According to long-time peace activist and Vancouver East NDP MP Libby Davies, “The Olympics will come and go, but peace and justice will always be there.”
Now Davies, a city councillor from 1982 to 1993, fears that peace-friendly signs she helped launch within the city limits 25 years ago, proclaiming Vancouver to be a “Nuclear Weapons Free Zone”, are disappearing. She worries about what this could mean for the city.
“Many people have worked to make Vancouver a peace centre internationally—a peace and justice centre,” Davies told the Georgia Straight from Ottawa. “I think that’s a really proud history for Vancouverites. So to see these signs disappear one by one—if that’s indeed what seems to be happening—I think it takes away from that important history.”
Davies said she wants the signs returned to their locations.
Nick Kawaza, city superintendent in charge of signs and road markings, told the Straight that the signs stopped being replaced after November 2005. He said there was “no direct attempt” to replace them with signs declaring Vancouver as Olympic host, but in 2006 those signs began appearing on city streets ahead of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
Davies said she has only seen two of the original signs—and the only one she recalls by location is on East 1st Avenue. Kawaza said that some could be missing due to motor-vehicle accidents. “We still have the artwork,” Kawaza said of the signs. “So it would be easy to make them up.”
Former NDP premier Mike Harcourt told the Straight he was mayor at the time of the council vote in the early 1980s. Harcourt said that he was active in supporting the local Walk for Peace at the time and remembers the tenor of the day.
“I think we had over 125,000 people marching or strolling and walking and cycling and everything from Kits Park right across the Burrard Bridge to Vanier Park,” he said. “It was very broadly based. You know, the usual number of peaceniks involved, but huge numbers of Vancouverites came out to say, basically, ”˜Let’s start dismantling nuclear weapons.’ ”
However, Harcourt was hesitant to suggest a return of the signage or any campaign without modern context.
“President Obama met with [Russian] President Medvedev and others just recently and then they were making noises about it,” he said. “So if it was done to encourage them to do it, as a city that has been pushing for this for a long time, I think that if it was part of that campaign it would make a lot of sense. But just to stick ’em up, you know, it’s not very good issue development, if I can put it that way.”
Davies said she agrees with Harcourt. City spokesperson Wendy Stewart told the Straight she’s not aware who gave the direction to stop erecting the nuclear-free signs, but she said that the elements took care of a lot of wooden signs that were built decades ago.
“There was a Union of B.C. Municipalities grant that was available that was used to fund the new signs,” she added. “They were originally ”˜Welcome to Vancouver’ signs, featuring the corporate look, and they have transitioned into Olympic signs.”
Stewart said she doesn’t know about a possible return to the old signage, but she said: “Don’t think so at this time.”
For Davies, disarmament is part of a “bigger question about the future of our planet and climate change”. She said many fighting for climate change were fighting for peace back then.