Monday, May 31, 2010

How to be a good neighbour

Angela Evans checks out the inventory of the free book exchange she built in front of her Victoria home. Deddeda Stemler photograph.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
May 31, 2010


A green-and-white traffic sign can be found at either end of Clare Street.

The signs depict a house, a pedestrian, an automobile and a stick-figure child chasing a ball. Beneath the pictogram are the words SHARED ROAD.

Other signs decorate the top of parking poles. These include a blue dog, a pink cat, an orange setter, and a yellow tabby.

Clare Street is a modest block filled with modest homes and residents whose modest ambition it is to build community in the midst of the city.

The street runs a single block south from Oak Bay Avenue in Victoria’s Gonzales neighbourhood. The houses include cottages and bungalows built after the war, as well as a few grander homes built in the boom years before the Great War. They are clad in stucco and shiplap, painted in archival greens and ice-cream pastels.

Midway down the block, in front of 1026 Clare, a homemade wooden box has been placed atop a post. It looks like a medicine cabinet, or an old-fashioned police call box.

A rhyming statement has been hand-painted in curly, purple lettering on the frame: “Got a book you no longer need? Leave it here for others to read. Consider it a neighbourly deed.”

Welcome to the Clare Street Book Exchange Box, an urban experiment in bringing small-town values to the big city.

As May gives way to June, tis the season for block parties and garage sales, the events in which residents who share a postal code have an opportunity to catch up on events.
Residents of two small streets — on Clare in Victoria and Rose Street in eastside Vancouver — have transformed ordinary blocks into special places.

The residents of the two streets share a surprising amount in common. Both Clare and Rose are only one block long. Residents on both organized to challenge cars zipping along streets on which children played. Artists on each street made homemade signs, which were posted along the block, a simple and effective way of letting commuters and other strangers know these were special streets.

Each is an oasis of friendliness.

Oddly enough, the residents of each do not know about the other. Denizens of Clare Street, I’d like to introduce you to the inhabitants of Rose Street.

“Good ol’ Rose Street is kicking along,” said Eileen Mosca, an artist who has lived on the street for three decades. “The atmosphere stays the same.”

Planning is underway for a 23rd annual block party, which will feature road hockey games and chalk art exhibitions with asphalt as the canvas.

The locals still talk about the grand 20th anniversary party, the one in which a resident contributed a grand cake on which a baker mistakenly iced greetings to Road Street instead of Rose Street.

Over in Victoria, the Clare Street regulars gathered in a backyard on Saturday afternoon for the 17th annual potluck barbecue. They bundled against the unseasonably chill weather, gathering on lawn chairs in a circle around a fire fueled by the wood salvaged from a renovation taking place on the block.

Children and dogs raced around tables filled with shared chips and salads, while the adults shared news about upcoming vacations and the post-secondary studies of adult children.

Breaking pita with the neighbours is a time-honoured way of keeping up on the Joneses.

“What happened here is what people made happen,” said Angela Evans, who moved to this street 13 years ago.

“The sense of camaraderie and trust built over the years is because we’ve gone out of our way to make it happen.”

She built the book exchange in front of her house from materials scavenged from nearby alleyways, including a discarded disco ball, whose mirrors decorate the roof of the box.

There is no lock, no list of rules. The concept is simple, though the same cannot be said of all the donated reading material.

“You get highly intellectual literary stuff,” she said. “And potboilers.”

On the weekend, both shelves were filled. They were copies of WoodenBoat and Pacific Yachting magazines. A copy of “Living Organic” shared space with “The Complete Soapmaker.” Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” and a Ken Follett thriller were available, as was a paperback copy of Che Guevara’s “Motorcycle Diaries” and a volume of Maya Angelou poetry. Also on offer was a work by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the original Spanish.

Ms. Evans has two suggestions for anyone eager to follow Clare Street’s example.

No. 1 — start with food.

“You share. You take. You treat each other.”

No. 2 — always invite everyone.

“Everyone on the block gets an invitation. No matter what.”

Clare Street, like Rose Street in Vancouver, has a good thing going.

This, too must be said. The grass seems just a little greener on Clare Street.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Capturing images of ancient cultures

Tsimshian chief Arthur Wellington Clah, also known as Hlax and Temks, posed at the Maynard studio in Victoria in 1889. Photograph from the collection of the Royal BC Museum.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
May 26, 2010


In December, 1889, a Tsimshian chief kept an appointment at a photographer’s studio in Victoria.

He soon after wrote about the experience in his daily diary.

“Rebekah ask if I going likeness house. so I go. to give myself likeness,” he wrote in idiosyncratic English, one of his several languages.

Arthur Wellington Clah posed while holding a flat-top hat in his left hand. His right rested atop a walking stick.

His gaze is averted from the camera, which was operated by either owner Richard Maynard, or his employee, Arthur Rappertie. It took so long to expose the 5-by-7-inch dry-plate negative that an iron stand is behind the chief, so that he can be comfortable without moving, which would have resulted in a blurred image.

He was to pick up six stereograph cards for $2.50 a few days later.

Mr. Clah, whose name was an anglicization of Hlax, is portrayed in a dignified manner, as befits a chief and successful businessman.

The image of the chief, whose Tsimshian title was Temks, is one of dozens of striking portraits to be found in a new book published by the Royal BC Museum.

The chief’s diary entry inspired the title: “Images from the Likeness House.” (The original diaries were purchased by the philanthropist Henry Solomon Wellcome and are now kept in a museum bearing his name in London, England.) The book is the culmination of author Dan Savard’s 37 years at the museum, where he is now the senior collections manager of the anthropology audo-visual collection.

The museum’s collections includes some 25,000 photographs, the earliest dating from images taken aboard the gun deck of HMS Satellite in the late 1850s. Mr. Savard has selected 240 photographs, 26 from the holdings of other museums, to illustrate the relationship between the First Peoples and photographic enthusiasts in what is now British Columbia.

“It’s remarkable so many images have survived,” said Dan Savard, the book’s author. “The making of a photograph was a difficult enterprise.”

The photographs include glass-plate images to snapshots taken by amateurs on nitrate film in the 1920s.

The museum’s collection includes snapshots, stereographs, cartes de visite, lantern slides, and picture postcards.

Photographers joined, or insinuated themselves, on colonial or Dominion inspections. They were outsiders capturing images of cultures about which they knew little. In the earliest years, the technology was so cumbersome that a traveling “photographic artist,” as they were known, needed to travel with many supplies — water, chemicals, glass plates, a heavy tripod, and a black tent for a portable darkroom.

Because of the difficulty of travel, far more images exist of coastal communities than of ones in the Interior.

Five years before Mr. Clah posed in his studio, Mr. Maynard trekked to a Haidi village, where he photographed the interior of Chief Wi:ah’s house. An excavated floor contains a fire pit, while the roof includes a smoke hole. Sleeping chambers are found on the upper level. Drying racks are suspended by chains from the rafters. Among the items on display: cedar-bark mats, bentwood boxes, a coffee pot, newspapers, and an accordion.

Many First Nations peoples attended studios as models, though it is not known which ones were commissioned, or whether the models were paid. The Tsimshian chief’s diary is a rare record of the transaction from the subject’s perspective. The author has found an instance in which a photographer paid a Haida woman $3 in 1897 for a “Skeena hat” and the privilege “to photo her in it.”

Chief Freezy of the Songhees and his wife posed for photographer Carlo Gentile in Victoria in 1864. The chief, whose name was Chee-al-thuc, and whose home village is now the site of Gyro Park on Cadboro Bay, north of Victoria, wore his favourite outfit, a Royal Navy uniform.

The British Colonist newspaper published a mocking item on their visit.

“Before taking his departure the wily but uxorious old King requested the artist to potlatch his better half four bits, which was immediately done. ... (T)heir majesties stalked off with a dignity becoming their exalted station.”

The cover image portrays a long-haired man in a tall silk hat, a smoking pipe dangling from a corner of his mouth. The man is possibly Tyee Jim (tyee meaning chief in the Chinook trading language). The image was turned into a cabinet card and a coloured picture postcard, receiving wide sales throughout the continent.

The photograph was revived in the 1960s when an unknown artist clipped one of the postcards, using Tyee Jim’s face as part of the Family Dog rock shows promoted in San Francisco. The image has been on a century-long journey from photograph to postcard to psychedelic poster to book cover. In a roundabout way, it has once again returned to British Columbia.

The portraits from the likeness house speak for themselves.

Dan Savard will be speaking today about the making of “Images from the Likeness House” today at noon at the Newcombe Conference Hall at the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria. Free admission.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Legendary fact-checker made errors her prey

Prue Hemelrijk was a stickler for accuracy and proper grammar in the magazine copy she handled. Ben Moore photograph.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
May 24, 2010


Here are some incontestable facts about Prue Hemelrijk:

She was born at Liverpool, England, in 1927.

