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How North Vancouver became Fun City

Slide the City, Car Free Day look like they're here to stay

It’s 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and City of North Vancouver community development worker Juliana Buitenhuis is already on the job in Lower Lonsdale.

She’ll be on her feet for the next 16 hours or so, co-ordinating Fun City Festival, a city initiative that combines Slide the City with Car Free Day to turn Lonsdale into a rollicking street party. On Sunday she’ll do it all again. On Monday she can barely walk, but then a man comes in to city hall to tell her what he thought of the wet and wild weekend that just went down.

“He had been living around Lonsdale for 47 years,” Buitenhuis recalls. “He came in to say that he had never seen so many happy people on the street. He actually had tears in his eyes. He was so overjoyed to see people having such a great time and bringing so many people together.”

This is just the second year of this Lower Lonsdale extravaganza – the event was rebranded as Fun City Festival this year and stretched from one day into two – but this already has the look of an annual tradition that could grow into one of the marquis weekends on the North Shore social calendar. And it is, in large part, Buitenhuis’s baby.

In many circles, the North Shore long had a reputation as a relatively sleepy suburb next door to a relatively sleepy city. Buitenhuis has been out to change that, and one of her biggest moves was going after Slide the City when a proposal to bring the 1,000-foot waterslide to Main Street was turned down by the City of Vancouver. She called up the Slide the City folks and told them they could bring their slippery fun across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver.

The planning and execution took a lot of work from every city department, but the first event went off well, the major complaint being long lineups for the slide. This year, with the event stretched over two days, peak wait times dropped from more than an hour to closer to 30 minutes. More than 6,000 sliders made a splash this year completing 30,000 total slides, up from 5,000 and 20,000 last year.

The weekend also included live music, a circus school demonstration in the Pipe Shop, a beer garden, kids zone and more, with approximately 400 volunteers on hand to keep things moving. With the road closed, the biggest traffic congestion was actually on the SeaBus, said Buitenhuis, as sliders from Vancouver raced north, causing some one-sailing wait times during peak hours.

Buitenhuis was there all weekend watching the fun unfold. It’s neat to see Lonsdale – often cursed for its steepness – suddenly praised for its steepness, she says.

“It’s much more fun to slide down than it is to bike up,” she says with a laugh. “The street was just totally transformed, so it was neat to kind of see it reimagined as people kind of ‘embraced the hill,’ which they often fight against. Lonsdale is pretty steep. To be able to use the grade of Lonsdale for something fun is pretty cool.”

Buitenhuis sees making North Vancouver cool as one of her main work objectives.

“People who live and work in North Vancouver, we also want them to be able to play there,” she says. “We don’t want people to have to leave the North Shore for entertainment.”

With that in mind, the Fun City Festival is likely here to stay.

“We’re expecting it to grow every year,” says Buitenhuis. “I hope it’s something that people put in their calendars and make sure that they’re in town for and look forward to. I spoke to a group of three friends – one came from Toronto, another one from Victoria and another came from the East Coast – and they all planned their vacations to meet at Slide the City. It was really cool that that was the destination for their vacation.”

So did Buitenhuis, the woman whose phone call greased the skids for this wild ride, get a chance to get off her feet for a few minutes and onto a tube for the slide?

“I totally slid,” she says with a laugh. “Oh yeah, definitely. It’s so much fun.”