Thursday, October 29, 2009

Premier's desk a thing of beauty

Arthur Vickers crafted the Leadership Desk from old-growth cedar long ago salvaged from a burn pile. The spectacular desk will be used by the premier of British Columbia. Photograph by Arnold Lim.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
October 29, 2009


The premier’s new desk is a work of art.

The artist Arthur Vickers has created what he calls the Leadership Desk in the form of a large bentwood box. He has painted figures from First Nations’ iconography on all sides of what is breathtaking, one-of-a-kind piece.

The artist offered a sneak peek at his creation yesterday in a room on the ground floor of the Union Club. The desk is to be moved today (Thursday) to the premier’s office at the Legislature.

Mr. Vickers, 62, enjoyed showing off some of the unique features.

“No drawers,” he said, chuckling. “A desk with no drawers.”

He stepped to one side, turning his large but nimble artist’s hands palms up, fingers resting beneath the overhang.

“The top,” he said, pausing as though performing a magic trick, “does lift off.”

He smiled like a man satisfied that 42 long months of creative endeavor had ended in so satisfying a style.

The attention to detail is remarkable. The vertical grain matches along all four sides of the desk, a challenge he described as monumental.

Even his painting of figures presented difficulties. More typically, he paints on a canvas placed on an easel. For the desk, he used sign painter’s paint, like those used on billboards, for its durability in withstanding the fading effects of sunlight. After decades as a painter, he needed to familiarize himself with paints of unfamiliar qualities, not to mention brushes for which he was unaccustomed.

To prevent spills, he made stencils to protect completed sections.

After the design was approved, Mr. Vickers began hunting for recovered wood, seeking an “old grey ghost” of a dead standing tree. He found the perfect sample stored by friends who own the Cowichan Shipyard at Cowichan Bay, where the artist now lives and operates a gallery.

The couple salvaged the cedar from a burn pile more than two decades ago, storing it at the shipyard for possible future use in the building of a boat. Instead, that wood will now rest in the premier’s office.

The artist spent some time contemplating the wood before finding in it the final shape.

“You look at it and talk to it,” he said. “It’s hard to think consciously how this is going to happen, but when you let go, subconsciously it tells you.”

He sat in a chair facing the desk, describing the striking image painted in red and black on the facing panel.

“As you look at the front of the desk, you’re looking at an eagle, its wings are spread open as a blanket of protection for a young eaglet that is looking right at us.

“We’re looking at a farly helpkess young eaglet in the nest. Without the care and protection of the parent, it wouldn’t survive. But with guidance, care and protection, it will grow to be the eagle we see there.”

The designs on the back panel include a male and female with arms outstretched in an entrusting gesture. They represent the current generation of British Columbians, while the side panels depicts a future generation awaiting birth.

Mr. Vickers was born in Vancouver to a mother of English and Canadian ancestry and a father of Tsimshian and Heiltsuk lineage. He spent his childhood in the Tsimshian village of Kitkatla, where he spent much time with his grandfather, a fisherman and canoe carver.

The boy learned to carve, later working as a fisherman and finishing carpenter himself. He dedicated himself fulltime as an artist only in 1989, after suffering what he describes as “a horrific breakdown” after constructing, in longhouse-style, the Eagle Aerie Gallery in Tofino for his brother, fellow artist Roy Henry Vickers.

Arthur Vickers was named to the Order of B.C. last year for raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities by donating artwork.

He hopes his desk will not be treated as an untouchable artwork. The dents and scratches a working desk receives adds a patina of history, he said, another layer in the stories to be found in his latest work.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Pointed Sticks take a poke at a comeback

The Pointed Sticks were the toppermost of the poppermost in the early Vancouver punk-new wave scene. The band — (from left) Bill Napier-Hemy, Tony Bardach, Gord Nicholl, Ian Tiles and Nick Jones — releases its second album on Sunday, after a 29-year hiatus.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
October 28, 2009


The Pointed Sticks was the band that was supposed to make it.

They won a Georgia Straight battle-of-the-bands contest; released head-bopping singles about love and heartache; got spotted by a talent scout and signed to Stiff Records, joining a stable including the likes of Elvis Costello.

The Vancouver Sun’s music critic praised the Sticks for showing “a freshness of purpose, a sharp sense of melody and beat, and a flair for catchy pop.”

They even appeared as a band sending a crowd into a pogoing frenzy in the Dennis Hopper movie, “Out of the Blue.”

They were Green Day a generation before Green Day, power-pop punksters with snappy lyrics and more hooks than a boxing champion.

Their epitaph was concise.

Founded in 1978. Signed in 1979. Released album in 1980. Broke up in 1981.

And that was supposed to be that.

“When we broke up there was no hint of a reunion,” said Nick Jones, the vocalist. “Ever. It was over. It was done. And after 20 years, you come to terms with it.”

Some band members continued in music. Families were started. Mr. Jones tried the 9-to-5 schtick, but wound up instead traveling the continent handling merchandise sales for major acts.

The Pointed Sticks remained little more than a memory of a glorious time in Vancouver’s music.

Most of those bands had long since dispersed, except for D.O.A., whose frontman happened to own a cottage-industry record company. On tour, Joey Keithley discovered strong interest in the halcyon days of the city’s punk-new wave explosion. He reissued the Sticks’ music. Sales were good, especially, of all places, in Japan.

The distributor there asked the Pointed Sticks to perform. The request seemed absurd. The band had long ago split. Their drummer, the legendary Ken (Dimwit) Montgomery, had died. Some of the fellows had not even seen one another in more than a decade.

After some back and forth, the distributor promised to cover all travel, hotel and food.

Free trip to Japan? That appealed. Besides, if they sucked, no one back home would know.

The first rehearsals were understandably awkward. Soon enough, though, the reformed band — keyboardist Gord Nicholl, bassist Tony Bardach, drummer Ian Tiles, and guitarist Bill Napier-Hemy — was ready for the long trek. They had been booked for just three gigs.

You can see the result on YouTube. The Japanese audience, young enough to be their children, know the lyrics, belting them out phonetically, undoubtedly memorized during repeated listening.

“Watching those kids go absolutely ballistic,” Mr. Jones said, “was heartwarming.”

