, it made up for in the fervour and passion of the protesters, who were determined to have their small voices heard.

And their message was clear. Save Crab Park from the proposed $320 million expansion of the Centerm Terminal, which threatens the very existence of Crab Park.


Downtown Eastside activist Jim Green leads a meeting in the 1980’s fighting for CRAB Park.

Opened in 1987, after a hard-fought five-year battle with governments and other groups, Crab Park at Portside has become a sanctuary for local residents. The park contains trees, a huge green space, a beach, gardens, a playground, and stunning views. It is a popular spot for families, dog owners, tourists, and local residents who are trying to escape the grit of the DTES.


CRAB Park 1884

Don Larson, who fought to get the park built and is now president of the Crab-Water For Life Society, is leading the current protest. He describes Crab Park as a “special” place for local residents, many of whom lack the resources to travel to Whistler or the North Shore or the West Side beaches. With the ghettoization of Oppenheimer Park, and the increasing vagrancy and drug use around Andy Livingstone Park, Crab Park has become the last park in the DTES accessible to all. In other words, saving it matters.


And there is plenty to save it from. The proposed expansion will increase the size of the Centerm Terminal by two-thirds, extending it further into the Burrard Inlet. The expanded terminal would obstruct the picturesque view from the park (not to mention the homes of hundreds of local residents). Perhaps more significant are the environmental concerns. The proposed extension of the port will affect the tides and water quality in the small bay that feeds the park and the cleanliness of the small beach, a favourite spot for families in the summer months.

porside view

Click this image to see the current view at Crab Park.

The threat of hazardous waste in the water is very real, as it could affect not only the water quality of the bay, but also its fragile ecosystem. And then there is the threat of something bigger such as the massive chemical fire at the port in March of 2015. This event is still very fresh in the minds of residents, and many see the expansion of the port as an expansion of the possibility of another similar disaster.

Railton Chemical Fire, March 4, 2015

Railtown Chemical Fire, March 4, 2015. Photo by Brian Cyr

The proposed construction of the port expansion would take over two years from early 2017 to 2019. The construction activity would lead to other legitimate concerns, not only for park visitors, but for those living in the areas adjacent to the port: increased noise, increased traffic, and increased pollution.

These issues are real and certainly justify a protest. But what is perhaps more real is that getting them properly addressed and stopping the proposed expansion will be an uphill battle for all involved. Sure, there can be rallies, and protests, and petitions to sign (, but as the June 9 Crab Park rally clearly indicated, words can only take you so far.

Despite Margaret Mead’s famous assertion that “a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” when those citizens are from one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada, and when they are fighting industrial giants and money-hungry governments, the odds do not look good.

Would this happen in West Vancouver?

By Tobin





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