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Brother carvers Frank and Danse remembered by Vancouver's Commercial Drive community

·2 min read
A photo of Frank and Danse posted at their memorial on Commercial Drive in East Vancouver. (Karin Larsen/CBC - image credit)
A photo of Frank and Danse posted at their memorial on Commercial Drive in East Vancouver. (Karin Larsen/CBC - image credit)

Ed Wilkerson remembers the first time he met Frank and Randy Williams, better known as Frank and Danse.

It was 15 years ago. One of the brothers came into Wilkerson's Home Hardware on Commercial Drive in Vancouver to ask if they could do some carving on the sidewalk in front of the store.

"I said, 'Go right ahead.' I've always encouraged people rather than panhandling to do something artistic or something that's of value," said Wilkerson. "And that's basically how our relationship started."

In no time, Frank and Danse, members of the Ahousaht First Nation on Vancouver Island, became fixtures on the Drive, creating and selling masterful carvings from "their office," as Wilkerson calls it, while chatting with and charming passers-by.

But with the recent deaths of the two men, "the office" is now memorial site, set with photos, flowers, a feather and words of tribute.

Karin Larsen/CBC
Karin Larsen/CBC

"You will be missed," reads one of the cards. "Enjoy your next journey."

Online, sister Merrilee Phyfiher said Frank passed away on April 1 and Danse on May 27, his brother's birthday.

"Parents were Joseph Frank Williams, Ahousaht band member [and] mother Marion Rose Dick, Mowachaht band member. We're survivors of residential school, foster care, childhood abuse, PTSD [and] trauma survivors. Brothers were carvers, great stories told by both," said Phyfiher.

"They were very proud to be Indigenous and at the same time, very independent," said Wilkerson. "They liked to make their own way in life. It was kind of a hard life, but it was their way of dealing with society."

'All the handsome ones'

A short video called Carvers on Commercial Drive, made in 2012 by journalist George Orr, provides a glimpse into the brothers' struggles while showcasing their talents.

It also captures their sweet and funny nature.

"Me and my brother come from Ahousaht," said Frank, smiling to camera, "where all the handsome ones come from."

Carvers on Commercial Drive/George Orr/youtube
Carvers on Commercial Drive/George Orr/youtube

Memories of Frank and Danse have also been shared in the B.C. Legislature by area MLA Melanie Mark, whose constituency office is near their former "office."

"The brothers were renowned on the Drive for their beautiful carvings and their generous spirit. Many of us benefited from a humorous anecdote, a kind word or helpful advice from Frank and Danse over the years," she said.

"Their death certificates don't say it, but these two remarkable men died victims of systemic anti-Indigenous racism."

Friend Kathy Ho is helping raise money to bring family members to a memorial planned for Grandview Park on June 23.

"They were a spirited part of the community and they were loved," she said.

With Wilkerson's blessing, another group plans to install a plaque outside Home Hardware in remembrance of the brothers.

"Ideally, we'll put it in a spot where it's highly visible," said Wilkerson.

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