Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hail to Vancouver taxi firm on its 100th birthday

This photograph depicts Dan MacLure in his car for hire touring a couple around Stanley Park in 1911. MacLure started a namesake cab company still in business today.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 29, 2011

A tattered photograph, long ago bent in half and the upper corner torn away, depicts a cab driver in cap and uniform at the wheel of an open vehicle. In the rear sit two passengers in their Sunday best.

The hand-written caption reads, “Seeing Stanley Park in 1911.”

The driver is Donald Campbell MacLure, known as Dan, who would go on to own a service station, a motor-boat service, and a fledgling airline. His lasting contribution to Vancouver’s history is his name, which to this day appears in Coca-Cola script as part of the familiar blue-and-white livery of MacLure’s Cabs.

The oldest taxi company in the Lower Mainland will celebrate its 100th birthday next week with a private party at which a 1911 Cadillac is to be displayed alongside a Toyota Prius. The music will be provided by the Dal Richard Orchestra, which is appropriate since the one-man taxi company was barely six years old when the band leader was born.

Reporters have a soft spot for hacks, who, after all, know the location of every speakeasy and bootlegger in town. Cab drivers are also always good for a quote, sometimes even speaking the words which are attributed to them.

Taxis are useful, but they’re a service that seems to generate lots of complaints.
Unclean. Unsafe. Cheaters. And that’s just the passengers.

We’ve all had rides with drivers who seem as moody and paranoid as Travis Bickle.

The local taxi industry has a checkered history.

While trying to break a printers’ strike in 1946, management at the Daily Province hired Diamond Cabs to distribute a paper produced by non-union labour. In later years, taxi drivers were fired for trying to form a union.

At the airport, the battle over lucrative fares threatened to spill into violence among drivers from rival companies. Passengers complained of being refused entry if their destination was too nearby.

In 1975, the first plastic shield, imported from New York and strong enough to stop a .38-calibre bullet, was installed in a Yellow Cab to protect the driver from his passengers.

In the city’s post-war years, cabbies took part in plenty of stunts. Radio disc jockey Jack Cullen broadcast one of his famous Owl Prowl shows from a Black Top cabbed parked at a drive-in restaurant. Yellow Cabs held a Most Handsome Driver contest in 1950. The winner, Bud Veale, was a dead ringer for Hollywood movie star Van Johnson.

In those days, drivers had a reputation of doing anything for a passenger. In 1954, Dave King of B.C. Radio Cabs was driving a young woman to West Vancouver. When slowed by traffic on the Lions Gate Bridge, she jumped out. To the driver’s horror, she began climbing the railing. He raced over, hauling her to safety before escorting her into his car. Then they returned to her West End address. The would-be suicide paid her fare, he later told police, even tipping him 50 cents.

While Dan MacLure was an early cabbie, he was not the city’s first, an honour that possibly belongs to William Hayward. The hotel proprietor owned a White Steamer, manufactured in Cleveland at a sewing-machine factory. In 1904, the car could be hired for jaunts around the city by dialing 284 — the city had fewer than 1,000 telephones.

The other contender for the title of the city’s first cabbie is Charles Henry Hooper, an adventurer who raced cars against the famous Barney Oldfield, rustled cattle in the Cariboo and mined for gold in the Klondike. Handsome Harry, as he was known, drove a wheezy, two-cylinder Ford Model A. For a time, he earned his living as a professional cyclist, touring Canada with a dog called Dirty Face.

As part of its centenary celebration, MacLure’s will be adding the phrase “Serving Vancouver since 1911” to its fleet of 65 vehicles. The company changed hands several times after the 1953 death of the founder and is currently known as MacLure’s Cabs (1984) Ltd., a 27-year-old company marking a centenary.

So, happy 100 years to the Vancouver taxi industry.

I know it only seems I’ve been waiting that long for my car.

Dan MacLure's name still appears on a Vancouver cab company a century after he began as a driver for hire.

Hey, Mac

Only four Vancouver companies remain in a business that once counted dozens of rival firms. MacLure’s claims to be the oldest, followed by Yellow, which started in 1921. Black Top and Checker Cabs was started by eight veterans returning from the Second World War. Vancouver Taxi launched in the 1980s to provide service to handicapped customers only.

