A few little-known facts about the late Downtown Eastside poet Bud Osborn were revealed at his public memorial in the 100 block of East Hastings today (May 16).
Among them was that Osborn—who passed away on May 6—enjoyed car rides up through West Vancouver’s swanky British Properties as a means of escaping calls from media. He once held a series of writing workshops in the fire escape of the old Portland Hotel. And Osborn, a passionate activist always in touch with the streets, was more of a sports fan than many friends might have guessed.
Those sorts of stories attracted laughter from the crowd gathered outside Insite, North America’s only sanctioned supervised injection facility, of which Osborn was a cofounder.
One of the first speakers was Vancouver East MP Libby Davies, an old friend of Osborn’s who helped him navigate political battles inherent in the sorts of controversial projects Osborn fought.
“Bud Osborn was an extraordinary leader and activist in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside,” Davies said. “Bud was a critical part of the struggle for the rights and dignity of drug users. He worked tirelessly for the opening of Insite. When times were dark and people felt hopeless, he gave us hope. When people felt that they had no voice, his poetry raised many voices and gave people courage. When people yearned for belonging and community, he led by example and united people in a common cause for human dignity and respect.”
Davies was the first of a number of speakers who noted Osborn’s vocal opposition to the gentrification of the Downtown Eastside.
“I know if Bud were here, he would be talking about unity,” she said. “This neighbourhood is under threat. It’s always been under threat....And so what we have to do today as we grieve the loss that we feel, is we do have to celebrate and we have to carry on the work that Bud began. Let’s do that with a sense of dignity and strength.”
Speaking next was former Portland Hotel Society manager Liz Evans, who worked alongside Osborn to see Insite officially founded in 2003.
“My favourite memory of sitting with Bud was at the Radio Station Café one morning,” Evans said. “A steady stream of people were coming in to say hi….We were there for three hours but the time just flew by. The reason it’s one of my favourite memories, is because during those three hours, Bud and I sat and reflected on the fact that in spite of everything that had happened, we could still sit here on the corner of Columbia and Hastings for three hours. That this community still exists. That we’ve overcome, over and over again. That the Downtown Eastside had fought off challenges, fought off extinction, and survived and thrived, against the interests of those who fail to see the love, the magic, and the beauty in this community. Bud was so proud of this simple victory. This space that was occupied against all odds.”
Another organization Osborn helped found many years ago now is the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users. That work was performed alongside Ann Livingston, among others.
Livingston spoke of Osborn’s skills as a writer and how he could use those gifts to help people feel better about themselves.
“He reassured them,” Livingston said. “That their terrible anguish, humiliation, their shame, their horrid families, their drug addiction, their sexual abuse, the fact that they had traded sex for drugs—things that people don’t want anyone to know—he would say, ‘These are the exact things that you can say in poetry. And it creates beauty. It creates resistance, it creates pride, and it creates healing’.”