Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The new year promises a bounty of punditry in B.C.

Liberal leadership contender Mike de Jong shows off his famous Christmas shortbread cookies.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 29, 2010


This city has as many pundits as tourists. You can hardly turn a corner without bumping into a pontificating sage expounding on the conventional wisdom.

The word pundit is borrowed from the Hindi pandit, which stems from the Sanskrit pandita, meaning learned. Pundits are wise men and the British Columbia capital is more fortunate than Bethlehem, which had to make do with just three.

I am not an opinion columnist, which is good, since my opinion doesn’t hold sway in my own household. But with the new year promising a pair of leadership conventions, a possible provincial election, and a likely federal campaign, one cannot help but wish to get on the bandwagon. A bounty of punditry beckons.

Over the yuletide, I mistook the drama A Christmas Carol for a documentary on the recent tribulations of the B.C. Liberal party. Asked to contribute to the welfare of the destitute, Ebenezer Scrooge’s infamous reply is, “Are there no prisons?” Tis a sentiment to warm the heart of Gordon Campbell, who has offered the poorest of the working poor no raise since 2001. The minimum wage, frozen at $8 for a decade, remains as untouched as a miser’s heart.

The candidates to replace the grinchy premier have gone all Ghost-of-Jacob-Marley. After years of silence, the Liberal penitents now insist the minimum wage, the lowest in the land, must be raised forthwith.

It has been a rough year for the Liberals, who watched in horror as a mob carrying torches and wielding pitchforks stormed canvassers to sign a petition. The signatures of some 700,000 voters forced the Legislature’s Standing Committee on Legislative Initiatives to refer a draft bill called the HST Extinguishment Act to the acting chief electoral officer, who prepared the wording for a referendum question. Only in Canada are revolutions handed over to legislative committees and bureaucrats.

An anti-tax fervor did bring back from exile disgraced former premier Bill Vander Zalm, the former owner of a roadside attraction whose sale of said property involved a bundle of $20,000 in cash in a paper bag in a swanky hotel room. The revival of the Vander Zombie was only part of the bad news for the Liberals, who also suffered through the criminal trial of two aides.

After the operatives pleaded guilty to charges of corruption, the premier said it was a case of “severe misjudgment and personal indiscretion.” He asked the province to be forgiving. Whoops. Sorry. That’s what he said after he was arrested for drunk driving in Hawaii. As for David Basi and Bob Virk, Mr. Campbell said, “These people are criminals. They acted criminally. They breached the public trust. They took personal benefits.” As punishment, they got another benefit, as the government picked up the $6-million tab for their legal defence.

Some pundits want a public inquiry into the BC Rail scandal. The Liberal contenders are unanimous in echoing Sgt. Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes: “I see nothing. I was not here. I did not even get up this morning!”

The leadership contest gained attention when Mike de Jong suggested lowering the voting age to 16. This led one white-haired pundit to complain that teenagers think the HST is an STD. (That’s an unfair stereotype. Teens are aware of the tax every time they purchase alcohol with a fake ID.) You damn kids, get off my lawn sign.

At least the Liberals have candidates for their leadership contest.

An anarcho-syndicalist minority in the NDP caucus, led by Hothead Harry Lali and Et Tu Jenny Kwan, executed a putsch of leader Carole James earlier this month. We’re three weeks into the contest and apparently no one wants the job. You’d think they were offering minimum wage.

In the spirit of the season, I checked out a video posted by Mr. de Jong, who took a break from his Open Mike tour to show off his culinary skills by making shortbread cookies.

“It’s important to lead, but it’s also important to listen,” he says without irony at the midway point of a 12-minute, 36-second monologue.

One of his cooking tips: “You can mask a lot of imperfections with sprinkles.”

That explains why politics is flashy and colourful, but ultimately empty calories.

Chuck Eisenmann, trainer of Littlest Hobo (1918-2010)

Chuck Eisenmann, then with the Kearney (Neb.) Irishmen baseball team, shows off one of the stunts taught to his German shepherd, London, the future star of The Littlest Hobo in the movies and on television.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 28, 2010

The star of the heartwarming Canadian television series The Littlest Hobo was a dog who showed an uncanny knack for arriving at a time of peril. After performing heroics, the shrewd stray resisted entreaties to stay, preferring instead the adventures on offer further along the open road.

The vagabond canine — in truth, several look-alike German shepherds — was handled by Chuck Eisenmann, himself a restless, wandering spirit.

Eisenmann, who has died, aged 91, spent decades promoting what he described as a unique, modern method of teaching animals — four-legged performers and their two-legged owners alike. He rejected the word trainer, preferring instead to be thought of as an educator.

“Any dog has the seeds of genius,” he pronounced.

He insisted dogs were capable of more than simply reacting to barked commands.

“The educated dog has the power to reason and to act on the conclusions reached,” he said.

Accompanied by his pack, he made untold thousands of personal appearances to promote his technique, as well as the movies in which the dogs starred.

The ballyhoo promised “the world’s greatest intellectual dogs! Hear them talk, add, subtract! See them do feats of intelligence! See the world’s only dog with a 5,000 word vocabulary in three languages!”

The arrival of the dog man and his amazing pooches was headline news in isolated locales such as Elyria, Ohio; Lawton, Okla.; and Mason City, Iowa,

By the late 1960s, Eisenmann was a guest on television talk shows, appearing on the Mike Douglas Show with a men’s fashion designer and the National Apple Week Queen, and on the Steve Allen Show with the comedian Henny Youngman and the folk-rock band the Youngbloods.

In 1972, Eisenmann conducted a demonstration for the benefit of the psychology club at the University of British Columbia, as recounted in Weekend Magazine.

He commanded his dog, London, to jump into the air.

The dog jumped.

“This time, London, when I say ‘jump’ it will mean lie down and put your paws over your eyes ... London, jump!”

The dog dutifully lay down before covering its eyes.

He expounded on his theories in a series of softcover instruction guides with such titles as “Stop! Sit! and Think” and “A Dog’s Day in Court.” He posed with five of his dogs for the cover of a 1975 long-playing album called “Educate your Dog by the Eisenmann Method.”

Before finding fame as a dog expert, he owned a night club, worked as a sports editor, enlisted in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and served as commandant and athletic director of a military school. Four years of military service during the Second World War interrupted a professional baseball career that included pitching for teams in Ottawa and Vancouver.

Charles Paul Eisenmann was born on Sept. 22, 1918, at Hawthorne, Wis. (He would later add two years to his birth date so as to not appear too old a baseball prospect, a common practice at the time.) After graduating from high school, he joined the peacetime U.S. Army at age 18.

A gifted athlete, the right-hander pitched for a service team in Hawaii, according to research by the baseball historian Gary Bedingfield for his “Baseball in Wartime” blog. Scouts noticed the 6-foot-1, 195-pound hurler with a looping curveball and he was signed to a contract, beginning his pro career with the Henderson Oilers of the Class-C East Texas League, far down baseball’s alphabet ladder.

A stint with the Vancouver Capilanos, a Class-B team, the following summer led to an eventual promotion to the old San Diego Padres, two levels below the major leagues. He pitched in just three games before swapping his red-and-white flannel uniform for army greens five months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In 1943, having graduated from officer school, the second lieutenant pitched for the Signal Monarchs in an eight-team league featuring American, Canadian and British soldier athletes in London, according to Bedingfield. Eisenmann’s hurling led his squad to the title over a Canadian hospital team.

The historian also notes the officer suffered severe injuries when the blast of a V-1 buzz bomb blew him through the wall of his office.

“That bomb didn’t make the slightest preliminary buzz and the only warning I had was when I heard a guard on the roof shout, ‘Jump!’,” Eisenmann later said. “I instinctively did and was actually in the air when the explosion came. It blew me backward right through the wall of the room. Fortunately, the wall was crumbling with the explosion.”

He followed the Allied armies through northwestern Europe after having organized in Paris the first baseball game to be played on liberated French soil.

After returning stateside several months after the end of the war, he resumed his playing career in the high minor leagues. After three seasons, he gained his reward with a promotion to the parent Chicago White Sox at the end of the 1948 campaign. But he was not called on to pitch before season’s end and, as it turned out, sitting on the bench at Comiskey Park was as close to a major league appearance as he ever got.

He pitched in 17 games for the Ottawa Giants in 1951, another way station in a career that also saw him wear the uniform of the Lake Charles (La.) Skippers, Yakima (Wash.) Pippins, Tulsa (Okla.) Oilers, Memphis (Tenn.) Chickasaws, Syracuse (N.Y.) Chiefs, Birmingham (Ala.) Barons, Oakland Oaks and San Francisco Seals.

At age 34, he was released, though he refused to give up the game. He worked briefly as an umpire in California and took turns on the mound for semiprofessional teams in Nebraska and North Dakota, where he pitched for the Bismarck Barons of the ManDak League.

It was while operating a nightclub in the offseason that he got his first dog, which he named London after the city that had so bravely faced down the Nazis. Ever after, his top dog carried that name.

