VANCOUVER — At the same time each night, Rev. Gary Paterson and about half a dozen other neighbours gather at least two metres apart on the rooftop patio of their building in Vancouver’s west end.
They don’t know who will signal the beginning, and everyone’s clocks are slightly different, but just before 7 p.m., they hear clapping in the distance.
“It’s usually at about two minutes to seven, like people can’t restrain their enthusiasm, and then it starts to move like a wave,” he said Wednesday. The applause is for health-care workers and other essential service providers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s a practice that became commonplace in Italy, which has recorded more deaths from the novel coronavirus than anywhere else and has taken hold in British Columbia.
Paterson said the first few nights were quieter, but the wave has grown in strength.
“Last night was incredible. There just seems to be more and more people. People swinging open their windows and clapping and leaning out. People on balconies and somebody blowing a trumpet somewhere — just a wonderful response from the whole community,” he said.
For Paterson, a United Church minister, the message is personal.
Not only is his daughter an emergency room nurse, but he went through a tough time medically last year.
He had a hip replacement, emergency bowel surgery that saved his life and a colostomy reversal.
“It made me incredibly appreciative and impressed by the health-care workers from doctors and nurses to all those who kept things clean. Now I realize they’re in the midst of this crisis and it doesn’t stop them,” he said.
The phenomenon is spreading.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps took up the call Wednesday, urging people to lean out the window or stand on their balconies at 7 p.m. each night to make some noise in honour of people serving on the frontlines of the pandemic.
“Go out on your balcony, on your front porch, bang a tambourine, bang a pot,” she said.
“We’re doing this because it’s a way to spread joy, it’s the way to have a little bit of fun. Most importantly though, it’s a way to give a very heartfelt thank you to the nurses and doctors and frontline workers, people working in health care, the grocery store clerks, all of the people who are working so hard right now to keep us all safe and healthy.”
Fiona Burrows said she was inspired to bring the practice to her neighbourhood in New Westminster.
“I live less than a kilometre away from Royal Columbian Hospital and I have friends and neighbours in my community here who work at the hospital and I thought what a great way to show our appreciation for what they’re doing,” she said.
— With a file from the Times Colonist