In 1910, the first motor taxi company appears in the Vancouver city directory. Columbia Taxicab was owned by E.H. Heaps, a businessman who also had timber interests.

By the boom years of the late 1920s, the city had dozens of rival taxi companies, names that have mostly disappeared from the public memory. There was ABC Taxi and BB Taxi; Fifty Cent Taxi and Fred’s Dollar Taxi; Frisco and Hollywood; Owl and Sun; Canadian and Dominion; Commercial and Webster’s Peerless; Devonshire and Kerrisdale; Mikado and Nabata; Queens and Empress and Royal City; Ready and Roamer; De Luxe and Gold Band.

Charles Henry Hooper, known as Handsome Harry, is believed to have been Vancouver's first taxi driver. He prospected for gold in the Klondike and operated a placer mine in the Cariboo.

A 1910 advertisement for Columbia Taxicab, the first to advertise in the city directory.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Victoria searches for successor to the 'people's poet'

The prolific Linda Rogers is concluding a three-year term as Victoria's poet laureate.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 26, 2011


The patrician figure in tasteful black rose from a pew in the nave, bowing in the direction of the altar before taking her place at the lectern.

Without introduction, she began to read, picking up where a predecessor had left off. Linda Rogers spoke the familiar words of Chapter 5 of the gospel according to Matthew, the Sermon from the Mount. Blessed are the meek, etc.

Verily, I say unto you the reading exhibited her extensive experience in the elocutionary arts.

The audience in the cavernous and magnificent Christ Church Cathedral numbered just 11. She was reading during the dinner hour on Friday, the penultimate day of the cathedral’s week-long King James Biblethon. It was surely one of the smallest audiences the poet laureate of Victoria has faced in her tenure.

Ms. Rogers is nearing the end of a three-year term as a literary ambassador and “people’s poet.” The city is now canvassing for nominations for a successor. Applicants must be residents of greater Victoria, have published at least two volumes (self publishing does not count) and must have written work “that demonstrates poetry richness and flexibility (be more than one style).”

OK, first job for the next poet laureate — rewrite the eligibility criteria.

The winning candidate has to write at least three original works for each year of the term. In exchange, the laureate gets a $2,500 honorarium, guaranteed invites to swanky galas, and the future possibility of resting on one’s laurels.

The prolific Ms. Rogers has produced 27 poems for the city. She has visited classrooms, hospitals and seniors’ homes to encourage the creation of free verse and rhyming couplets, sonnets and haikus.

“More people who didn’t regard themselves as poets are now engaged,” she said.
Linda Rogers
A book of poems by schoolchildren celebrating the pending marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton was sent to the royal couple before their wedding ceremony.
In April, local poets wrote poems about downtown businesses, which then showcased the works in window displays.

Ms. Rogers also continued a popular program called Love, Poetry and Chocolate during which the public is invited to contribute and read aloud romantic poetry. The event, held near Valentine’s Day, was launched by her predecessor, Carla Funk, who became Victoria’s inaugural poet laureate five years ago.

The city sponsors one of 18 poet laureate positions that exist in Canada, the most prestigious of which is the parliamentary poet laureate. Victoria is one of only three cities in British Columbia with an official poet laureate. New Westminster named its first in 1998 with Vancouver following suit four years ago.

Ms. Rogers, who says her antecedents include an abundance of lawyers, theologians and writers, including the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, is a ubiquitous presence on the local writing scene.

Alas, she has found the wedding of the spontaneous spirit of the poet with the demands of civic officials to not always be harmonious. She has found it difficult to accept some of the diktats issued by those who supervise the laureate. She said she was asked to read over any works to be read aloud by other writers at public events. What to City Hall seemed like a prudent vetting to the poet sounded like censorship.

She had hoped a legacy gift to conclude her term would be an anthology featuring the work of 30 local poets and visual artists, a volume the city could use as a protocol gift for visiting dignitaries. At the moment, the project has no publisher, though she vows to see it in print.

“I’ve failed Bureaucracy 101,” she said. “First course I’ve ever failed.”

Back at the cathedral, Ms. Rogers concluded her chapters by stating, “End of the reading.”

She stepped down from the lectern, retrieveing a purse left unattended in the pew before heading for the door, where I caught up with her to ask what she took from the reading.