The dog accompanied him to the ball park in summers. One newspaper account described London’s panoply of tricks: “The dog brought keys from Eisenmann’s car, bowed to the crowd, brought a bat and a broom to the pitcher, ran the bases, brought a ball bag from the mound, told how old he is (five), imitated a kangaroo, closed a door, turned out a light, played dead, untied a boy and did a little typewriting.”

In 1955, with his master managing the Kearney Irishmen, London was sent onto the field during a game to bring a warmup jacket to the pitcher, who had reached first base. The dog mistakenly went to the pitching mound before spotting the pitcher and completing the delivery. But the delay caused the other team to protest and the umpires banished Eisenmann and London from the field.

The rhubarb attracted the attention of Life magazine, which devoted a two-page spread to the pair.

In turn, the article was noticed by Dorrell and Stuart McGowan, brothers who had in mind an idea about the adventures of a homeless dog. The Littlest Hobo, a movie released in 1958, told the story of a stray who befriends a boy and rescues his pet lamb from a date at the slaughterhouse.

This was followed two years later by My Dog, Buddy, starring London in the title role in a story of “a huckleberry-faced boy and his dog.” The boy is orphaned when his parents are killed in an automobile accident.

London and younger understudies Toro and Thorn starred in two other movies, The Marks of Distinction and Just Between Us, the latter in which a dog jumps from a trestle and leaps onto the wing of a taxiing airplane.

The baseball wonder dog and his owner were also featured in the 1963 book, “London: The Dog Who Made by the Team,” by David Malcolmson

That same year, the CTV network added to its schedule a new show, also named The Littlest Hobo. It was billed as an adult action series, airing in the early evening. The program got solid reviews — “the star will amaze you,” wrote gossip columnist Walter Winchell — and found a global audience in syndication. The series, which lasted three season, was filmed at the Hollyburn Film Studios in West Vancouver and other locales in British Columbia.

The altruistic Alsatian rescues a prospector from death in the desert, thwarts a bank robbery, and stops another dog from attacking a politician on the command of his evil owner, portrayed by Eisenmann. Along the way, London befriends a Cuban refugee boy, an ex-prize fighter, a lumberjack, a bronco rider, a nightclub singer, the owner of a Chinese restaurant, and an aboriginal boy who is both deaf and mute in a episode starring Chief Dan George. The friendships are always short-lived, as the hobo dog drifts along to the next town, riding the rails to adventure.

The series was revived in 1979 for a six-season run. By now, Eisenmann had seven dogs (two of them female) to satisfy a hectic schedule. The series, filmed in Ontario, attracted such actors as a teenaged Mike Myers and the venerable Al Waxman.

The series was syndicated to more than 40 countries, a rare Canadian cultural export outside of pop music to find so wide an audience.

Eisenmann had a simple philosophy to explain his success with his animals.

“A dog thinks just as a human does, and if you treat him as a stupid animal eventually he will act that way,” Eisenmann said. “That’s why I act positive around my dogs and treat them as friends.”

Eisenmann, who died on Sept. 6 at Roseburg, Ore., leaves two daughters, four grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and a sister.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Wacky Bennett, 'full-time politician and part-time prophet,' ripe for political cartoons

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 27, 2010


His friends called him Cece, shorthand for the formal William Andrew Cecil. From his initials, he was known by all as Wacky.

W.A.C. Bennett ruled this province for 20 years. He nationalized the hydroelectric industry and amassed a ferry fleet mockingly dubbed Bennett’s Navy. He wanted to annex the Yukon and took part in publicity stunts that would have shamed a more sophisticated man.

He trolled for votes by paving roads and building bridges, winning seven provincial elections in a row. When he finally lost, a tired man at the helm of a tired government, he waited only three years before his defeat was avenged by his son, continuing the Social Credit dynasty.

A teetotal hardware merchant from Kelowna, he was a small-town businessman with grandiose dreams. He was ripe for parody.

British Columbia has been blessed by some of the sharpest pens in the land. In turn, our gift to them has been to elect outlandish politicians.

Political cartoonists had a field day with Wacky. Though the images were rarely flattering, Mr. Bennett often clipped cartoons from the editorial page. On occasion, he requested the original artwork.

Thirty-three cartoons from the late premier’s private collection are now on display at the Legacy Art Gallery and Cafe in downtown Victoria, the city in which he was long a part-time resident.

The show is called “Now Here’s the Deal,” which are words written by Len Norris in one of his best known cartoons for the Vancouver Sun. Set on the day of a 1964 border ceremony for the Columbia River Treaty, it depicts lead-footed highways minister Phil Gaglardi at the wheel of a speeding convertible. Cowering in the back seat are prime minister Lester (Mike) Pearson and U.S. president Lyndon Johnson, who flank a premier, a thumb crooked behind each lapel, in full rhetorical flourish.

“Now here’s the deal,” Mr. Bennett pronounces. “Phil blacktops the road from California to the Aleutians. Mike gives up the Yukon and Lyndon gives us Washington and Oregon.”

So horrified are the senior politicians you’d think they’re prepared to cede territory just to get out of the car.

In other cartoons, Mr. Bennett is depicted as a sphinx, a totem pole, swashbuckler, a gunslinger, a grinning Cheshire cat, and, famously, a snake-oil salesman, a caricature brought to brilliant fruition by the peerless Roy Peterson. In an illustration for Maclean’s magazine, Mr. Peterson shows the premier before a map of Canada labelled “Bennett Country” — Hawaii is a protectorate, while Alaska and Greenland are shown with signs indicating an option to buy. The cartoon is labelled, “Federated Empire of B.C. and Multiple Listings.”

Other cartoons on display are by Al Beaton of the Vancouver Daily Province, James Reidford of the Globe, Les Callan of the Toronto Daily Star, and Bob Bierman and Sid Barron of the Victoria Daily Times.

In an image published during the 1960 campaign, Mr. Barron draws the premier in country-club regalia addressing an audience of farmers and trappers, as well as two bemused moose: “Don’t think your government has forgotten you up here in Fort St. Cecil. ... You have a right to bridges just like all the rest of the province. ... We’re going to GIVE you a bridge, my friends ... and a wee river to put under it...”

Also on display is a framed cover of Time magazine. Dated Sept. 30, 1966, it is a rare gatefold cover for the newsweekly, the two pages featuring an oil painting of the premier by Henry Koerner. The Vienna-born artist often graced the magazine’s cover with portraits of such celebrities as Maria Callas and John Kennedy, so it was a coup for Mr. Bennett to be depicted.

The premier is depicted pointing over his left shoulder where can be seen in the background smokestacks from pulp mills and other industries. One wag at the magazine suggested the painting be captioned, “This way to the bank.” Instead, the cover article is titled, “Canada Today: The Boom No One Noticed.”

Time described the 66-year-old premier as a “full-time politician and part-time prophet.”

The Bennett family donated the collection to the Kelowna Museum in 1993, 14 years after the premier’s death.

In the coming weeks, the provincial Liberals and New Democrats will pick new leaders. We don’t always do politics well in this province, but the editorial cartoonists aren’t complaining.

“Now Here’s the Deal” is showing at the Legacy Art Gallery and Cafe, 630 Yates St. in Victoria, until Jan. 23. The gallery is open from noon to 4 p.m. from Wednesday to Friday this week. Free admission.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Doomed? Victoria's public libraries are booming

This article is part of the Globe B.C.'s annual series examining "Things That Work."

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
december 22, 2010


The public library, like this newspaper, is supposed to be doomed by the information revolution.

Who needs an encyclopedia when you have Google?

Who needs a library when you have a computer in your lap more powerful than the one that sent man to the moon?

Who needs a librarian when you have a smartphone beyond even what Star Trek’s writers imagined just a few years ago?

Yet, when you mosey on down to any of the outlets of the Greater Victoria Public Library — from the Oak Bay branch, which incorporates a heritage house, to the Bruce Hutchison branch, part of the Saanich Commonwealth Place with its pool in which kiddies splash and Olympians train, to the sprawling Central Library, where the homeless share computer terminals alongside businessmen and retirees — you will be pressed to find an unoccupied chair.

The public library is booming.

Last year, library materials in the Victoria system were borrowed or renewed 5,978,750 times, a record circulation.

At the Central, where the public area takes up two floors of an unappealing government office complex, the bustle is notable all through the day. Much of the library, though hushed, is no longer quiet space. Patrons talk about books and movies, asides are shared by surfers at computer terminals, teenagers multitask while ostensibly completing homework.

This is what librarians think of as the Third Space — not work, not home, but just as essential a part of the daily routine.

The patrons who attend a bricks-and-mortar branch are only the top of the iceberg, as other users are at home and the office, accessing online databases.

Not so long ago, a reader seeking a science-fiction story by Isaac Asimov needed to come to the library, where they found a large piece of wooden furniture holding sliding drawers. Thousands of 3-by-5-inch cards, arranged alphabetically, held typewritten — or, if old enough, handwritten — details, including author, title, and the call number devised according to Melvil Dewey’s eponymous decimal classification system. Having found the number and either memorizing it, or writing it on another piece of paper, the hard-working patron wandered through the stacks to find their deserved prize.