The overseas success meant they were obligated to do a show in Vancouver. They practiced some more. The hometown show went well. They have since performed in Toronto, New York, and Austin, Tex.

They also decided to return to writing songs. Mr. Nicholl sent music to Mr. Jones, who would write lyrics before sending them back.

“It was like writing a song by mail,” Mr. Jones said from New Orleans, where he was preparing for an AC/DC concert as a tour administrator for Live Nation.

The process was more satisfying than it had been half-a-lifetime earlier.

“When the clock’s not ticking,” Mr. Jones aid, “being creative is a lot easier.”

The result will be unveiled on Sunday, when Northern Electric releases “Three Lefts Make a Right,” featuring 13 new Pointed Sticks songs.

In the music business, it is said you get a lifetime to prepare your first album, but only six months for the second. Taking 29 years between releases is one way to avoid the sophomore jinx.

Born in Scotland, raised in North Vancouver, Mr. Jones was part of the suburban invasion that briefly made Vancouver seem like Liverpool circa 1962 with such bands as D.O.A., the Furies, the Subhumans, Young Canadians, Modernettes, Dishrags, U-J3RK5, and others.

The singers said the new album is not a mere exercise in nostalgia.

“I don’t feel we’re trying to relive that era,” he said, “though it is definitely reverential.”
One nod to the past is a Bardach-composed song titled, “Igor Said,” about the hulking doorman who checked I.D.s at the entrance to the Smilin’ Buddha cabaret on East Hastings Street.

A listen to some of the tracks shows the Pointed Sticks (yes, the name comes from the Monty Python sketch “Self-Defence Against Fresh Fruit”) still have as much snap, crackle and pop as a fresh box of Rice Krispies.

In his nervous excitement about the upcoming release, Mr. Jones confesses to allowing himself what can be described as a fantasy with a punchline.

He likes to imagine the band being nominated for a Juno — “for best new artist.”

Afterword: The Sun pop critic who praised the Sticks’ music? These days, Vaughn Palmer critiques politicians, still evaluating ne’er-do-wells without respectable jobs based on their record.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cancer diagnosis leads doctor on literary discovery

As a Social Credit MLA, Dr. Howard McDiarmid helped create Pacific Rim National Park before building the new Wickaninnish Inn at Tofino. Photograph by Deddeda Stemler.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
October 26, 2009


Three years ago, Dr. Howard McDiarmid received a grave diagnosis.

He had leukemia. He would need chemotherapy.

As a doctor himself, he knew only too well the ramifications.

Many thoughts come with such news. Family. Friends. One’s own mortality.

Dr. McDiarmid also had a less typical reaction.

Time to start writing.

It was a tall order for someone who had not written anything much longer than a patient’s prescription.

The doctor was unsentimental about his own predicament.

“It was important to get the story out,” he told me recently, “before I croaked.”

The tale was about how a prairie boy became a country doctor in an isolated fishing village before adding a politician’s duty to his working day, gaining the nickname “the friend of the drinking man,” while also helping turn a spectacular beach into a national park before building a world-class resort.

There was also tragedy in his story, which he acknowledges but about which he does not dwell.

At 82, the doctor retains an impish sense of humour, expressed by a vocabulary displaying a familiarity with several of the more popular vulgarisms, which he uses as punctuation when he tells a story.

The banker’s son toted bags in summer as a bellboy at the Banff Springs Hotel, earning enough in salary and tips to finance medical studies in Winnipeg. He interned in Vancouver, choosing the coast as a means of avoiding yet another prairie winter. He pursued a pretty nurse to Bermuda, where, sitting on a hill overlooking an azure harbour and a city of pastel homes, he proposed marriage, saying, “Let me take you away from all this.”

The couple moved to Tofino, where he became the only doctor for miles and she worked in the hospital, filling in as his surgical nurse assistant. He spent three days a week in Tofino, two days in Ucluelet, piloting a Chevy Bel Air along the washboard road connecting the two isolated communities.

Dr. McDiarmid delivered about 100 babies every year. His own family was growing, three sons followed by a fourth pregnancy. His wife, the former Lynn Honeyman, suffered from nausea and fatigue. Coincidentally, he had samples provided by company touting a new wonder drug.

A daughter, named Karen, was born with severe disabilities. She died young. The drug was thalidomide. His wife was the only patient to whom he prescribed the samples, which, tragic as that was, provided some relief. The guilt was as much as he could bear.

In 1966, he decided to run for office, a move that did not win unanimous approval in his own household. “I married you for better or for worse,” his wife told him, “but not for politics.” He belonged to Social Credit in a riding of resource workers, many of them staunch unionists. The NDP incumbent had won five consecutive elections over 14 years.

He knew Socreds were seen as either “right-of-centre pragmatists,” or “anti-union, right-wing zealots.” Dr. McDiarmid presented himself as a middle-of-the-road maverick.

The Socreds were masters at hoopla on the hustings. A three-piece band was hired and the singer Rudolph Boyce, of Barbados, who had been befriended on a Caribbean holiday, was imported to Vancouver Island for the campaign.

Since no signs were permitted within 500 feet of a polling station, the campaign had a plane circle at that height while trailing a banner reading, “Stay on top. Vote McDiarmid.”

He ran on two planks — a promise to improve Highway 4, and a promise to create an oceanside national park. He scored an upset.

He joined a Socred caucus headed by W.A.C. Bennett, a teetotaler not alone in his temperance. When the government reduced the number of liquor outlets in Port Alberni, the doctor made a plea in the Legislature on behalf of his beer-loving lumberjack and fishermen constituents. The passion with which he presented his case led a wag to dub him the “drinking man’s friend.”

After two years as a backbencher, with another election approaching, he at last won an audience with the premier, who also served as finance minister and chairman of the Treasury Board.

Dr. McDiarmid took a seat in the premier’s office.

“Well,” Mr. Bennett asked, “what do you need?”

Two things, the MLA replied. First, a switchback on the treacherous highway needed to be relocated.

How much?

The MLA provided an estimate. The premier dialed the deputy highways minister for confirmation of the cost. Before he hung up the telephone, the premier told the doctor, “It’s just had Treasury Board approval.”