“I’ve been having trouble with bureaucrats,” she said.

She contemplated the reading she had just completed.

“Judge not lest ye be judged,” she recited.

Good advice whether from Matthew or anyone else.

Glass Half Full

Linda Rogers completes a three-year term as Victoria’s poet laureate at the end of November. Her most recent poem for the city is described as a caption for Tyler Hodgin’s playful Glass Half Full sculpture along the Dallas Road waterfront.

This poem, which shares its title with the sculpture, is displayed on a round plaque set in the ground, the words rotating clockwise in a spiral like water going down a drain. The poet has a whimsical idea for the city — perhaps manhole covers could be replaced by similar poetic plaques.

The circle keeps turning. This
is where spinning children find out
we are one drop of water in
sky becoming ocean, or earth,
what ever catches the I, eye, first
as we go round in the half-full
glass that never empties or fills,
in the song that never ends.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Olympian who overcame the odds now seeks a final turn with the torch

Shirley Gordon (later Olafsson) developed an unorthodox style of a scissor leg-kick to compete in the high jump. Born with a defect to her left foot, she needed to take off and land on her right. She represented Canada at the 1948 Olympics in London.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 22, 2011

To appreciate Shirley Gordon Olafsson’s athletic career, you need to know this statistic — her right shoe is size 9½, her left 5½.

She was born with a deformed foot, enduring a series of operations and corrections through her childhood. She spent spent long, lonely weeks at the Crippled Children’s Hospital on Hudson Street in south Vancouver, which opened its doors a year after her birth in 1927.

A clunky boot with metal braces drew attention to a shy, self-conscious child.

Despite the many surgeries and treatments, the foot remained withered, the ankle locked in place, the calf muscle weak.

Though she walked with a pronounced limp, the girl determined to play sports. It looked like fun.
Shirley Gordon Olaffson. (Photo by Rafal Gerszak.) 

She got selected last for pickup teams. During basketball games, she sat on the end of the bench waiting for a call that never came. A cruel field hockey coach told her she’d be more useful as a goalpost than as a player.

Mrs. Olafsson, now 84, remembers the rejection as though it happened yesterday.

“Nobody wanted me anywhere,” she said.

If teams would not find a roster spot for her, then she would find an individual sport.

Sprinting was out, as was distance running. She tried the high jump. At first, she was terrible. But she saw some potential in herself and began training on her own after school, dragging out the equipment and digging a landing pit of loose sand to ease her fall on the other side of the bar.

Later, a neighbour built a bar and pit unfortunately located on a downhill slope, making the landings somewhat perilous.

In those days, the style of jumping was known as a scissors kick, as the jumper ran to the bar before swinging one leg over to be followed by the other. Her routine was complicated by the need to take off and land on the same foot, an unorthodox style.

“I kind of hopped over the bar on one foot,” she said.

When a sprinter friend was invited to join a prestigious track club sponsored by the Hudson’s Bay Company, the youth agreed to join if she was allowed to bring along Shirley. Soon, the pair were training under experienced coaches at Brockton Oval at Stanley Park.

“I figured if I worked harder than anybody else, maybe I could do it,” she said.

She won her first ribbon in the inter-city high school championships at Hastings Park in 1943. A few years later, she finished second at the Canadian championships, earning a coveted berth on the Canadian team for the 1948 Summer Olympics to be held in London.

Headlines told the story: “Crippled girl becomes B.C. Olympic star” and “Transformation of cripple into star athlete.” Maxwell Stiles, a well-known Los Angeles newspaper columnist, described her as “a gallant girl.”

The first post-war Olympics were a Spartan affair. The Canadian team crossed the Atlantic in steerage, bringing with them their own supplies for a Games to be held in a capital still rationing food. (At the games, the high jumper discovered a cache of American bread, helping herself to a modest amount.)

The high jump was held before 60,000 spectators at Wembley Stadium. She cleared 4-foot-11 (1.5 metres), finishing tied for 11th, watching from the sidelines as Alice Coachman, of Albany, Ga., battled British housewife Dorothy (née Odam) Tyler. The American won, becoming the first black woman to claim an Olympic gold medal. Tyler is the only woman to win an Olympic medal before and after the Second World War.

