The 00 block of East Hastings Street isn’t exactly known as a friendly place for young children.
Kids are seen there so rarely, in fact, that when one is spotted holding the hand of its mother, a chorus of warnings flows up and down the street.
“Kids on the block!” people shout in a sing-song tone. And for the next couple of minutes, the crowds collected on this impoverished stretch of East Hastings know to watch their language and, if they happen to be doing anything illegal, will do so with a little more discretion.
This scene is about to change, at least for the duration of the winter holidays.
A Christmas workshop is under construction at 62 East Hastings Street, the Downtown Eastside Street Market’s executive director, Constance Barnes, told the Straight. Starting one week from today (December 11), the East Hastings 00 block is going to be busy with children, elves, and the big man himself.
“Santa’s coming to the Downtown Eastside,” Barnes reported. “I spoke to him yesterday and he’s very excited.
“Anybody who is having a hard time, anybody who wants to bring their children down to get a photograph can do so,” she continued. “No charge. Come, feel comfy, get cozy. Have a cup of hot chocolate and a candy cane and feel that Christmas energy.”
The holiday celebration is scheduled to run from December 11 to December 24, open on weekdays from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. and on weekends from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The Downtown Eastside Street Market is collecting donations to help fund the event.
“We have eight days to magically transform the teepee [at 62 East Hastings] into our first annual Santa’s workshop!” reads a message on the organization’s fundraising website.
Cash donations are especially helpful, Barnes said, but she added that market organizers are also looking for Santa hats and other holiday attire, Christmas lights and ornaments to help decorate the area, and volunteers to keep the workshop running, among other things.
Barnes recounted how the Downtown Eastside Street Market decided to host a Santa’s workshop in the middle of what is arguably the roughest block in Vancouver.
“It kind of hit me like a rock walking down Robson Street a couple of weeks ago,” Barnes, a former Vancouver parks board commissioner, began. “The stark difference between Robson Street and Hastings Street. You walk down Robson Street and you see lights, it’s cheery, the kids are all bundled up, and there are peppermint smells and hot chocolate. And then you come to the East Side and Hastings Street and there’s nothing. And that’s just not okay.
“We’re going to do a Santa thing because you know what? There are families in here,” Barnes continued. “So we had this discussion and thought, ‘The majority of kids in this area, their moms and dads can’t afford to send their kids up to Oakridge [Centre].’ Plus, Oakridge is not here. This is our home. This is our community.”
Everyone’s welcome, Barnes said.
“The goal is to make a winter wonderland here, a magical place,” she added. “There will be music. There will be handouts, lots of lights, lots of Christmas trees, and Santa.”