Mel Lehan's legacy of community building was celebrated at St. James Hall, as Darlene Mazari called him the “Mayor of Kitsilano”
It started back in July, with an email from
Dr. David Suzuki inviting participants for an evening of recognition and
celebration of Mel Lehan. The evening helped to raise funds for two
of Mel's favourite organizations: Citywide Housing Coalition, and St.
“As a friend and admirer of Mel Lehan I am
pleased to be able to invite you to an event to honour his achievements. Mel
has worked tirelessly for as long as I can remember on numerous community,
environmental and social justice issues. He has been a mentor, organizer, and
leader in making his neighbourhood and the world a better place – one project
at a time. He believes in and brings out the best in people. His patience,
enthusiasm and energy are boundless – and this year he is celebrating his 10
year anniversary of surviving esophageal cancer.”
It was an amazing tribute to the community contributions of one man, who in
1993 saw the need for and came up with the idea of creating The St. James
Community Square. Dr. Suzuki also wrote that:
“Some of his current projects include: bringing
the Farmer¹s Market to Kitsilano; organizing STANDS around homelessness and
housing; bringing the Downtown Eastside opera ³Condemned² to his community;
helping to create 20 car free block parties; and being a spokesperson for
³Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver². In the past, to name just a few
projects, he founded Neighbour to Neighbour; created playgrounds at
Beaconsfield School and Tatlow Park; worked on preserving the Pt. Grey
foreshore and daylighting Tatlow Creek; assisted parents at the inner city
school of Macdonald Elementary to successfully organize to improve learning for
their children; and organized bus drivers at HandiDart to protect essential
services for clients and save the jobs of dedicated drivers.”
According to the program:
The evening's attendees were a who's who of Vancouver's community activists including: Joseph Roberts (Common Ground), Grace Thompson (Japanese Redress), Meena Wong (Chinese Head Tax), city councilors George Chow and David Cadman, former COPE councilors Ellen Woodsworth and Tim Louis, councilor candidate Michael Geller, parks board candidate Aaron Jasper, newly elected Member of Parliament Don Davies.
And the performers were all community activists in their own right too!
As people walked into the hall, they were serenaded by Jim Edmondson, who has been involved with the Vancouver Folk Song Society and uses folk music to promote social justice and progressive causes such as the Stand for Housing.
Solidarity Notes Labour Choir, led by Earle Peach, sang “Siyahamba” and “Bread and Roses”
Connie Hubbs and John Shayler were the MC's for the evening.
Todd Wong and Mel Lehan warming up before their entrance cues.
Todd Wong aka “Toddish McWong” “piped” Mel and his family into the hall, or rather “accordioned” them into the hall. After doing his imitation of a bagpipe with “Scotland the Brave” and performing the intro to “Entry of the Gladiators”, Todd led the Lehan Clan into the Hall to the rhythm of “La Cumparsita” tango. The audience enthusiastically clapped to the beat and quickly rose to their feet to welcome th honoured Mel Lehan. Todd is also a community activist involved with Asian Canadian arts and culture, the Chinese head tax redress campaign, saving the Joy Kogawa childhood home, and many other events.
Aline LaFlamme gave a First Nations greeting, sang an “Honour Song,” and presented Mel with a First Nations drum. Aline is a counsellor, drummaker and traditional healer.
Michael Pratt and Lynn McGowan performed “Mary Ellen Carter”, “It's Not Just What You're Born With”, “Torn Screen Door” and “Painting the Living Room”.
Greg Booth helped to lead the audience in a session of “How Did I Meet Mel?”. This was a wonderful way to introduce the audience to each other and pay tribute to Mel. People from Mel's past and present all shared stories of how they had met him, actively demonstrating the breadth and depth and length of Mel's community activism. We met people who had taught Mel in school, his sister and even somebody who came to the event hoping to meet Mel.
After intermission, Johanna Hauser performed “Sim Shalom” on her clarinet, to pay tribute to Mel's Jewish heritage. Johanna directs the Kits Classics + Worlds Beyond concert series at St. James Hall.
Darlene Mazari, former city councilor and MLA, gave poetical tribute to Mel as part of a Raging Grannies Trio with one of the original Raging Grannies – Mel's sister Freda from Victoria. Darlene listed the reasons why Mel was being presented with the plaque of honour, and many of the organizations he has worked with. She called him the “Mayor of Kitsilano.”
Dalannah Gail Bowen, a musical activist, sang an inspired unaccompanied interpretation of Nature Boy
Andy Vine, folk song protest singer delivered a wonderful performance of “Excuse Me Your Planet is Burning,” with help from Fraser Union band holding up signs for the audience to sing the chorus.
Andy Vine performs “Excuse Me Your Planet is Burning” as a musical tribute to Mel Lehan – photo Todd Wong
Fraser Union performed as a trio to sing one of Mel's favorite songs “Everything is Possible”, sharing stories of years of friendship with Mel and his family. It was especially touching when one of the singers pointed to Mel's daughters for the line about children growing up into beautiful adults.
Phil Vernon performed the song “Tatlow Creek” which honoured Mel's environmental work for the creek.
The evening closed with Jim Edmonson leading a group song “We Are Here In This Place.” He invited all of the evening's performers up on the stage, and soon everybody in the hall was singing along. It was a beautiful song about building community – a wonderful tribute to Mel Lehan, community builder and mentor.