Oppenheimer Park Commemorative Project

Oppenheimer Park, the Downtown Eastside's backyard

The Vancouver Park Board and the Oppenheimer Park Commemorative Task Force are working together to develop commemorative projects in the park that:

  • Celebrate the rich cultural history of the park
  • Help build connections for the community in the future

Goal of the projects

The goal of the Park Board and the Task Force is to complete projects that reflect each of the following themes, which were identified after significant community consultation:

  • First Nations Presence
  • Welcoming community
  • Exclusion, Perseverance, Resistance
  • Japanese Canadian Settlement

First Nations presence

Red Cedar: Tree of Life

Red Cedar planting in Oppenheimer Park

The cedar tree is central to Coastal First Nations' traditional and ceremonial life. Every part of the tree is a resource for clothing, utensils, pole carving, and ceremonial objects, and the tree plays an integral role in first Nations' spiritual beliefs. As such, the cedar tree was a key element in the commemoration of the First Nations' presence in the park.

After consulting with Kat Norris, a Downtown Eastside and Indigenous advocate from the Lyackson, Coast Salish First Nations on ceremonial protocol, the First Nations' sub-committee hosted a traditional ceremonial planting of a Western Red Cedar in the park on 12 April 2011. The ceremony was conducted by Robert Nahanee, a respected Coast Salish Cultural Advisor of the Squamish Nation, with the support and celebration of the community.

Partners and sponsors

  • Oppenheimer Park commemorative Task Force
  • Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation

Carvings

Oppenheimer Park carvings, northeast of the fieldhouse

Carving traditions are established social and cultural legacies of the Coastal First Nations. They are also the contemporary arts practice of highly respected First Nations' carvers. An important community celebration marked the installation of two new carvings in the park on 16 February 2012. The Oppenheimer Park Commemorative Task Force partnered with the Constant Arts Society and Vancouver Moving Theatre / Heart of the City Festival to create and install the carvings in the park on the northeast side of the new field house.

Head carvers Chief Henry Robertson (Haisla Nation) and Wes Nahanee (Squamish Nation) designed and carved the logs, which had been recovered from Stanley Park after the 2006 wind storm. Over several months, community members watched and sometimes participated as the carvers transformed the logs into carvings that reflect different Coast Salish traditions and honour the diverse First Nations' presence in the neighbourhood.

The carvings were blessed on 6 November 2010 during the Heart of the City Festival with a ceremonial moving of the poles, music, dancing, a feast, and the Canada Council award presentation to Christine Germano (Artistic Director of Constant Arts Society) for her work with First Nations.

A community celebration marked the installation of the two carvings on the east site of the field house in the park on 16 February 2012.

Partners

  • Oppenheimer Park Commemorative Task Force
  • Constant Arts Society
  • Vancouver Moving Theatre
  • Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation

Sponsors

  • Canada Council for the Arts
  • Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth
  • City of Vancouver, Great Beginnings
  • Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation

Welcoming community

Woman in front of the welcoming red cedar tree in Oppenheimer Park

Oppenheimer Park has long been a gathering place for area residents and visitors alike. Aboriginal people who live in Vancouver and those from across Canada visit the park for many celebrations and ceremonial events every year.

The ceremonial planting of a western red cedar and the installation of two new carvings are welcoming elements in the park. They both welcome visitors by creating a focus that acknowledges Coastal First Nation's historical traditions.

Exclusion, perseverance, resistance

Many stories of hardship and economic disadvantage, labour tension, and struggles for social and racial inclusion have originated around Oppenheimer Park. These stories are important historical legacies of the community.

The Oppenheimer Park Commemorative Task Force is currently exploring project options that will reflect the labour and community history of exclusion, perseverance, and resistance in the Downtown Eastside.

Japanese Canadian settlement

Flowering cherry trees

Flowering cherry trees, sakura, planted in Oppenheimer Park

Sakura (flowering cherry trees) were planted in Oppenheimer Park in 1977 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to British Columbia. During the redevelopment of the park and relocation of the field house in 2009, several Sakura were moved and two were removed. The Oppenheimer Park Legacy Sakura sub-committee (also known as The Coalition To Save The Legacy Sakura of Oppenheimer Park) determined the importance of commemorating the lost Sakura and celebrating the history of the Japanese Canadian settlement in the community around Oppenheimer Park. 

 

Sakura Windows

Sakura Windows at Oppenheimer Park On 19 September 2011 the new legacy Sakura Windows were installed in the park field house with a haiku poem and text that explains the significance of the trees, visible on the northeast side of the building.
The text reads:

They show no resentment. The lines on the faces of the Issei people are softened by a kind of acceptance, their slowing movements touched with quiet dignity. With them will go much of the colour and epic quality which makes an era memorable . . . The Issei carved a foothold in a new world.
E. Henmi, A Dream of Riches: The Japanese Canadians, 1877-1977

Many of us gained strength from the presence of the trees in the park during our lengthy redress struggle in the 1980s. It has remained for me a crucial memorial site in the postwar reclamation of our history, dignity, and pride. For the Japanese Canadians whose citizenship rights were abrogated and who were dispossessed, the trees embody their once tangible historical presence in a section of Vancouver formerly known as Nihon-machi or Japantown.
Roy Miki, poet and writer, 2008

Before 1942, Oppenheimer Park was the centre of a thriving Japanese Canadian community known as Japantown. On April 16, 1977, with the support of the City of Vancouver, Issei (First Generation) Japanese Canadian seniors completed the planting of 21 Sakura (flowering cherry trees) in the Park to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of Canada’s first known immigrant from Japan. The 1977 Centennial plantings recognized the Japanese Canadian heritage in the area and the trees remain as living reminders for future generations.  

Partners

  • Oppenheimer Park Commemorative Task Force
  • Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation

Sponsors

  • City of Vancouver

Asahi Baseball Team

Commemorating the Asahi Baseball Team in Oppenheimer Park The Japanese Canadian community living around Oppenheimer Park, originally known as Powell Street Grounds, established the Asahi baseball club by 1914. Before disbanding in 1941, the Asahi won multiple championships in Vancouver’s senior amateur and industrial leagues, and in the eleven Pacific Northwest Japanese Baseball tournaments held in Seattle between 1928 and 1941.
Over the years the team became a symbol of Japanese Canadians’ struggle for equality and respect after the Japanese internment and resettlement during and after the Second World War.
On 18 September 2011 an unveiling of a Parks Canada plaque, which commemorates the national historic significance of the Asahi Baseball Team took place in the park. The plaque will be permanently installed in the park.

Sponsors

  • Parks Canada

The Oppenheimer Park Commemorative Task Force recognizes the historical significance of the Asahi Baseball Team in Oppenheimer Park and is planning a commemorative project that will celebrate their contribution to the community.

Find Oppenheimer Park

Map

Map Legend

  •  marker
    • Oppenheimer Park, 400 Powell St, Vancouver, BC

Oppenheimer Park Commemorative Task Force

The Oppenheimer Park Commemorative Task Force is made up of representatives who are currently living in the community and others who have an historical affiliation with the area.