The Vancouver Fire Department is removing an "inappropriate" mural at its Downtown Eastside fire hall following an inquiry by Public Eye. The mural, which was installed by firefighters at that hall 15 years ago, shows the Grim Reaper carrying a scythe with the words "The Skids" on its blade, which ends in a dripping hypodermic needle. "It's not the end of the world but we can see it from here," reads the caption underneath the mural.
It's a message at odds with the provincial government and the City of Vancouver's efforts to revitalize the Downtown Eastside and showcase government programs that have been launched to address homeless issues in that neighborhood.
When contacted about the mural last week, fire department spokesperson Steve Laleune said it has "been there so long that we even forget it's there" - later referring to it as being "like part of the furniture."
But Mr. Laleune acknowledged, "It's probably something we need to deal with today."
An hour later he phoned back with news the mural - which is installed on the hall's back wall but visible from the street - had been covered up and a work order would be submitted to remove it.
"It's inappropriate. It doesn't represent the Downtown Eastside at all," he stated.
Laleune said the mural was among several that were painted at some city's fire halls in the mid-nineties to illustrate their then-nicknames - in this case, "The Skids."
At the time, the spokesperson continued, that mural - which wasn't part of a department-approved program - "was maybe acceptable."
"It's a bit of black humour is what it was," Mr. Laleune explained, adding, "It's a badge of honour to be down here and work this area - they are one of the busiest halls."
That being said, though, "it definitely is not acceptable from the city's standpoint now. And my chief went a little red in the face" when he found about Public Eye's call.
"The whole area has changed dramatically in the last two or three years since we've been working with people rather than against them," he said, adding the fire halls now have different city-designated names.