Today, a holder of a library card searches the catalogue, renews titles, or places a hold by consulting the MoCat mobile catalogue through their mobile device. You can download an audiobook. You can pay fines online. Even had Mr. Asimov imagined such a world, it would have seemed too far-out to be believable. The wooden card catalogue is now a museum piece, a collectable used by some to hold candy, or fishing lures, or other small miscellanea.

It is a great age to live in a democratic society where little stands in the way of the free flow of misinformation. Enter the trained, practical, curious, intelligent, organized librarian.

“We help people navigate the sea of information,” said Matthew Bingham, librarian supervisor at Victoria’s Central branch.

“There is so much information out there, but how much of it is good information? The library can help people filter the good from the bad.”

The library holds computer classes (with such topics as “introduction to email” and “evaluating web sources”). One librarian teaches a course about online investment sites.

In the new year, the library will begin lending Kobo eReaders as part of its Library to Go downloadable audio and ebook service. No late fees! When the due date arrives, the ebook vanishes.

As for reference requests, the number of telephone calls is in decline. Patrons want virtual reference. A program called “Ask Now” is soon to be launched, offering answers to chat questions in real time. (Gosh, the emailed “Ask a Librarian” service is already feeling like so yesterday.)

Librarians are a passionate — though not always demonstrative — bunch. They are ardent defenders of freedom of information.

Mr. Bingham, 31, got his first library job as a page at age 16, a position he held for eight years. “A page is the glue that holds this place together,” he said. “They shelve the books, they check the books in, they do a lot of odd jobs.”

A voracious reader at an early age, he loved the quietness of the library and the thrill of finding an unexpected book.

Children are also well served by a library that has such programs as the Summer Reading Club. Last year, the theme was “Follow the Reader,” which promoted the notion that readers go on to become leaders. A total of 4,490 children aged 12 or under willingly spent their summer vacation between covers.

Children build and program robots as part of Lego Mindstorm Robotics. Older teens can borrow video games.

“Why not? It’s a form of literacy,” said Tracy Kendrick, coordinator of children’s and teen services. “In this world, content is key. The format can be any format. You can have a story that is a book, a movie, an audiobook, a website, a video game. All the same story, but in a different format.”

Her own first experiences came as a girl growing up in a rural community, where she eagerly awaited a visit to the bookmobile.

The library still has a chess club and, in the next months, will launch a manga club focusing on the popular Japanese cartoon style.

A cut in provincial funding threatened the $13,000 Books for Babies program at the end of 2009. The library found new sponsors in the Steve Nash Foundation and the TD Bank Financial Group Fund, so that a kit including a CD and book, as well as brochures about the benefits of early literacy were distributed for free to 2,000 parents of newborns in Victoria.

A librarian recently sent out an email notice under the subject heading: “Old gems from Surrey Libraries need a new home.” The five titles include poetry, a selection of ballads of the Pacific Northwest, a history of the Dominion Rubber Co. of Montreal, a two-volume guide to steam and gas turbines, and the “Automatic Record Changer Manual, Vol. 3,” compiled by Howard W. Sams & Co., issued circa 1950, on the cusp of the rock ’n’ roll era.

A quick search on Google reveals that the Indianapolis publisher of technical manuals is still in business. The only other question is, What’s a record changer?

Monday, December 20, 2010

He forged a bond between the rainforest and the desert

Elias Cheboud helped bridge Victoria to his native Ethiopia.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 20, 2010


A week after his sudden death, Elias Cheboud’s friends still speak of him in the present tense.

He died after a sudden illness on Dec. 12 while working on a development project in his native Ethiopia. He was 51.

He is mourned in his homeland and in Victoria, where his sons and their mother live. He forged unlikely bonds between a peaceful campus in the rainforest and a sun-parched African land where violence is all too familiar.

Mr. Cheboud had led student demonstrations calling for greater democracy in Ethiopia, earning the enmity of a Marxist regime. He was arrested, tortured, and narrowly escaped being murdered. He fled to a refugee camp in Djibouti, before starting a new life in Alberta.

He had wanted to be a doctor and had worked as a medic, only to learn in his adopted land that his qualifications meant nothing. He started over, listening to the radio and reading newspapers to improve his English before enrolling in college in his early 30s. He came to the University of Victoria 17 years ago to study social work.

“He was a student of mine,” professor Barbara Whittington said. “But he wasn’t. I was a student of his.

“He was the most compassionately confrontational, challenging person. He treated you as an equal, so that meant you’d better shape up.”

After completing a bachelor’s degree, he commuted by ferry to Vancouver for his master’s, while working part-time as a drug and alcohol counsellor for the provincial ministry of children and families. He then earned a doctorate in education in Victoria, while also serving as the president of the Victoria Coalition for the Survivors of Torture.

He was a bridge builder. And not just metaphorically.

He initiated exchanges between the campus and his homeland. Once, a Victoria student and a professor were visiting a town in eastern Ethiopia when told about an annual tragedy. Heavy summer rains turned a rivulet into a torrent, cutting the town in half. Children on one side of the divide needed to ford the dangerous waters to get to school. Some drowned trying to do so.

The Canadians returned home, where they began a campaign to raise $10,000 for a bridge. In Africa, Mr. Cheboud encouraged the local effort, cajoling the carpenters into donate their time for a span designed by Ethiopian engineers.

“Elias would lure you into coming,” Ms. Whittington said of her own experience in Africa. “They can’t pay you, so you have to get there yourself. He makes you work you like a dog. But the project is so interesting you’d want to go back.”

Six years ago, he returned to his homeland, where he supported an extended family while working as a researcher and professor with the University for Peace, which is affiliated with the United Nations. Based in Addis Ababa, he was traveling when he took ill one evening earlier this month. He got to hospital and was seen by a doctor, but died before dawn. Family and friends are now awaiting the results of an autopsy.

He had been born in a dusty, hardscrabble village northwest of the capital, near the dramatic gorge carved by the Blue Nile. Nearby can be found the famous Debre Libanos monastery, originally founded in the 13th-century, razed and resurrected as the heart of the Ethiopian church over the centuries. It is a place of peace where blood has been spilt, most notoriously after an unspeakable massacre of monks, deacons and the faithful ordered by a fascist governor during the Italian occupation. The monastery, once a centre of learning, never fully recovered from the atrocity.

The sun-baked soil of the complex includes a cemetery in which earlier this month was buried a man who found a safer life overseas but returned to repair his homeland.

“Hundreds of people gathered there as it was also his home area,” a witness to the Cheboud funeral wrote. “It is so much of a loss for everyone and more so for his mother whom he adored so much.”

At 9:30 a.m. on Monday, a memorial service will be held at the Interfaith chapel on the University of Victoria campus.

Back in Chiro, the footbridge was completed before the rains came in July. No one drowned this season. It is said the local schoolchildren sing songs of praise for the people of a faraway city who helped them get to school safely.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lloyd Gilmour, hockey referee (1927-2010)

Lloyd Gilmour signals a two-minute delay-of-game penalty to the Soviet Red Army team.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 16, 2010

Two instantaneous verdicts issued by hockey referee Lloyd Gilmour sparked an international incident during the Cold War.

Gilmour who has died, aged 82, was a seasoned National Hockey League official when assigned to handle an exhibition game on Jan. 11, 1976. The showdown pitted a skilled Soviet Red Army team against the thuggish Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers were populated by fearsome Canadians accustomed to intimidating rivals with a brand of hockey that earned them the nickname the Broad Street Bullies. The roster included players known as Bomber, Battleship, and The Hammer. The felonious lineup was not expected to show mercy to their communist opponents.

At the 11:21 mark of the first period, Ed Van Impe charged out of the penalty box to bowl over speedster Valeri Kharlamov. The Russian star collapsed to the ice. Gilmour gazed upon this sad scene and judged the check to be within hockey’s rule book. To the horror of the Soviet coach, who later decried such behaviour as “animal hockey,” the referee failed to call what to the visitors seemed a blatant infraction.

The Russian players sat atop the dasher in front of the bench, refusing to continue play. Mr. Gilmour called a minor penalty on the visitors for delay of game. They then abandoned the ice for the refuge of the locker room.

After 15 minutes of intense negotiations, they returned to resume a game they would go on to lose, 4-1.

Afterwards, the youth newspaper Komsomoskaya Pravda complained the game had been ruined by the Flyers’ crude tactics “with the connivance of the Canadian referee.”

It was not the only time Gilmour was alleged to have allowed nationalist sentiment to overrule his judgment. In the 1973 NHL playoffs, Chicago coach Billy Reay complained the referee allowed Montreal Canadiens checkers to harass his stars. “What we could use in this league is one good American referee once in a while,” he said.

Gilmour had a reputation as a ref who “let the players play,” which is to say he turned a blind eye to all but the most egregious offences. He also displayed an impressive fluency in the course slang favoured by hockey players, punctuating his authority on occasion with a tart command to desist in scofflaw behaviour.

This approach did not endear him to teams with a more lawful approach than the Flyers.

“He misses everything,” St. Louis Blues general manager Scotty Bowman once complained. “He’s hopeless.”

Gilmour later acknowledged a reluctance to administer justice during the playoffs, when a single penalty might determine a championship.

“You have to be more careful, but you’re still doing a job and you can’t go out there ... and put your whistle in your pocket,” he said in 1991.

