Opinion Column

Centenarian sees profound Vancouver changes

Daniel Fontaine

By Daniel Fontaine, Dialogue with a Difference

Amanda St. Cyr (right) with her daughter Lucille.

Amanda St. Cyr (right) with her daughter Lucille. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)

Her name is Amanda St. Cyr and this week she celebrates her 100th birthday. While she is far from being the oldest British Columbian, becoming a centenarian remains a significant milestone that few of us will ever achieve.

Although she was born in a small town in southern Saskatchewan, my great-aunt Amanda has lived in the Lower Mainland for a large portion of her adult life. I first got to really know her in 1989 when I left my prairie roots behind and she became my closest family on the West Coast.

In those younger years, we would spend hours in her garden where she would recount stories of what Vancouver was like in days gone by.

“Did you know during some cold spells Lost Lagoon would freeze over and you could skate on it for days,” she said. “If there was a real arctic blast, there was enough ice on the Fraser River to make you believe you could skate on that too.”

For the majority of us who moved here in the last 50 years, it is hard to contemplate the Vancouver that blossomed before Amanda’s eyes.

If you are a millennial, you might be forgiven if you thought the Alex Fraser or Pattullo Bridges were named after famous explorers when, in fact, they were both named after bigger-than-life provincial politicians.

Did you know that almost 100 years ago the University of British Columbia came into existence? According to the late historian Chuck Davis, UBC originally had “379 students toiling at their studies in gloomy quarters called the Fairview Shacks.” It was only in 1925, after a large student protest about the conditions, that the provincial government opened the current Point Grey campus.

Speaking of Point Grey, when Amanda was just 13 years old, it amalgamated with south Vancouver and Vancouver to become the third-largest city in Canada.

Without fear, my great-aunt rode the numerous streetcars that once wove their way through the city before they made their final run in 1955. However, it was a modern-day elevated rapid transit line that caused her to express some concern.

“Can you believe they are going to build a SkyTrain station at the foot of Holdom?” she questioned. “That’s going to be nothing but trouble, bringing all the crime with it.”

Interestingly, while she has never boarded the Millennium Line, her daughter Lucille, who lives in the family home, is a frequent user.

Amanda witnessed incredible changes in our city over the last century. One is left to ponder whether the next 100 will be equally as profound.

Daniel Fontaine is a local political commentator. Follow him on Twitter @Fontaine_D.  

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