Top 10 Tuesday: Local (to me!)


I grew up in Vancouver, BC, a city well known for containing both the country’s richest and poorest postal codes. I went to school in West Vancouver, a very wealthy area, and have spent the last 8 years working in the Downtown Eastside, which is widely regarded as a hub for mental health, drug abuse, and poverty. I have learned a lot through my work in the DTES, and have also read a lot of books on the subject in addition to other works associated with my little corner of the world. Here are some titles written by authors from, or about topics relating to, my local bubble. It may seem a little grim, but there is a lot of crucial information here.

  1. Brother Twelve: The Incredible Story of Canada’s False Prophet by John Oliphant – My family has a cabin on Decourcy Island off the coast of Vancouver Island, and there is a crazy history there. Brother Twelve was an English mystic that operated out of a farm house on Decourcy during the 1920s. The building that housed the cult is actually up for sale if anyone wants to drop a cool $2mil on a creepy building in the middle of nowhere.
  2. Missing Sarah by Maggie De Vries – Sarah was one of the women who went missing from the DTES in 1998 and was thought to be a victim of Robert Pickton. When his farm was raided her DNA was found there and he was charged with her murder along with those of 21 other women. This memoir was put together by her sister and contains Sarah’s own poetry and writing.
  3. Raise Shit! Social Action Saving Lives by Bud Osborn, Susan Boyd, and Donald MacPherson – This book tells the story of the fight for a safe injection site in the DTES as organized by drug users. InSite was opened in response, run by the organization I work for (PHS Community Services Society). Bud Osborne was a founding member of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and passed away in May of 2014.
  4. They Called Me Number One by Bev Sellars – Bev Sellars is a Canadian author who wrote this memoir about her childhood in the Residential School system in British Columbia. The systematic oppression and genocide of Natives in Canada was not taught to us in school (though we learned a lot about our colonial government) and I didn’t know what a Residential School was until I started working in the DTES. Many people still don’t know. It is critical that we educate ourselves on this topic and do our part to repair the damage done to generations of indigenous people.
  5. I Am Woman by Lee Maracle – From her wiki: Lee Maracle is a Canadian First Nations Coast Salish poet and author. She speaks out as a critic of the treatment of indigenous people by the Canadian people and she particularly highlights the issues relating to indigenous women.
  6. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté – Gabor Maté is a Hungarian-born physician who specializes in the treatment of addiction. He served as the doctor for the Portland Hotel for many years. I have met Gabor and he is an outstandingly intelligent man with a wealth of knowledge on mental health and addiction. This book is phenomenal. He continues to do training workshops for the PHS and other groups worldwide.
  7. Subrosa by Amber Dawn – Amber Dawn is a Canadian writer and performer based in Vancouver, BC. Inspired by her time as a sex worker in the DTES, Amber wrote this science fiction/fantasy novel about magical prostitutes. Seriously, it is so good.
  8. Upstairs in the Crazy House by Pat Capponi – Pat Capponi is a Canadian author and an advocate for mental health issues and poverty issues in Canada. Technically this book is about her time spent in Toronto, but relates heavily to the experience lived by many in the DTES.
  9. A Thousand Dreams: Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the Fight for its Future by Larry Campbell, Neil Boyd and Lori Culbert – This book was written by former chief coroner and Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell along with renowned criminologist Neil Boyd and investigative journalist Lori Culbert about the DTES. It raises some provocative points about the decriminalization of prostitution and drugs, advocates for continued support of the safe injection site and more government funded low-income housing, among other issues deeply embedded in the politics of Vancouver.
  10. On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver’s Missing Women by Stevie Cameron – Robert “Willie” Pickton is a notorious pig farmer and serial killer that operated in Vancouver for years, targeting vulnerable women in the DTES. This entire story is incredibly complex and it’s hard to know whether all the families affected will ever get justice. Pickton is in prison for life after being convicted of the murders of 6 women, with the charges stayed by the crown for the murders of another 20 women. He is allegedly responsible for the deaths of upwards of 49 women.


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