What one-man government lacks in democracy it delivers in efficiency.

The doctor then outlined the importance of the creation of a park to his own re-election chances.

“You will get your park,” the premier vowed.

The doctor won re-election by just 329 votes out of more than 15,000 ballots.

Sure enough, the Pacific Rim National Park was established in 1971, preserving Long Beach and some of the most spectacular scenery in the land.

While many were responsible for its creation, the doctor feels the premier would not have put his name behind the project if it would not have benefitted his party.

“I knew in my heart that if there hadn’t been a Socred in Alberni at that time promoting the park it never would have happened,” Dr. McDiarmid said. “He wouldn’t have spent the money.”

By 1972, the doctor had moved to Victoria. The doc proved a bit too rough-hewn for the matrons of Oak Bay. He was thrashed at the polls.

The highway back in Alberni was repaired, but the new NDP MLA got to cut the ribbon.

Many years later, Dr. McDiarmid helped build the new Wickaninnish Inn with a group of investors. The resort is now family owned and managed by one of his three sons.

After his leukemia diagnosis, the doctor hired a typist and a topnotch copy editor. He got Grace McCarthy, a former party leader, to write a foreword and a postscript for his 103-page memoir, “Pacific Rim Park.”

He ordered 300 copies printed, for which he is charging $18.95.

It is a rollicking, funny book, a quick read that offers insight into a raucous era in provincial politics.

His cancer in remission, he’s thinking he might have time to write an entire book about the Wick Inn.

This, too, must be said.

Any friend of the drinking man is a friend of mine.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

From academic obscurity to digital discovery

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
October 21, 2009


The authors spent untold sleepless nights fueled by coffee and a combination of dread and expectation. Surrounded by stacks of dog-eared books, armed with a thick yellow Hi-Liter, the culmination of years of study is expressed in the composition of a thesis.

Or, as it is often known, a Damned Thesis.

Once completed, this intellectual masterwork is professionally hard bound, carefully assigned a library designation, and promptly ignored.

Neglected by fellow academics and forgotten by all save one’s own closest kin, the vast majority of these papers exist in the purgatorial semidarkness of dusty library shelves.

All that is about to change.

The University of British Columbia is embarking on an ambitious project to make available online all the master’s theses and doctoral dissertations ever accepted by the school.

We’re talking 33,500 titles (many of them convoluted, relying heavily on the use of the colon). On completion, some five million pages of (often dense) text will be posted.

That’s a lot of footnotes.

“You never know what is going to be of interest to someone somewhere somehow down the road,” said university archivist Christopher Hives.

Since the fall of 2007, post-graduate students have been able to file their theses and dissertations electronically, a process Mr. Hives compares with filing income tax online. One assumes it is about as easy to access — and about as painful to prepare.

The next step was to also place online all the papers filed earlier.

“It would be nice,” the archivist says, “to give these guys the same exposure.”

In the past, a researcher had to look up the author, or subject, in a catalogue, then read through the document on microfiche, an unpleasant, headache-inducing experience limited, somewhat blessedly, to library hours.

Soon, all the papers can be searched from the comfort of your home at any time of the day on any day of the year. A university’s entire scholarly output in its history available after a few keystrokes.

“Discovery becomes easy,” Mr. Hives said.

The UBC Retrospective Theses Digitization Project began with submissions from 1992. The reason? Those papers, stored in the basement of Library Processing Centre, had not been bound, making it easy to feed them into the digitization machine. Turns out to have been a serendipitous decision, as the library has to abandon the building at the end of the year to make way for the relocation of the school of population and public health.

The first 100 graduate theses have also been placed online.

Six of the first 10 degrees were issued to women, beginning with a master’s awarded in 1919 to Ruth Fulton for A study of the estimation of iron and the separation of maganese from iron by phenyl-nitroso-hydroxylamine ammonium (cupferron). It is somewhat less of a gripping read than Isobel Harvey’s Dickens and De Morgan, or Edna Napier’s Joseph Conrad’s women, or Hazel Wilband’s Thackeray, a study.

Among the notable figures included in the first hundred are future university president Walter Gage and future Order of Canada honouree Evelyn (Story) Lett.

Some of the older papers are of topics so esoteric as to be laughable. Others are surprisingly relevant.

Helen Mathews earned a master’s in bacteriology in 1926 for Transfer of infection by handshakes. She wrote the paper just a few years after millions died in the Spanish influenza pandemic, noting “handshaking seems even more important in the transference of disease than the use of a common towel.” Yecch. Lesson: Wash your hands.

Undoubtedly, someone someday will write a thesis about the archive’s theses project.

The archives earlier digitized 60,000 pages of campus publications, from starchy official news bulletins to the puerile student newspaper.

When Christiane Job researched a kinesiology thesis on sports pioneer Ruth Wilson, she supplemented her hands-on research of scrapbooks and yearbooks by doing a quick word search through back issues of the Ubyssey student newspaper. Using a database was so easy it almost felt like cheating. She found material in the electronic archives that even with the patience of Job she would otherwise have missed had she had to rely solely on flipping through the yellowed pages of bound volumes.

Among the papers to be placed online will be a 1985 theses on Business Archives: Historical developments and future prospects by a certain university archivist.

What a wondrous age.

Meanwhile, after rifling through the dissertation titles yesterday afternoon, the impulse to revive my own forlorn academic career inspired a thesis of my own.

For a pregraduate degree in procrastination, please accept the submission, Envisioning the Breadline: A Socio-Biographical Study in the Circumstances and Consequences of Missing Deadline.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Meet the red devil of the sea — and bring your fork

An immature Humboldt squid is stranded after washing up on a beach near Tofino, B.C. (Below) A naturalist's squid is a gourmand's calamari. Photos by Josie Osborne.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
October 19, 2009


A foray into Josie Osborne’s home freezer is an expedition filled with peril.

Ice cream cartons and organic beef share frozen space with packages of questionable provenance.

In one rests a fine example of Ixoreus naevius, a Varied Thrush that came to an unfortunate end by crashing into the window of her Tofino home. Another holds a Selasphorus rufus, a hummingbird whose magnificence is greater than its size.

More ominously, a bag is labelled BIOLOGICAL SAMPLE.

