February 3rd, 2011 – A Bloggers Walk to the Rennie Collection + immediate neighbourhood



WH Pender Street February 3rd, 2011 The Bloggers Walk

Review by: Laurie Dawson

This being a pilot year for Walking Home Projects, we have been trying out all sorts of things: morning, afternoon, evening walks, which day of the week we have walks, what groups of people we ask to walk with us from elementary school to Emily Carr students to members of various teen groups to adults interested in urban planning, activism, fashion, drawing, and public spaces.  We invite various people to present on our walks from architects to historians, artists to educators and to the people who live on the particular street we are taking a walk on.  We’re even trying out different events (keep your eyes peeled for stuff coming up on Mapping and maybe even a letter-writing party; and you can check out our past events here).  Through all of this we rely on collaborations, partnerships, local businesses, volunteers and people who are interested in learning more about their city.

A typical walk usually comes about after hours of meetings, phone calls, emails, visits, research and discussion which Walking Home Projects Founder & Director Catherine Pulkinghorn puts in along with the Walking Home Projects’ team.  Then we plan the actual walk, make maps, paperwork, gather RSVP’s, grab our umbrellas, cameras, recorders and go.

I had proposed this “bloggers walk[1]” to Catherine for a few reasons.  The first being that I am really excited about the variety of online resources about Vancouver.  The more I looked for blogs and websites devoted to the city, the more and more I found. (Beyond Robson, scoutmagazine.ca, Vancouver is Awesome, Miss604, Style Quotient, and others like woodwardsmile.com, Rain City Chronicles, Vancouver125, CBC’s Vancouver125, and snarky great news from the Vancouverite which I can’t seem to find an active link to anymore).  At this meeting, I got drunk on possibilities of future, collaborative walks which could possibly spring forward from this bloggers walk.  Can you imagine an Instant Coffee skip about town, or what particular streets the folks at Vancouver is Awesome could tell us stories about?  What about the ‘Comedians of Vancouver walk’ or ‘Radio in the City walk’ or even social media stories themselves pointing at where in the city groups of strangers got together in a tweetup or flash mob and why.  The second reason I proposed The Bloggers Walk to Catherine was because we are nearing the end of our pilot year and would like to get the word out about Walking Home Projects in order to keep ourselves going.  The social media landscape is prolific on its commitment to posting local events and promoting local organizations.  I figured if we could get some of these digital wizards out on a walk with us… well, see the last sentence from reason number one.

So as a test, and the first time in the history of Walking Home Projects we relied on social media alone.  No word of mouth, no contact list, no previous meetings and interviews, no ‘I know you from this group or organization’, no friend’s acquaintances brother’s boss, no connection other than what appears to be a shared avid interest in the urban environment.  Online.  We contacted 40 people through Twitter, blogs, and email.  And waited.

Inside the Wing Sang Building and Rennie Collection, Bob Rennie preserved the original alleyway (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

To our delight, responses started to trickle in.  But here’s the thing with social media, and maybe even the thing with making plans in Vancouver itself, it’s one thing to tweet about something and another thing to show up.  My belief in that magic-instant-serendipitous-connection the internet offers cutting through the need for hours and hours of pre-walk preparation was ill-founded.  In our unscientific, one-walk test, we found calling people works; and emailing them works as well as scotch tape holding together a broken iPod.  It works, but only kind of.

Getting a good look at artist Thomas Houseago's work at the Rennie Collection (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

That said, we had 15 people confirm and we did a walk with six people in total.  Which is honestly, pretty awesome considering the rain came down in a fury, pelting the sidewalk like pennies.  It was a day made to hide.  Which made it a perfect day for a visit inside the Wing Sang building to see the Rennie Collection.  Our docent, Emily Carr student and photographer Jennifer Chong, was an excellent source of information on the Wing Sang building, artists Amy Bessone and Thomas Houseago’s work and she even wrangled us a quick visit inside the original Chinese language classroom Yip Sang built for his 23 children.  This was such a highlight, to step inside this preserved room and literally feel, touch and see Vancouver history.

The original classroom Yip Sang built in the Wing Sang building on East Pender Street (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

After a good walk through the Rennie Collection, we walked to the corner of East Pender and Carrall where Catherine Pulkinghorn talked about our Fall 2010 Program, Walking Home Carrall Street.  We then walked through part of Market Alley and stopped to get a good look – from the alleyway viewpoint – of the Wing Sang building we were just inside.  From the alley we could see the three floors had been been renovated to house the gallery.  Before that we looked at 34 Market Alley and discussed how Vancouver’s drug laws came into existence. Coming out of the alley onto Columbia Street we stopped for awhile to talk about the unknown future of Pantages Theatre.  Zoe, who writes the blog woodwardsmile.com – life within a mile of the Woodward’s Development – pointed out the historical mural done by artist Arthur Shu Ren Cheng.

Historical Mural on corner of Columbia and Pender Street by artist Arthur Shu Ren Cheng (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

This was another highlight of the day, how fluidly a participant can become a presenter during a Walking Home Projects’ jaunt.  This collaborative nature is key to uncovering much more about the city than I would have ever known myself.  Zoe shared with us that she had approached Arthur Shu Ren Cheng for an interview, as he was painting the mural.  You can read that on woodwardsmile.com and by clicking here.  Note at the bottom of her post she includes an interesting map!

Historical Mural by Artist Arthur Shu Ren Cheng on Columbia Street near the corner of East Pender (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

We ended our walk at the Walking Home Projects studio in the Yue Shan Society. Catherine pointed out the renovations to the courtyard done by architect and activist Inge Roecker as a part of the Bright Lights temporary public artworks program commissioned by the City of Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics.  In fact we continually make good use of the umbrellas from this exhibit!   Alfred De Pew who writes Just Between Us at the Vancouver Observer came on the walk with us and told us about local artist Tom Carter who is very interested in Vancouver history.  You can read his interview with Tom Carter here.

We finished our walk with stories inside Walking Home Project's studio at the Yue Shan Society (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Standing in the studio with the hopes of drying off,  the group of us traded stories, information and possible leads.  Even after a rollercoaster of a day wondering who may or may not show up, I was starting to get excited on possibilities for future Walking Home Projects collaborations!   Which is a great way to end a walk, feeling like there is so much more out there you need to discover.

Laurie Dawson

Inside the Wing Sang building three floors were removed to make space for the Gallery. You can also see Amy Bessone's painting and Thomas Houseago's sculptures, part of the Rennie Collection. (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

If you are interested in collaborating or coming on a walk or to an event, please email us at walkinghomeprojects[at]gmail[dot]com.

[1] I use the word “bloggers” as an umbrella phrase to include writers, critics, students,  people in business, media and more. Basically anyone who is contributing online whether as a part of a website, twitter feed or blog.

The Map of Where We Went – February 3rd, 2011:

Please click below to hear Walking Home Projects Director Catherine Pulkinghorn leading a walk in Chinatown: