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Opening Doors in Vancouverís East End

Posted: June 6, 2011

Editors Daphne Marlatt and Carole Itter share the history of a landmark Vancouver neighbourhood and stories from more than fifty original Strathcona residents with the republication of Opening Doors in Vancouver’s East End: Strathcona. They will be launching the book on Thursday, June 9 at 7:00 pm at People’s Co-op Bookstore, 1391 Commercial Drive in Vancouver.

The Strathcona neighbourhood has been a home to a diverse array of people from all over the world, many of them escaping problems ranging from poverty and prejudice to famine and war. The majority of its early residents, dating back to the late 1800s, were immigrants or children of immigrant parents who had to learn new customs and a new language as they struggled to make a living and raise their families.  

From 1977-1978, Daphne Marlatt and Carole Itter interviewed over fifty people who lived in the East End, finally editing and compiling the oral histories to form the first edition of Opening Doors, which was originally published in 1979 as a double issue of the journal Sound Heritage. This new edition of Opening Doors, published to celebrate Vancouver’s 125th anniversary, features vintage photographs and a new foreword by historian and heritage activist James C. Johnstone.

Johnstone, Chair of the Strathcona Residents’ Association, calls Opening Doors “…an invaluable resource and a precious legacy, not only for the people of this neighbourhood, but the city at large.” The book features stories from residents such as Gordon (Won) Cumyow, a Notary Public whose father was reputed to be the first Chinese person born in Canada; George Nitta, a third-generation Canadian citizen who had his fishing boats and fish-processing plant seized during World War II; Angelo Branca, the son of Italian immigrant parents who became a Justice of the Supreme and Appeal Courts of BC; and Nora Hendrix, Jimi Hendrix’s grandmother, who was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1883 and settled in Vancouver in 1911 via Chicago and Seattle.

Daphne Marlatt has spent most of her life living and writing on the West Coast and is a teacher, editor, novelist and poet. Carole Itter is an award-winning sculptor and author. Her writing has been featured in various anthologies and literary magazines including in Room of One’s Own and Brick. They both live in Vancouver, BC.

Opening Doors is a Vancouver 125 Legacy Book, one of ten classic books about Vancouver that are being brought back into print to help celebrate Vancouver’s 125th Anniversary. The Vancouver 125 Legacy Books project is an initiative of the City of Vancouver, the Association of Book Publishers of BC and the Office of Vancouver's Poet Laureate Brad Cran