Yet another tub is filled with the contents scraped from the stomach of a sea creature with a notorious reputation.

The latter will soon make a transcontinental journey to a keen undergraduate studying marine biology at the University of Guelph.

Ms. Osborne is a naturalist with the Raincoast Education Society, introducing adults and schoolchildren to the wonders to be found at the far edge of Vancouver Island where the rainforest bumps against the ocean.

Of late, an odd phenomenon has sent her down to the waterfront on several occasions.

The sandy beaches speckling the peninsula on which Tofino rests have become the unlikely final resting spot for a cephalopod only spotted in these waters in recent years.

Washing up have been dozens of Humboldt squid. Alias the jumbo squid. Also known as the jumbo flying squid. Feared by the Spanish-speaking sailors of the Pacific from Mexico to Chile, who call it diablo rojo (red devil).

The carnivorous invertebrates are especially aggressive when feeding, known even to attack and eat their own. Adding to their otherworldliness is an ability to alter their skin colour from deep purple to white and red.

“They’re grotesque,” Ms. Osborne said, “but fascinating.”

Fearsome in reputation and elusive in practice, the squid has long held a place in folklore, appearing in Moby-Dick and attacking the submarine Nautilus in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. To this day, the bloodsucking squid of myth serves as a foil in pop culture, whether as a metaphor for Goldman Sachs in Rolling Stone magazine, or as the creature wrecking a beach party in an inane beer commercial.

The interest in something so repellant is understandable.

“They’re creatures of the deep,” Ms. Osborne said. “We don’t know too much about them. They’re ugly. They have really large eyes that look much like ours. That sort of freaks us out and fascinates us at the same time.”

The shoreline has long been her playground, beginning in a childhood spent exploring nature’s wonders at Saratoga Beach, north of Courtenay. Her early curiousity led her to the University of British Columbia, where she earned a science degree before completing a master’s in resource and environmental management at Simon Fraser University.

In a video posted on YouTube, she holds up one of the unfortunate creatures, whose body is almost half her own height. Her curly hair blows in the wind, a Botticelli figure clad in fleece and rubber boots.

The bodies of adult Humboldt squid can grow longer than two metres, so the ones beaching in these waters are likely juveniles. The reason remains a mystery. Witnesses described the squid being caught in strong surface currents as they pursued prey close to shore. In any case, it is not an unknown phenomenon for them, as they are also known to beach in their usual waters farther south.

Wayne Barnes, a Tofino photographer, captured images of a black bear carrying off a dying squid, an unusual meeting of two species made possible by warmer ocean currents.

Beachcombers need to be aware of the sharpness of the Humboldt squid’s beak, as well as the hooks in the tentacles.

Even in death, they are disturbing.

“As they rot on the beach, they stink,” she said. “It’s sweet and putrid. Smells like decaying meat.

“I’ll never forget the smell. Once it gets inside your nostrils, it’s there forever. Ugh.”

The ugliness of the odor is matched by the unsettling sight of thousands of sand fleas working at the decaying flesh. When approached, the tiny amphipods scatter en masse. She says the scene reminds her of a scene from a zombie movie.

At the same time, what is a squid to a biologist is calamari to a gourmand.

For Thanksgiving dinner, she and her husband invited 30 friends to a holiday meal with the theme of local foods — turkey, Brussel sprouts, a chanterelle mushroom pate, all from Vancouver Island.

The naturalist also had in mind an appetizer.

She had picked a stranded squid from the beach (“on its last legs, or should I say arms”), brought it home, placed it in the freezer. Turns out all that is required to scavenge a squid is a recreational fishing license.

On the feast day, the squid thawed in her bathtub. It was skinned and gutted, before being sliced into strips. Dipped in olive oil, the squid bits were cooked quickly on a very hot grill before being served with a squeeze of lemon.

Ms. Osborne pronounced it delicious. Sweet, like crab meat.

She has an indulgent, but wary, husband.

“He’s really careful when he picks through the freezer,” she said.

A cook with a weakness for ice cream, he avoids his wife’s labelled containers.

The bag designated BIOLOGICAL SAMPLE? Ms. Osborne has practiced an understandable bit of domestic deception to save for herself a frozen dairy treat. She likes ice cream, too.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Literary newspaper near a loss for words

Alan Twigg founded B.C. BookWorld in 1987.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
October 14, 2009


At 11:21 a.m. yesterday, Alan Twigg sent an email in which he asked for help.

B.C. BookWorld, the quarterly newspaper he founded 22 years ago, needs money.

He found out a week ago that the provincial government was cutting the paper’s funding. This year he got $31,000. Next year he’s getting $0. That’s dollar sign, zero, decimal point.

Also known as zip and zilch.

He’s calling on writers to sign up for a $25 mail subscription. That’s four issues sent to your home or office by mail.

“It’s not a charity. It’s a good deal,” he writes in the email. “In essence, I am asking one thousand authors to collectively replace Gordon Campbell’s government.”

(While that may not be a bad idea, he wants the writers to replace the government’s funding.)

He points out the subscription costs the price of two movie tickets.

“Writers are notoriously quick to plead poverty,” Mr. Twigg acknowledged when reached by telephone. “But they’re also known to go to the liquor store to buy a bottle of wine.”

No one is about to mistake a British Columbia author for Rich Uncle Pennybags.

You know times are tough when you beg from paupers.

He would not have made the appeal were circumstances less desperate.

“We’re a freighter in the middle of the ocean. We’ve been hit by a torpedo. We’re bailing with a tin cup.”

Four times a year, some 50,000 copies of the newspaper are distributed from 900 locations, from libraries to bookstores to ferries. The current issue features on the cover Alice Munro, whose latest collection of short stories is reviewed by W.P. Kinsella. Inside, the Comox writer Shane McCune, a former newspaper columnist, reviews the latest work by Denman Island gardener Des Kennedy. Other features include a poetry page, a history of Holocaust literature, and an admiring letter from a librarian at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Even a cursory read uncovers much information about books, writers, and publishing in the province. You can’t beat the cover price. B.C. BookWorld is free.

Mr. Twigg and his staff were working yesterday on the pre-Christmas issue, which is to be distributed next month. The office is located in a renovated garage on an alley behind a westside home. The list of paid staff consists of Mr. Twigg and David Lester, who first worked together many years ago on the Georgia Straight.