In 1975, Sports Illustrated magazine pronounced him the NHL’s top official for his “cool disdain,” noting “he is virtually an invisible man on the ice.”

After hanging up his striped shirt, he became a noted restaurateur at Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. His restaurant offered the venue for the professional debut, at age 15, of the jazz singer Diana Krall.

Lloyd Everett Gilmour was born on Aug. 19, 1927, at Cumberland, B.C., a mining village on Vancouver Island.

He showed some promise as a defenceman until he suffered grievous injuries from an accident while working in the woods as a logger. He spent six months in hospital recuperating from injuries to his hips, legs, back, and pelvis.

He attempted a comeback, but decided after two months he was no longer the skater he had once been.

He stayed in the game as an on-ice official, working as a linesman in a senior league in British Columbia’s Okanagan region. After two years, he became a referee in the Western Hockey League, later working in other minor professional leagues, traveling hundreds of thousands of miles in the 1950s and 1960s.

In those days, games often degenerated into bench-clearing brawls. A melee in 1962 led the referee to assess eight major penalties for fighting during which a female spectator was injured. Nor did the players always respect the official. Gilmour once assessed a misconduct and a game misconduct after being pushed by Eddie Dorohoy (obituary, Sept. 19, 2009). The skater later got punished by the league for his misbehaviour. The fine was $25.

Gilmour made his NHL debut in 1958, occasionally filling in as a referee, though mostly still working in the minors.

An expansion from six NHL teams to 12 for the 1967-68 season doubled the number of jobs for referees and linesmen in the world’s top hockey circuit.

A familiar fixture at NHL rinks, he was afforded several honours, including officiating the inaugural NHL home game of the Vancouver Canucks at the Pacific Coliseum.

During the 1975 Stanley Cup finals, balmy May weather in Buffalo caused a fog cloud to form over the ice. A dozen times during Game 3, Mr. Gilmour had members of the visiting Flyers and hometown Sabres skate around to dissipate a vapor that made it difficult to see the puck.

After hanging up his striped referee’s shirt, he operated an officiating school in summers at Banff, Alta., and took a turn in the broadcast booth, a nerve-racking debut more for his broadcast partner than for himself, as it was feared some of his salty language might foul the air.

His restaurant near the ferry terminal in Nanaimo was called Nanaimo Harbour Lights, a sneaky acronym designed to have his establishment associated with the NHL. The interior included much hockey memorabilia and it was a favourite watering hole for touring teams of old-time players.

Gilmour has been inducted into the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame and into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

A newspaper once printed an account of two fans discussing the qualifications of various referees. One suggested Gilmour was the best in the business. “Nuts!” replied the other. “Gilmour has the best unpaid seat in the house. He just lets them kill each other.”

Mr Gilmour, who died on Aug. 11, eight days before what would have been his 83rd birthday, leaves his wife, Trudy; two daughters; a son; a brother; nine grandchildren; and, seven great-grandchildren. One of his grandsons, Aaron Guiel, spent five seasons in baseball’s American League as an outfielder.

Resurrecting the lost art of the mosaic

Detail from Lilian Broca's 'Queen Esther Revealing Her True Identity.'

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 15, 2010


Lilian Broca taps on a glass square smaller than a fingernail, a steady hand trimming a corner.

She stands before a log into which has been place a tool called a hardy, against which the glass is placed before being struck precisely by a hammer. Four taps and a square is neatly rounded.

Nearby, Ms. Broca presents the other tools of her trade — an X-Acto knife, plier-like nippers and cutters, sharply-pointed dental instruments. She has a surgeon’s hands, but an artist’s vision.

In her backyard workshop, behind a rancher near the campus of the University of British Columbia, glass cups hold thousands of tiny squares of coloured glass in hues of orange and brown and yellow and green. They look like candies.

She gets the glass from Orsoni, a century-old Venetian family firm where the material is fired in a furnace at 1,300-degree C.

The 64-year-old mosaicist fashions these glass pieces known as tesserae into remarkable artworks.

Her spectacular panels have contributed to a revival of the medium, though she finds many still dismiss the mosaic as craft, not art.

“People have to come to terms that mosaic is fine art,” she said. “It was the only fine art at one time.”

She works in a Byzantine tradition first glimpsed as a young girl in her native Romania.

The process is laborious. She makes and revises pencil sketches, then paints the image of the future mosaic in mirror image, which will act as a guide for the painstaking work to follow.

A series of 10 mosaics she created to retell the Biblical story of Queen Esther took seven years to finish. One of the panels won a prestigious Lorenzo il Magnifico gold medal at the Florence Biennale International Exhibition in 2003.

Four years ago, the series was shown as a solo show at a Toronto art gallery. Most of the series was bought by a private collector of Canadian art, who now owns eight of the panels.

The art historian and archaeologist Sheila Campbell, who is curator of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Toronto, hails Ms. Broca for being a rare contemporary artist to find success in the medium. “For my part,” she wrote for the show’s catalogue, “I enjoy watching the glory of the Roman and Byzantine worlds being reborn in the 21st century.”

The artist turned to mosaics after a lengthy period working in monochromatic graphite. “I was starved for colours,” she said. Her pieces from that time include a notable series on Lilith, a figure from Jewish mythology whom she found to be a “solid, powerfully down-to-earth woman with a great sense of justice and integrity.” Her pieces accompany a poem by Joy Kogawa called “A Song of Lilith,” published by Polestar a decade ago.

A few months ago, the artist made a pilgrimage to the land she left 52 years earlier.

She was born in Bucharest, where her grandfather had forged a successful business importing silk and Egyptian cotton for men’s shirts. In 1923, he built a mansion for his growing family. His son went to Paris to study medicine, only to be ordered home by his father to handle the business.

Ms. Broca’s parents survived the war — her mother had been a forced labourer — only to lose the family holdings after the Communist takeover of their homeland. They sold “pianos, Persian rugs, silverware” to get through the tough times. They were ordered to share the house with others. “Each bedroom, salon, library had a family,” she said.

Her parents decided to leave Romania. They rode a train to bordering Yugoslavia, where Ms. Broca remembers the most terrifying moment of her young life. Her father learned their application to join a sibling in Montreal had been rejected. “OK, Julius,” her mother replied in a voice that chilled her daughter, “what are we to do now?”

The family eventually sailed to Naples and on to Haifa. After nearly four years in Israel, they got permission to start a new life in Canada.

When she revisited the old family manse, she had to reassure residents she was not making a claim to ownership. The building was in disrepair, lacking grandeur.
Back home in Vancouver, her living room is dominated by a spectacular, two panel mosaic from the Esther series, titled, “Queen Esther Seeking Permission to Speak.”

“The fact that glass reflects light makes it alive,” she said.

Light from the setting sun danced across the surface, dimming and brightening as one passed before it, an ancient form once again finding an audience.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pamela Anderson says 'no thanks' to tanks off the B.C. coast

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 13, 2010


A woman tiptoes barefoot across a stony beach, stepping into chilly water.

She wears a white dress falling to mid-thigh and a cable-knit sweater with arms so long as to cover her hands.

She addresses the camera.

“Hi, I’m Pamela Anderson,” she says for those few who might not recognize Canada’s best-known export. “I may have become famous playing a lifeguard on the California beaches, but I grew up on Vancouver Island. This is my grandmother’s property that I actually live on now.”

She is worried about the possibility of a spill polluting the coast and inlets of Vancouver Island.

“When I heard there was going to be crude oil shipped out of Vancouver, I had to say, ‘No tanks.’ ”
Paul Manly in action

You’ve seen her in Stacked, Barb Wire, Scary Movie 3, and as lifeguard C.J. Parker in Baywatch; you’ve heard her in the Stripperella animated television series; you’ve read her novels Star and Star Struck (OK, maybe you haven’t); you’ve noted her campaigns to get food and medicine to refugee children, as well as her support of animal rights, which led to the Colonel taking a licking for his treatment of chickens.

That Pamela Anderson. If she’s not taking off her clothes, she’s taking on a cause.

Getting the pulchritudinous star to make a public service announcement is a coup for Nanaimo filmmaker Paul Manly. Here’s how it happened.

“She was searching around on the web for surfing beaches on the West Coast,” he said. “She found the trailer for my film Sombrio, so she ordered a copy of it.”

By coincidence, he had driven past the old Arcady Auto Court just off the highway in Ladysmith earlier that day. The Hollywood star bought the property after her grandmother, Marjorie, died in 2004. The Arcady caused him to think of Ms. Anderson’s appearance in the movie, Borat, during which the protagonist attempts to kidnap her.

“I got home and there was an order from her. I filled out the order and sent back an email, ‘Is this the Pamela from Ladysmith? That’s where I grew up, too.’ ”

Turns out the pair both learned to swim at nearby Transfer Beach, a popular bathing and picnic spot where the community gathers for annual Ladysmith Days celebrations.

(On Vancouver Island, we play Six Degrees of Separation based on our connections to Pamela Anderson. Here goes — my Victoria home was purchased from a woman whose mother is Ms. Anderson’s great aunt.)

