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Tales of the Balmoral: Social Housing in Vancouver

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Museum of Vancouver, Vancouver, British Columbia

Tales of the Balmoral: Social Housing in Vancouver
Learn about the social housing situation in Vancouver, focusing specifically on the Balmoral. Research and analyze B.C's social assistance provisions and how this relates to adequate housing.
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Audio 1 - DJ Joe
Civic historian John Atkin explains what is most unique about the Balmoral sign. DJ Joe moved to the Downtown Eastside in the year 2000, and she has lived in the Balmoral since 2001.
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Audio 2 - Judy Graves
City of Vancouver homeless advocate Judy Graves recalls her days working at the Balmoral as a housing inspector for the City of Vancouver in the 1990s.
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© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.
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The Balmoral Sign
The Balmoral Sign
Installed in 1928, the Balmoral sign is an early example of Vancouver neon. The sign uses a mix of neon and light bulbs. The mix reflects sign trends changing from incandescent bulb use to neon tubing.

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Street view of the Balmoral
Street view of the Balmoral
In the '90s, the once-polished Balmoral featured some of the worst living conditions of any single-room-occupancy building in the city. Judy Graves was a City of Vancouver housing inspector during that decade. "Every time that the city inspectors would order them to change the carpets, they’d actually just throw more carpet on top of the old carpet," she recalls. Courtesy of AHA Media

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Wide Shot of the Balmoral
Wide shot of the Balmoral
Representing the history of Hastings as a prosperous commercial district, the Balmoral is now part of a neighbourhood where many residents face intersecting issues of poverty, marginalization, unstable housing, health concerns, and food insecurity. Tom Wiebe photo

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The Balmoral Hotel in the 1940s
The Balmoral Hotel in the 1940s
The Balmoral Hotel in the 1940s. The architectural firm Parr & Fee designed the Balmoral along with the Vancouver Block and the Hotel Europe. Jack Lindsay photo, City of Vancouver Archives 1184-3337, 193-D-9

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Tales of the Balmoral: Activity 1 (Research)
Activity:

1. Research:

- How can you apply for social assistance in B.C? What sorts of information must you provide? Use the Ministry of Social Development website: http://www.eia.gov.bc.ca
- What are the social assistance rates for housing and for living costs in B.C for a single person? For a single mother? For a family? Use the Ministry of Social Development website: http://www.eia.gov.bc.ca
- Based on newspaper ads, Craigslist, or other websites, list the average price of rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the most inexpensive areas of Vancouver.
- Choose one other social or subsidized housing building in the area and describe what it is like, as does the information provided about the Balmoral.
Tales of the Balmoral: Activity 2 (Discussion)
- Judy Graves suggests that housing at the Balmoral is a last option. Why do you imagine someone might decide to stay at the Balmoral?
- What other kinds of housing is available to low income people in Vancouver?
- What does this mean for low-income communities in Vancouver and the support services that they rely on in the area?
- Based on your above observations, how do you think the large neon sign of the Balmoral relates to the history of the building?
Tales of the Balmoral: Activity 3 (Group Work & Class Discussion)
Judy Graves mentions that she is still grateful that the Balmoral exists, despite its sub-par housing and often dangerous environment. Based on the information provided, make a list of advantages and disadvantages of housing of this kind existing in Vancouver. Then, work with your group to come up with a couple suggestions about how to improve the conditions that you find problematic. Present your suggestions to the class, remembering to explain what problem you are addressing and why, as well as why your solution might enhance what already exists.

Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives:

- Demonstrate effective research skills, including accessing and assessing visual and auditory information and primary documents in order to form a critical opinion
- Learn about the social housing situation in Vancouver, with emphasis on the Balmoral
- Learn the basics about social assistance in B.C
- Analyze key provisions of the Canadian social safety net and their impact on Canadian society, specifically social assistance
- Learn how to search for rent prices in Vancouver and analyze how they differ based on the area of the city
- Demonstrate a knowledge of historical and contemporary factors that help define Canadian civic identity, including governance, and rights and responsibilities
- Collaborate in a group to identify problems with social or subsidized housing sites and suggest alternatives