Speakers Bureau Workshop storyteller consultant, vendor and photographer
A valuable piece of ‘the human mosaic’ remembered
Iconic Vancouver advocate Gerald "Spike" Peachey won’t be forgotten
May 23, 1965 — May 10, 2021
By Nicolas Crier
"Society needs to begin to see us not only as human beings, they have to see us as a valuable piece of the human mosaic."
For years, Gerald Peachey, known by everyone around Vancouver as "Spike," was often recognized by one thing: his black top hat. It suited him so well—that eye-catching Slash-style hat perched upon a head of long, dark, curly locks framing a handsome, gentle face. He sported a handle-bar moustache and that constant cheshire cat smile, kinda looking like an outlaw biker in a suit, maybe fresh out of rehab, but reformed only in as many ways as he'd allow, without compromising his allegiance to the dark gods of rock and rebellion.
The unique accessory was typical of his iconic character: he was as cool as a rock star. And let me tell you, he loved his metal: Black Sabbath, Megadeth, Iron Maiden and Metallica were all close to Spike's exceptionally large and socially conscientious heart. But they couldn't get any closer, 'cause Judas Priest owned that heart.
In addition to the top hat, anyone who knew him knows what his signature was: the rock and roll hand horns
Sadly, the world lost this icon forever a week ago, as Spike died at age 55. And if we in the DTES have anything to say about this immense tragedy, it is that his community will never forget him, nor what he did for the people who live here.
I first met Spike through our shared experience as storytellers in the 2017 speaker series known as How to Save a Life: Frontline Stories, hosted by Megaphone in partnership with the Overdose Prevention Society. It was during his powerfully eloquent share at Mount Pleasant Neighborhood House—a heart-wrenching tale of the unfairness and misfortunes that had brought him to the hard streets of East Vancouver and into the darkest years of his substance use survival—when I'd heard him utter the words that opened this article.
“The human mosaic.” Wow. I instantly had mad respect for the guy.
True to his nature, Spike chose to open his talk that evening with a flair for the theatrical—a lights down, heavy metal rising musical walk-on, for which he received exactly what he'd aimed for: a hyped-up crowd of "normies," all willing to sit in a bit of discomfort and swallow a stiff shot of truth in trauma, "spiked" with pure, compassionate resonance.
Also true to his nature, he closed out the gathering by calling for a moment of silence in honour of the relentlessly rising number of overdose fatalities we'd all witnessed over the last few years. Preceding this moment of remembrance, he invited audience members to speak the names of anyone they had lost out loud, lest they be forgotten.
Five names, then 10, then 20, 25… to hear them called out across a room that grew ever more silent with each name was a moment that affected him deeply.
I was there, and saw his head hang heavy with grief and turmoil, because that was who Spike was: a genuinely sensitive soul, bravely processing unthinkable loss, all the while knowing it was pretty much preventable, if only we would learn to love one another instead of judging and ostracizing vulnerable, hurting people.
If you ask me, Spike was on the level of a shaman or guru regarding this issue. Clearly enlightened, and still so humbled by his call to represent the voice of the fallen.
In large part, thanks to Spike, that first experience of sharing a stage to address stigma against drug users actually became a career move for me. Megaphone decided to expand the four-event series into a full-fledged program called Speakers Bureau, which to this day, five years later, is not only the most successfully effective pilot program I've ever seen... it's still my job.
Spike didn't quite get a chance to stick around and watch the original Speakers Bureau roster bond through the sharing of our lived experiences and stories of personal struggle crafted into moving narratives of resilience. The group bloomed like the famous cherry blossoms of springtime Vancouver into a tight-knit team of public defenders of Spike’s beloved Downtown Eastside, and he missed being a part of that only because his destiny was already rising on an even more publically epic trajectory: he decided to toss his top hat into the running in the 2018 municipal election.
His candidacy target? City councillor.
His battle cry? LET'S PUT A SPIKE IN CITY HALL!
The campaign's theme song? "We're not gonna take it!" by Twisted Sister, of course.
You see, at this point in time, because Spike was one of the first local opiate users to participate in the NAOMI trials (The North American Opiate Medication Initiative), he had been receiving pharmaceutical-grade heroin for free, dispensed in a regulated daily dosage, and injected under medical supervision in a safe space. He continued in this program—among the first in North America—for about a year-and-a-half. This allowed him a life-altering amount of freedom from hustling on the street to sustain his substance through any means he could in the city's notoriously risky illicit drug market. And because of this, he was able to gain a bit of stability, a smidgen of self-confidence. A really bright smidgen… to go with the drive that was already there, and always had been.
At some point in Spike’s life, someone with visionary skills had told this kid to shoot for the stars. So that is exactly what he did.
And wouldn't you know it? He won nearly 3,000 votes. Maybe it wasn’t the first time a drug user ever ran for election in this town, but it certainly was the first time one was taken seriously. Three thousand votes.
On election day, I went and cast my ballot, along with many of Spike’s fans and friends, including Crackdown podcast founder and host Garth Mullins.
"I knew Spike for about seven years. But he wasn't even present for my fave Spike moment: I got to put an ‘X’ next to his name,” Mullins said. “Imagine if that beautiful dreamer had won!"
Yes. Imagine. A drug user from East Van, from "Pain and Wastings," on the municipal council of the most progressive city in Canada. Now that's what I call civic innovation.
Following the election, Spike landed a contract with the nurses and nurse practitioners’ union to run custom anti-stigma workshops, called the Anti-Stigma Zone, which he designed and facilitated himself.
“The Anti-Stigma Zone has been created to remind people that we are all the same,” Spike said. “There is far too much hatred in the world.”
And if our shamelessly judgmental society ever doubted him or laughed at him behind his back, he just left them there and kept moving forward. He started up his own thing and believed in it, so others believed in him and pretty soon he had rooms full of professional listening to his story and even hiring him for it Because he knew he had a message, a positive rally cry for unity, that people wanted to hear, needed to hear.
So he took up the mantle and carried it proudly every day of his life with the Anti-Stigma Zone. Workshops, networking, classic business acumen; walked it like talked it, that was Spike. He did this not to be a "hero" or "helper," but because he loved people and found himself ideally positioned to do what someone else might never get the chance to. He addressed the unnecessary divisions and harm our "progressive" society manifests generation after generation through ignorance, imposition and plain old human insecurity.
Spike was more than an advocate or activist, and more than a quirky champion in the fight against stigma. He was a light of hope for his community, refusing to let them be swept aside or misunderstood. He was an authentic human battling inhumane odds, and he did it with profound grace and a whole lotta ballsy instinct—gleaned from years of having been slighted and ushered into the shadowy margins himself.
As one close friend, Oona, so aptly expressed: "Absolutely no part of himself excluded any other part. He was a strangely congruent character for all his internal divergences."
Spike was a force to be reckoned with, and as such, his legacy is secured in the small, strong and spiritually engaged community he called home. He was a survivor among survivors, rocking and rolling in true solidarity and in spite of the systems of oppression he rallied against so honourably. He was an invaluable part of what he himself referred to as the "human mosaic" and I highly doubt we'll see another Gerald "Spike" Peachey in this generation, or the next.
For that, we are blessed to have had him at all.
Thank you, my friend. In the. traditions of these unceded Coast Salish lands we've shared for such a brief time, I raise my hands to you. O siem! Hiy Hiy!
Rest in rock, my friend. Save a shot for me, bro.