Getting to know the DTES on a Sunday morning

by Heather V.

If you come into Groundswell Cafe you 

have to

 try the grilled cheese sandwich with tomato jam.

Amanda Kai, cafe manager and guru behind the cafe counter, gets all the credit for taking a basic lunchtime staple and making it so good I'm still thinking about it two days later.

There are plenty of other reasons of course why you should pop in to Groundswell; when not operating as a coffee joint, the room plays incubator to what will soon be some of Vancouver's newest social ventures.

And so our week began, getting right down to the gritty topics of social order, colonialism and intersectionality and scratching the surface of the history of the neighbourhood we will spend the next six months getting to know.

We were put into teams, given a map and told to go out and meet the neighbours, to see the existing social enterprises and organizations already doing some great work in the community. Samita and I partnered up but somehow wound up making our own route after a failed


attempt to find coffee, but we were glad for it. First we hit Oppenheimer Park where we got a brief chance to speak with the founder of 

One More Time Charity

, Henning Nielsen as he and his team prepared to feed the hundreds who were already lined up. Oppenheimer Park has been a central spot for activism in Vancouver over the last century. Plaques situated around the neighbourhood profile key figures and give a snapshot into the protests and movements that have taken place there from citizens resisting the status quo.

We continued down Powell street through the bustling

DTES Street Market

, taking our time to see some of what was being sold. The season is about to wrap up for the market so it was busy and was tricky at times to walk without stepping on toes or wares! What a thriving business hub in the city!

Heading back up Hastings street, we stopped to peek inside the windows of 

Lost + Found cafe

 at the beautiful travel photos on its interior walls; it was then that we heard drumming and caught the reflection of an enormous dreamcatcher suspended from the side of a building next to a vacant lot across the street. We wasted no time getting over there! We met Muriel from the Lil'wat First Nation who told us that if we stayed we were welcome to participate in the powwow. Muriel advocates for the preservation of customs of Canada's Indigenous peoples and she does so by talking to interested people like us. Her parting words? "Now I have given you the story, now it is yours to go and share with others."

(Cool fact from Muriel: B.C. alone has 197 First Nations, each with its own dialect.)

On our way back to Groundswell we met two of the Street Thug Barbers who were stationed outside of the Living Room drop-in centre. These guys, who once led their lives on the streets and battled addictions, now spend their Sundays cutting hair for free. They are also raising funds to start a non-profit barbering school to give employable skills to those in need. Great initiative.

Support them

and check out their



Groundswell is truly something. It's a collective agreement when one cohort member says she feels she has found her 'tribe', We're thrilled to be here, eager to learn, excited to collaborate and bursting at the seams with ideas.

Pop in to the Cafe some time, chances are we'll be there. Order a grilled cheese sandwich too - you won't be disappointed.