A new vintage-style neon light on Davie Street has stolen the hearts of many, but that love affair could be short lived unless steps are taken to make it a permanent feature.
The Heart of Davie Village sign has a pink heart with the words Davie Village emblazoned across it — the word “Davie” has been done in glowing white neon, while “Village” is made up of a rainbow of colours, a fitting landmark for the historic neighbourhood home to many members of the city’s LGBTQ+ community. The heart, which sits atop a tall pole on Davie Street just west of Burrard Street, was installed last December as part of the West End’s fourth annual Lumière light festival. The sign is the work of artist Jim Balakshin.
West End resident Mark Janssen told the Courier the moment he saw the sign he called the West End Business Improvement Association to inquire about its status.
“And my heart sank when I found out it wasn’t permanent,” said Janssen. “That’s when I went to Change.org and started the petition.”
Janssen said fighting for the sign is an extension of the work he does on his website, Davie Village Post, which he started three years ago as a way to acknowledge not only the neighbourhood he loves, but also as a nod to community leaders such as city councillor Tim Stevenson and community activists, including Barb Snelgrove and the late Jim Deva.
“And there’s been a groundswell of support,” said Janssen. “There are already more than 1,200 signatures and there’s been lots of media coverage. People generally support it.”
A plaque at the bottom of the sign reads in part, “Since their first recorded history, ‘gay villages’ have played an important role in the increased visibility and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.”
The plaque is a reminder that, at a time when homosexuality was illegal, few establishments welcomed members of the queer community, with the exception of bars, nightclubs and bathhouses: “Like the signs of early gay-friendly businesses, the Heart of Davie Village gateway sign will be a beacon for the community that will symbolize the reorganizing of heteronormative spaces into more welcoming and safe landscapes...”
Stephen Regan, executive director of the West End BIA, said he’d like to sign to remain in the village but added there are many logistics to consider before that can happen, including garnering permission from the city and then a decision on where the money would come from for maintenance.
“Everything is within the realm of possibility,” said Regan. “But the city probably doesn’t want the maintenance cost. Lights like this look really nice when they’re new, but if a bulb burns out, who fixes that? It might be $700 for a minor repair and the artist isn’t in the position to do that.”
Regan said the cost of power and liability insurance, as well as finding a piece of land for a permanent home for the sign also have to be considered.
Stevenson is a fan of the sign.
“Anything that helps anchor that street as the gay village,” said Stevenson, the first openly gay person to be ordained as minister of the United Church of Canada and a member of Vancouver City Council. “But we haven’t seen anything formal from the BIA yet.”
He noted the BIA is already responsible for some specialized lighting in the West End, so the group is familiar with what that entails. But, with a deadline of Feb. 23 looming, the fate of the sign should soon be decided.