“For 22 years, just me and him,” Mr. Twigg said. “Our mindset is we’re public servants. We were trying to be useful.”

Asked his salary, he said, “Well under $45,000 after 22 years. Not to pull out the violin.”

His mother proofreads each issue, a service for which she is not paid.

Mr. Twigg, 57, launched the newspaper in what he describes as a partnership with the provincial government. The first issue featured on the cover Rick Hansen, the wheelchair athlete, and Jimmy Pattison, the entrepreneur credited with rescuing Expo 86. B.C. BookWorld is a rare legacy for a Social Credit administration not remembered for its contributions to the arts.

The publisher’s goal is to “get as much information as possible about as many books as possible to as many people as possible.” It is deliberately middle-brow, avoiding what the founder describes as the “literary aristocracy” whose “corrupt” reviews are either logrolling for friends, or hatchet jobs on enemies.

He has in his mind the image of a reader. “The guy who drives the bus onto the B.C. Ferries. He has an hour-and-a-half to kill. I’ve got to be able to communicate with that person.”

Word about the paper’s circumstance is just now reaching the readership, which can safely be described as dedicated.

“Everyone reads it, whether in Vancouver, or on a ferry to Prince Rupert, and I can’t imagine British Columbia culture without it,” wrote Renee Rodin of Vancouver, an author who has owned and worked in bookstores.

Myrna Kostash, a writer who lives in Edmonton, said the provincial government should be ashamed. “At the same time as running up B.C.’s flag for the Winter Olympics, presumably for the world’s admiration of our athletes, they have treated B.C.’s writers, publishers and readers with contempt,” she wrote.

Jack Whyte, of Kelowna, author of the wildly successful “A Dream of Eagles” cycle, described the cut to the newspaper as “errant, self-defeating stupidity.”

As he scrambles for funding, Mr. Twigg, himself the author of 15 books, including the recently published, “Tibetans in Exile,” likes to remind himself of an equation. B.C. BookWorld has 100,000 readers. “I keep thinking, 100,000 voters, 100,000 voters.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Remembering an unassuming warrior

(Above) Elmo Trasolini sits on the wing of a captured German aircraft in his ancestral homeland of Italy in 1944. (Below) Norm Trasolini, the clown prince of Vancouver baseball, carries a lamb under each arm at the ball park. (Bottom) Pioneer aviatrix Tosca Trasolini (far left) poses with the Flying Seven.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
October 13, 2009


Elmo Trasolini volunteered with the Boy Scouts and bowled in Vancouver’s city league. He spent his working life with the Vancouver waterworks department, rising to become superintendent. On holidays, he escaped to a cabin in the Chilcotin, where he liked to hunt and fish.

An ordinary life. On the surface.

Elmo Stanley Trasolini died last week, aged 86, the youngest and last survivor of five remarkable children born to parents from Italy.

He counted among his siblings a brother who was a star baseball player, a sister who was a wartime intelligence officer, and another sister who was a pioneer aviatrix.

Elmo was the youngest. During the war, at a time in which a son of immigrants invaded his parents’ homeland, it would fall to this young, unassuming man to make an emotional return to the family’s ancestral home as a conquering warrior.

“My father had seen some heavy action, but he never spoke about the war,” said his daughter, Mary Wood. “He opened up a bit in later years.”

Growing up a Trasolini meant she was encouraged to explore any interest. She raced pickup trucks and now works in the paint shop at Langley Airport. Her brother, Austin, is a newspaper deliveryman whose current quest is to visit a volcano on each continent. Three years ago, he appeared in a photograph in the Vancouver Courier holding a copy of the paper on Kala Patthar, a mountain in the Nepalese Himalaya.

Elmo encouraged his children to pursue their fancy.

“I was never told I couldn’t do something because it was a boy thing, or a girl thing,” Ms. Wood said. “There were never those boundaries.”

Elmo Trasolini had a lean physique, a result of a long struggle with what was eventually diagnosed as Crohn’s disease. He was an easy-going figure, a handsome man who grew a military regulation mustache beneath a prominent nose.

It is believed his father, Luigi, known as Louis, came to the New World in search of riches around the time of the Klondike Gold Rush. He eventually settled in Vancouver. Before the Great War, he and his wife, Raffaela, known as Rosa, posed with two infants at the Hollow Tree in Stanley Park.

Baby Norman grew up to become a fireman and a baseball catcher nicknamed Bananas. He was the city’s “clown prince of baseball,” performing stunts to entertain fans before a game, or posing for newspaper lensmen while sliding down a fire pole to raise interest in a charity game for flood victims in 1948. He once silently disputed an umpire’s call by sticking a long, lit wooden kitchen match into the dirt near home plate. The humourless umpire kicked out of the game for questioning his judgment.

Baby Tosca became such a tomboy her mother would later tell Elmo, “She should have been born a boy.”

Tosca Trasolini won renown as a sprinter, a ballplayer, a lacrosse player, and as a javelin hurler. She once humiliated the young men in the Italian community by climbing to the top of a greased pole to grab a cash prize that had eluded them. She drove motorcycles and flew airplanes.

She was a founding member of the Flying Seven, an all-female club that captured the imagination of the city in the fall of 1936 by staging a dawn-to-dusk flight. Despite drizzle and a dangerous ground fog, Miss Trasolini took off from Sea island Airport to begin the successful stunt.

After the outbreak of war, she was barred from joining the air force. Her contribution to the war effort included a “bomphlet” raid over Vancouver, during which 100,000 “Smash the Nazis” pamphlets were tossed from planes. (Alas, a brisk southeast wind blew many into English Bay.)

It was not easy to be an Italian-Canadian during the war years.

All the other Trasolini siblings spent the war in military uniform.

Norman served as an army captain, seeing action in northern Europe; Salvador was a staff sergeant in the medical corps; and, Fulvia, a sergeant in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, was assigned to the intelligence branch of the U.S. Army.

Elmo signed on with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.

He invaded Sicily as part of Operation Husky, saw heavy action at the Battle of Ortona, survived the assault on the Hitler Line.