She immigrated to Canada in 1956.

She swore an oath as a Canadian citizen in 1970.

She resettled in Victoria 12 years ago.

She labored most of her working life as a wordsmith, though she rarely received credit in print.

When the Canadian magazine industry created a special award for outstanding achievement, the inaugural prize went to the Liverpudlian emigree over such luminaries (and future recipients) as Robert Fulford, Sally Armstrong and Peter C. Newman.

Unknown by the reading public, for whom she was anonymous, Miss Hemelrijk was the queen of the fact-checkers, a crackerjack researcher and a punctilious (do you mean meticulous? — ed.) copy editor.

To her fell the awesome responsibility of ensuring magazines used proper grammar and, more importantly, had the facts straight.

She was regarded as a writer’s best friend, or an unbearable pedant.

She took special delight in correcting the record in a draft of a story before an error got into print. Even in retirement, she becomes excited by the memory of pursuing such prey as an errant statement.

“Pounce. Like a cat. Gotcha!”

Miss Hemelrijk had been an editorial assistant and copy editor when hired in 1965 by The Canadian magazine, a national weekly rotogravure (do we need to include the printing process? — ed.) publication to be distributed in newspapers. She recalls editor Harry Bruce approaching her with an assignment.

“This piece,” he said. “Could you look after it. At Maclean’s they do something called fact-checking. Do you know what that is?”

“I don’t know what they do,” she replied.

“Well, I think they check the facts,” the patient editor said.

“That sounds reasonable.”

She worked the telephone, consulted dictionaries and almanacs, rifled through yellowed clippings in files newspaper people like to refer to as the morgue.

If fact-checking was like detective work, she was going to be Miss Marple.

One of her regular assignments was to do the research for a popular feature called “You Asked Us” for which readers provided questions. They did so by the sackful. One query asked the whereabouts of Col. Harry Snyder, a big-game hunter whose last known address was a ranch near Sundre, Alta. In those pre-Internet days, she needed three months of following leads and pursuing clues before tracking down the 87-year-old hunter at Tucson, Ariz.

Another time, a reader wanted to know the colour of Alexander the Great’s horse. After weeks perusing historical texts and artistic renditions, a legion of librarians recruited in search of the answer, she provided the column’s writer with a fascinating detailed account of Bucephalus, the mighty stallion. Yet, in print, the question got but a single word answer: Brown. (Not black?! Pls double check. — ed.)

The work on the column led to a rare acknowledgement in print with the publication of “You Asked Us: and here are the answers to more than 350 fribbling questions that puzzle Canadians.” The 1978 book is credited to Anne Collins and Miss Hemelrijk. The back-cover copy promises “this book is crammed with the inessentials that fascinate Canadians.”

(Is fribbling even a word? — ed.)

Though hailing from Liverpool, Miss Hemelrijk’s crisp English accent sounds more Emma Thompson than John Lennon. She was born into a family of Dutch ancestry that made a fortune in the 19th-century through Hornby, Hemelryk & Co. cotton brokers. (Why different spelling? — ed.) She received an early childhood lesson in both pronunciation and class differences after spending seven weeks in hospital at age seven recovering from diphtheria. Courtesy of the slum children with whom she shared the ward, she returned home fully versed in Scouse in which a “fur coat” is pronounced as a “fair coat” and a “fair day” as a “fur day.” “Marvelous accent,” she now says.

As a young woman working at the Arts Council of Great Britain, she decided to alter the spelling of the family name, finding her rendition — replacing the penultimate letter with an “ij” — to be more aesthetically pleasing.

At about the same time, she noted the suggestive posters promoting the great ocean liners and became determined to see something of the world. She contemplated her preferred choices, ruling out Vienna for her lack of German and America for the difficulty in a getting permission. That left what she described as the colonies. South Africa was out due to apartheid. Australia seemed promising, but she feared never being able to afford a return fare. So, Canada it was. Soon after arriving, she began her magazine career in Toronto.

She became something of a legend in the industry, having outlasted countless employers. Her efforts, celebrated by her peers yet unknown by her readers, were recently cited in a fine profile in the student-written Ryerson Review of Journalism.

Alas, the article has a few niggling errors, according to the subject, who, as we have seen, is a stickler in such matters.

Though hard to believe, this column, too, may contain inaccuracies. It is a heavy burden to profile a fact-checker known for consistency and accuracy. If any errors are found, I offer apologies in advance to Miss Hemelrijk and accept full responsibility. If the errors are egregious, however, I will blame the copy editors back in Toronto. They are known to enjoy drink, you know.

Penny (O'Brian) Cooke, ball player (1919-2010)

Penny (O'Brian) Cooke's daring head-first slide into third base earned her a photograph in a 1945 edition of Life Magazine.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
May 24, 2010

Penny Cooke joined a small, wartime exodus of Canadian women, many from the prairies, who went south to play professional baseball.

Cooke, who has died, aged 90, enjoyed a brief career in the American Midwest in a pro circuit later featured in the Hollywood movie, “A League of Their Own.”

Decades passed before the athletes of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League received their rightful recognition as sporting pioneers.

The popularity of the 1992 movie generated interested in the real-life players on which the screenplay was loosely based. In the movie’s aftermath, an exhibition about the league was created by the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y.

All 64 Canadian-born players, about one-tenth of the league’s all-time roster, were inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame at St. Marys, Ont. Cooke and a daughter traveled east for the ceremony in 1998.
Like many of her peers, her playing career ended as she pursued the more traditional female role of homemaker.

She was born as Mary Harriet Marteniuk on Sept. 16, 1919, to a family of Ukrainian ancestry at Smoky Lake, Alta. As a teenager during the Depression, she found work sewing zippers onto uniforms — for city work crews and for the military — at the Great Western Garment Co. factory on 97th Street in Edmonton.

Skill with a softball bat earned her an extra $2 per week on local diamonds. She joined her friend Lucella MacLean on a team in her hometown of Lloydminster, Alta. The pair then got jobs as taxi dispatchers in Saskatoon, where they played on the Pats team.

In 1943, MacLean went to Chicago where chewing-gum magnate Phillip Wrigley had created what would become the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Wrigley, who owned the Chicago Cubs, was concerned the wartime collapse of minor-league teams, as men were called away to war, might leave him with a ball park without an attraction.

The league began with four teams. The players signed contracts in which they agreed to comply with the rules of moral conduct imposed by the league. The players wore uniforms featuring skirts. They traveled accompanied by female chaperones, attended charm school, and were instructed in the proper application of the cosmetics in their mandatory beauty kits.

The league won converts among die-hard baseball fans, as the young woman showed great skill and determination, even sliding though their bare legs inevitably suffered bruises and scrapes.

Two years later, Cooke signed with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Daisies, an expansion team in a league that now had six teams and a growing audience.

By then, she was known as Penny O’Brian, a name she used after a short-lived marriage about which her family knows little.

At just 5-foot-1 and 110-pounds, she was so slight a figure that teammates quickly dubbed her Peanuts. Capable of playing the infield and the outfield, she displayed a slick glove, though suffered at the plate, her batting average a disappointing .216 for the 1945 season.

A larcenous disposition made her contributions to the team's offence more dramatic. She stole 43 bases over 83 games, undoubtedly to the consternation of opposing catchers.

The Daisies’ roster of 15 players included seven Canadians — Regina pitcher Agnes (nee Zurkowski) Holmes; Winnipeg pitcher Audrey (Haine) Daniels; Arleene (nee Johnson) Noga, a farmer’s daughter and infielder from Ogema, Sask.; Yolande (YoYo) Schick (nee Teillet), a Metis catcher from St. Vital, Man., whose grandfather was the younger brother of rebel leader Louis Riel; and, the Callaghan sisters of Vancouver, Margaret and Helen, the latter described as the female Ted Williams for her terrific hitting.

Cooke’s speed placed her atop the batting order as the leadoff hitter, though she batted second later in the season. Not known as a power hitter, she did manage a home run off a Racine (Wisc.) Belles pitcher in July.

When Life Magazine featured the league in a photographic essay published in an issue dated June 4, 1945, the rookie was shown making a dramatic, dirt-churning, head-first slide into third base.

At season’s end, she returned to Canada, where her daughter had been cared for by a sister. In 1944, she had married a salesman named Earl Cooke. Back in Lethbridge, Alta., she played amateur softball in summer and basketball in winter, winning a league scoring championship in hoops in 1951-52.

After the family moved to Edmonton, she operated a restaurant purchased by her husband near Victoria High School. After his death in 1969, she ran a lunch counter at a mattress factory.