Mr. Manly is the son of Jim Manly, a United Church minister and a former NDP member of Parliament. His documentary Sombrio recounts the bittersweet tale of squatters who enjoy a bucolic life until ordered from the beach. He has made films about the perils of free trade and earned attention a few years ago when his footage helped unmask provocateurs from the Surete de Quebec masquerading as stone-wielding protestors.

The 46-year-old filmmaker and the 43-year-old performer (born to fame as Ladysmith’s Centennial baby, issuing before dawn on July 1, 1967) struck an online friendship through emails. She offered to help .

He showed up with his camera early one morning. “We had coffee, hung around, talked,” he said. “Pretty casual.”

The celebrity and her cause are not without critics. Tom Fletcher, a Victoria-based political columnist, expressed his disfavour in a Tweet: “Another celebrity stumbles upon reality and doesn’t like it. Or understand it. Go back to seals, Pam.”

The one-minute, 17-second film was shot on her waterfront property, for which she had planned a $50-million, six-building complex to be known as Arcadia at Oyster Bay. The development is now on hold, according to reports, a result of the economic downturn.

Mr. Manly has learned a lesson about his craft.

“Star power has some effect on who watches what,” he said.

Last month, he posted a two-minute video outlining the case against allowing the transport of bitumen from Vancouver harbour.

After five weeks online, it has 808 views.

After six days, the Pamela video has 12,267 views. And counting.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Flower power on West Fourth Avenue

Lawrence Aronsen, a history professor at the University of Alberta, has written a sober-minded account of a wild era in "City of Love & Revolution: Vancouver in the Sixties." The terrific book cover was designed by noted rock poster artist Bob Masse.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 8, 2010


Once, West Fourth Avenue was home to head shops and record stores. Today, it is lined by upscale boutiques and fine-dining restaurants.

Then, tie-dye T-shirts. Now, Lululemon.

Then, hippie coffeehouses. Now, Starbucks.

Then, slow service at the Naam vegetarian restaurant. Today, slow service at the Naam vegetarian restaurant.

These days, the merchants’ association sponsors an annual Summer of Love (previously Hippie Daze), encouraging shoppers to visit the avenue with the slogan, “What a trip!”

Looks like The Man won.

It is easy to resort to cliche when looking back at the 1960s, an era easily lampooned by us 50-year-old whippersnappers.

A person lucky enough to be 21 during the Summer of Love is today aged 64, perhaps using marijuana not as a mind-altering recreation but as a pain-easing medication.

Back then, the promise of an exciting, freer way of life lured young people from the region and across the continent. They flocked to the Kitsilano neighbourhood, where large houses became crash pads. Cheap rents made it possible to live a modest life away from the shackles of 9-to-5 clock punching. The nearby beach and temperate climate encouraged a year-long summer holiday.

West Fourth became the Rainbow Road, a way station on the hippie highway.

Lawrence Aronsen, who has written City of Love & Revolution: Vancouver in the Sixties (New Star), says the hippie movement here was “an American cultural flow across the border. That’s the catalyst.”

“It’s the Baby Boomers coming of age, trying to find their identity. The hippie thing is a nice way to counter the mass consumption of the ’50s and ’60s.”

His book is a sober-minded account of a wild flowering in the city’s history — from the arrival of hippiedom and its embrace of peace and love; human be-ins and pot smoke-ins; the Gastown police riot and the appearance of the underground newspaper The Georgia Straight; a Jerry Rubin-led occupation of a campus faculty club and the Yippies’ cross-border invasion of Blaine, Wash.; the creation of a free university and the founding of Greenpeace; an anti-prison Be-Out and the formation of a squatter’s camp to stop a development at the entrance to Stanley Park; and, a general discombobulation of attitudes towards fashion and grooming and sex, the latter giving Vancouver a reputation as a Sodom of the North. Oh, and apparently the freaks and radicals were listening to groovy sounds, too.

Mr. Aronsen, a 62-year-old history professor at the University of Alberta, was born in Victoria and raised in working-class neighbourhoods in suburban Vancouver. His cultural influences were Californian. He dressed like the Beach Boys and twice hitchhiked south to surf, returning home to become “a weekend hippie.”

What would the “small-l libertarian” Lawrence Aronsen of 2010 tell the “mild-mannered Maoist revolutionary” campus radical of 1970?

“That I survived. I did some crazy things. My craziness is a kind of Canadian craziness. I knew after just two LSD trips that it’s not productive.”

Not all his contemporaries were as fortunate. Some were lost to drugs. Others never recovered from knowing they had already enjoyed the best days of their lives.

Originally, some Fourth Avenue merchants reacted to the hippies as though an alien life form had landed in their midst.

“They saw them as seedy characters,” he said, “but they didn’t see them as dangerous.”

He thinks the reaction to the tumult of the times was far more benign here than south of the border.

In Chicago, police struck hippies with billy clubs. In Vancouver, city council struck a Special Committee on Hippies.

Even the most notorious crackdown of the era, when police attacked pot smokers and bystanders in the infamous Gastown Riot of 1971, was followed the next weekend by a street party during which free hot dogs and watermelon were distributed by merchants, while police ignored public displays of pot puffing.

Confrontation with authority initiated dialogue, not violence. Dig it.

Vancouver's hippie daze recorded

It is June, 6, 1970. At the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, the audience eagerly awaits the appearance on stage of The Doors. The band is on a Roadhouse Blues Tour to support their album Morrison Hotel.

The tour manager places two microphones on the stage floor, recording the show on a Sony reel-to-reel tape recorder. The Doors are joined for four songs by blues legend Albert King, whose presence drives lead singer Jim Morrison to some unearthly vocals.

“You guys sure have a beautiful city here. You really do,” Mr. Morrison tells the crowd. “You can’t imagine how refreshing it is to come out of sewer like Los Angeles and breath some fresh air for a change.”

The band plays for two hours, a recording released last month by Rhino Records as “The Doors: Live in Vancouver, 1970.” It’s a scintillating souvenir of a single remarkable night in a tumultuous era.

A year later, the Lizard King is dead.

It ain’t the ’60s without a soundtrack

Regenerator Records of Vancouver has re-issued the hard-to-find Cool-Aid Benefit Album, featuring some of the city’s top psychedelic bands, as well as a jug band. Groove to the tunes of Mock Duck, Papa Bear’s Medicine Show, Hydro Electric Streetcar, and the Blacksnake Blues Band.


A year ago, Greenpeace released “Amchitka,” a two-CD live recording of the fundraising concert that launched the environmental group. It features live recordings of Phil Ochs, Joni Mitchell, and James Taylor.

Storming the Barricades

Rick McGrath, who was a rock critic and entertainment editor at The Georgia Straight, maintains a fascinating website about the characters who worked in Vancouver’s underground press. The underground newspaper, which debuted in 1967, fought in court to maintain freedom of the press. The passions ignited 40 years ago over its control remain undiminished.

Hippie hero

The cartoonist and illustrator Rand Holmes, who died at Lasqueti Island eight years ago, created hippie hero Harold Hedd, one of the more memorable fictional characters of the 1960s. Among the cognoscenti, Mr. Holmes is a peer of R. (Mr. Natural) Crumb and Gilbert (Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers) Shelton. A 328-page retrospective was released this summer by Fantagraphics Books.

Harold Hedd, from the fevered imagination and slick pen of cartoonist Rand Holmes, became a favourite feature in The Georgia Straight underground newspaper.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bob Hutchison builds on his father's legacy

Bob Hutchison was a three-sport star at Oak Bay High before joining the Canadian track team for the 1952 Olympics. Photograph from the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 6, 2010


Bob Hutchison spent 22 years on the bench as a judge following a quarter-century as a lawyer. In politics, he raised funds and ran campaigns. An amateur athlete of note, he competed at the Olympic Games and later helped build Centennial Stadium, earning induction into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame.

At 79, he was recently presented a legacy award for sport from the University of Victoria, a fitting tribute in a career not lacking for honours.

For all his accomplishments, he remains known as the son of a man whose name graces a local library, as well as the top journalism prize in the province. His father was a confidant of premiers and prime ministers. Mr. Hutchison wished to follow his father in his profession, though, happily, he abandoned the pursuit while still a young man.

“The footprints,” he said, “were too big to walk into.”

As a boy, his mother read the newspaper to him. A favourite was the column “Loose Ends,” which included such characters as George Pudbury, a farmer; Mrs. Alfred Noggins, “a lady of stupendous girth, scarlet cheeks, magnificent headgear” who spoke with a Cockney accent; and Horace Snifkin, “a conservative sort of man.” The column also featured the escapades of a boy whose behaviour mirrored his own.

The other characters he recognized as neighbours and Mr. Snifkin as his father, the legendary journalist Bruce Hutchison.

How was it to provide fodder for your father’s output?

“I’d go to school and I’d get kidded. Nothing too serious. There was never anything mean about the columns. They were lighthearted.”

Bob Hutchison belonged to the soccer, rugby and track teams at Oak Bay High, staying in shape through the long daily bicycle commute from the famous family home “in the country” on Rogers Avenue in what was then a rural part of Saanich.

He got a summer job at his father’s newspaper, the Victoria Daily Times.

