March 29, 2021

1960’s Hippies of Fourth Avenue: Vancouver’s Haight Ashbury

The City of Vancouver was wondering what to do with the “hippies” who were concentrated largely in the Kitsilano area. A committee of “aldermen” from Vancouver City Hall called a “three man Council team” in the Vancouver Sun on October 12, 1967 “generally disclaims charges by Kitsilano ratepayers last summer when  the Fourth Avenue population was at its peak that hippies constituted a serious moral, sanitary and legal threat”.

The report concluded  that “more active interest should be taken by assisting hippies to get work and decent places to live, sending them social workers, inviting them to express their views before Council and by re-assessing youth activity programs in schools, churches and community centres”.

Sadly, the report also recommended “the acceleration of urban renewal programs and revitalization of depressed and blighted areas where hippie communities thrive”. These were the programs that would decimate Strathcona and threaten Chinatown in the early 1970’s.

Here’s a really weird clip of a show from 1968 hosted by commentator Bill Good. On a show called “Lets Go” there is a very twisty set of  interviews that are not too focussed, but do give a taste of opposing views at the time.

A youthful but conservative Mr. Good interviews Kitsilano’s ‘Hippies’ but does not really name them except for the late Doug Hawthorne who managed the “Psychedelic Shop” on 4th Avenue.

The show compares the 1960’s 4th Avenue “scene” to that of the great music and drug scene in  San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury, and then does surprising segues talking to people like singer Pat Boone, comedian Richard Pryor, Little Richard and even the Maharishi Yogi. Richard Pryor has the best line, saying that more people smoke pot than eat peanut butter sandwiches.

There’s also a strange clip from Timothy Leary, a clinical psychologist  who used psychedelic drugs for therapeutic use in psychiatry. In the “everything that is old again is new again” department, psychedelic drugs to treat mental illness are again being investigated.

The people who were involved in the Fourth Avenue “scene” ended up in some surprising places, as this article in Vancouver is Awesome by Grant Lawrence attests. Many went into social work, radio or television, and some continued the leathermaking and music careers that they started with.

The 4th Avenue hippie scene disbanded in the 1970’s, but many of the cultural ideas explored during that time period have continued. The use of marijuana is now legal, and safe supply of harder drugs is now being implemented.

Music in Vancouver has continued to be an important industry. Organic foods, farmers markets, handcrafted items, meditation and mindfulness are also well integrated into Vancouver culture.

In 1976 the United Nations Habitat conference would take place on Jericho Beach, talking about the importance of accessible, affordable housing, and the provision of clean water and environments. Greenpeace had started in 1971 urging a more environmental and “greener” world.

Below you will find the 1968 Bill Good interview on YouTube, and for the built context Phil Carroll’s YouTube video of Vancouver in the 1960’s, with images from 4th Avenue and the downtown. Mr. Carroll’s video is  set to the music “Heard It Through the Grapevine” released by Marvin Gaye in 1970.

Images: vsb&cbc

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  1. In the Netherlands, hippies staged protests for safer streets and squatted in abandoned buildings to help stop freeways and rebuild cities as dense, liveable, people friendly places. BC hippies got in their vans and bought large parcels of land in the Gulf Islands and worked over the coming decades to reinforce exclusionary zoning from the Bartholomew era. Sigh.

  2. It wasn’t only 4th Ave, my friend was arrested for sitting on a bench in front of the old library on Burrard St.