History of Crab Park and Crab‐Water for Life Society, by Don Larson, June 2018

The City of Vancouver official web page for Crab Park (here, with map) says “From atop a grassy knoll or the small pier jutting into Burrard Inlet, this is a good place to get a close look at Vancouver’s working port, with views of the colourful containers, cruise ships, heliport, and SeaBuses.” It is a precious waterfront green space with stunning views of the city, mountains, sky and water. Offering repose from the busy city streets, it has a lovely beach, monuments and memorials, a playground, off-leash area and more. 

Amid the constant pressure for development, the creation and survival of this park did not just happen by chance.  

Below is a precious history of the formation of Crab Park, written by activist Don Larson in June 2018. “The Local Visitor” writes “This is probably one of Vancouver’s best kept secrets.”

Please see our separate post about the annual Crab Park Festival from 1 to 4 pm on July 1, 2018, and please spread the word! A great way to celebrate Canada Day. 

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By Don Larson, on behalf of Crab-Water for Life Society

Our purpose was to create a public park in a park deficient neighborhood on the central waterfront of Vancouver. Since June 1982 we worked five years, and against all odds, succeeded to create what is now known as Crab Park at Portside, a seven acre waterfront public park.

CRAB Park would not exist if not for the work of the independent Create a Real Available Beach Committee (CRAB) and activists like Don Larson and Fred Arrance. It started with the dream to es-tablish a Downtown Eastside waterfront park on a vacant site owned by the federal government. In 1982 CRAB organized a community music event on the site, with the Industrial Waste Banned and also singer Ian Tiles, while Ports Canada Police circled and patrolled the event in cars.

Crab Park 1 totemCamp In “Totem” listing Participants and Supporters (designed by TORA)

The founding society is now called Crab-Water for Life Society and continues on with the work of Don Larson and the Arrance family. The Society has existed since 1982 and Crab Park at Portside since July 1987, now over 30 years.

Originally the site was called LuckLucky or Grove of Beautiful Trees ‐ by the aboriginal inhabitants of Burrard Inlet, and the area was eventually converted to a landfill.  Today a small viewing pier juts out into the harbor near this location.

In 1984. campers in sixty tents illegally occupied the site for 75 days. MPs Pat Carney and Margaret Mitchell kept their promises to pressure the federal government and the occupation led to the creation of the present park ‐ CRAB Park at Portside. After five years of advocacy,  an almost seven acre green space in the heart of the DTES was created.   The victory has been celebrated every July 1st with a free music festival.

 Crab Park 2 occupation camp 1984Crab Park Camp In Occupation 1984

Our Society’s mandate is also to preserve and enhance this primarily Downtown Eastside Park for the people on low income, and others.

Our mandate also is to celebrate this major achievement with a July 1st Annual Free Festival with openings by an Aboriginal Elder and with three live local music bands and free food.  And we have done so again this year approximately our 25th year with our usual low budget festival.

Crab Park 3 event poster 2012 July 1st Festival Poster by Richard Chapman

Crab-Water for Life Society and its Board of Directors, including Brenda Arrance and Fred Arrance, have been the festival fund raisers and organizers throughout its history.  Richard Pooley using his artist name, TORA designed our First Nations inspired Crab logo, mosaic onsite and all of our early posters and artwork for flyers.

Crab Park 4 Don Larson, Richard Pooley, Barbara at camp 1984Don Larson, Richard Pooley (TORA) and Barbara at Camp In 1984

 Crab Park 5 mosaic mandala TORA Richard PooleyCrab First Nations inspired mosaic mandala designed by TORA (Richard Pooley)

Crab Water for Life Society was one of the two DTES groups to participate in the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry 2012-2013.  The Society remained a Limited Participant in the Missing Wom-en Commission of Inquiry which Don Larson attended almost every day for over eight months, at least one hour a day.  We wished to stand with the families and their lawyer inside the Inquiry. The Larson Family Legacy [Jessie and Frank Larson] commissioned and funded the two memorial boulders installed at the park: the first at Crab Park at Portside in 1997; and the second boulder at Wendy Poole Park along with the naming of Wendy Poole Park.

Crab Park 6 Memorial to Missing Murdered Women DTES Crab Park Memorial Boulder to Missing Murdered Women of the DTES at Crab Park

For eighteen years Crab‐Water for Life Society has held a small but sacred ceremony at the memorial boulder at 11:00 AM every February 14th.  We have provided pink carnations, a large pot of home made soup, coffee and bannock for those in attendance and also for street people at Main and Hastings. The Crab park boulder represents all 69 of the Missing and Murdered Women of the Downtown Eastside as identified by police.

On the heels of the completion of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, it has came to my at-tention that several individuals and groups seem to associate or want to re‐purpose Crab Park at Portside as a Memorial Park only.

For the record therefore I brought to the public attention the following:

It has never been the Society’s intent or mandate to be re‐purposed into a park dedicated solely to the Missing Women of the Downtown Eastside.  We are concerned and want to state that the pow-ers that be in the Downtown Eastside should not co‐opt Crab Park itself as well as the Society into something other than its original mandate.

Having said that, it is worthy to note again that our Society was inspired to have commissioned and installed what is currently the only memorial to all the Missing Women of the Downtown Eastside in the area.

We are honored that our park has become over time a meeting place at the Memorial Boulder, fo-cused at certain times of the year on ceremonies conducted with First Nations to permanently honor the memory of the Missing Women.  Thirty years later the Society supports a proposed DTES Missing Women Memorial Totem Pole to be installed at the point at CRAB Park.

Crab Park 7 drumming event
The Park itself and our society continues its original mandate ‐ to have created and preserved a Downtown eastside green space for celebration, and to honor its creation every year on July 1st with our Crab Park Festival.

Crab Park 8 Group photo Melanie Mark, Jenny Kwan, Audrey Siegl, Don LarsonDaughter of MM, Melanie Mark MLA, Jenny Kwan MP, Audrey Siegl, Don Larson

We hope that by bringing these thoughts and history a little more to the foreground that we have in some small way reinstated and reaffirmed why our beautiful park continues to exist as a people’s place. Known now for its spectacular views of the North Shore and downtown Vancouver, Crab Park’s real beauty lies in its inclusiveness.

Crab Park 9 photo 2018Crab Park today

However, there is a proposal for a huge heavy industrial extension / expansion of the Centerm Con-tainer Pier Facility in front of Crab Park.  This Federal Port of Vancouver crown corporation proposal would have negative environmental impacts on the air and water quality.  Further there would be impacts regarding increased noise and traffic.  We also feel the DTES under threat of dangerous cargo, including chemicals by freighter, trucks and containers and rail.  We have advocated against this proposal for the past two and a half years.

– Don Larson, President, Crab-Water for Life Society – June 5, 2018

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Search CityHallWatch.ca with the key words “Crab Park” for past stories.

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