When I flipped my Hope in Shadows calendar over to July at the beginning of the month I read a quick story about two men and their involvement with the Downtown Eastside homeless soccer team, based in Oppenheimer Park.
Sandwiched between Powell and Cordova, the recently restructured public space (complete with a new lawn, washrooms, playground, and field house) hosted a Street Soccer Canada match this past weekend and our home team has sent players to the Homeless World Cup each year since 2004 [The Province]. With Oppenheimer Park being an Eastside hub for everything from street soccer to family picnics, I figured it would be worth profiling.
Oppenheimer Park is named after arguably the most influential Mayor in our city’s history. David Oppenheimer (born in Germany) was Vancouver’s second Mayor under whom much of Vancouver’s infrastructure was built and landscape was shaped. He was there to dedicate Stanley Park in Lord Stanley’s honor, oversee the setup of the streetcar system, and personally fund our water system installation that brought water in from the Capilano River.
“Oppenheimer personally paid the water fees, and liberally donated money for the construction of Alexandra Orphanage and the YMCA. He also donated land for city parks including East Park (later Exhibition Park, now Hastings Park, home for years to the PNE). The second-largest landowner in Vancouver after the Canadian Pacific Railway, Mayor Oppenheimer fostered industrial development when he donated land for B.T. Rogers to build a sugar refinery, the first manufacturing operation in the city. He established the B.C. Electric Railway Company (now B.C. Hydro).” [VancouverHistory]
Mayor Sam Sullivan proclaimed July 12, 2008 “David Oppenheimer Day” in the city of Vancouver.
The park opened in 1902 as the Powell Street Grounds and was later renamed in David Oppenheimer’s honor.
Located in the heart of “Little Tokyo” in Vancouver, it was the home of the Asahi baseball club, formed in 1914. Composed of Japanese-Canadians the Asahi played their last game September 18, 1941 and following the Japanese attack on Coal Harbour in the off-season, the Little Tokyo community from around Oppenheimer Park was banished to exile on farms and within internment camps. The Asahi never played again [VancouverHistory].
Oppenheimer Park has a sordid history of politics and protests including being one of the settings of Vancouver’s infamous Bloody Sunday in 1938 that began at the Post Office (now Sinclair Centre).
Plagued with being known for drug use in recent decades, the Strathcona Business Improvement Association has worked over the years to reestablish the park as a safe place for all in the community. There is a story around every corner including that of the Sakura Legacy and I’m certain there are dozens if not hundreds more.
Since June of 2009 much of the park had been closed off with people and events relocated for about a year. The $1.37 million in upgrades have now provided a field house, washrooms, universally accessible walkways, children’s playground, sports court with basketball hoop, horseshoe pitch, patio spaces, picnic tables and seating areas, central lawn area, trees and flowers, sub-surface drainage and a new irrigation system. The grand re-opening and dedication celebration was last Saturday, July 24th.
The park hosts community events throughout the year including this weekend’s 34th annual Powell Street Festival – Vancouver’s longest running community celebration. “Taking inspiration from the Japanese notion of Koen debut, or Park debut, whereupon neighbourhood toddlers are introduced to their local community, the 34th Annual Powell Street Festival celebrates the idea of neighbourhood, youth, children, the park and its landscape.” It will have a free bike valet as well as a “zero waste” commitment to reducing the amount of garbage generated by the event. You can follow the festival on Twitter @PowellStFest.