In 1981, she moved to the West Coast, returning eventually to the food business by working as a cleaner at the Motion Foods catering business launched by a daughter and grandson in North Vancouver.

After the movie was released, she was interviewed on the radio by her son-in-law, the broadcaster Bill Good. She offered praise for “A League of Their Own,” though insisted the standard of baseball played by herself and her peers was greater than that depicted by the actors.

She enjoyed the belated recognition for her athletic feats, though, on meeting the director Penny Marshall, Cooke said, “I don’t know what’s the big deal. I only played one year.”

Cooke died on April 29. She leaves a son, Bob Cooke; daughters PenEarle Albers and Georgy Good; three grandchildren; two great-granddaughters; and, two sisters.

Bob Watt, hockey player (1927-2010)

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
May 24, 2010

Bob Watt, who has died, aged 82, won world and Olympic championships with the Edmonton Mercurys hockey team.

The amateur senior team, sponsored by a local car dealership, made two lengthy tours of Europe in a three-year span.

In 1950, the team qualified for the final round of the world championship by thrashing Belgium 33-0, with Watt scoring two of those goals. The Mercurys went on to win the world title in a tournament at London, England.

The competition was stiffer at the Olympic tournament at Oslo, Norway, two years later. Watt, a right-winger, scored a goal against Poland and two more against Switzerland. He added three assists in eight games, as the Canadian representatives went undefeated to claim the gold medal.

The Olympics were sandwiched between a series of exhibition games played throughout Europe, during which the Edmonton team compiled a record of 45 wins and five losses.

Watt and his Olympic teammates were inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 1968.

After the dual European triumphs, the Mercurys’ players mostly returned to ordinary work lives, many of them at the car dealership. They became known as Canada’s “forgotten team,” though Canada’s long drought of success on the Olympic stage led to a renewed interest in their triumphs in recent years.

Robert McDonald Watt, a bank manager’s son, was born on June 24, 1927, at Innisfail, Alta. Away from the hockey rink, he worked as a home builder.

Watt is the third member of the team to die in the past year. Louis Holmes, the coach, died in Edmonton in March, aged 99, while forward Al Purvis passed away in Victoria last August, aged 80.

Watt died May 11 at his home in Red Deer, Alta. He leaves his wife, Lynn; three daughters; two sons; and, five grandchildren. He was predeceased by a brother.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Generation-X pack-rat gives away his treasures

Among Douglas Coupland's voluminous archives is a Generation-X comic strip from Vista Magazine, circa 1987.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
May 21, 2010

The artist and writer Douglas Coupland is an accumulator. He gathers objets the way a small boy collects hockey cards.

Over the years, these were placed in banker’s boxes, which grew like a cardboard Lego city in his home studio.

On Thursday, the library at the University of British Columbia announced they had acquired Mr. Coupland’s papers, a voluminous and fascinating collection now available to researchers.

Among the treasures is the first draft of the novel “Generation X,” the title of which became a catchphrase for those who, like the 48-year-old author, were born in the shadow of self-obsessed Baby Boomers. The opening page of the draft, written in tidy cursive in blue ink, includes the author’s annotations and revisions.

The archive is stored in 122 boxes featuring 30 metres of text and graphic material. It includes 30 objects, 40 audio and videocassettes, and 1,425 photographs, among them a Polaroid snapshot of Terry Fox’s artificial leg. The prolific author’s credits include a non-fiction book about Mr. Fox’s aborted cross-Canada run. Mr. Coupland has also written seven other non-fiction books, as well as a dozen works of fiction.

The author himself can be seen in another photograph wearing a hat made popular by the band Devo — a red, plastic, terraced headgear resembling an upside-down flowerpot.

“I was feeling like I was on that TV show ‘Hoarders,’ ” Mr. Coupland said Thursday. “The excuses people gave for keeping an old empty Styrofoam cup were the same reasons I was using for holding onto stuff. It was a wake-up moment.

“The moment it was out the door, I felt a thousand pounds lighter.

Most of the material dates from 1980, a 30-year span bridging the manual era and the digital era during which the author’s works went from handwritten drafts to computer files. Some of the collages were posted from the earliest days of the World Wide Web when the “Internet was like a paved road, just three blocks long.”

Researchers will no doubt delight in Mr. Coupland’s pack-rat tendencies.

The Vancouver university considers the donation, for which the author receives an undisclosed tax break, as the “first step in a broad engagement with an important Canadian intellect,” president Stephen Toope said in a statement.

Specialists in art, English and communications are expected to make the most use of the archive.

“It is quite a coup for us,” said Ralph Stanton, head of rare books and special collections for the university’s library. “He’s in the Canadian intellectual tradition starting from Harold Innis through to Marshall McLuhan.”

As it turns out, the collection includes a letter from Marshall McLuhan’s son. (The author wrote a biography of McLuhan for Penguins’ Extraordinary Canadians series.)

The library received the archive 18 months ago following several years of gentle entreaties and, finally, serious negotiations. The contents have been organized and a finding aid posted online to aid researchers.

The materials include fan mail and gifts; a moist towelette promoting “Microserfs;” a letter from his mother, Janet, and a postcard from Julian Barnes; statements written on a series of Post-It notes; and, such ephemera as menus, ticket stubs, and car maintenance receipts.

One suspects academics will make greater use of the page clipped from the Star supermarket tabloid that became the seed for the novel “Miss Wyoming.”

The papers include correspondence with Tom Wolfe, William S. Burroughs and Michael Stipe, the lead singer of the band R.E.M.; press clippings from French, Italian and German newspapers; annotated reading copies from his books tours of “Jpod,” “Hey Nostradamus,” “All Families are Psychotic,” and “Girlfriend in a Coma;” and, the unpublished novel “1991,” later renamed “The Day the Muzak Died.”

Mr. Coupland was surprised to learn the archives includes his Christmas wish list from 1973. He has not seen it in some time, but suspects it was a request for Lego.

He will continue to hand out over his papers and other materials in the years to come.

Mr. Coupland, who is to receive an honorary degree from the university next week, said the difficulty in handing over his stuff was tempered by the knowledge that it was still available on campus.

“It’s not like it’s gone forever,” he quipped. “I can go look at it if I want.”

Here are some treasures and oddities among the Douglas Coupland archives at the University of British Columbia library:

Kraft Dinner invitations
Douglas Coupland autographed ordinary Kraft Dinner boxes as invitations to his “Canada House” show at the Design Exchange in Toronto in 2004. “I’m glad I kept that. See, hoarding’s not all bad.” This was the first of 100 he signed. He wonders about the content. “What do you do with the stuff inside? Do weevils eat it?”

Generation X manuscript
Fans and academics alike will find much of interest in the first draft manuscript for “Generation X,” Coupland’s first published novel. The opening page is shown here in a tidy, handwritten script in blue ink. Revisions with at least two other pens can be seen.

Generation X comic
This was a comic strip written by Coupland and illustrated by Paul Rivoche that appeared in Vista magazine in the late 1980s. The action, such as it is, takes place on Blurr Street. The driver of the red jeep says, “Jeez ... This traffic is just like my career ... gridlocked. I’m 42 and I’ll never get past being a coordinating VP.”

Office collage
A series of photographs taped together showing one of Coupland’s old offices with an LP and an image of Mao on the wall and a giant cigarette on the floor. Coupland thinks he should take stop-frame photographs of his working and living quarters, so often does he change their context.

Butterfly collage
Inspired by postcards from Malaysia featuring butterflies, Coupland combined them with decals from a hobby shop in North Vancouver. “There’s a lot of similarity between military markings and butterfly markings. They accomplish the same goals — camouflage, or identification, or beautification.”

Esso Motor Oil collage
“An image from (my) early ’90s website. It was dense with images. Back then, no one knew what websites were for. You knew they were coming but you didn’t know where they were going. Or why. It seemed like a good place for visual imagery.”

A page from 2006 in which the artist has written in script “iPod,” “YouTube,” “Google,” and “Starbucks” in a flowing script. “Just me testing out new brushes,” Coupland says. “Most handwriting appalls me. I just wanted to learn how to have good penmanship. I don’t call it calligraphy. At the most un-manual point in history, I’m learning how to have good handwriting for the first time.”

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Recognition of sprinter finally gets up to speed

At 17, Barbara Howard competed at the 1938 British Empire Games at Sydney, Australa. She had never before left her Vancouver home. She is shown here holding a stuffed koala bear given her by an admiring fan. City of Vancouver Archives photograph, CVA 371 1643

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
May 19, 2010


Barbara Howard is lively in speech, a little slowed in the flesh.

She spends most days at a seniors’ centre near her Burnaby home, lifting weights and stretching stiff muscles. The exercises are a routine she has maintained all her life and not one she is about to disrupt even after turning 90 earlier this month. Arthritis in a knee limits her mobility.

