Vancouver’s hippie era may offer solutions to the city’s current housing crunch

Maybe the hippies were on to something!  A new graphic novel looks back at Vancouver in the ‘free love’ era, when young people lived cheaply in rooming houses on the city’s West Side.  The Rooming House: The West Coast in the Seventies is the latest work from author and heritage advocate Michael Kluckner. 

“These were houses that were built [in the] early part of the 20th century and they were built for single families,” he explains.  “A lot of them are still there. They’ve been converted back to single-family [homes] or into very, very nice places to live in Kitsilano in particular.”

“There were a lot of old houses in Vancouver in the 1960s, 1970s and they had been converted, some of them had been converted way back in the 1930s, 1940s into kind of mixed accommodations, so you would have little housekeeping rooms, you’d have suites.  In other cases, people just lived communally.”

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Kluckner’s books and illustrations tend to give life to a Vancouver that once was or is slowly fading away.  Given the city’s soaring rents and the tight housing market overall, he thinks the rooming house concept is an idea worth revisiting.

“[It’s] worth looking at the way these people were living, what they were doing, and how simply they were living,” he says.  “That got them through a period of high inflation, high housing costs, although these seem like almost nothing now, but very low wages, very high unemployment.”

And while The Rooming House is a novel, it is a coming-of-age tale very much anchored in the real-life events of the Vietnam/Woodstock/Watergate era.  The text is based on the diary entries of the two main characters with copious footnotes for readers too young to remember the events Kluckner refers to.

However, the best part may be the playlist in the back.  “I watch movies and I love the music that comes into some of them, and I thought, ‘Well, why not have it come in in a book,'” he says.

If there is a moral to the tale, it’s that money can buy you things, but it can also buy you something far more important.

“My character, Justin, he’s got this mantra that he chants that money buys you time.  He doesn’t really care about acquiring things.  He wants time and that the time that he wants is time for him to create.  You know, you want to have that period in your life where you’re following your dreams.”

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