“I did obituaries and ran around covering the service club meetings. The city editor assigned me those to get me a free lunch. God, it was awful. Four days a week of rubber chicken.”

A provincial champion as a sprinter, and a member of the storied Flying Y track team, he ran the 100-yard dash in 9.7 seconds at the Canadian Olympic trials to qualify for the 1952 Summer Games at Helsinki.

“It was a wonderful meet,” He said. “Here was little Finland having just shaken off the drudgery of war and having been invaded by the Russians.”

He thrilled to the sight of Paavo Nurmi, the Flying Finn, running the Olympic torch into the stadium; shouted “Nice car!” to the driver of a convertible before realizing the man at the wheel was Prince Philip; and, attended a wild bash at which the host was John (Chick) Turner, the future prime minister.

“Hell of a party,” he recalled.

One of his strongest memories of competing came during a relay heat during which he watched the rear of American runner Harrison (Bones) Dillard as he passed the baton long before he received his own.The Canadians, with Mr. Hutchison running the third leg, were eliminated, while the Americans went on to win the gold medal.

Looking back, he describes himself as a “journeyman sprinter.”

He returned home to complete is studies, eventually graduating with a law degree from the University of British Columbia.

He dipped a toe into politics.

“I used to be a bagman,” he said, “collecting a little money for mayors and aldermen.”

He also managed successful Liberal campaigns, electing Alan Macfarlane as the MLA for Oak Bay in the early 1960s.

A self-effacing fellow, Mr. Hutchison suggests his political connections did not hurt his consideration for appointment to the bench after a career featuring civil litigation. He was named to the County Court of Vancouver Island in 1982, becoming a B.C. Supreme Court justice eight years later.

His father died in 1992. Oxford University Press has reissued three of Bruce Hutchison’s titles in the past 12 months — The Fraser, The Unknown Country, and, last month, The Incredible Canadian, a favourable but revealing biography of Mackenzie King. Each volume includes a trenchant introduction by Vaughn Palmer, the Vancouver Sun political columnist who has won the Bruce Hutchison Award for lifetime achievement in British Columbia journalism.

Bob Hutchison retired six years ago. He does not miss a workday in which he sat in judgment of all before him.

“You can’t even get 50 per cent of your customers to be pleased with you,” he said with a mock sigh.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The heartfelt hotel: A monument to a friend of the poor, and of the arts

The Del Mar Inn is a last, lonely sentinel on the 500-block Hamilton Street in downtown Vancouver. The owner refused to sell, lest his indigent tenants be left on the street. BELOW: George Riste in his air force uniform, circa 1942.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 1, 2010


George Riste, a man who found comfort in routine, checked in on the Del Mar Inn every day of the year, including Christmas.

He spent five hours daily at the downtown Vancouver hotel — handling repairs, chatting with tenants, keeping the place tidy.

The ground floor housed an art gallery, while the upper floors held 30 rooms. Most of these were occupied by loggers and fishermen who needed a home out of season, or while they collected pogey, or while they slaked a thirst that prevented them from affording fancier digs.

In a neighbourhood with its share of dives and flop houses, the Del Mar earned a reputation for cleanliness and affordability.

“Dad always believed that any room he owned,” his son said, “he’d live in it himself.”

All the surrounding properties on the block were bought by BC Hydro as the utility prepared to build a new headquarters. In time, only the Del Mar remained.

The proprietor resisted all offers, rejected every entreaty. He would not sell. If he did, where would the tenants live?

A small, hand-painted sign was placed over the entrance. It reads: “This property is not for sale and it has not been sold. Thank you. The Owner.”

A weary Hydro eventually announced it was no longer seeking Riste’s building, defeated by a stubborn man for whom principle mattered more than principal.

Today, the hotel stands alone as an original property in the 500-block of Hamilton Street. It is dwarfed by a shiny skyscraper rising behind it.

The Del Mar is a monument to a proud innkeeper who believed a city’s vibrancy depended on the success of its shopkeepers.

He had risen from prairie poverty to build a modest real-estate empire with other properties in the West End and on the North Shore. He became wealthy and so shared his good fortune by charging rents far below the market rate. He was a friend of the poor, and of the arts.

In 1990, he collaborated with the artist Kathryn Walter with whom he wrote the slogan: “Unlimited growth increases the divide”. A typographic artwork, rendered in seven inch-tall copper letters, was installed as a frieze on the building’s facade. Tourists can often be seen standing across the street debating the meaning, while pondering the circumstances. It has been called a “potent graffito.”

Mr. Riste, born to an unmarried housekeeper, was raised in Peace River, Alta.; Biggar, Sask.; and Agassiz, the farming community in the Fraser Valley. He supported the family by delivering newspapers and working as a golf caddy at the nearby Harrison Hot Springs resort, where he befriended the Hollywood star Paulette Goddard.

He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the war, serving overseas, though he rarely discussed his wartime experiences.

After the war, he married Marjory Hicks, the daughter of the superintendent of the Dominion Experimental Farm at Agassiz. His agrologist father-in-law was later elected to Parliament in the John Diefenbaker sweep of 1958.

Mr. Riste moved to Port Alberni, where he worked at the pulp mill before moving to Vancouver in 1960. He held a number of jobs before changing his life by following the investment advice of William Nickerson, who wrote several popular get-rich guides, including How I Turned $1,000 into a Million in Real Estate — In My Spare Time.

Mr. Riste borrowed a grand from an indulgent bank manager, got a lease on the Andrew Hotel on Hornby Street, and began building a portfolio. “That was the start of his hotel business,” said his 63-year-old son Mike Riste, a noted golf historian. “We had quite a few — the Bon Accord, the Hornby, the Senator, and then the Del Mar. All under lease. Then we bought the Del Mar.”

Built in 1912, the handsome brick Edwardian building originally housed an auctioneer’s showroom at street level. This later became an art supply shop and, by the mid-1960s, the Bau-Xi gallery. It has been an art space ever since.

The hotel once was popular with passengers from the nearby bus depot, often recommended by Greyhound drivers. It no longer lets rooms by the day.

Why did Mr. Riste give his tenants a break?

“Because of his roots,” said his son. “My dad was poor. He grew up in the Depression.”
George Riste ended his daily hotel excursions three years ago after suffering a stroke and a broken hip. He died last week. He missed his his 65th wedding anniversary (on Dec. 20) and his 90th birthday (on Dec. 22) by a month.

At 2 p.m. on Thursday, the Or Gallery on the main floor of the Del Mar will play host to a celebration of the life of an “independent spirit” and an “ideal landlord” whose generous rent amounted to a subsidy for the arts.

Guests are asked to bring homemade food to share, in honour of the proprietor’s “hands-on management style.”

The son expects some might try again to buy the hotel. He would like it known that it is not for sale. Not now. Not ever.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sindi Hawkins, politician (1958-2010)

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
November 29, 2010


In the hothouse of British Columbia politics, where rival partisans are as friendly as Hatfields and McCoys, both sides of the Legislature found agreement in saluting the legacy of Sindi Hawkins.

Ms. Hawkins, who has died of acute myeloid leukemia, aged 52, displayed wit, grace and generosity in a promising political career cut short by her disease.

A registered nurse who later earned a law degree, she won three consecutive elections to the B.C. Legislature, where she held Cabinet posts, as well as serving as a deputy Speaker.

In those instances, she was a trailblazer as an Indo-Canadian woman.

Beyond her many accomplishments, it was her open and vigorous campaign against the disease that eventually claimed her life that earned her widespread popular affection.

After her diagnosis in January, 2004, Ms. Hawkins spoke candidly of her condition. She encouraged British Columbians to donate blood and she called on Asian-Canadians to register as potential bone-marrow donors after learning only 15 per cent on the list are non-Caucasians.

She wrote diary entries for the The Province, giving readers of the Vancouver daily newspaper an intimate look at the life of a cancer patient.

“People have talked to me about my ‘courage’ in my fight against leukemia,” she wrote. “If anything, in the beginning, let me say I was driven more by fear than anything I would ever recognize as courage. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the treatment. Fear of my prognosis.”

Such openness endeared her to fellow cancer sufferers.

Even before she suddenly turned sick, she had been active in raising money for cancer research, a cause for which she had become dedicated as a nurse. Her fundraising efforts intensified after her diagnosis.

Satinder Kaur Ahluwalia was born on Sept. 15, 1958, at New Delhi. Her mother, Sharanjeet, and father, Manohar Singh, immigrated to Canada with four daughters in 1963. Two more children were born here. The family settled in Sturgis, a town in east central Saskatchewan near the Porcupine Provincial Forest.

After graduating with a nursing degree from the University of Calgary, she spent 12 years treating cancer patients before returning to campus to earn a law degree in 1994. She then established her own law firm specializing in legal issues involving medicine.

In 1996, after moving to British Columbia, Sindi Hawkins, the name she used after marriage, contested the constituency of Okanagan West for the provincial Liberals. She won twice as many votes as her nearest rival, though her party narrowly failed to form government, having won the popular vote but taking fewer seats than the governing NDP under Glen Clark.

A star candidate, Ms. Hawkins presented a dynamic and sympathetic face for her pro-business party. Her background made her an effective health critic in Opposition.