Once, she was one of the fastest women in an empire that covered one-quarter of the globe.

At 17, as a schoolgirl from eastside Vancouver, she boarded an ocean liner for a month-long voyage to Australia, where she was to compete as a sprinter at the British Empire Games. She had never even left the city of her birth before.

She returned thinking herself a failure.

“I thought I’d disappointed Canada,” she said. “I was ashamed when I came home that I didn’t have a gold medal.”

She planned on earning redemption at the upcoming Olympics, but the outbreak of war led to the cancellation of the Games. Miss Howard completed her education.

She had not returned from Australia empty-handed. She brought home two medals and a prized souvenir. Only decades later, after working in near-anonymity as a physical education teacher, her youthful athletic achievements ignored or forgotten, has she received belated recognition as a trailblazer.

Miss Howard is believed to have been the first black woman athlete to represent Canada in international competition.

One newspaper called her “the colored flash.”

She was still in elementary school when teachers first noticed her swiftness afoot. When the principal rang the school bell in the yard, she remembers sprinting the last block-and-a-half to arrive at her desk before the start of class. She was school champion in her senior year at Laura Secord Elementary, before moving on to Britannia High.

Her family had a long history in Vancouver, as her maternal grandfather arrived by train from Winnipeg soon after the city’s incorporation. He owned and managed the Abbott Street Shaving Parlor and Baths, at No. 25, sandwiched between a hotel and a bakery.

Her mother, Cassie Scurry, a dressmaker, married Samuel Howard, an American-born stationary engineer. After her father died when she was aged eight, her mother’s brother supported the household.

Though a neighbour addressed family members by an abhorrent, though common, racial epithet, Miss Howard does not remember much discrimination based on her skin colour.

“My mother was very protective of us,” she said. “We had a happy life.”

Her first track suit was a pair of men’s long johns. Her mother dyed them navy blue. “They were warm,” Miss Howard said. “They did me fine.”

In Grade 11, still two years from graduation, she competed in a time trial, racing 100 yards in a stunning 11.2 seconds, besting the Games’ record by one-tenth of a second.
The performance earned her a spot on the Canadian team.

The athletes left Vancouver aboard the Aorangi, a liner aboard which they trained as best they could. Including a stop at Fiji, the voyage lasted a numbing 28 days, long enough to spark at least one romance among the athletes. (Bill Dale, a runner from Victoria, and Mary Baggaley, a swimmer from Vancouver, later married. Mr. Dale died earlier this month.)

Miss Howard shared a small cabin aboard ship with Ann Clark, team manager and chaperone for the Canadian women’s team.

The conditions at Sydney were primitive and the athletes were bothered as well by heat and flies.

One athlete in particular had to cope with the curiosity of crowds.

“Barbara Howard, dusky sprinter from B.C., caused quite a stir among Sydney’s populace during her appearance at the Empire games,” reported Globe sports columnist Fanny (Bobbie) Rosenfeld, an Olympic gold medal-winning relay sprinter. “She apparently was quite a novelty ... appearing on the front page of every newspaper. They seldom see colored athletes down there ... the photographers and autograph seekers kept on her trail.”

One admirer presented her with a stuffed koala bear, which she clutched tight to her chest.

Miss Howard finished sixth in the 100-yard dash, a half-second behind the Australian victor.

“I remember walking into the oval and being overwhelmed,” she said. “None of my high-school gang were out there cheering for me.”

She then managed to contribute to two relay teams, winning a silver and a bronze medal.

She returned home determined to make a faster run at the 1940 Olympics at Tokyo. But the deteriorating world situation led those Games to be moved to Helsinki before being cancelled. The 1938 British Empire Games would be the world’s last great athletic competition for a decade later, by which time her running days were over.

Miss Howard finished her education, earning an education degree at the University of British Columbia. She became a teacher and a consultant, and continued her volunteer work with the United Church.

She does exercises and receives hand massages through the seniors’ programs at the Confederation Centre in Burnaby, where, for many years, her peers were unaware of her athletic past. A few months ago, a poster series featuring women athletes were distributed to libraries and recreation centres in the Lower Mainland. One of these featured a smiling, 17-year-old girl holding a stuffed koala.

The doll now has moth holes and the black nose has faded, but it rests in a place of pride on a couch in her bedroom, a souvenir of a girl’s unforgettable journey.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A book the astronauts couldn't put down

Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk floats aboard the International Space Station with a copy of Victoria author Chris Gainor's book, "Arrows to the Moon." BELOW: Chris Gainor.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
May 17, 2010


As a boy, Chris Gainor arose at dawn to watch the launch of an Atlas missile atop which rode the astronaut John Glenn.

He followed the Gemini program and by the time Apollo took men to the moon, he was hooked, dreaming of the future day when he, too, might go into space.

Of course it never happened.

Gainor became a journalist, winning a National Newspaper Award with the Vancouver Sun, later working as a communications director for the NDP caucus in Victoria. Every January, he dons a trench coat and jams a long cigar into his mouth as he impersonates Winston Churchill at a ceremony in Beacon Hill Park to honour the memory of the British prime minister. In recent years, he has returned to university as a lecturer and post-graduate student. He is now at work on a doctoral thesis.

Along the way, he wrote books about his favourite subject. He has had four published.

The first of these was “Arrows to the Moon,” which tells the story of Canadian engineers who contributed to the American space program from its earliest days. Their work has gone unheralded.

One fan of the book is Dr. Bob Thirsk, the astronaut born in New Westminster. Dr. Thirsk, a mechanical engineer and medical doctor who is invariably described as being a down-to-earth fellow, thinks today’s astronauts follow a Canadian tradition of exploration blazed by the likes of David Thompson.

Last year, the astronaut asked Mr. Gainor for a copy of his first book. The Victoria author dutifully signed a copy, which he suspected was a donation for charity.

The author and the astronaut got together again on Thursday when Dr. Thirsk and Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne spoke to students at the Nanaimo District Museum.

The astronaut had a surprise for the author.

Dr. Thirsk presented him a photograph of the book floating aboard the International Space Station as it whizzed around the earth in orbit, an image snapped during his six-month stint in space last year.

He also gave him a certificate attesting to the book’s journey.

When Mr. Gainor opened the book, he saw his own signature had been joined by those of 13 others, including a Russian cosmonaut. A crew member had also pressed a rubber stamp certifying the book had been aboard the space station.

“I was absolutely thrilled,” Mr. Gainor said. “It’s a special, unusual distinction. I’m still walking above the ground.”

From the autographs and his own knowledge of the space craft, he suspects Canadian astronaut Julie Payette brought the volume with her aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour last July. (Dr. Thirsk rocketed into space in a Soyuz space capsule, which has limited cargo space.)

Mr. Gainor still dreams about going into space, though, at 55, he knows his best hope might be a brief, suborbital flight. He’s the kind of guy who wears a T-shirt reading, “As a matter of fact, I am a rocket scientist.”

Meanwhile, he’s completing his thesis. The subject — the history of the Atlas missile which so long ago sparked his interest in outer space.


Manabu Doi, 81, returned to the place of his birth earlier this month for the unveiling of a plaque. His hometown was once known as No. 1 Mine Japanese Town, a hamlet outside Cumberland, where the first immigrant miners had settled in 1893.

His father worked in the mines and the forests, raising a family in tough Depression days. The son remembers sharing the bounty of the area’s fruit trees with local families, while firewood was presented to widows who had lost their husbands to industrial accidents.

His own childhood memories are of a bucolic time.

“We used to play soccer. Baseball was quite popular. There’s a creek that runs behind the town, so we used to go fishing a lot. Rainbow and brown trout.”

He was a Grade 7 student when the radio and newspaper delivered the news about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He had celebrated his 13th birthday just two days earlier. In a few short months, his father, Denjiro, and his mother, Fusayo, were ordered by the government to pack their belongings and leave with their three surviving children.

They were evacuated from nearby Union Bay before being sent to a camp at Lemon Creek in the Slocan Valley. One day, the children were playing on the frozen river when little Johnny Ito fell through. It is said manabu rescued the boy by using his hockey stick.

At war’s end, the Canadian government ordered the Doi family to transfer to Eastern Canada or to move to Japan. His parents chose their homeland, a terrible decision in the son’s opinion. They returned to their native prefecture, whose capital city, Hiroshima, had been destroyed a ear earlier by an atomic bomb. Their village wassix kilometres from Ground Zero.

Manabu Doi worked as an interpreter for the occupying forces, before returning to Canada in 1957. He settled in Toronto working for an import-export company.

Any time he found himself in British Columbia, he made a pilgrimage to the old townsite on Vancouver Island. Only a single house remains.

