Before my Ex and I moved to Knight and Kingsway a few years ago to take possession of an apparently once beautiful heritage home – stuccoed over in the 70’s by a maniac – I harboured the same prejudices and fears about the East End as any Kits type: Were there no gourmet cupcake stores? Were there no Bikrams?
True, I had lived off Main Street for a while in the 90s – but at 17th and Ontario – In my snooty mind then, really more Cambie Street than Main. So, it wasn’t the real East End. The real East End started at Kingway, right?
But Kingsway itself ? What was with THAT? The only thoroughfare in the City that ran diagonally across it.
(Oh, we all know the quirky history of Kingsway – well sorry, if you don’t; Originally it was the main trail to New Westminster – once slated as the Capital of British Columbia. But that was over a hundred years ago – the Jurassic age in “Vancouver Years.” They’ve had more than enough time to straighten Kingsway since then.)
From my grid-cocooned West Side perspective, the serpentine route of Kingway represented nothing but chaos and anarchy: For example, years ago, an actor friend of mine threw a party at her new pad at 29th and Gladstone. “Just off Kingway!” she boasted – as if Kingsway were the centre of all that mattered.
In HER dimension maybe – not mine. How was I to know that what she really meant was: it WAS off-Kingway – just don’t try getting there from it! No, instead: duck left on Victoria to 27th– double-back to 28th, jot round to 29th – then back down to Gladstone.
Well, no big surprise – I missed that particular Saturday Dance – heard they crowded the floor in fact. I gave up looking – retreated to an easy-to-find spot on West Broadway for a pint.
Then, after two house flips and a marriage collapse – fate had me move closer and closer to Kingway itself until finally, last year – I bought a place in a building where the front end backs directly onto Kingway. And now I’m the first to admit: Kingsway – she is my Lady! Kings-way: Light of my life! Fire of my loins!
Why? Well – first – it’s where I’ve become part of a community: You know – the cheesy kind – the sort that secretly warms your heart because you CAN stand on the corner and watch your eight-year old barrel into school every morning. And secondly? The diagonal route of Kingsway that caused me so much anguish dealing with it on occasions in the past? Turns out – It’s THE secret to zipping across our mighty metropolis in minutes!
If I want to hit the Highway now – not for me the narrow squeeze of East 12th – I just zip up Kingway, North on Slocan – minutes later – I’m deposited just west of Renfrew – minutes later I’m crossing Boundary – bound for freedom.
And nowadays I embrace all the eccentricities Kingsway has to offer: Where else will you find nail studios squeezed next to obscure one-room prayer halls, squeezed next to vacuum repair shops, squeezed next to Brazilian-Korean mixed martial arts studios?
Yes, like everywhere else in the Lower Mainland, Kingsway, is rapidly changing. At Kingsway and Knight, where once stood a flea market notorious for being first stop for stolen goods, now stands an imposing condo, library and chain grocery store.
Yet on Kingsway – you can still bump up against raw moments of life: Like when the guy who apparently lives in the parking lot of the Chinese grocer across from my building – suddenly leaps into the traffic, falls into a prostration and kisses the asphalt in some demented, yet serene prayer. The serenity amplified by the fact that seldom do drivers shout at him – instead – they wait until he shuffles off again.
But isn’t that just like the East End of most cities – certainly the one where I come from – Michael Cain’s- to open it’s arms to the disenfranchised?
I’m the first to admit – for a long time Kingsway WAS the Road Less Travelled – but now – I won’t take any other.
By: Leslie Mildiner