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We Should Be Friends: One Vancouver woman's project to turn strangers into friends

"The energy is very much you could walk up to any group and you'd be welcomed in"

While Vancouver isn't known as a cold place (temperature-wise), it has a reputation for being a cold place (socially).

When Katrina Martin moved from Ontario five years ago, despite being an extroverted person, she found some truth in that.

"When I was moving out here I got a lot of warnings from people saying Vancouver is a cold city, it'll be hard to make friends," she says. "I thought it wouldn't be hard, I'm very extroverted."

But it was.

Last September she shared her feelings on TikTok in a video that took off, receiving hundreds of comments from people in similar situations; they'd moved to Vancouver as adults and didn't have much of a social life. For some, the loneliness was too much and they left Vancouver.

Martin decided to do something about it.

"Everyone knows, with social media you're more connected than ever and feel less connected than ever," she says. "There's a real need for connection. That's something I'm passionate about."

A picnic in October

The video going viral started a conversation and gave Martin an opportunity she hadn't expected.

"Basically I wanted to create an opportunity for people to be able to come out and meet other people that they may not usually meet in Vancouver," she says. "I just wanted it to be a welcome, open environment."

She decided to create an event and hosted the first We Should Be Friends last fall at Kitsilano Beach. It was essentially a big picnic with no structure and a lot of strangers.

"I showed up at Kits beach with a picnic blanket and a few snacks," she says. "I was so incredibly nervous before the first meetup because I didn't know how it was going to go."

She estimates 200 people showed up, mostly alone.

We Should Be Friends

The event is a fairly simple concept, but relies on people making it something more, just by showing up.

"We Should Be Friends is basically the opportunity for people to begin making friends," she explains.

There's no guarantee that friendships will be made, but the event facilitates that possibility. Everyone is showing up for the same reason.

The second event, held a couple of weeks after the first, also brought out 200 people. Because of winter and the pandemic, Martin delayed a third big We Should Be Friends in-person event until this past weekend, when they took over Trout Lake park. She figures closer to 300 people showed up for the picnic.

While there's no structure, Martin does make sure there are snacks, drinks and games for people to play.

Also, since 300 people standing in one big group isn't that conducive to meeting people, smaller groups do form over time. Martin says she encourages people to join in though, instead of watching from outside.

"The energy is very much you could walk up to any group and you'd be welcomed in," she says.

Martin notes that a lack of structure can actually be intimidating for people coming out for a social event with strangers, so she encourages people find her if that's the case and she'll introduce people.

"It can be scary to walk up to a huge event," she says.

At the most recent event, there were also volunteers who watched for people hanging on the outside and welcomed them in.

@katrinamartin_ The first meet up of 2022 is tomorrow, April 23rd! Follow We Should Be Friends Vancouver on IG for more details ❤️ #vancouver #vancouverbc #britishcolumbia #vancouverthings #vancity ♬ You Found Me - Instrumental Pop Songs

Beyond picnics in Vancouver parks

With a cold and lonely winter with no events coming up, Martin came up with a different group activity for the damp times.

She's also created the We Should Be Friends book club.

"They just gave me their age and name and I sorted all those people to book club groups of 12 to 15 people and set up the first meeting," she explains.

While it's a smaller group, she explains everyone will have at least one thing to discuss: the book. A new round of clubs will be starting this week, and she wants to do another round later in the year.

She's also sold some merch and plans on dropping some more this spring to help fund the activities, like the games, snacks and drinks she brings.

And with the winter doldrums ending, there are a lot more events she looks forward to setting up.

"These types of meetups with the loose structure, picnic vibe I want to happen once a month for the summer months," she says, with Trout Lake a likely site since it's central and easy to get to on transit.

She also wants to partner with local businesses for other types of activities; she's already had The Roxy reach out for something. These would likely be smaller events, and she's looking at focusing events on specific groups sometimes, like a women's night or something for people in their 30s.

On top of all that, she's looking at expanding it beyond Vancouver's borders. At the events, she's had people come from Surrey and the Fraser Valley. With distance being a factor in who someone befriends, she wants to set something up in the Valley so people can meet people more local to them.

At the same time, she's had interest from people in other cities, from Victoria to Toronto, and is considering travelling and hosting similar events in different Canadian cities.

"There's a lot in the works and a lot swirling around in my head on a daily basis," Martin says.

However, the focus on human connection will always be central.

"Realistically, the goal at the end of the day is for people to make real relationships."