Two years later, the Vancouver jumper tied for fifth at the British Empire Games in Auckland, New Zealand. On her return, she continued to play basketball and to coach her two favourite sports. She married Herbert Olafsson, a basketball star from Winnipeg who represented Canada at the world championships in Brazil in 1954 and Pan Am Games in Chicago in 1959.

Mrs. Olafsson’s feat was an early example of a British Columbian overcoming adversity to succeed in sport.

Doug Hepburn, born cross-eyed and with a club foot, took up weightlifting as a response to schoolyard taunts, in time claiming the title of World’s Strongest Man; Doug Mowat convinced his employer to sponsor the Vancouver Dueck Powerglides, the province’s first wheelchair basketball team; Rick Hansen circled the globe in his wheelchair; one-legged Terry Fox inspired a nation by trying to run across its vast expanse. Thousands took to the streets last weekend to raise money for cancer research in his name.

They all showed the same determination as Mrs. Olafsson, a widow who exercises daily and still curls once a week. She walks with a limp to this day.

Three years ago, she was one of 10 Canadians invited to run in China as part of the Paralympic torch relay. She also took part in a torch relay near her Richmond home before last year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Now, she wants to run a segment of the torch relay when the Olympics return to London next year.

She is waiting to hear from organizers. They should know that she is not one to calmly accept rejection.

Shirley Gordon Olafsson was inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. She was also a player with the national champion Vancouver Hedlunds basketball team of 1944-45, which was inducted into the hall in 1989.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A blast from the past with the Malahat Marauders

Dressed in period regalia, Perry Chow fires a blank from a replica of a muzzle-loading hunting rifle at the Luxton Fall Fair. Chad Hipolito photograph for the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 19, 2011


A raccoon tail dangled from Perry Chow’s waist, where he also carried a powder horn. He held a hunting rifle in his right hand.

He placed the butt of the rifle into the dirt outside the Pioneer Building on the Luxton fairgrounds. He jiggled a pinch of black gunpowder into the barrel, having first carefully measured the amount. He joked that carelessness would turn the powder horn at his hip into a hand grenade.

Mr. Chow, 55, a steel fabricator, devotes much of his spare time to the local Black Powder Society, a group whose members turn the pages of history back at least a century.

They call themselves the Malahat Marauders, a shooting group whose members wear period costumes — or, as some prefer, regalia — to depict the hunters and trappers who once traversed the continent. After all, Fort Victoria was originally built as a trading depot for the Hudson’s Bay Company.

A half-dozen members could be found on Sunday at the Luxton Fall Fair, an agricultural exhibition held outside the capital. The fair features quilts and rafts, blacksmiths and working antique farm equipment, as well as demonstrations of the best hand-milking techniques for jersey cows. Blue ribbons are awarded the best in baking and canning.

Billed as a celebration of pioneer life, the fair’s most popular attractions include such modern entertainments as greasy food, midway rides and the Tough Truck Challenge.

The Marauders know their passion tables filled with the detritus of a lost age hold a limited attraction to others.

They had on display a selection of clothing (including a tricorn hat), furs (deer, mink, red fox, silver fox, beaver, weasel, coyote, timber wolf, mountain goat, even skunk), and gadgets, including compasses canteens and candle-makers.

An impressive arsenal of period pieces, reproductions and hand-tooled firearms garnered some attention. There were rifles, pistols and revolvers.

Doug Linton, 65, worked on making his own fucil de chasse, a hunting gun popular with fur traders. The parts cost about $1,000 and he figures he will have spent hundreds of hours on the gun before it is completed.

He is devoted to knowing more about the life of fur traders, even going so far as cooking a batch of pemmican. (How did it taste? “Like greasy granola,” he said. “With meat.”) With fellow society member Jean Chandler, he recently completed a retracing of the explorer David Thompson’s route along the Columbia River.

On Sunday, he wore cowhide breeches of his own design, including a drop flap in front should he need to answer nature’s call. He wore a military Tam o’ Shanter on his head and boasted a white Hemingway beard on his jaw.

Mr. Linton spent four decades as a bark beetle entomologist with the federal government. As a black-powder enthusiast, his quarry is significantly larger. He goes bear hunting armed with a single-shot cartridge rifle and five rounds on his belt.