Last fall, 31 decorative Mount Fuji cherry trees were planted on the site, one for each family ordered away. Nine days ago, a brass plaque marking the town site was unveiled. Mr. Doi, who lives in Toronto, was one of at least two former residents in attendance. The ceremony was attended by local politicians, the RCMP, the military, and the Japanese consul general.

Work is also being done to repair the Cumberland Japanese Cemetery in which rests 198 dead. Among them is Mr. Doi’s baby brother Ikuo, who died in infancy, the only member of the family never to have left No. 1 Mine Japanese Town.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ace Atkinson, cyclist (1921-2010)

Ace Atkinson poses in the saddle with one of his many trophies. Ace raced for Canada at the 1948 Olympics.

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

Lorne (Ace) Atkinson’s name is synonymous with cycling in Vancouver.

He raced at the Olympics, coached Canadian teams, organized international competitions in his hometown.

Atkinson, who has died, aged 88, was proprietor of a popular bike shop, where he outfitted generations of cyclists, from world-class racers to weekend sightseers.

Ace Cycles opened its doors in 1946 on West Broadway, where it remains a fixture of the Kitsilano neighbourhood. The owner lived in an apartment above a store in which he could often be seen doing repairs, his hands covered in oil and grease.

A fit, lean man with a ready smile, a racing cap perched on his head, Atkinson evangelized about the healthful benefits and sensual delights of two-wheeled transport.

His business began as bicycles fell out of favour as a commuter tool, as the post-war economic boom made cars more affordable. For many years, the bike seemed to have been dismissed as a child’s plaything, or a European curiosity, though more recent trends towards fitness and non-polluting transportation have seen an increased interest in a 19th-century invention.

Lorne Charles Atkinson was the son of a professional cyclist from Scotland, who became a coach in his new land.

The boy grew up in a milieu where bikes provided entertainment as well as transportation. He attended six-day bike races at Denman Arena near downtown Vancouver. The marathon, which pitted two-men teams in a week-long showdown, proved a popular attraction at a time when an inexpensive ticket gave access to a warm, indoor venue for many hours.

Atkinson grew up in eastside Vancouver, a few blocks from the Grandview Cut, a man-made ravine through which Great Northern Railway freight trains reached the nearby docks. During the Depression years, hobos appeared at the family home in search of food.

“They needed to get off the train before it got into the yards,” the cyclist told the writer Tom Sandborn five years ago. “They didn’t want to meet the railway police. We always fed them. My mother gave them sandwiches at the door, but if my father was home we’d invite them in and give them a meal. I remember riding my bike down towards the railroad yards and past the tent camp they had near Prior and Main. The men would be boiling water in cans over a fire.”

The boy delivered Liberty magazine by bike, covering a large swath of the city, gaining stamina he later put to good use in road races.

He won a race in Stanley Park sponsored by the Daily Province newspaper, which featured the young champion beneath the headline: City ace triumphs in Province Cup. He was known as Ace from that day forward.

Atkinson won the B.C. junior title in 1939, later adding four senior provincial titles, as well as two national championships.

Many of the races involved spills. Picking cinders from arms and knees was a common, post-race activity.

“Our elbows had blue marks like tattoos,” Atkinson once told the columnist Archie McDonald. “You never lost them.”

In 1946, as part of the city’s jubilee celebrations, a bicycle show was held at Brockton Point in Stanley Park. A troupe performed a bicycle choreography routine. In the middle of the act, Evelyn Speer, known as Evie, suffered a flat. She was forced to push her ride, which, to her embarrassment, some of the audience mistook for a comic part of the routine.

Afterwards, Atkinson offered to get her bike home while she took the streetcar. She thought the young athlete handsome, strong and gallant. (“He looked like the movie star Stewart Grainger,” she told Mr. Sandborn. “He picked that bike up and threw it over his shoulder — ‘Hello, Hercules!”) “Their courtship lasted six years before marriage in the summer of 1952.

Atkinson emerged after the war as the province’s top cyclist, as well as one of the top riders in the country. He was the only Westerner included among a six-member team (two from Ontario, three from Quebec) selected to represent Canada at the 1948 Olympic Games at London.

He failed to complete the Olympic cycling marathon — a grind of 120 miles, 1,647 yards on the grounds of Windsor Park — after suffering a tire puncture. He was not alone in his misery, as more than half the field of 95 did not cross the finish line.

England continued to struggle under rationing. To save on petrol, competitors were encouraged to the cycle to the Herne Hill track for events. The Vancouver rider finished 15th in the 1,000-metre time trial, while the Canadian team wound up in tenth place in the team pursuit.

Two years later, Atkinson coached and managed the four-man Canadian squad at the British Empire Games in New Zealand, the dual roles keeping him awake late at night as he sketched strategy and even completed equipment repairs. He was also a competitor, contesting five races, his best finish an eighth in the 100-km road race.

The next gathering of the Empire’s athletes was to be held in Vancouver in 1954. A 250-metre banked oval track was constructed of cedar in a natural hollow at China Creek Park. Two days before the trials for the Games, Atkinson suffered a nasty spill, needing treatment for a lacerated left elbow. At age 33, he was surprised, but gratified to have been named to the team.

A week before his event, coach George Graves of Montreal dropped the hometown cyclist from the 10-mile race. In protest, Atkinson left the Empire Village residences, though he returned upon reinstatement.

In the end, he finished fourth in the event, narrowly missing a medal and a visit to the podium.

For that race, he built by hand a track bike of his own design, a machine he was riding more than 40 years later.

It should also be noted that Evie Atkinson held a senior position among officials as chief recorder at the Games, an early example of her volunteer spirit. She was a tireless advocate for her neighbourhood, lobbying for wheelchair access and for recycling programs. She was perhaps best known citywide for her campaign to preserve a steam locomotive that in 1887 had pulled the first passenger train to Vancouver. Engine 374 can be seen today in a pavilion adjacent to the Roundhouse community centre in Yaletown. She was named a member of the Order of Canada for her volunteerism in 1996.

Six-day races had failed to recapture the public imagination after the war and the abandonment of the bicycle in favour of an automobile, even if only a jalopy, became a rite of passage for teenagers in the 1950s.

In those fallow years, Atkinson almost singlehandedly kept interest in cycling alive. His shop became a gathering place for the sport’s few diehards. He imported the province’s first 10-speed bicycles from Italy in 1949, decades before their popularity became widespread. He served as a coach, including for the Canadian team at the Pan-Am Games at Winnipeg in 1967, and mentor for young athletes.

He organized races to keep cycling in the public eye, including a popular three-day race from Penticton, B.C., to Vancouver.

When the track at China Creek fell into disrepair, Atkinson led a public campaign to rebuild the facility in the early 1970s. (It was repaired, though eventually razed to make way for a community college.)

The couple was consulted when the city began forming plans for a series of bike trails.

As a septuagenarian, Ace Atkinson cycled 160 kilometres a week, joining a 60-km ride every Sunday that started from his shop, circled around the campus of the University of British Columbia, continued along Marine Drive over a bridge to suburban Richmond and along the dikes to the old fishing port of Steveston before returning home.

He did so despite having long ago suffered a cracked vertebrae from a spill. “I raced all my life with a bad back and I still have one,” he once told the Vancouver Sun. “I find that cycling doesn’t hurt it; in fact, it helps.”

The long years of organizing were rewarded when Atkinson was inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in the builder category in 1997.

In recent months, ill health left him too frail to attend Olympic events. On a February evening, he rested in a wheelchair, swaddled in a blanket to offer protection from the February chill, when the Olympic torch relay passed in front of his shop. The runner presented the torch to the old athlete, who gripped it in his right hand. As he did so, the blankets slipped, revealing the blue blazer with red maple leaf crest he had worn as an Olympian 62 years earlier.

Lorne Charles (Ace) Atkinson was born on June 8, 1921, at Vancouver. He died there on April 23. He was 88. He leaves his wife, Evie, his wife of 57 yeas; a son; a daughter; and, three grandchildren.

Ace Atkinson wears a cap with his signature ace. His famous Vancouver shop was a mecca for cycling fans.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Best Place on Earth includes a few of Canada's worst

Once again, poor Port Alberni is slagged as being an unpleasant place to live. Adding insult to injury, some ass thinks Somass Motel has one of the worst names on the planet.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
May 12, 2010


Ah, British Columbia, majestic fjords, mighty snow-capped mountains, an abundance of natural resources, and, in spots, the most temperate climate in the land.

No wonder the British Columbia government touts our province as “the best place on earth.”

So, when MoneySense magazine ranks 179 Canadian cities on such criteria as climate, employment, and crime rate, you expect B.C. locales to do well.