While overseas, he got a letter from his mother. She wanted him to visit her relatives, the Raino family, and the Trasolinis in Torrice, outside Frosinone, about 75 kilometres southeast of Rome. Young Elmo, 21, got permission from his commanding officer, who only insisted who do so in uniform and armed.

The quest is recounted by Raymond Culos in the first of his three volumes titled, “Vancouver’s Society of Italians.”

Elmo entered an osteria where he was eyed by men who sat drinking. He found an important-looking man in a white suit who spoke English.

“He took me to the town and said, ‘This is the Trasolini from Canada.’ Holy mackerel, things just exploded. People came from all over. ...

“I couldn’t speak Italian, which I really regretted. But I was treated as a god, the centrepiece. And everybody, including my cousins Eddy and Johnny, who were only around nine and 13 at the time, just stood there smiling, talking and looking at me.

“And the custom (was) the men sat down and the women stood behind. I had the best bed, full of corn husks. Unfortunately, I was only able to stay overnight. And I only had meagre rations. Cigarettes and chocolates. I gave them all I had.”

Elmo eventually returned to his Vancouver birthplace with news of the ancestral home. He got hired by the city, an unpretentious man who took it as his duty after the war to ensure the waterworks performed as expected, a rather ordinary duty for one from an extraordinary family.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A friendly smackdown between Victoria bookstores

By Tom Hawthorn

Special to The Globe and Mail

October 12, 2009


This city has four seasons — winter, spring, summer, and book launch.

It is the time of year when authors are flushed from their writing quarters and readers gather to gaze upon wordsmiths in the flesh. It is also when the city’s two largest independent bookstores square off in a friendly smackdown.

Munro’s Books, the downtown emporium occupying a renovated bank, invites the poets Lorna Crozier and Brian Brett for an in-store book signing.

Bolen Books, a sprawling store anchoring a shopping mall, launches the Thistledown Press fall list with a poet and two novelists.

Bolen gets humourist Arthur Black, while Munro’s grabs Rex Murphy and Peter Mansbridge. (I’ll see your CBC personality and I’ll raise you one.)

Munro’s books Will Ferguson and Adrian Raeside for $5 events at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Bolen counters with Diana Gabaldon at the Alix Goolden Perfrmance Hall ($10 with $5 off the cover price of her latest in the Outlander series, “An Echo in the Bone.”)

This is what Robert Wiersema aptly calls “a gentlemanly competition.” Mr. Wiersema is events coordinator at Bolen. Asked the process for booking a writer into the store, he said, “Blatant sucking up to me.” He was joking. Sort of.

An author event is a rare meeting between creator and consumer. The relationship can be intense. When Jean Beliveau came to Victoria to sign copies of his autobiography four years ago, a Bolen customer rolled up his right pants leg to expose tattoos of the Stanley Cup, the Montreal Canadiens logo, and four portraits of goalies. Mr. Beliveau signed a bare patch of skin, which the fan intended to have permanently inked.

You never know who will show up.

On Saturday (Oct. 17), the band leader Dal Richards will be appearing at Munro’s for a signing. Joining him at the table will be the wordsmith Jim Taylor, who might be described as a “with-it” guy. He’s written “One More Time!” (Harbour) with the 91-year-old orchestra leader and he’s also co-authored books with a hockey player, with a football quarterback, and with a wheelchair athlete.

He pursued the legendary Mr. Richards for four years before getting him to sit down and recount his adventures. The goal early in the project was to capture the band leader’s nuances of speech.

“I put down every belch, hiccup and pause. After about five hours, I can talk Dal better than Dal.”

He needs to do so to ensure the book is given the voice of the subject.

“Rick Hansen can’t sound like Igor Larionov who can’t sound like Dal Richards, or I’ve screwed up,” he said.

Mr. Taylor suspects few customers will make the trek to the bookstore to get his John Hancock.

“It’s Dal’s book. Dal’s the story,” Mr. Taylor said. ‘Nobody there is going to want my autograph.”

He knows the as-told-to co-author is a second fiddle, a second banana, a sidekick.

He remembers a long lineup for a book singing with Wayne Gretzky’s father. A large cardboard cutout of the hockey player promoted the book. When the doors opened, the first kid through marched up to the older men and demanded to see the hockey god.

Told the book was by the father, the lad turned around to announce about The Great One: “He ain’t here and he ain’t coming.”

Mr. Taylor will never forget the scene.

“It was like somebody took a powerhose and flushed out the mall.”

Mr. Taylor, who began his career in Victoria and maintains a second home at Shawnigan Lake, was on tour last year to promote “Hello Sweetheart? Gimmie Rewrite!,” a memoir of his four decades in the press box as a sports columnist. Bolen booked him for that one.

If the author worries about attendance, the bookers worry about also satisfying author’s demands.

Early in his career, Mr. Wiersema was assigned to handle an event featuring Anne Rice, the vampire chronicler. He was excited by the prospect until temporarily flummoxed by a rider to her contract. She wanted Tab on ice. The problem? The diet soda was unavailable in Victoria. He purchased a six-pack in Seattle and had it shipped by courier north across the border.

Two years ago, Bolen snagged Chuck Palahniuk for a reading at the end of his tour for “Rant: The Oral History of Buster Casey.” The author was booked into the Alix Goolden hall, a renovated church with an upper balcony.

The author, known for “Fight Club,” has a dedicated fan base as well as a reputation like few others. He’s a Springsteen among the literary set. He brings props, flits in and out of the audience, cracks wise during readings that are raucous affairs.

He sometimes has paramedics in attendance.

“He’s one of the few writers,” Mr. Wiersema noted, “known to have casualties at his events.”

He did not disappointment in Victoria.

He distributed inflatable reindeer heads, tossing some into the balcony.

He planted the seed that he might read the story “Guts,” about which the descriptive “notorious” hardly does justice. “Guts” is so vile — so transgressive — that it has an online body count — a total of listeners who have fainted during a reading.

“He started reading this story,” Mr. Wiersema recounted. “Then, from up in the balcony, you heard this thunk, crack!, thunk.”

A patron, made lightheaded by the subject matter of the story, had made the mistake of getting up from his seat to leave the building. He did not make it, striking his face against a door as he collapsed. The bloodied man was aided by audience members.

