There is a small wooden chair at the entrance to 65 Paulander Drive, a two-storey, red-brick apartment complex on the corner of Paulander Drive and Victoria Street. Someone sitting in that chair would have a good view of the busy street it overlooks, as well as the neighbourhood born off of it. As long as the weather is nice, Frank Brooks is there late into most nights, socializing with his many neighbours, keeping an eye out for trouble, and watching the general goings-on of his 45-year-old neighbourhood.
The building Brooks lives in was built in 1973 and its units are subsidized by Waterloo Region Housing. Brooks is a recipient of the Ontario Disability Support Program. He can’t work like he used to, so now he keeps busy other ways, volunteering at a local second-hand store (which is actually where I first met him), or playing crazy eights with anyone who is willing.
“When I moved here about twenty years ago, I liked it. It had nice people; I got along with my neighbour,” Brooks said when I recently paid him and his porch a visit. “We have social clubs. People hold meals every month, like barbecues and potlucks,” he continued, describing life at Paulander. “Once in awhile I bring hamburgers or hotdogs or whatever, but most of the time I bring myself.”
Those barbecues are put on by the housing committee in his complex, but across the road there is a community centre that hosts neighbourhood-wide events.
Munira Haddad is the community developer at the centre. She is responsible for coordinating programs and events, supporting volunteers, and providing an array of services to the community members, including professional development.
The Paulander Drive neighbourhood is made up of over five hundred and eighty units and houses, some of which are privately owned homes, or rented at market rates or subsidized by Waterloo Region Housing. The result is a very diverse population. Haddad described it as being made up of “families with young children, seniors living independently, people with full-time jobs, people on OW and ODSP, newly-arrived immigrants, and multiple-generation Canadians.”
The centre’s schedule is full of events, including food distribution, guy’s groups and girl’s groups, special events, and monthly potlucks. Many of these are made possible because of hard-working volunteers like Ilaria Hassan.
Hassan helps coordinate a weekly donation program at the community centre.
“We call it Donations Closet and Coffee Program,” she said, grinning at the name — sometimes you just have to call it as it is. Hassan, along with two other volunteers, gathers donations from local churches and then hands them out Friday afternoon, while also opening the centre for snacks and a chance to socialize.
Amie Moresay expressed appreciation for the program. She has found shoes and clothes for her five children there, and regularly receives diapers and hygiene products. She also said that the outreach worker helps her fill out forms and applications; for instance, she just applied to enrol two of her children in daycare.
Hassan has been living on Paulander Drive for six years. She admitted that she finds her neighbours a little shy, but said they come out after “a little bit of trust-building.” She was born in India and came to Kitchener in 2008.
“I love it here. I love the trails and Victoria Park — and the fishes,” she added with a smirk. “I travel by bus so I can go as far as the buses go.”
Another inspiring volunteer at the centre is Corinne Vautour, a 58-year-old Micmac woman. She is recovering from breast cancer and recently became disabled with mobility issues. She had been receiving food from the food bank at the community centre and felt that she wanted to give back. So Vautour pitched an idea to the community developer at the centre: she wanted to start a group that would empower women in the community.
“In this space,” Vautour explained, “people feel free and safe to talk about what they want to talk about. Whatever we say there stays there.”
She felt that a formal gathering would help women talk about some shameful issues they or someone they knew suffered from, like drug or sex addiction, or having a partner in jail. The result was a weekly group called Women’s Voices.
“It’s not just about decompressing,” Vautour quickly noted. “It’s about having fun too!”Vautour drew on her Micmac heritage to help her form the group. She grew up with her grandmother and grandfather, who were living off the land at that time. Her grandmother had a reputation in the community for taking in homeless people.
“Every day someone was eating at our table, doesn’t matter what religion or ethnicity they are. I was taught to give… My Aboriginal tradition is to help one another, to feed one another. I bring those teachings here with me. We teach respect, honesty, love, wisdom.”
Vautour continued, explaining that “any woman can do this. It’s not about taking any other woman from other communities [and installing them in a different one]. It’s about taking women from their own community to lead their own community. We know. We can taste and smell danger. We have everything we need.”
One strolling through this neighbourhood would likely find people comfortably wearing traditional (non-Western) clothing. And one would almost certainly encounter children. A description of Paulander Drive wouldn’t be complete without mentioning all the kids.
Priscilla Gutu, a single parent who dropped by the community centre to say hello, mentioned that she moved to Kitchener from Toronto because she wanted somewhere less busy to raise her daughter. “[Here] there’s lots of friends to play with,” she said.
Developed in 1971, this suburban community has now become a well-established neighbourhood in Kitchener with a very unique personality.
When asked how the neighbourhood could be improved, a few people mentioned the need for a pedestrian crossing at the intersection of Paulander and Victoria Streets. In order to cross the street there, you need to walk nearly 300 metres down the road to the nearest safe crossing. That’s a long way around just to get to the daycare across the street.
Moresay said she’s had a few confrontations with drivers while trying to cross the four lanes of traffic with her children.
Brooks thought that there are too many trouble-makers out at night-time. Sometimes he doesn’t feel safe.
Haddad cited a few different issues that the community at large struggles with: a lack of power in decision-making, stable housing, general safety and limited access to children’s programming. All of which, she says, are related to the root issue of poverty.
In spite of this, Aline Smith, the family outreach worker at the centre, reflected that the “neighbours really support each other. It’s like a little village.”
A diverse and tight-knit village seemed to be a common view of Paulander Drive, and it is one that perhaps speaks most appropriately of the neighbourhood. But this written account is by no means complete. It is wrong to ask if this street could talk. This street does talk. Part of its compelling character is that it will speak quite freely and expressively to anyone who happens to take a stroll through. Why not go exploring?