Sure enough, the three Vs — Victoria, Vancouver and Vernon — form a triumvirate of valhallas. Weather? Fantastic. Prosperity? You betcha. Lifestyle? Can’t be beat.

Housing? Paradise comes with a price tag.

The shocking news is found at the bottom of the magazine’s rankings. The Worst 10 list includes six places whose postal address ends in BC.

The places of infamy include Terrace (No. 170), Prince Rupert (173), Campbell River (174), Port Alberni (175), Quesnel (176), and Williams Lake (178), whose miseries are outmatched only by those endured by the poor saps who live in Bay Roberts, Nfld.

Now, Williams Lake’s difficulties with crime are well known. These capers are often committed by scofflaws with a flair for drama, though they seem at times to be more concerned with weaponry — bare fists, bear spray, cutlasses — and escape vehicles — bare feet, bicycles, Cutlasses — than with preparations as to ensure not being caught.

Perhaps the government will have to revise its claim with an asterisk: “The best place on earth.*” Followed by small print: “*With the exception of a few hellholes you’ll want to avoid.”

They’re getting used to this ignominy in Port Alberni.

“Moving up on the worst list” reads the headline in the Alberni Valley Times. The city manager is quoted as finding some gold amid the dross, noting the city had risen up the ranks from the survey three years ago in which it appeared dead last.

Here’s how Julia Caranci of the same newspaper covered the rankings then: “The good news is Port Alberni is the 123rd best city to live in,” she wrote. “The bad news is there were only 123 cities on the list.”

One resident is not impressed by the magazine, or its methodology.

“Who the hell do they think they are?” asks Maggie Paquet.

The 64-year-old biologist and writer came to the Vancouver Island city to housesit for a friend. Eleven years later, she’s still there.

“It lives up to its reputation as ‘the small city with a big heart,’ ” she said Tuesday. “It is friendly. It has an incredible number of volunteers in all kinds of organizations.”

Born in England, raised in a small town in Michigan, she has lived in some of the world’s most desirable cities — London and New York, Vancouver and San Francisco. She wishes Port Alberni had a movie house catering to other than teenaged boys, and she misses museums and the opera, but otherwise enjoys the scenery, a year-round farmer’s market, and an abundance of wildlife.

Deer wander through her yard. She has bought a $150 bear-proof garbage can so as not to encourage local bruins to loiter. The nearby Kitsuksis Creek teems with salmon. In the fall, she watches cohos jump.

The other day, she was out for a walk when she came across a meadow carpeted by chocolate lilies (also known as Fritillaria affinis, or the outhouse lily, or the rice lily) with scattered trilliums.

To add insult to MoneySense’s injury, a local establishment in Port Alberni recently became an object of snickering ridicule in an article posted on the Huffington Post website. The American travel writer Doug Lansky compiled photographs of signs from nine hotels with what he describes as the worst names in the world.

These were, for the most part, puerile puns with an emphasis on bedroom and toilet humour. Among the indelicately named establishments are the Ah Chew Hotel (Singapore), Barf Bed and Breakfast (England), and the Hotel Ufuk (Turkey). Also on the list — Somass Motel in Port Alberni.

“Just another blogger with nothing better to do,” shrugged motel proprietor Paul Friberg.

Mr. Friberg has owned the 14-room Somass (pronounced SO-mass, from an aboriginal word meaning “creek flowing over an embankment”) for 15 years. He likes Port Alberni just fine, though he wishes he lived closer to the golf courses around Parksville.

The top Canadian city in which to live? Ottawa-Gatineau, according to the magazine. Good gosh. One of the world’s coldest capitals — out-shivered only by the chilly likes of Mongolia’s Ulan Bator — seems an unlikely Eden.

Which would you prefer: Ice skating on a frozen canal, or umbrella jockeying on the Stanley Park seawall? Senators, or Canucks? Rough Riders, or Lions. (Sorry, I forgot. No more Rough Riders.) Poutine, or sushi? (OK, we’ll call that one a draw.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Taking a swing at a job in pro baseball

Victoria Seals manager Bret Boone, a former major leaguer, signs a young fan's gloves at an open house at Royal Athletic Park. Deddeda Stemler photograph.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
May 11, 2010


A coach asked Ben Marshall to bring batting helmets for himself and the others.

The big first baseman stuck his opened glove atop his head before bending down to scoop a pyramid of plastic lids.

Mr. Marshall, 30, is a salesmen of heavy-duty machinery and industrial equipment. He’s heavy-duty himself. At a towering 6-foot-8, 280 pounds, he looks like Paul Bunyan armed a toothpick when he swings a baseball bat.

He marched from the grandstand to the batting screen at home plate, his beefy arms hugging a light, but awkward load, which he dumped on the grass like an earthmover releasing a shovelful of earth.

He was the oldest of eight baseball players attending a one-day tryout camp for the Victoria Seals, a professional team in an independent league.

Like the others, all Canadians with some college experience, he paid $60 for the privilege of contesting for two open spots for an invitation to training camp.

The baseball season begins in spring, a time when every team’s record is flawless and every player believes they are on the cusp of greatness.

The Seals kept two spots open on the training camp roster for British Columbia talent that might have been overlooked, underestimated, or, simply, forgotten.

“It gives a local kid a chance to come and show us what he’s got,” said Bret Boone, the team’s manager.

For the pitchers, the possibility of a pro contract was just 60 feet, six inches away — the distance from the rubber on the pitching mound to home plate.

For the batters, their dream was some 330 feet away — the distance of a home run over the outfield fence.

The manager eyed a city works crew fussing with the $400,000 US scoreboard behind the left-field fence.

“What about the truck?” the manager asked.

“We’ll just yell, ‘Fore,’ ” coach Kip Gross replied.

Alas, no one came close to hitting a baseball anywhere near the outfield fence.

Both the manager and the coach enjoyed major-league careers. The right-handed Mr. Gross pitched for four teams, though he’s best remembered by baseball aficionados for his success with the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan. Mr. Boone enjoyed a 14-season career, most notably with the Seattle Mariners, for whom he hit 37 homers with a league-leading 141 runs batted in 2001. His baseball bloodlines are impeccable — his grandfather, his father, and his younger brother also played in the majors.

Managing is a new experience for Mr. Boone, who readily admits to being more accustomed to executing strategy rather than ordering it.

The new skipper was one of the main attractions when the Seals held an informal open house on the weekend, admitting visitors into Royal Athletic Park to watch spring training workouts. About 300 took advantage of the warm weather to hobnob with players lounging in the stands.

Children had their pitches measured by a radar gun as they threw against a vinyl backstop featuring a ferocious-looking batter. Others rolled softballs into targets in an inflatable skeeball game.

Seamore the Seal, the club’s anthropomorphic pinniped mascot, offered his flippers for high-fives from fans.

The open house was organized by general manager Roxann Bury, 31, a rare woman in her position in all of baseball and certainly a rare GM whose painted fingernails match her toenails.

As for her gender in the male world of baseball, she said of her manager and coaches, “I’m not sire they know I’m a woman. They treat me the same way as anyone else. They’re confident in my abilities.”

She has earned her high position after spending more than a decade in marketing and community relations for a baseball and a pro lacrosse team in Calgary. She will be taking the Seals to her hometown of Kamloops this week for exhibition games.

The Seals’ home opener on May 21 is against a Golden Baseball League expansion club from Hawaii. The Na Koa Ikaika Maui is roughly translated as the Mighty Warriors of Maui.

A road trip to Hawaii will be one of the perks for players who earn a fraction of their major-league counterparts.

Mr. Marshall, the salesman, will not be among them.

The Seals braintrust invited only one player at the workout to join 32 others in competing for 22 roster spots.

The big first baseman said his disappointment was tempered by the experience.

“I took infield practice with Bret Boone. He’s got quite the pedigree. I’m just happy to be here.

“This has been like a fantasy camp.”

Within hours of getting the bad news, Mr. Marshall was back on the diamond, patrolling first base for his amateur team in North Vancouver, satisfied in the knowledge that at least he had taken the chance. He had not left unanswered the possibility of a pro career, however modest.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Millions of unhappy children driven mad by this Method

Retired teacher and librarian Bob Warren displays a fine style as he shows MacLean Method handwriting. Photograph by Deddeda Stemler.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
May 5, 2010


The classroom on the main floor at George Jay Elementary looked much as it did many decades ago.

Two orderly rows of desk faced a chalkboard on which had been drawn tidy parallel lines, ideal for practicing one’s handwriting. A slate had been placed atop each desk.

A few books, their yellowing pages dog-eared and showing signs of foxing, rested atop the teacher’s desk. One was a reader featuring the brother-sister tandem of Dick and Jane.

Another was a rectangular booklet. The author, Henry Boyver MacLean, had been the school’s first principal.