In the 2001 provincial election, in which her party won all but two seats, Ms. Hawkins took nearly two-thirds of the vote in Kelowna-Mission. She won an easy re-election four years later.

Premier Gordon Campbell named her health planning minister and she later served as minister of state for intergovernmental relations.

As an elected official, she launched the Sindi Hawkins and Friends charity golf tournament, an annual event that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for a local cancer clinic.

It was after a massage left bruising and a pesky cut on a finger refused to heal that Ms. Hawkins underwent medical tests. She decided to make her fight against leukemia a public one.

“You have choices,” she told the Globe’s Rod Mickleburgh six weeks after her diagnosis. “I can choose to be a victim or I can choose to be a survivor. I’ve always chosen to be a survivor.”

A search for a bone-marrow donor led to a match with her younger sister, Seema.

While recuperating, she eschewed her usual diet of Western foods for the comfort foods of her childhood — roti, rice, beans, lentils, chick peas and chicken, prepared twice daily by her mother.

As she recovered, her sisters prepared a Top 10 list of the reasons they loved her. No. 3, which referred to her eponymous golf tournament, read, “Only you would help raise $200,000 for cancer care and then spend it on yourself.”

When NDP Leader Carole James received a cancer diagnosis of her own, Ms. Hawkins offered a sympathetic and understanding ear.

“Sindi was there with support, ideas, and encouragement and I know she played that role with so many others,” Ms. James said in a statement released on Ms. Hawkins’ death.

Ms. Hawkins was a national co-chair for a Canadian Blood Services campaign to recruit stem and bone marrow donors. She also co-chaired a B.C. Cancer Foundation campaign two years ago with the American cyclist Lance Armstrong, a testicular cancer survivor. The Tour of Courage campaign raised $1.9 million for stem-cell research.

Her dynamic personality and positive outlook won over the hard hearts of the Legislative Press Gallery, a group known more for cynicism than sympathy. Les Leyne, a political columnist for the Victoria Times Colonist, became a blood donor because of her compelling arguments about the need for more donations.

Ms. Hawkins announced that a return of her disease would force her to retire from politics. She did not contest the 2009 election.

Hours before her death, the premier announced that a cancer facility in Kelowna would be renamed the Sindi Hawkins Cancer Centre for the Southern Interior. Gordon Campbell said the honour “will be a lasting legacy of her kindness, her passion for helping others and her generosity of spirit.”

Ms. Hawkins died in a Calgary hospital on Sept. 21, six days after her 52nd birthday. She leaves her parents; sisters Rupie Sachdeva, Moni Snell, Seema Ahluwalia, and Pamela Anderson; and, a brother Lakhvinder Ahluwalia, known as Lucky.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A tale of a Chinese place nearly lost to time

Singaporean actor Aw Yeong Peng Mun stars as Crimson in Jade in the Coal, a bilingual play set in the lost Chinatown of Cumberland, B.C. Michael Ford photograph.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
November 29, 2010


They came from a distant land, carving a townsite from a Vancouver Island forest.

Segregated by law and practice, a Chinatown rose on swampland on the edge of Cumberland, a coal-mining town. The neighbourhood had a garage and a laundry, a bakery and a barber shop, green grocers and dry-good stores, churches and dens of iniquity. Wooden boardwalks lined streets with names like Sing Chong and Hai Gai.

Cumberland a century ago was large enough to support rival 400-seat opera houses. The attractions included traveling troupes of Cantonese opera performers who entertained miners and railway workers.

Today, all that remains of Chinatown is Jumbo’s Cabin, a shack last occupied more than four decades ago by Hor Sue Mah, a man of prodigious strength and a memorable nickname. He was Chinatown’s last resident.

The forest now reclaims land still littered with evidence of habitation — bottles, pieces of broken ceramics, lumps of coal.

“There’s still so many traces in the soil,” said Heidi Specht, an actor who has made pilgrimages to the townsite. “A place is gone, but memory remains.”

Ms. Specht found in the lost Chinatown the inspiration for a ghost story.

The result is Jade in the Coal, an innovative play performed in Chinese and English that is in production until Dec. 4 at the Frederic Wood Theatre in Vancouver.

The play, written by Paul Yee, who has won a Governor General’s award for children’s literature, is the result of a two-year collaboration among Mr. Yee as writer, Ms. Specht as director, Jin Zhang as composer, actors from three lands, and the musicians.

The play features the Guangdong Cantonese Opera Academy First Troupe from China, as well as Singaporean actor Aw Yeong Peng Mun, an internationally-renowned actor who is one of the last of the nan hua dan, a male performer who specializes in female roles.

“In the opera, it was men who played female roles at that time,” Ms. Specht said. “Women were banned from performing. The male who played the female would be like a sex symbol in a town where there are no women.”

Jade in the Coal tells the story of a Cantonese troupe inaugurating an opera house in rough-and-tumble Cumberland. A tour of the coal mines leads to the lead actor being possessed by the ghosts of miners killed in an explosion a year earlier.

“Our protagonist is a character who’s torn,” she said. “She was born in Canada and torn between tradition and being influenced by the white community, trying to fit in, caught between two value systems, eastern and western philosophies.”

Musicians perform on dizi (flute), xiao (flute), suona (oboe), erhu (two-string fiddle), gaohu (another two-string instrument), yangqin (dulcimer), as well as saxophone and percussion instruments.

An actor herself, the 44-year-old Specht has long wondered what the actors from China who performed here more than a century ago thought of life in small, rough towns like Cumberland.

“It’s such a contrast — the bleak lives of the coal miners with the rich colour and the love stories of the opera,” she said.

She researched the visiting troupes at the archives in Victoria and Vancouver, where competing theatres attracted large audiences. A rare contemporary account by a Caucasian witness described music that was “an awful racket” and dialogue that sounded like “an endless ‘gobble, gobble, gobble.’ ”

The play, a co-production of Theatre at UBC and Pangaea Arts, premiered last week. If funding can be found, the director hopes to take the production to Vancouver Island in the future.

On Sunday, the elders who as children lived in Cumberland’s Chinatown were to attend the play in Vancouver. Before the performance, they were to be interviewed about their memories of a place where fragments found in the soil hint at a once-thriving community. The interviews are to be recorded before being sent to the museum in Cumberland and the archives in Hong Kong, preserving for posterity tales of a place nearly lost to time.

A ramshackle Chinatown emerged on swampland on the edge of the Vancouver Island coal-mining village of Cumberland, B.C. Photograph courtesy of the Cumberlabd Museum.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Impending loss of historic bridge has Victoria preservationists feeling blue

Workers place a wooden deck on the Johnson Street Bridge in 1923. The deck was later replaced with a steel deck. The bridge, known as Big Blue and the Blue Bridge for its paint job, is scheduled to be replaced in four years.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
November 25, 2010


For 86 years, the Blue Bridge has safely carried cars, trucks, trains, buses, cyclists and pedestrians across a narrow channel of water separating downtown from Victoria West.

It has two lifting spans. Each day, some 30,000 vehicles use the traffic span, while a solitary self-propelled Via Rail car trundles across the same rail span upon which George VI and Queen Elizabeth traversed aboard a Royal Train in 1939.

This is the terminus of the old E&N Railway, the promise of which lured the colony into a four-year-old Confederation. You can stand at the end of the track and marvel that but for a ferry ride you are connected by parallel steel ribbons to the remainder of a vast land.

The bridge links the Roundhouse in the Vic West rail yards to the century-old brick warehouses preserved in Victoria’s Old Town.

So, when the city announced plans to replace it with a modern bridge you can imagine the outcry.

A citizens’ group formed. A website was launched. Public meetings were held. A monthly magazine began a crusade. Documents were demanded and received from the city. Mayor Dean Fortin was accused of perfidy, as were the seven of eight councillors who backed a new bridge.

A petition campaign garnered 9,872 signatures, a surprisingly strong showing forcing a referendum.

On YouTube can be seen a singer wearing a model of the Blue Bridge on her head while crooning a protest to the tune of Bridge Over Troubled Waters:

“I’m just rusty, feeling blue. No one’s maintaining me, but I can be removed.

“I can be fixed, oh, for millions less, but scary lies abound and I’m a bridge that’s in troubled water.

“Dean wants to take me down...”

The showdown came on Saturday. Voters were asked to cast judgment on the city borrowing $49.2 million to plan, study, design and construct a replacement for what is officially known as the Johnson Street Bridge.

The results: 10,020 in favour of borrowing, 6,522 against.

Goodbye, Blue Bridge. Hello, new bridge.

So, what happened?

“We had no campaign team in the traditional sense,” said Ross Crockford, a writer and historian who was a prominent supporter of refurbishing the old bridge.

“A referendum is like an election. It comes down to what happens during the course of the 12 hours when the polls are open.”

The city had a slick pro-replacement advertising campaign featuring business notables, including former hockey star Geoff Courtnall. Brochures were distributed. On voting day, canvassers and scrutineers were busy.

The all-volunteer preservationist group relied on the aftermath of their year-long information campaign.

“We had an art gallery,” Mr. Crockford said. “We had a Blue Bridge art show. There was no phone bank. Nothing.”

