We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.
Local Economy
Photo Essays

Scenes from the Big Shutdown

Joshua Berson's images record an extraordinary time in BC.

Tyee Staff 2 Jun 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Eleven weeks ago today the B.C. government declared a public health emergency, shutting down bars and nightclubs and other businesses not meeting strict measures for limiting transmission of the coronavirus. The big shutdown that began then is lifting some. The masks aren’t going anywhere, but boards are coming off windows and traffic is slowly picking up as phase two of B.C.’s pandemic response kicks in.

The rapid mobilization in the weeks after COVID-19 arrived has been dizzying, with essential workers on edge and everyone nail-bitingly watching the addresses from Dr. Bonnie Henry and company to make sense of our new society.

Photographer Joshua Berson, whose pictures you will have seen in our stories, has been documenting it all since the beginning, from the first responder to the deli counter to the state of Vancouver’s streets.

Berson knew it was historic, though his son had a hard time understanding.

“Dad, you really only take pictures of people and there are no people in these photos,” he said.

“I explained to him that he may never see intersections empty like this again,” said Berson. “One day, I said, you will tell your kid about witnessing these empty streets.”

Here are Berson’s pictures and reflections from a pandemic city.

851px version of Health-Ministry-Press-18.jpg
The March 20 presser with BC Health Minister Adrian Dix, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Nigel Howard, sign-language interpreter. ‘Nigel Howard, deaf interpreter for Dr. Bonnie Henry, emerges as his own cult hero. Right away, people couldn’t stop talking about and watching Nigel at work. How many sign interpreters can brag about being on T-shirts?’
851px version of Broadway-3.jpg
Vancouver’s once-bustling Broadway office corridor.
851px version of Lions-Gate-Bridge.jpg
‘As I was taking photos of the totally empty Stanley Park causeway, there appeared this lone ambulance on the rise of the Lions Gate Bridge.’
851px version of YVR-Grounded.jpg
‘I do about 50 flights a year, mostly with Air Canada, so seeing this grounded plane through the fence made me feel rather nostalgic. I spent a few hours at YVR taking photos of the near total emptiness of the airport. There were whole floors with almost no people.’
851px version of BC-Ferries-Urinal.jpg
‘I took this on a BC ferry as suddenly physical distancing was changing so many aspects of our daily geometry.’
851px version of Robert-Burns.jpg
‘This statue of poet Robbie Burns is at the entrance to Stanley Park and is about three metres tall. I have no idea how someone scaled the statue to install the mask but it sure impressed me.’
851px version of Lions-Gate-Hospital.jpg
Lions Gate Hospital early March, during the first cases of COVID-19.
851px version of Surrey-Hospital.jpg
Surrey Memorial Hospital. ‘People were very reluctant to go the hospital after there had been the first few outbreaks. These new screening security measures started popping up at hospitals — which made a visit even more intimidating for the public but ultimately safer for the staff and patients.’
851px version of APBC-Young.jpg
‘I was astounded by the amount of trauma and human suffering that these young paramedics have seen in their short career — more than many of us would want to see in a lifetime. Paramedics are the most resilient people I have worked with, but COVID-19 had them very worried about themselves and the public. Still, with a brash sense of humour unique to first responders, these folks start their 12-hour shifts joking around.’ Photo taken in Surrey.
851px version of Paramedics-DTES.jpg
‘There is a place in heaven for paramedics, and a special place for those who work Station 248 in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Many of the ambulance attendants who work that station have no desire to work anywhere else, as they have come to know and love the community. I watched these two paramedics patiently talk to and assess this elderly gentleman for almost 30 minutes before tenderly helping him onto the stretcher and into the ambulance. This took place at Hastings and Main on Friday night, surrounded by noise, people and traffic everywhere.’
851px version of St-Paul-Noise.jpg
Pot lids and drumsticks at 7 p.m. near St. Paul’s Hospital.
851px version of St-Pauls-Chalk.jpg
‘There are much fancier signs of thank you for frontline workers, but I like the impermanence of this chalk message in front of St. Paul’s.’
851px version of Granville-Island-Mask.jpg
‘Early in the pandemic, it seemed strange to many folks that Granville Island should be considered an essential service and be allowed to remain open. Although the non-food parts were closed, there were still very few people venturing out to go food shopping in March.’
851px version of Farmers-Market-Mask.jpg
Berson was at a local farmers market and didn’t want to miss this scene, so he snapped it on his phone. ‘Overboard? For sure. But with such style.’
851px version of Empty-Press-Gallery.jpg
‘Dr. Bonnie Henry is even more calming and more brilliant in person that on screen. But what’s particularly amazing is that she delivers her daily briefings to a near-empty room.’
851px version of Press-Conference-Cups.jpg
‘Small things, like the daily individualized water cups, are the specialty of the attentive staff working at the daily press briefings.’
851px version of Rio-Covid.jpg
‘Although I waited for a while for someone to step into this frame, I couldn’t have asked for a more apt subject. Totally unscripted, but wholly appropriate.’
851px version of Insite-Graffiti.jpg
At the Insite supervised consumption site.
851px version of Gastown-Respiratory.jpg
‘On Robson Street, the window coverings were initially covered with meaningless and sometimes racist graffiti. But when the coverings were installed in Gastown, these beautiful thank you messages emerged. I was drawn to photograph this particular illustration as the message was so very specific, thanking respiratory therapists.’
851px version of SisterSquare-Inside.jpg
Taken May 25. ‘Anita Whincup. I was moved by the love and care being handed out with food and clean rigs at the Atira pop-up safe-injection site for women-identifying people across from Oppenheimer Park. I spent an hour talking with the peer-support workers and people using the services while taking photos. As I was leaving, one of the women told me that I should be honoured, as I was the first man to be invited into the space. Truly I was.’


Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free.

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Do not:

  •  Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully, threaten, name-call or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, downvote, or flag suspect activity
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls and flag violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Stay on topic
  • Connect with each other


The Barometer

Tyee Poll: If You Were to Start Fresh in a New Career Path, What Might It Be?

Take this week's poll