“Normally this would be a terrible thing, except for this author and this audience.”

Mr. Wiersema got to schedule an event earlier this year at which he was the featured author. His novella, “The World More Full of Weeping,” was launched at Bolen. He sold several copies and, better yet, there were no known casualties.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Lou Moro, trainer (1918-2009)

By Tom Hawthorn

Special to The Globe and Mail

October 8, 2009

Lou Moro, a sausage maker, moonlighted for 50 years as a sports trainer, often unpaid, earning honours in several halls of fame.

The success of Uncle Louie, as he was known, was all the more remarkable for his never having had any formal medical training.

Mr. Moro became an athletic trainer while serving in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War, a time in which he also saw duty as a cook aboard a minesweeper.

He played box lacrosse for a wartime Navy team in Victoria, but found he was more valuable in helping teammates recover from sprains and muscle pulls. He had become interested in the art, if not the science, of training from watching hockey players being treated in his boyhood hometown of Trail, B.C.

Born in Northern Italy, he immigrated with his family to British Columbia at age 11.

Mr. Moro worked as a butcher after the war, but sports remained his passion. He treated lacrosse and soccer players at all levels of competition.

Some of the highlights of his career included accompanying all-star and Canadian national soccer teams on tours of England, Germany and the Soviet Union.

At home, he was best known as trainer for the Vancouver 86ers and Whitecaps soccer teams.

During a losing streak, he once quipped: “We’ve got lots of physiotherapists with the club, but maybe what we really need is a psychiatrist.”

Mr. Moro was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1975; the Burnaby (B.C.) Sports Hall of Fame in 2002; and the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 1995. He was one of the 11 inaugural builders to be named to the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame in 2000.

Luigi Paolo Moro was born on April 26, 1918, at Savona, Italy. He died at Burnaby General Hospital in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby on Sept. 30. He was 91. He leaves two sons, two daughters, seven grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by the former Virginia Maiani, his wife of 62 years, who died in 2005, aged 82.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Adieu to some fascinating characters

This is my debut column for Boulevard, a lifestyle magazine distributed in Victoria, B.C. The column, titled, simply, Hawthorn, will appear in each of the six annual issues.

By Tom Hawthorn
Boulevard Magazine
September/October, 2009

Older children stepped off the curb onto the street to gather candy. They returned with cupped hands offering cellophane-wrapped prizes to younger parade watchers.

It was this sight, while attending the Oak Bay Tea Party Parade on a weekend visit, that convinced us to abandon the Big Smoke for a new life across the pond in Victoria. Heck, where I grew up back east, the tossing of candies would have sparked a riot.

In time, both of my children appeared in the parade, the girl as a Girl Guide and the boy as a drummer in a high school marching band. He later won a contest to develop a website for the Tea Party. That is how I think of our city — a polite place of opportunity in which public events, even political protests, are conducted in a spirit of neighbourliness.
Many of us come to this city by birth, some by circumstance, others by choice.

Victoria produces homegrown talent such as the singer Nelly Furtado and the basketball star Steve Nash, while also luring here people accomplished in many fields. Some come here only in retirement, and we barely get to know them before they’re gone.

It sometimes falls to me to write their farewell, their swan song, their obituary.

To write a newspaper obit is to have an intimate encounter with a stranger. It is an awesome responsibility, not in the least ghoulish or maudlin. Many lived here in near-anonymity, yet achieved global fame in their circle.

I’d like to tell you now about some of the most fascinating people I never had the chance to meet.

In formal circumstances, the scientist was introduced as William E. Ricker, O.C., Ph.D., D.Sc., LL.D., F.R.S.C., an entire alphabet of accomplishment. By all accounts, Bill Ricker was not one to stand on formality. He was a fisheries biologist whose great achievement was a formula for predicting future fish stocks, which was known as the Ricker Curve. He was also a noted limnologist and entomologist who wrote Sherlockian pastiches as a hobby. A stern trawler that conducts research carries his name, while the waterfront Pacific Biological Research station in Nanaimo, where he long had an office, is reached by a gently winding road named Ricker’s Curve.

Jack Winter was a sitcom writer who penned funny lines for Dick Van Dyke and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison in “The Odd Couple” (“I like ketchup. It’s like tomato wine”). He once published a celebrated comic essay for The New Yorker titled, “How I Met My Wife.” “I was furling my wieldy umbrella for the coat check when I saw her standing alone in a corner,” he wrote. “She was a descript person, a woman in a state of total array. Her hair was kempt, her clothing shevelled, and she moved in a gainly way. I wanted desperately to meet her, but I knew I'd have to make bones about it since I was travelling cognito.”

How he really met his wife was credible, but just barely. He was at an airport in Kathmandu when he struck up a conversation with a young Sudanese woman. She had studied at the University of Victoria, so they settled here after marrying in 2001. They bought a leafy property in Saanich that included a pond, which the writer had stocked with frogs, one of his boyhood obsessions. He had dated the actress Diane Keaton, played a weekly tennis match against retired basketball star Earl (The Pearl) Monroe, and had been the second youngest graduate in his Harvard class. The youngest later earned infamy — and a life sentence — as the Unabomber.

Experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, an avant-gardist regarded as a genius by cineastes and who influenced Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, died here, as did J. Lee Thompson, the director of muscular action pictures such as “The Guns of Navarone.”

Streetcar operator Lyle Wicks needed to get a small bank loan to afford a stay at the Empress Hotel after being elected a Social Credit MLA. The NDP’s Dave Stupich pleaded guilty to the misuse of charity funds in a scandal known as Bingogate that led to the resignation of NDP Premier Mike Harcourt, who later called his nemesis “an embezzler and a liar.”

I have chronicled the death of Bob Bierman, the editorial cartoonist sued for depicting Premier Bill Vander Zalm plucking the wings from flies, and the sad life of Frank Williams, given up for adoption at birth, who became a major-league baseball pitcher before winding up an alcoholic on the streets of Victoria.