Many years ago, H.B. MacLean headed an education commission in the province. A familiar complaint among teachers was the poor handwriting of students. Mr. MacLean decided to tackle the problem with a scientific approach. The result was the MacLean Method of Handwriting.

British Columbia has delighted the world with its innovations, from fuel cells to diving suits, from helicopter logging to such Web pages as Flickr.

The MacLean Method of cursive handwriting was one export not universally acclaimed. In its day, the penmanship primer was the cause of untold classroom torments throughout the Dominion and the Commonwealth, a scourge for clumsy-fingered boys and inattentive girls most everywhere in the English-speaking world.

“I spent countless hours doing the swirls,” said Bob Warren, 63, a former teacher and librarian who retired from the elementary school two years ago. “We probably had to do it until we got it right. Sitting upright, arms at the right level, wrist at the proper angle. There’s a fair bit to it.”

Like many schoolboys, he had an opinion about the lessons.

“This is silly,” he remembers thinking, though he mastered the style.

The educator returned to his old school on the weekend for celebrations. Former pupils were invited back to the grand stone building constructed on a farmer’s dairy field 100 years ago.

Mr. Warren is the author of a history of the school, for which he researched the background of the school’s first principal.

MacLean was a minister’s son born at Mount Herbert, PEI. He began teaching at a one-room schoolhouse on the Island, for which he earned an annual salary of $125. His own verdict on his talents: “I was terrible.” He later became vice-principal at the new Macdonald Consolidated School at Hillsborough. (The principal was Walter Jones, a future premier.) The construction was sponsored by Montreal tobacco magnate Sir William Macdonald, whose intent it was to replace dingy rural schools with modern facilities staffed by properly-trained teachers.

In 1909, Mr. Maclean moved to British Columbia to become assistant principal at South Park Elementary. The following summer, he married May MacKenzie, a former star pupil, to whom he had presented a pen on her 17th birthday. He then began his term at George Jay.

The method he developed had features immediately recognizable to any familiar with the style. He demanded rounded letters; a precisely crossed t; an a with a fatter body and full descender, so as not to be mistaken for its vowel cousin, the o.

The technique demanded a sweeping, full-arm movement, proper paper placement, and rhythmic writing movement.

On their slates and, later, in their practice books, pupils wrote endless versions of the Maclean maxim, “Practice makes perfect.”

They also scribbled countless renditions of a sentence famous for including all 26 letters: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

A common reward for achieving fluency in the style was a certificate. These would celebrate a student’s success in “sitting in a healthful position,” or “holding pencil correctly,” or displaying “good point printing.”

The certificates included a reproduction of the founder’s signature rendered in a script unquestionably legible, though certainly lacking in personality.

Among those frustrated by the method was a young Justus Havelaar, a Dutch immigrant who went to school in Terrace. For him, the MacLean Method was madness.

“The thing I remember most is my poor motor skills,” he said. “And there were those wretched ink wells with straight pen nibs. I still have nightmares about those things.”

In Grade 9, his father, concerned about the poor quality of his handwriting, bought the boy a fountain pen with an italic nib with which he developed a tidy cursive script of his own. He went on to become an English teacher like his father. The elder Havelaar, now 95, lives in Courtenay, while the 65-year-old namesake son lives in Campbell River.

He was asked about the state of his handwriting these days.

“Of course all that’s gone,” he said. “I don’t write with a pen.”

The only time he picks up a pen is to write a cheque.

MacLean last visited George Jay school for the opening of a new gymnasium in 1972. His textbooks were falling out of favour, though they had been on the curriculum longer than any other in the province.

He died in Vancouver in 1976, aged 91. He was hailed in obituaries for devising a system used by millions of Canadian school children. It was also noted that he had served as a handwriting expert in court cases involving forged wills and threatening letters.

The Vancouver Sun hailed the educator in an editorial. “Toward the end of his life the Method fell into some disuse, criticized for being too regimented, too opposed to individualism. Perhaps. But it was the work of a man who wanted us to communicate better with each other. No small ideal.”

The entire 175-word editorial was rendered in a fine, readable version of the Method.

You might say MacLean left his mark on the province, even if in this computer age the writing is on the wall for handwriting.

I ate like a president

Ben's Chili Bowl is an institution in Washington, DC. BELOW LEFT: Barack Obama chows down on a half-smoke. BELOW RIGHT: Sign at Attman's Deli in Baltimore.

By Tom Hawthorn
Boulevard Magazine
May/June, 2010

For many years, a sign was posted behind the counter at a landmark restaurant in a black neighbourhood in Washington, DC. It read: “Who eats free at Ben’s — Bill Cosby.”

In 1958, Ben Ali and his wife Virginia opened a modest eatery on U Street N.W., a commercial strip in those days known as the Black Broadway in a city still segregated. Plenty of famous entertainers could be found at Ben’s Chili Bowl — Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, and Nat King Cole. Martin Luther King, Jr. chowed down here, too. The lineups were longest from midnight to 4 a.m.

Cosby came more often than most. He was a friend, making it a point to visit the establishment after a performance. Cosby even courted a comely co-ed at Ben’s proposing to Camille Hanks in the restaurant on their sixth date.

Two decades later, in 1985, Cosby celebrated the success of his hit television sitcom with an event held on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. A grateful owner pledged Cosby would never again pay for a hot dog covered with chili, the house speciality, or whatever else he cared to eat.
And so the question of credit and dining at Ben’s remained unchanged for many, many years.

Until Barack Obama paid a visit. Ten days before his inauguration, the U.S. president-elect dropped by Ben’s for a famous half-smoke with chili sauce. He also made a good-natured request about the availability of Pepto-Bismol.

The owner soon after altered the sign. When I visited last summer, it read:

Who eats free at Ben’s:
Bill Cosby
The Obama family.

Underneath, someone had written in hand: “But HE PAID.”

I figured if Ben’s was good enough for the president of the United States of America, who can eat wherever he pleases, then it’d be good enough for me.

Knowing where to eat when out of town can be a dilemma. So, while on a budget tour of New York, Baltimore and Washington last summer, the limitless choice of dining establishments was narrowed by a determination to chow down in restaurants visited at least once by a future or former or, best yet, sitting president. So, I ended up eating soul food near Harlem, pastrami in Baltimore, and a killer hamburger in the capital, while also bending an elbow at a bar with stuffed animal heads said to have been bagged by Theodore Roosevelt.

Joined by my friend, Bob Krieger, an editorial cartoonist with the Vancouver Province, we set out from our dingy room at a midtown Manhattan hotel for a taste of barbecue and Southern soul food at Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too. Located just west of the north end of Central Park, the restaurant is a favourite of students at nearby Columbia University. It also is patronized by Bill Clinton, a man known for his appetites, gastronomic and otherwise. Clinton, who established an office in Harlem after leaving the White House, has indulged his fondness for the area’s soul food restaurants. The Arkansan favors the “Miss Mamie Sampler” of shrimp, chicken, and short ribs.

We arrived just before noon. The restaurant was empty. No customers. No waitress. An ominous sign.

The server soon appeared from the kitchen. She told us they were out of seafood gumbo, which seemed odd considering the time of day and lack of clientele. We ordered a chopped barbecue sandwich and fried chicken.

A red-and-white checkerboard pattern dominates the room, which is filled with Formica tables and padded chairs, giving a diner feel. The menu includes oxtails, smothered pork chops, and Louisiana catfish with such traditional, rib-sticking side dishes as candied yams, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese.

As we waited, the restaurant began to fill. Our orders did the job — we had found a Southern oasis at the Manhattan junction of the Upper West Side, Morningside Heights, and Harlem. A good first stop.

Baltimore is the world capital of crab cakes and we struck gold at J.W. Faidley Seafood, a counter with no seating at the Lexington Market. The All-Lump Crab Cake was a lightly battered plate of gastronomic heaven. Unbeatable. Don’t know if any presidents have eaten at Faidley’s, which has been a family-owned business in the market since 1886, but they did make crab cakes for the crew of the Space Shuttle.

Before the white flights of the 1960s, Baltimore boasted a Corned Beef Row of delicatessens. Today, Attman’s remains a lonely outpost. Order cafeteria-style from a huge menu — among the goofy combination sandwiches are the Tongue Fu, the Lox O’Luck, and the Gay Liveration — and kill the time in line by checking out the fantastic, hand-painted signs.

In the Kibitz Room, we picked a table overlooked by a framed photograph of Jimmy Carter enjoying a sandwich. Our pastrami was good, but not worth an excursion. Unexpected bonus — free parking in the vacant lot next door.

