About Tommy

I’ve always been a geographer. Since I was in grade two in Mrs. Harvalias’s class at David Lloyd George Elementary School in Vancouver, I’ve been fascinated with people and places and their stories. Mrs. Harvalias was from Greece and I spent every recess scouring the 1980s globe, almost half of which was labelled U.S.S.R., looking for Greece. I finally gave up after what seemed like months and Mrs. Harvalias had to show me on the globe where Greece was. While I was unsuccessful at locating Greece on the globe, in the process of searching for it on the globe, I mastered the location of every other country and many other geographic features.

I spent much of my childhood reading atlases and books about various countries and cultures. I collected coins from all over the world. The world came to me during Expo 86. My dad had enough money to take me in the final weeks. I got my passport stamped at as many countries’ pavillions as I could at Expo.

We didn’t get to travel much ourselves, my family, because we didn’t have a lot of money. A family vacation to Cultus Lake or Harrison Hot Springs was a big deal. My idea of international travel was going on a drive with my parents to Point Roberts to buy cheap American gas. Not exactly a cosmopolitan experience, to say the least. I was fascinated in my late 1980s jaunts across the border that the Americans still used one dollar bills. But I digress.

My first-time on an airplane was a really big deal for me. It was 1994 and I was in grade nine and it was very hard times in my family. We were on welfare and I attended Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School on the West Side of Vancouver. My Social Studies class was divided into groups to each submit a geography research project to the American Express Geography Competition. It just so happened that my group project won second prize! I and four other students who were part of my group were treated to a weekend on the town in Toronto all expenses paid by American Express. I thought I had won the lottery. I fell in love with Toronto on that trip — a love that would only grow on my subsequent visits over the years.

When I returned home to the difficult circumstances under which I was growing up, it was clear to me that geography was my path to lift myself up. The following school year in grade 10, I was admitted into the pre-International Baccalaureate program at Churchill. I was a promising student in an elite group of kids, but I myself came from a home of poverty, which I desperately hid from everyone at school.

I was also gay and effeminate, which was not an okay way to be at Vancouver public schools in the 90s. I was up against a lot and I started going downtown to a queer youth group at the Gay and Lesbian Centre. I experimented with alcohol and marijuana. I got a job. This all made attending school, already a hostile environment for me as a gay youth, all the more difficult. I ended up dropping out of IB and not even graduating grade 12. Although, I did stick with IB Geography 12, which I completed with flying colours. I also won some other geographic competition around that time.

Shortly after high school, I got away from my dysfunctional home enviroment and moved out on my own. Well, with roommates, to be more accurate. Those were the days. Every day was a party and I lived a fabulous bohemian lifestyle at Fraser & Broadway in East Vancouver and beyond. I went on many trips…

Things didn’t get serious again until 2003 when I returned to my academic development and started working on my bachelors. I graduated Simon Fraser University in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours majoring in Geography. I had a 4.12 GPA and I won the Canadian Association of Geographers award to graduating geography undergrads.

After fighting my own battle against mass eviction of all the tenants from the apartment building in which I resided while attending SFU, I turned my attention to the redevelopment of the Little Mountain Housing Project, where I had lived for a few years as a young child. I got a full scholarship to the UBC Geography Master of Arts program under the supervision of Dr. Elvin Wyly and Dr. David Ley. This was a dream come true for me and such an honour to work with such big name academics. I met this challenge with everything I had and I strove for total perfection in all my work as a graduate student. Telling the story of Little Mountain – and documenting what I could of it before it was demolished – was everything I lived for. It was more than a thesis for me, it was a labour of love that broke my heart.

What happened at Little Mountain was a humanitarian tragedy that I do not particularly enjoy recalling. After my thesis, I simply could not write about Little Mountain anymore. It was too emotionally exhausting after living and breathing and dreaming about it for almost four years at that point. I have a hard time even looking at Little Mountain as it is now and have avoided it for almost a decade. I returned only once as part of a commemoration of the 10 year anniversary since the beginning of the displacements.

For the past decade, I have almost exclusively pursued non-academic affairs. Although I have always continued to read and observe and think analytically about everything from local to world events. But I just found it too difficult to speak. Now I feel that I can no longer be silent. The world is changing rapidly and in ways that inspire fear and anxiety in us. I cannot take the privilege of silence. I want to re-engage with public and political discourse in a serious way. That is my reason for creating this blog.