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Vancouver proclaims March 11 ‘Smokey D. Day’ in honour of DTES graffiti artist’s 25+ years of community service

James Hardy, the graffiti artist known as Smokey Devil, stands with his son on the Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, after attending a proclamation by the City of Vancouver, declaring March 11, 2023 as Smokey D. Day. (Twitter, Sarah Blyth-Gerszak) James Hardy, the graffiti artist known as Smokey Devil, stands with his son on the Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, after attending a proclamation by the City of Vancouver, declaring March 11, 2023 as Smokey D. Day. (Twitter, Sarah Blyth-Gerszak)
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A locally renowned graffiti artist living in the Downtown Eastside will celebrate an extra-special birthday on Saturday, after the City of Vancouver proclaimed March 11, 2023 as “Smokey D. Day.”

Cheers and applause erupted inside city hall Thursday night, as James Hardy—the artist dubbed Smokey Devil—was recognized for his more than 25 years of community service on the Downtown Eastside through his murals, which range from memorials to public service announcements.

Speaking to CTV News on Friday, Smokey said he was overwhelmed by the honour.

“It’s a big step for all of us down here, a win for all of us. It’s for everyone,” he said.

The official proclamation highlights some of Smokey’s best work, including murals about the ongoing overdose crisis, information about COVID-19 and awareness campaigns for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“Smokey is a bridge builder between the DTES and Chinatown—his work as a community liaison to Chinatown is helping to combat some of the complex issues they are facing including anti-Asian violence,” the document reads.

When asked what he wishes people knew about graffiti, Smokey responded “We’re not all vandals or scumbags drawing on people’s cars and houses and stuff like that. We’re artists too, right?”

The city’s tribute also notes Smokey’s role as one of the founders of the DTES Artist Collective group, which “pushed for Vancouver’s first ever legal graffiti wall that is now a reality.”

During the official proclamation at city hall Thursday, music by the band AC/DC could be heard playing in the background.

“He wanted to party, you know?” Smokey told CTV News. “They gave me cake with my name on it and everything, it was very cool.”

Sarah Blyth-Gerszak, an advocate for Vancouver’s homeless population, said the mayor bringing in his record player “was a highlight.”

“It really couldn’t have been better for Smokey and no one is more deserving. It means a lot to the DTES community as well,” Blyth wrote on Twitter alongside a video of the event.

She thanked councillors Brian Montague and Christine Boyle for working with her and fellow advocate Trey Helton on making the proclamation for Smokey official.

Helton is the one credited with first suggesting that the city proclaim March 11 Smokey D. Day back in January, which was officially green lit two weeks ago.

The city also noted in its proclamation that a documentary called “Smoke Devil Underworld Street Reporter” is being made about the graffiti artist, who is lovingly nicknamed “the newspaper of the DTES.”

Nathaniel Canuel, the documentarian behind the project, wrote online Thursday that it was a “proud day for the Eastside.”

“How many (graffiti) artists can say they’ve had a day named after them?” Canuel said in the post. “Smokey Devil is my favourite artist and I’m trying to tell his story.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up in support of the project and has so far reached nearly $2,400 of its $5,000 goal.

On Saturday, Smokey plans to celebrate turning 54 years old with a big party at the Overdose Prevention Society’s building on 141 East Hastings Street.

“Six o’clock—if anyone wants to come, they’re welcome,” said Smokey, whose son turned 17 years old on Thursday, and celebrated with dad at the mayor’s office.

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