chapter  1
16 Pages


In 2002, radical anti-poverty activists occupied the site of the former Woodward’s

department store, located in the centre of Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown

Eastside, in what became a high-profi le protest over gentrifi cation, government

cutbacks and homelessness. Forced out of the building, the squatters established

an encampment in the surrounding sidewalk that quickly grew in size, attracting

many other activists and homeless people (Figure 1.1). ‘Woodsquat’, as it was

quickly dubbed, was many things to many people: a visible expression of radical

anger, a deliberate attempt at embarrassing the provincial government and city

in the run-up to the bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics, a symbolic space of oppo-

sition to private property and an affi rmation of the commons, an eyesore and

a civic embarrassment, a space of carnival and celebration, an affront to public

salubrity and a resource centre and safe refuge for many homeless people. Tents,

sleeping bags, posters, couches, dogs and people intermingled. Highly politicized,

Woodsquat activists invoked a language of rights, social justice and insurgent

citizenship. The City obtained an injunction, compelling the protestors to remove

the encampment. Finally, a negotiated settlement occurred, and the protest was

disbanded in late 2002.