We all have our losses. Since this magazine came into being, I have buried a father and helped move my mother to our city. I have mourned the untimely passing of two friends. The death of David Grierson, the host of CBC Radio’s “On the Island,” brought a touching display of public support. The station was inundated by well wishers, many bringing food, as though they knew personally a man whose voice they woke up with each morning. A quieter but no less painful loss was Dana O’Dowd, a neighbour on our street in a friendly nook of Gonzales, whose careening monologues sounded to my ears like improvisational jazz.

Of course, we all mourn Reena Virk, a teenager so cruelly killed. In their grief, her parents taught us much about grace.

And then there is the continuing puzzle of poor Michael Dunahee. The three syllables of his family name express loss, tragedy, mystery. He is missing now 18 years, plucked from our midst at age four. He is unforgotten. A Facebook page administered by his younger sister has 5,968 members. It is called “We will never forget Michael Dunahee.” I think about him often.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Jackie Collum, baseball player (1927-2009)

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
October 5, 2009

Jackie Collum, an athlete who escaped the notice of baseball scouts because of his diminutive physique, went on to pitch in the major leagues for nine seasons.

The left-hander also spent three seasons with the minor-league Montreal Royals before ending his playing career with the Vancouver Mounties.

Mr. Collum, or Little Jackie, as he was invariably described in newspaper stories, stood just 5-foot-7 and weighed 160 pounds. Globe baseball writer Gord Walker described him as “the southpaw who looks like a bat boy.”

He pitched in the big leagues for the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians, and the Dodgers both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.

He had a record of 32 wins and 28 losses with a career earned-run average of 4.15.

Mr. Collum’s three seasons in Montreal began in 1957, when he recorded an admirable 12-7 record.

He went 9-10 with a weak-hitting Vancouver team in 1962.

Mr. Collum showed prowess at the plate, a rare pitcher capable of aiding his own cause. He had a .246 batting average in the majors, a sterling mark for a hurler. His lone career home run was a three-run shot off Ruben Gomez at the Polo Grounds in New York in 1954.

The greatest performance of his professional career came in Ottawa on Sept. 5, 1952, when he threw a no-hitter against the hometown Athletics. Pitching for the Rochester (N.Y.) Red Wings, Mr. Collum retired 22 consecutive Ottawa batters before issuing a walk in the eighth inning. The only other Ottawa runner got on base on an error in the ninth.

His baseball career was delayed by service in the U.S. Army during the Second World War, during which he was stationed for a time in the Philippines.

Following his baseball career, he worked in the automotive business in Iowa. He owned a Pioneer Oil service station at the time of his death.

John Dean Collum was born on June 21, 1927, at Victor, Iowa. He died at the Mayflower Health Care Center in Grinnell, Iowa, on Aug. 29. He was 82. He leaves his wife of 61 years, the former Betty Jo Belles; three sons; three daughters; 11 grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; two brothers; and, a sister. He was predeceased by a brother and two great-grandchildren.

In the name of the father, the son, and the holy goat

Animal House of God: Lynda Koenders brought Rusty, a Chinese silky hen, to the Blessings of the Animals ceremony on the Feast of St. Francis. Photograph by Deddeda Stemler.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
October 5, 2009


They came on two legs and on four, on leashes and in crates, a menagerie seeking a blessing on their saint’s day.

Parishioners at St. John the Divine were joined in their Anglican service yesterday morning by a handful of household and barnyard pets.

The skies were sunny as the animals arrived in unmatched singles, not pairs, so one assumes the approaching fall rains will not be of Biblical proportions.

A shitzu, a dachshund, a couple of labrador crosses, and a hen and a rooster were among the critters assembled for the annual Blessing of the Animals.

Lo, we gazed upon them and they were good. For the most part.

The rooster squawked when removed from his crate and so was quickly returned to his roost.

The unfortunate Feasgar, a handsome black Labrador-German shepherd cross whose name is Scottish Gaelic for “evening,” yelped when his tail was stepped on accidentally as a worshipper tried to slip past in the pew.

The animals and their human handlers sat on the pulpit side of the church, while those with allergies found sanctuary on the lectern side.

The animals got along fine at St. John, while, on television, Bears and Rams and Colts and Jaguars and Panthers and Dolphins and Broncos and, yes, even Saints did unholy battle on the football gridiron.

The annual rite is eagerly anticipated by some.

Gretchen Brewin returned with Lucy, her eight-year-old female lab cross.

“Lucy has been here before and I’m sure the blessings have helped,” she said.

Ms. Brewin, a former Victoria mayor, is joined by her canine on jaunts.

“She rides shotgun when I travel the country. She’s not so good at reading maps, but she’s a terrific companion.”

Su McLeod, the family ministry coordinator, brought Feasgar, while Bernie Pauly and her son, Ethan, aged 8, came to church with Jacques, a two-year-old male shitzu, whose muzzle was petted by the smiling rector as he passed in procession.

The choir sang “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and the first reading came from Genesis: “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures.”

The Rev. Harold Munn delivered in spirited fashion a sermon about St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast day was being celebrated.

He addressed the presence of animals in our midst.

“At one level, it’s cute,” he said. “Really, it’s not about being cute and fun.”

He told a story about being a boy alone with his terrier, conducting a theological inquiry into the existence of God by asking the dog. Of course, he could not answer.

“When we bring the dogs, cats and chickens into the church, we’re saying God loves those creatures for exactly what they are.

“It reminds us of our small place in creation.

“We have a special place, but it is a small place.”

He noted the Bug Zoo had brought exotic insects to the blessing in years past.

“God has enough love for every single whale, for every single ant, for every single cougar, for every single insect.”

The hen clucked approvingly throughout the sermon.

The Chinese silky had been brought by Lynda Koenders, the general manager at her family’s Beacon Hill Children’s Farm, a petting zoo.

Throughout the singing of hymns, Ms. Koenders clutched Rusty to her bosom

“Usually I bring a goat,” she said in a whisper, “but they were too heavy this year. I’ve got a bad back. A chicken I can carry.”

The misbehaving rooster, a Polish, was named Gene Simmons after a rock star known for his pursuit of ecstasies not likely to be found in a house of worship. It turns out he was a last-minute replacement.

“I had to leave Jimi Hendrix back at the farm. He’s too fast and I couldn’t catch him.”

Which may have a blessing in disguise for those who wished to hear the sermon.