Mourners, friends and co-workers are remembering Ron McGrath as a vital bridge in Vancouver’s ever-widening gap in class and income.
A former vendor with Megaphone Magazine, McGrath died July 16 after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 68. A makeshift memorial with cards and flowers has been set up near the Choices outlet near the corner of West 16th Avenue and Trafalgar Street.
McGrath was a mainstay outside the market, as well as at the intersection of Broadway and Cambie. Between the two locations, he had sold copies of Megaphone since 2009.
“Ron was incredibly independent, resourceful and determined,” said Jessica Hannon, Megaphone’s executive director. “He loved the community and the people, and made incredible connections all over the community through his work with Megaphone.”
McGrath was born in Newfoundland and lived on the West Coast for three decades. He spent 20 years working in the railroad sector before an injury forced him out of a job, leaving him homeless.
"Being homeless just sucks. It’s a vicious cycle and I feel like a mouse trapped in a spinning wheel that just goes on and on and nobody can stop it," he wrote in his online bio on the Megaphone website.
He said that a sensitivity to pesticides and chemicals made him ill, forcing him to move out of his BC Housing apartment.
"I don’t think shelters are doing enough because they got a 30-day limit. I go to shelters, I bring up issues about cleaners or perfumes and they don’t know what to make of me. I have a hard time being with people, especially in a room where other people are wearing stuff that bothers me."
Established in 2008, Megaphone focuses on social justice issues, homelessness, income equality and the indie arts scenes in both Vancouver and Victoria. Roughly 40 vendors sell the monthly publication in both cities. Participating vendors buy individual issues for 75 cents, and sell them for $2.
"Being a Megaphone vendor gives me an option to work," McGrath wrote in his bio. "Because of my illness, I can’t hold down a job in a factory or anything. Selling the magazine and being outside is the ideal situation for me.... I have an ambition to write, so I fit with Megaphone and its vision.”
Hannon said McGrath had a zest for writing poetry and personal essays. He was adamant about finding housing solutions for those who didn’t fit into traditional shelter or BC Housing models.
He also served as a conduit for conversation around homelessness in the otherwise tony West Side of Vancouver.
“The impact that he’s had on that community was that he put a face to these big issues of homelessness and poverty that people might not have a way to engage with otherwise,” Hannon said. “He was a very thoughtful, warm and engaging person who gave people a way to try and understand these issues and was happy to talk about them as well.”
A celebration of life is happening on Saturday, July 29. McGrath wanted it to be just that — a celebration, rather than a process of mourning. Hannon saw McGrath a week before his death and he gave those very instructions.
“It’s hard to lose someone you care about and someone who has been really important in the community. But Ron was very adamant that we ought to celebrate and that we remember the time that he was alive and be thankful that we’re alive,” Hannon said.
Saturday’s service begins at 10 a.m. at Tenth Church, located at 11 West 10th Ave. All are welcome to attend and asked to refrain from wearing perfume or cologne.