JOHN EHINGER – VANCOUVER CORRESPONDENT
I had the opportunity to stop and chat today with Michael Burke, one of the soon-to-be-evicted tenants in the apartment block attached to the back of the (now closed) Cambie Café Restaurant on the corner of Cambie and 7th in Vancouver.
Michael appeared in a few news stories in today’s Province, Metro and Sun because he has been illegally served an eviction notice by the owner of the building, who Michael says is a man named Peter Robinson. Michael, formerly a tall-crane operator, now lives on the benefits of a disability claim for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). His $900/month sounds difficult to live on, but he has been able to make ends meet due to the fact that the rent for his one-bedroom, self-contained apartment was only $385/month, which he voluntarily admitted was due to the fact that the landlord is, and has always been a, “good guy.” (According to Michael, Robinson bought the building three decades ago for about $145,000.) Today’s news stories (attached) explain how the city will be holding a hearing regarding the fact that the landlord did not file for a permit to demolish the building, rendering the eviction notices illegal (at the moment). Michael told me, with a hearty laugh, that his hearing is scheduled for April Fool’s Day. When I asked where he was from and where he might go, Michael was full of answers about the former, but unclear on the latter. He said he was from “everywhere” because he worked in the construction industry. When I said I was a worker at the BCTF, he asked how Susan Lambert was doing and told me how, long ago, he was studying to be a history teacher at the U of Calgary. He put in a couple of years there on a scholarship before, as he put it, “I discovered alcohol and women and thought construction was a better fit for my lifestyle.” When he heard that I was a former Winnipegger, he told me how he used to work as an apprentice jockey at Assiniboia Downs Race Track in the 1970s – and he was able to identify some of the jockeys with whom I was all too familiar, including Todd Kabel (a childhood friend of mine from the Wolseley area of Winnipeg, who still, apparently, jockeys at Woodbine Race Track in Toronto), and another jockey named Larry Bird, who I specifically remember due to the fact that he shared a name with a pretty important NBA star. Apparently, Michael and the “Birdman” used to rent a cottage near Lac Du Bonnet, MB (my school district, 45 kms from my home) where they would “poach deer and drink beer.” As the conversation shifted to the future tense, Michael was unsure where he would be after the inevitable eviction, building demolition and construction of its replacement. He reported the plans for the rebuild as, “a plan for a cheaply constructed, free-standing, two-storey office building with no residential apartments attached.” He has no idea where to look for new digs. Michael also told me about the fate of Stan and Gracie, the aging couple who ran the greasy-spoon Cambie Café Restaurant on the street-front portion of the property. ”Stan fooled us all…he worked every night until midnight up until three days before he died of liver cancer – he hadn’t told any of us about it at all.” (He was unsure where Gracie had gone since the restaurant closed.) While I immediately wondered if the death of Stan was the trigger for the eviction notice, Michael pointed out that the $1,200/month rent that Gracie and Stan paid to rent the restaurant space probably was not much of a factor for the landlord. Michael freely agreed to the notion that the city should consider the loss of affordable housing when dealing with demolitions and re-builds. “It only makes sense to replace the housing that is taken away,” even if the reality is that there may be some hiking of rent rates. Michael was clearing a few bags and boxes out of his foyer as I left him – perhaps preparing for the eviction, or perhaps just taking out the garbage. He answered, as I walked away with one last question, that the motorcycle which had been tarped and chained to the tree by his door for the last 4 years or more had been sold. “It wasn’t worth anything so I just got rid of it,” he said. If anyone is interested, I will be checking into the timing of the hearing. It might be nice to have a few people come along and support our Vancouver neighbors as they deal with an illegal action affecting their living conditions (Sound familiar?)