Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, 149 West Hastings Street

SFU’s opening at 312 Main

February 05, 2020

By Am Johal

On January 30, 2020, SFU celebrated the opening of it’s ninth location at 312 Main. SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in the space already, sharing space with the different community organizations in the building and recording our podcast, Below the Radar, in our office. Now, we’re excited to be joined by our SFU colleagues from SFU Public SquareSFU Lifelong Learning, and SFU’s Community-Engaged Research Initiative (CERi) at 312 Main. We look forward to many more years of community engagement with this neighbourhood and the folks that live and work in it.

As part of the opening, our director Am Johal gave some remarks to provide context to not just the vision of SFU at 312 Main, but also the vision and conception of the 312 Main project.

Thank you, President Petter and thank you for that wonderful welcome, Elder Margaret and to you, Minister Melanie Mark.

I first started working in this neighbourhood back in 1998 on Hastings and Abbott Street over 20 years ago. I work across the street at Woodward’s now, so I haven’t moved that far in life.

Am Johal providing remarks at the SFU opening at 312 Main.

Many things have changed and many things have stayed the same. I don’t take at all lightly the seriousness of what it means to be here today and the complex spatial politics and histories at play in this old 1954 building – no matter what name they come up for it, it’ll always be the ‘cop shop.’ What’s happened here is nothing short of a form of architectural exorcism.

It’s remarkable to stand here and imagine what this space looked like back in 2012 after the VPD had left, when I first walked through here with Laurie Anderson. It seemed like a crazy idea.

But today, I want to thank Vancity and the Vancity Community Foundation for realizing this incredibly complex project. Without their incredible leadership, we wouldn’t be standing here today. Without the risk-taking and leadership from the entire Executive team at SFU, we wouldn’t be here as a university — it’s inspiring for me to work at a post-secondary institution that values this type of risk-taking and shows up in their commitment to far-reaching community engagement.

Melanie Mark during the welcoming remarks.

I want to say thank you also to the government partners who showed up when it mattered – from the City of Vancouver to Heritage Canada to the Province of BC, particularly Minister Melanie Mark. This couldn’t have been possible without their support.

Elder Shane Pointe from the Musqueam, after he did traditional healing work in this space prior to the construction for the renovation in September 2015, said that the bad spirits wanted to leave the building and that it now had the spirit of a grandmother. That is a compelling vision to try to make real. That is the important work ahead of us.

This is an ambitious project – from people like Bob Williams – almost 90 years young – inspired by Jim Green, who pushed a vision that tried to combine the best learnings of the Center for Social Innovation in Toronto with the work and thinking of the cooperative sector and intellectual work of the University of Bologna – and to imagine this new place as a site to do the hard work of decolonization, the development of social cooperatives and social, economic and environmental policy innovation based right here in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.

Audience listening during SFU’s opening at 312 Main.

The work here going forward, in partnership with community organizations in this building who are working every day on social, economic and environmental justice issues will be done in a cooperative fashion – we’ll bring resources to the table from the university – but the university and its teaching, research and engagement mission itself will be transformed by working in closer proximity and in dialogue with the community. This project is soooo SFU.

The student learning experience will be enhanced by directly engaging in community engaged research. When we break down the walls between the university and community, new ways of thinking, being and working become possible. I’ve already been working out of here for 18 months and it’s already been transformative. We’ve had so many great conversations running the Below the Radar podcast out of here.

312 Main is not a short-term project, it’s only in the long haul that we can properly engage communities and bring about, collaboratively, the real change people are striving for.

312 Main and SFU: a tradition of being non-traditional.

It’s an honour and inspiration to be working alongside long-standing community partners based in this building like Megaphone Magazine who we’ve been running a community journalism project with my office since 2011 and the Binners’ Project who have been collaborators for many years. The opportunities for students to engage with community organizations in this building through co-ops and internships.

In this building, there are incredible archives from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs to the United Church of Canada in BC – radical newspapers from the 60’s, source archives of the internment of Japanese citizens that will tell important histories that need to made visible and inspire the important research work of faculty members and graduate students for years to come. SFU Library’s Community Scholars program will be here too to make archives and research more accessible to the community. Thank you to Joyce Chong for the lease, Mat Cocuzzi, Augustin and the gang for their work on the renovation and the team from SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement who have laid the groundwork the last two years.

We are only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of the great collisions of ideas that will take place here at 312 Main.

Thank you, everyone, for your presence here today – it means a lot to us – today we celebrate, but the work has just begun!

SFU opens at 312 Main building. Picture includes, from left to right: Stuart Poyntz (co-director, SFU’s CERi), Janet Webber (executive director, SFU’s Public Square), Joanne Curry (vice-president, SFU External Relations), Shanthi Besso (director, leadership & community building programs, Lifelong Learning SFU), Melanie Mark (MLA Constituency Office, City of Vancouver), Am Johal (co-director, SFU’s CERi; director, SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement), Tamara Vrooman (CEO of Vancity), Andrew Petter (president and vice-chancellor of SFU), and Joy Johnson (vice-president, SFU Research and International).

Learn more about SFU at 312 Main here.

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