An Obituary: CAFCA Bids Adieu

This week the North Van community took a hit. The Cafe for Contemporary Art closed its doors for the last time, leaving a hole in the fabric of our neighbourhood.

IMG_0032CAFCA was more than a cafe, it was a hub, weaving a thread of connections among the passionate disparate: the artists, the environmentalists, the community activists, the coffee lovers, the defenders of the urban realm. The Cafe for Contemporary Art, and its firebrand navigator Tyler Russell, committed themselves to the idea of community – and by the introductions they made and the ideas they seeded and propagated, North Vancouver was made richer, more connected, and more transparently governed.

Back in the early days, before the North Van Urban Forum was the North Van Urban Forum, Tyler and I would chat over coffee and sigh despairing sighs about the streetscape in which he found himself – a streetscape that started with such promise. NVUF In The NewsThe Cafe for Contemporary Art was founded at a time when it was believed that this stretch of Esplanade was about to explode with vitality and excitement. Things were happening on the waterfront; the Pinnacle Hotel street frontage was going to be hopping with store fronts; the neighbourhood was going through a cultural revolution. Then it all came to a grinding halt. Pinnacle decided to close off its street front in favour of enhanced conference facilities, and as a result CAFCA became the lone centre of activity in an otherwise comatose stretch of street, facing off against a bland fortress of dull architectural uniformity that sapped the energy from the urban landscape around it.

And yet, for all that (or perhaps, ironically, in part because of it) CAFCA built a following, and not just among the city’s many lovers of fine coffee. As the members of the yet unformed North Van Urban Forum were searching independently for ways to connect with like-minded citizens, Tyler nudged us in a unified direction, and the Cafe generously opened its doors to us and allowed us to utilise its space for our events and our meetings. We weren’t alone.20120312-152503.jpg

Like many others in the neighbourhood, CAFCA became our intellectual and cultural headquarters. It was part of a dying breed of coffeehouse. Like a modern day Les Deux Magots, CAFCA was not just a place to eat and drink, it was a place to meet, converse, and exchange ideas. In a town built on Starbucks, CAFCA dared to dream differently, and offered an alternate vision of what a cafe could be.  Tyler’s was a fiercely independent voice in a sea of sameness, and the fans loved him for it.

And yet, without structural assistance from the street, the tide was against him, and this week the Cafe’s doors closed for good. Tyler will resurrect himself in a new cafe on Renfrew, but North Vancouver takes a blow. We find ourselves looking elsewhere for inspiration, and hope that the soon to be revitalised waterfront (a revitalisation that CAFCA in part helped to foster) will offer some new cause for hope, to fill the hole left in its wake.

Goodbye CAFCA, and thanks for the good times.  Adieu, adieu, adieu.