In the movie “State of Play,” a reporter portrayed by Russell Crowe is about to order at the counter inside Ben’s Chili Bowl when he discovers his attache case has been stolen. It’s a neat scene capturing the discombobulation one feels when ordering at a diner when everyone else is a regular and knows the menu by heart.

Ben’s is a District of Columbia institution. In the fierce hours following the heartbreaking assassination of Dr. King, who himself had enjoyed Ben’s, the Ali family kept their doors open while all around burned. The owners thought it important to keep nourished firefighters and policemen, a brave kindness undoubtedly taken advantage of by a hungry rioter, or two. After all, everybody eats at Ben’s.

On our visit, I went with the Original Chili Half-Smoke, a spicy hot dog with an outer casing grilled to blackness (but not burnt), covered with a molten sea of chili. It was delicious and surprisingly satisfying. No wonder Obama made a pit stop.

Another black-owned institution is the Florida Avenue Grill, a not-so-greasy spoon with booths and a long counter overlooking a crackerjack short-order cook. Like Ben’s, the restaurant survived the 1968 riots that devastated DC neighbourhoods. (The owner stood in the front door with a shotgun.) We went with a standard bacon and eggs breakfast with side dishes of grits and greens, a filling way to open a day to be filled with sightseeing.

The walls are filled with autographed photos, including such dignitaries as Rev. Al Sharpton and Supreme Court Justice Thomas Clarence. Obama ate here while serving in the Senate.

Each night in the capital we retired to the Old Ebbett Grill, sidling up to a bar over which started the unblinking heads of stuffed creatures such as a walrus, a gazelle, and a warthog. The poor creatures are thought to have been bagged as trophies by Teddy Roosevelt.

It was at the bar that we plotted our final stop, an out-of-the-way eatery with no sign in a strip mall across the Potomac in Arlington, Va. It took some time to find Ray’s Hell-Burger, opened by chef Michael Landrum, a prominent steakhouse owner, but the hunt came with a reward — a 10-ounce burger of prime rib cooked as we wished. (We went with recommended, a warm red centre, though we could have had “mooing” or “cooked throughout.”) Bacon, fine cheeses, even guacamole are offered as toppings, but the quality of the meat makes adornment unnecessary. Each table is outfitted with a paper-towel dispenser, a requirement for juicy burgers, quite simply the best I’ve ever had from a commercial establishment.

No wonder Obama and Joe Biden crashed the joint shortly after taking office.

After downing my burger and cleaning up as best as possible, I was left with the entirely satisfying thought about my week-long excursion.

I had eaten like a president.

Barack Obama, accompanied by Joe Biden, orders a sandwich last year at Ray's Hell Burgers in Arlington, Va.

Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too
366 W. 110th St., New York, N.Y.
BBQ and Southern soul

1019 East Lombard St., Baltimore, Md.

J.W. Faidley
203 North Place St., Lexington Market, Baltimore, Md.
Heavenly crab cakes. No seating.

Ben’s Chili Bowl
1213 U St., NW, Washington, DC
Hot dogs slathered in chili. Heart attack on a plate. Surprisingly satisfying.

Florida Avenue Grill
1100 Florida Ave., NW, Washington, DC
Greasy spoon with a terrific short-order cook.

Old Ebbitt Grill
675 15th St. NW, Washington, DC,
Saloon with oysters and steaks.

Ray’s Hell Burger
1713 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va.
Hamburgers. Killer toppings. No fries.
No website.

Plinking and plucking the perfect little instrument

By Tom Hawthorn
Boulevard Magazine
May/June, 2010

On the final Saturday of each month, Larsen Music dedicates a few hours to free instruction for the public.

The family-owned business encourages music lovers to try their chops. Should a budding trombonist stick with the instrument, well, as it happens Larsen has in stock a fine selection of instruments.

Earlier this year, it seemed a propitious time to offer a free ukulele lesson. The store had plenty of ukes on hand.

Come to our uke workshop, the shop urged. Bring your ukulele, or borrow one of ours. We’ll jam.
The first hint of the popularity of the invitation was the sheer number of telephone calls.

Figuring the session was going to attract a larger audience than usual, the staff cleared away about half the floor space.

On the big day, they quickly realized they would need more space.

The uke is on the cusp of a global revival. Who knew?

Until recently, the ukulele has been the Rodney Dangerfield of stringed instruments, a children’s plaything that looks like a guitar left out in the rain.

The four-string instrument is associated with Hawaii, where it developed after the arrival of a shipload of Portuguese immigrants in 1879. Among them were three instrument makers. Popular lore has it that a musician celebrated the ship’s landing in the Pacific paradise by playing frenzied folk tunes on his cavaquinho, a small, four-stringed instrument.

In time, the locals developed a modified version of their own, some with a narrow waist, like a minitaure guitar, others with a gently rounded body like a pineapple. A native wood, koa, lent itself to the instrument, which came to be called the ukulele, or “dancing flea,” after the demented motion of fast-moving fingers plucking the strings.

The ukulele likely made its way to British Columbia with sailors and Kanaka immigrants, the contract labourers from Hawaii who eventually established communities in Victoria, Maple Ridge, and Salt Spring Island.

Ukulele fever swept North America after Jonah Kumalae presented his instruments at the Panama Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco in 1915. His performances at the Hawaii pavilion captured the public imagination. Soon, all kinds of parlour musicians were taking up the easy-to-learn instrument, a fad still apparent in the sheet music of the 1920s.

The instrument waned in popularity before enjoying a revival sparked by servicemen returning from the American naval base in Hawaii. Polynesian-themes restaurants offering mai tais and other umbrella-laden drinks were the height of sophisticated exotica in the 1950s and early 1960s, a time when a mellow, easy-listening Hawaiian musician named Don (“Tiny Bubbles”) Ho became a well-known cultural figure, appearing in cameos on several hit television shows. The lei-bedecked Ho played Hammond organ, but his band made good use of the ukulele as both prop and instrument.

In retrospect, the uke was doomed when Bob Dylan, of all people, went electric, acoustic strings overwhelmed by the guitar-bass-drums lineup of rock groups. Only a few years later, the ukulele was reduced in status to a novelty instrument played by such plucky acts as the falsetto-singing Tiny Tim, who tiptoed through the tulips while strumming.

For the next four decades, the ukulele remained a little-regarded instrument most often used to introduce children to music.

“It was always a sort of peripheral thing. Hangs on the wall,” says the musician Paul Laverick, an English-born, 32-year-old guitarist who helped organize the ukulele workshop at Larsen.

“Yet, it’s portable. It’s easy to work out chords and rhythms. It’s a good little cool instrument. It’s almost perfect.” Unlike the recorder, you can also sing while playing.

He attributes its recent popularity to a return to folk music and kitchen concerts, as ukes, banjos and mandolins find an audience weary of arena extravaganza.

Back in his native land, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, formed in 1985, has helped revive interest following tours of North America. A shop in London is called the “Duke of Uke,” while a player in California calls himself Cool Hand Uke. The instrument just seems like fun.

Not to mention that teaching it is as easy as child’s play.

“I can get a group playing and singing within an hour,” Laverick pronounces.

So, on a Saturday afternoon, novice uke players aged from seven to 75 began to file into the music store. The staff counted the arrivals — one dozen, two dozen, three dozen. More flocked into the shop as the staff hurriedly cleared the entire sales floor.

In time, more than six dozen aspiring musicians jammed into the space. Folks filled every rental chair. They lined up against the wall, stood behind the cash counter, blocked the windows at the rear of the room. Some shared music stands, while others balanced sheet music on their knee, furiously turning a page mid-strum.

Their instructor taught a handful of basic chords, then instructed the pupils in what can be thought of as the ukulele’s greatest hits — “You Are M Sunshine” and “Oh! Susanna.”

The makeshift ensemble sang, “I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee.”

“OK, so the third verse,” Laverick said, giving instruction while plinking away. “You just go from C to G again. Here we go.”

They did so. Then, they played “Stand By Me,” the Ben E. King tune, and the irresistible “Over the Rainbow,” the ballad from “The Wizard of Oz.”

“That’s one of the songs where everyone who hears it,” Laverick said, “wants to buy a ukulele.”

He’s right. For me, the first plinks place me amidst palms and Polynesians on a Pacific island. It sounds even better when used to cover a familiar rock tune. Sure, it’s a bit comical at first, but the uke is a versatile instrument.

Laverick has performed on his favourite ukulele Stevie Wonders’ “Superstition,” as well as songs by Tom Waits and Dylan, bringing the Bobster back to his roots.

A Victoria Ukulele Circle meets every Wednesday at the Esquimalt Recreation Centre and local instructors are thinking of organizing a uke festival for next year.

Sometimes, Laverick images recruiting an army of ukulele-strumming acolytes, spreading the word about the perfect little instrument anyone can play.