photos: The Cypress Community Garden, pictured here, is one of hundreds of community gardens located along a rail line that the Canadian Pacific Railway hopes to re-invigorate–at the cost of the many green spaces lining the tracks. Photo: PopeJohn2 / flickr

Gardens grow another day on the Arbutus Corridor

Canadian Pacific Railway has agreed to let remaining gardens in Vancouver’s Arbutus Corridor grow another day, at least until Dec. 9.

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That’s the day City of Vancouver’s injunction against Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to prevent the company from ripping up the corridor’s gardens will be heard by the B.C. Supreme Court.

It’s been more than a decade since CPR ran trains down the 11-kilometre Arbutus Corridor, a piece of land they still own
in Vancouver. Since that time, grass has become overgrown on the unused rails. Residents have overtaken the green space for community gardens and a dog walking trail—valued green space in an urban area.

Though the railroad track is a valued hub for gardeners and pedestrians, CPR wants to run trains down the corridor again. After giving notice to residents and the city earlier this year, it began clear-cutting the corridor in July, ripping up gardens and destroying a source of food for struggling families.

The Corridor was once home to more than 400 gardens. The CPR razed an unknown number of them before it agreed last month to hold off on further demolitions until the injunction hearing.

Some families depended on their now- destroyed gardens for food, according to Michael Levenston. He’s the executive director of City Farmer, a pioneering group that has been teaching Vancouverites about urban agriculture since 1978.

“The gardeners that I knew whose gardens were destroyed in the first round-up around Marine Drive lived in co-ops. And they
are living from [month to month], rent to rent, they don’t have lots of money,” he told Megaphone. “They need garden space like anyone else in the city who is being crowded into a multi-family home.”

Although CPR has agreed to stop clearing the area for now, there is no guarantee the gardens remain safe should the injunction fail.

Negotiations between the city and the rail company failed to reach a conclusion over the summer and fall, with Vancouver offering to buy the land back from the railway company for $20 million, but CPR estimating the land’s worth at $100 million. The city refused to be interviewed for this article.

“There really isn’t a need for a railway
 to go through this area that they’ve made us aware of,” Levenston says of CPR. “But there’s a huge need for green space in this city as the city grows busier and busier, as the price of houses goes up, as people lose their gardens as [they] move into high rises. This [the Arbutus Corridor] is a gem.”

Levenston adds losing the green space of the corridor would be akin to losing half of Stanley Park. Instead of selling the land
back to the city, he maintains CPR should donate it back to the people of Vancouver. “Maybe [that’s] an unrealistic gesture,
but a wonderful gesture if [CPR] would donate the land as part of our joint heritage. [CPR] were part of bringing the rest of Canada to the West Coast,” he says. “They could name [the land] after CPR, they
could name it after the president of the company, but I do think it’s an incredibly important piece of land in Vancouver.”

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