Rumours of “collective house” decline have been slightly exaggerated.
Wall Manor photo via Devious Behaviour
From the outside, Wall Manor doesn't look like much.
But over the past 15-plus years, the Vancouver collective house has developed something of a reputation. Nestled on a cliffside next to a railyard in one of the last "affordable" pockets of the city, it's one of dozens of collective houses spread across Vancouver—many with names like The Zulla, Thor's Palace, and Renfrew Over The Cuckoo's Nest—that manage to house artists/activists/alternative types who haven't yet moved to Montreal.
Stepping through the front door, there's a lot to take in—everything from taxidermied snakes, to giant crystal skulls, to jars of stillborn kittens, to something called the "fuck you cupboard" (which is exactly what you'd imagine). The six people (and five cats) who currently live there are the type of freaks you'd expect: Caitlin (aka Ramshackle Bacon Tits) does taxidermy. Rhys (aka Sir Buttercup Vondingus) is an "evil clown" and the studio manager of a local art collective. "Rapture" is a model and artist. Kristy-Lee Audette is a multi-instrumentalist who has performed with artists like Adele, Sloan, Synthcake, and Bend Sinister. Spencer Leslie is a programmer. Jen Little does makeup and bodypaint.
Like any house with such a long history, it's sometimes difficult to differentiate fact from legend; there are stories of their bathtub accidentally ending up on the cover of an Italian magazine, or tales of a relative who died in the building decades ago and was eaten by his own cats. The house itself is owned by Lanny Beckman, a former publisher, CBC host, antipsychiatry activist, and self-professed recluse who lives a few doors down. The day-to-day is handled by his sister Bonnie, whose "folk art" store Beckwoman's was a Commercial Drive institution until it burned down in 2015—infamous for its "eccentric" brand of customer service.
Early on the house was something of a revolving door for tenants ("basically a garbage dump" according to Caitlin), but the current configuration has been stable for several years now. It has not been sold or flipped or turned into condos—proof that the region's over-extended real estate market hasn't entirely stamped out this way of living. Yet. With that in mind, VICE sat down with the Wall Manor gang to talk about landlords, door-to-door realtors, dog spas, and "casual exorcisms."
VICE: So what's the vibe like, from day to day?
Spencer: It can be quiet. It can also be very loud. Things are all over the place. We're six people, all with our own very weird schedules. But it works.
Caitlin: Sometimes you come home and there's a bunch of naked women doing a bodypaint fetish shoot. And they're going 'Don't worry! We'll be wrapped-up by 7:00!' It's a lot of everyone doing their shit. It's a supportive artspace. And we all cross-collaborate. We like to host stuff here. We had a Twin Peaks viewing party a couple nights ago. We do our annual Beast Feast—a snake dinner. I've got a couple of boa constrictors in the freezer that I've taxidermied through the years. So we just eat the remains and dress in black and have casual exorcisms.
What are your favourite selling points?
Rhys: I love the whole thing. I've put so much work into this goddamn house. It's really hard to get me out, actually, unless I'm performing. Why would I leave? Are you kidding me?
Caitlin: One of the best parts is our upstairs bathroom. We call it The Boardroom, and the dress code is business casual. So you have to wear a hat. We've been able to fit eight people in the tub in the past. It's also been the site of some awesome photo shoots. It was accidentally on the cover of an Italian fashion magazine. There's an intercom system in there, too. It goes all through the house, but we don't use it as an intercom. We just use it to play music.
What's your relationship like with your landlord?
Rhys: We've actually had to take her to arbitration over things like raising the rent too much. And repairs. We had crazy leaks in the roof. [Caitlin] had a waterfall in her fucking bedroom for a month.
So, I take it you end up doing a lot of the repairs yourselves.
Rhys: This place is held together with duct tape and popsicle sticks.
Jen: [Laughs] Rhys was pressure-washing a few months ago, and I was worried it was all going to come down.
Rhys: Then there was the staircase. That was pretty funny. I was cleaning up some stuff, and I was bringing some garbage up the back stairs, and Vince who was living here at the time went 'Man, I wouldn't walk up those stairs. They look pretty janky.' And I said 'Yeah, I'll be laughing when I break my neck.' And no word of a lie, I hit the second-last step, and fell right through it into this flowerpot that was underneath. The flowerpot broke my fall, and Vince runs over and he's like: 'Oh my God! Are you okay? Also, is it too early to say I told you so?'
What other kind of work have you had to do?
Caitlin: My suite is all my work. When I moved in, it was just someone's bedroom. Nothing spectacular. It's hard to see, but I've got a bunch of weird, creepy shit in jars. I've got stillborn kittens in there, and animal parts. Coyote tongues. Just anything you might want to mix up a cocktail with. The aquarium has crayfish I use to clean skulls. [Laughs] I'm single.
You guys have all been living together for quite awhile now. Do you have any house rules?
Caitlin: I think honestly, giving a shit helps. When I moved in, this place was basically a garbage dump. And anyone who would move in would go 'I'm going to turn this fucking place around,' but things would just pile up—things like broken windows—and they'd get disheartened and just live in filth. But then, we got the right incarnation of roommates, and it just worked out. When Rhys moved in, he said it, too. And I sort of scoffed and said 'Yeah, that's what they all say. Fuck you.' But he fucking did it. This dude power-washed for three days straight. It was dedication. And the second we saw that someone gave a shit, and wanted the house to be a beautiful space, and not just a shitty rental.
Rhys: There had been years of people leaving shit behind. Artists have a transient lifestyle going on, so when we cleaned it out, it was truck after truck after truck. 23 runs I did to the dump. A lot of it came from this crawl space area—newspapers, furniture, and all sorts of crazy shit.
Caitlin: Now if there's an issue, it's not passive-aggressive, we just say it. For example, I was recently asked to stop burying things in the gardens, because we have strawberries we're trying to harvest. I was under the impression that it was fine, but other people were grossed-out by it. So I've found somewhere else to bury things. We'll have house meetings if it's necessary, but that's typically over sake and sushi. We also have a group Facebook thread. Public shame works. Then sake works, too, afterward, as a peace offering.
What would you do if you had to leave this place?
Caitlin: I'll leave Vancouver. I'm not interested in the fucking housing situation here, or getting renovicted, or dealing with other people.
Jen: If anyone tries to get us out of here illegally, I will fight it. I'll take it to the media, and scream from the rooftops. It's such a terrible situation in this city—especially for artists, or anyone who can barely make ends meet in the first place.
Rhys: Yeah, my claws are sunk into this place. You'll have to drag me out. There'll be claw-marks on the walls.
Jen: I think a lot of people around here have their claws dug in. We have realtors come by all the time. One guy came by and was saying 'Yeah, nobody's giving me any information. Everyone is locked-in. And I was like: 'Yeah. I don't blame them.'
Rhys: Almost weekly now. They come by and go 'I'd like to speak to the owner. Do you own the house?' And I go 'Get the fuck off my property.'
Caitlin: It's not changing around here so much, but definitely up on Hastings. Because it's the "East Village" now. You see all these little Asian grocers turning into brunch places that are lined-up every weekend. And most concerning of all, there's a fucking dog spa. Dog spas and dog physiotherapy? Fuck off. But this neighbourhood? I call it Murderville. It's dangerous. Tell your friends. There are bodies everywhere.
*Conversation has been edited for length and clarity.