After the polls closed, the No side could be found at the gallery in Fan Tan Alley sipping bottles of Blue Bridge IPA from Spinnakers brewpub and glasses of Painter Bridge wine from California.

Mr. Crockford vows to keep pressing the city for information in the next four years, during which a replacement is to be built adjacent to the Blue Bridge. The group will also continue to operate their helpful website at johnsonstreetbridge.org.

One reason for replacing the bridge is for fear of collapse in an earthquake. Victorians take seriously the question of bridge safety. There’s a history.

On Victoria Day in 1896, a streetcar with 143 passengers aboard caused the middle of the Point Ellice Bridge to collapse, spilling the car and its riders, as well as other passersby, into the waters of the Gorge. Fifty-five died.

The only prominent candidate to support the building of a new bridge won a city council by-election on Saturday. Marianne Alto, a labour-endorsed candidate, handily defeat Barry Hobbis, managing director of the company that operates passenger ferries in the harbour. The top two vote getters among 11 candidates both live in the neighbouring municipality of Saanich.

One of the unique contributions to the council debate came courtesy of Robert Randall, an unsuccessful candidate for council seat two years ago. An artist and graphic designer, he evaluated candidates on the aesthetics of their material.

He favoured the Alto campaign’s “palette of muted tones” combined with “an urgent, modest condensed typeface” in Yanone Kaffeesatz.

The runner-up was the conservative blue scheme favoured by the Hobbis campaign, which used the “reliable but dreaded Arial typeface.”

Oddly enough, his aesthetic poll was more accurate than his political acumen, as he predicted Hobbis winning the by-election. It must be noted his patented formula involved a careful examination of policies, demographics, past results, and a Ouija board.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chuck Davis, historian known as Mr. Vancouver (1935-2010)

Chuck Davis delights at finding another swell fact. Photograph by Les Bazso.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
November 22, 2010


Chuck Davis unearthed forgotten tales from Vancouver’s rollicking past, providing a history for a city whose memory seemed no deeper than the most recent property boom.

Mr. Davis, who has died three days after his 75th birthday, was an amateur historian who frequented archives and libraries. He mined documents and yellowed newspaper clippings, scavenging facts and oddball nuggets for his books and articles.

A man of boyish enthusiasms, he had an anecdote for every occasion. After a dramatic public announcement of a diagnosis of untreatable lung cancer, he told reporters about one of his recent finds. In 1909, the city acquired the first mechanized ambulance in the Dominion. The crew proudly took it on a tour of the city, during which they struck and killed a pedestrian.

The absurdity of that tragedy struck him as humourous, and one could not help but admire a man whose sense of the macabre was undiminished in the face of his own death sentence.

Mr. Davis was one of the city’s most familiar figures, an avuncular presence for nearly a half century as author, lecturer, quizmaster, cruciverbalist, television host, and radio announcer. No living person knew more about the city and its past, earning him the nickname Mr. Vancouver.

He edited two urban encyclopedias — The Vancouver Book (1976) and The Greater Vancouver Book (1997) — and was at work on a third, The History of Metropolitan Vancouver, which he described as his magnum opus.

He had 17 titles to his credit and had nearly completed two more by his death on Saturday, three days after his 75th birthday.

An amiable man with a hearty laugh, Mr. Davis was, in the words of one of his many friends, a “delightful shambles.” His many passions did not extend to his wardrobe, which often consisted of rumpled shirts and formless sweaters of unappealing pattern. He worked from a home office through which passage was made treacherous by paper stalagmites of uncertain stability.

He was proud of a filing system that made little sense to an outsider and he happily repeated a description of his workplace as the world’s largest gerbil nest.

Though such an appearance hints at carelessness, Mr. Davis was devoted to facts, wasting no effort to track down accurate details. Such painstaking research caused some of his projects to stretch long beyond deadline, testing the patience of his publishers.

A large man with a round face and a ready grin, he had a magnificent, stentorian voice, as befitted a former staff announcer for CBC Radio. He used it to good effect when displaying his gift as a natural storyteller. He displayed little ego and was so self-deprecating he eagerly retold tales in which he was the butt.

Some years ago, he informed a colleague about his ambition to write an omnibus history of the Lower Mainland, promising the book would be “fun, fat, and filled with facts.”

“Just like you,” the co-worker said.

Mr. Davis repeated the exchange often, including during the evening in September when he told an audience at the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre that he was dying and needed to raise funds to hire a writer to complete his final book.

Charles Hector Davis was born in Winnipeg on Nov. 17, 1935. His parents’ marriage soon after collapsed and he only once ever met his mother. In December, 1944, his father, who operated three modest confectionaries, moved with the boy to the West Coast. They lived in a former squatter’s shack built over the Burrard Inlet shoreline. It lacked electricity and shook ominously when freight trains rumbled past.

Two years later, a fire destroyed the shack and the homeless boy appeared in a photograph on the front page of a local daily.

A teacher’s etymological examination of the origins of “breakfast” — the act of breaking, or interrupting, a fast — sparked in the schoolboy a lifelong fascination with words. (Mr. Davis was a demon at Scrabble.) He also began compiling lists of such facts as the rivers of Australia and the prime ministers of Hungary. His father jokingly suggested he compile a list of his lists, which became much of his working life.

The boy and his father moved to Toronto, where they lived in rooming houses. Chuck sold copies of the Globe at the intersection of Queen and Bathurst, offering passersby a patter of slick talk (“almost like speaking in tongues”).

Since the neighbourhood included many Poles and Ukrainians, he asked another vendor for a Slavic word for newspaper. He later discovered that the day’s poor sales were the result of his trying to sell newspapers while bellowing the Polish word for feces.

His formal education ended at age 13 midway through Grade 8. At 17, by which time he had held 23 different jobs, he decided he wanted to go fight in Korea. He enlisted with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in June, 1953.

“That war ended in July,” he wrote, “so I guess someone notified the North Koreans. They didn’t tell me when I joined that you had to be 19 to go over, anyway.”

He found his calling while stationed overseas in West Germany. At 5 p.m. on March 21, 1956, Mr. Davis, a private, had the honour of making the inaugural broadcast on CAE, a 250-watt Canadian forces radio station.

On discharge later that year, he returned to Canada to launch a radio career in Ontario, working for stations in Kingston, Kitchener, and Kirkland Lake before accepting a job at CJVI in Victoria. He worked for the CBC in Prince Rupert, B.C., before being transferred to Vancouver.

A boom-and-bust mentality transformed the city every few years, as land speculation offered dizzying changes to streetscapes, as well as to demographics. Mr. Davis decided to create what he called an “urban almanac” for a port city no longer as sleepy as it once had been. He recruited dozens of writers for a compendium of history and information. Printed on cheap newspaper stock, which gave it the semblance of a telephone directory, The Vancouver Book proved enormously popular. The library staff told Mr. Davis that it was the second-most purloined title in the collection. The most-stolen title was Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

(Two decades later, while working on a succeeding volume, Mr. Davis shared this detail with newspaper columnist Denny Boyd. His response: “Well, thank God the other fellow isn’t planning a sequel.”)

The Greater Vancouver Book proved a critical success, winning two major literary prizes, but a financial disaster, the only black ink in the enterprise to be found in the book’s 904 pages. Writers went unpaid even though Mr. Davis took out a second mortgage on his home in suburban Surrey. “Memo to self,” he later wrote, “never publish, only write.”

He also wrote histories of radio station CKNW (Top Dog!), suburban Port Coquitlam (Where Rails Meet Rivers) and the stately Orpheum Theatre (Palace of Entertainment). His most financially successful book was Turn On To Canada, a Grade 3 textbook.

Mr. Davis also devised radio game shows such as Look That Up, with Vicki Gabereau, and Conquest!, about knowledge of foreign lands.

For the past several years, he has been beavering away on The History of Metropolitan Vancouver. Having learned his lesson from the previous fiasco, he enlisted corporate sponsors to finance the writing of a year-by-year account of the region stretching from Bowen Island east to Langley. An extensive website, which can be seen at vancouverhistory.ca, offers a flavour of the rich anecdote and telling detail Mr. Davis uncovered in his research.

The book is to be issued by Harbour Publishing next year to mark the city’s quasquicentennial. The author spent his final weeks raising $30,000 to hire a writer to complete the work. Negotiations are continuing.

Mr. Davis received a diagnosis of cancer in December, 2007. The following month he had surgery to removed his bladder and prostate. As he awaited the procedure, he wrote a limerick, a favored pastime, which he eagerly shared with his wide circle of friends. With typical gravitas, which is to say little, he wrote:

On the first day of 2008
Chuck Davis sat mulling his fate:
‘They’d make me feel gladder
To leave in my bladder
’Cuz peeing the old way was great!’

Students, historians and journalists owe him a tremendous debt, as his diligent work has made any project about the past so much easier.

The announcement of his ill health in September sparked tributes, many of which were overdue. The city declared a Chuck Davis Day last month and he was awarded the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for his literary work.

On Friday, just hours before his death the following morning, a plaque honouring Mr. Davis was placed on the Writers’ Walk at the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library, a home away from home for the tireless researcher.

Mr. Davis leaves Edna, his wife of 45 years, and a daughter, Stephanie.