'Just a real sweet lady': Strathcona community comes together to help Annie the bottle lady

·2 min read

If you live in Vancouver's Strathcona neighbourhood, you've probably crossed paths with Annie. She's the elderly Chinese woman who has a big smile glued to her face and is quick to pick up your empties.

"She was always walking around with a smile on her face ... I enjoyed her being in the neighborhood," said studio owner and resident Valerie Arntzen about the area just east of Chinatown.

Annie, whose real name is Anhi Sy, doesn't speak much English. The 82-year-old moved to Canada in the 1970s and lives in social housing on Hastings Street. She was known for working hard to pick up cans and even leaving candies behind for people.

But just a short while ago, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and is undergoing radiation treatment.

Andrew Dadson/GoFundMe
Andrew Dadson/GoFundMe

When the community found out the news, it began rallying around her to raise money to support her during this difficult time.

Andrew Dadson, a Vancouver-artist who has lived in Strathcona for nearly two decades, started an online fundraiser. He was hoping to raise $1,000, but so far more than $12,000 has come in.

But in true Annie-fashion, she's doesn't want any of the fuss or the attention. But her impact on the community has everyone wanting to show their appreciation for her.

"She is just really sweet about it. We knew she didn't have a ton of family so Strathcona became her family and social life and everything," said Dadson.

He first met Sy 18 years ago, when he and friends would play soccer at MacLean Park every Sunday.

"She has watched us have families and grow up and have children ... she has been a part of our lives for a while," said Dadson.

Sonja Schmidt/GoFundMe
Sonja Schmidt/GoFundMe

After a while she would learn when the games were and would show up to collect the cans, then she would even come to people's homes after parties to collect the empties. Sometimes helping clean up while the party was going on.

"She was just really sweet, bringing you candies, she never wanted anything but was always working hard collecting cans, she was just a real sweet lady around the neighbourhood," he said.

He said she would refer to everyone as "handsome boy" and "beautiful lady" — even leaving notes at their doorsteps after collecting cans.

GoFundMe Page
GoFundMe Page

Dadson would often help fix her cart.

"She put so many miles on it, the wagon would break down. After a while, I bought her a new cart ... but she didn't want it. She said my cart is fine. So a new cart sat in my studio for a month, before her other cart was stolen and finally she came and said okay, I'll take your cart," he said.

He says that cart, too, was worn down from Sy working so hard.