“It puts a bit more adrenalin into it when you’ve got one shot,” he said. “You don’t piss around.”

He once was stalking a black bear near Gold River when he was surprised by a rustle in the grass nearby. “They’re like gophers up there,” he said. He had startled a second bear.

“I just said, ‘You’ll do. Popped him.’ ”

Mr. Chow said the uninitiated are not intimidated by the firepower of guns that take so much time to load.

“You’re not in the Rambo mentality like you might get with a more modern weapon,” he said, a grey rabbit-fur cap on his head and a gorget dangling from his neck. “You’re slowing down your pace. It’s not done fast.

“It brings you back to an easier style of life.”

Simpler, perhaps, but not easier. One of the frontier skills he exhibited was the making of a fire with straw, hemp, flint and steel. Even on a dry day with little wind it took a few minutes.

Finally, it was time for a shooting demonstration. After loading gunpowder, he placed a blank in the muzzle, using a short starter to push it partway down before inserting a ramrod.

He then aimed, squeezing the trigger.

A sharp retort echoed through the fairgrounds.

Hardly a head turned.

Hey, it’s Luxton, not Oak Bay. In the countryside, a fellow sometimes has just got to fire off his rifle.

Doug Linton, a 25-year member of the Malahat Marauders, works on a home-built rifle. Linton, a retired entomologist, now stalks larger quarry. He hunts black bears while armed with a single-shot black-powder rifle. Chad Hipolito photograph for the Globe and Mail.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Children's book too hot for U.S. publishers warmly received in Canada

Daniel Loxton, an illustrator and author, has a deadline reminder in his home office. Chad Hipolito photograph for the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 14, 2011


Daniel Loxton, an illustrator and writer, created a children’s book so outrageous, so outlandish, so controversial no American publisher dared touch it.

It does not depict nudity. It does not contain curse words. It does not include blasphemy. The love scenes, such as they are, involve males with females.

It does include a straightforward explanation for the complexity of the natural world through a simple scientific theory.

“So many of the publishing professionals I was talking to were leery,” he said.

“When push came to shove they declined to publish the book. Several did indicate to me it was too hot a topic.”

The book wound up being published by Canadian-owned Kids Can Press, which also expected objections from creationists.

So far, the book, Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be, an illustrated primer written for readers in Grades 3 to 7, has generated more prize nominations than controversy.

Evolution is one of three young-reader finalists in the Lane Anderson Award for Canadian science books. The other finalists for the $10,000 prize, to be awarded Wednesday, are Ultimate Trains by Peter McMahon of Ontario and The Sea Wolves by the British Columbia team of Ian McAllister, a photographer, and Nicholas Read, a writer.

Mr. Loxton’s book is also a finalist in the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian children’s non-fiction. Earlier this year, Evolution was a finalist for the prestigious Silver Birch award.

His latest book, just published, is Ankylosaur Attack about a young, plant-eating, heavy-plated dinosaur.

Mr. Loxton, 36, is editor of Junior Skeptic, a youth supplement included in each issue of Skeptic, a California-based magazine that “examines extraordinary claims.”

He lived an itinerant life in an Airstream trailer as a boy. His parents were contractors who hired planters at clear cuts throughout British Columbia. As for his upbringing, he describes it as being a mix of Utopian and feral.

His parents believed in much paranormal phenomenon. As a boy, he was convinced he had stumbled across a Sasquatch footprint deep in the woods.

He discovered skeptical inquiry as a university student, finding science had explanations for such folkloric beliefs as UFOs and ESP, alien abductions and succubus attacks, human combustion and the predictions of Nostradamus.

Now he has a career solving paranormal mysteries. As Harry Houdini once did. Or Scooby-doo.

Even when displaying a sense of humour, hokum-busting skeptics convey a certain killjoy quality. After all, who does not want to believe in a hairy, harmless, beer-guzzling Bigfoot?

“I want to teach people stuff,” he said. “I don’t want to cram anything down anybody’s throat.”

So, how does a “professional skeptic” handle the topic of the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus with his five-year-old son?

(Spoiler alert: The truth behind fictitious childhood characters revealed below.)

So far, the lad has not asked about a chocolate-sharing rabbit, or a wand-waving dentine thief. As for the gift-toting jolly man whose belly shakes like a bowlful of jelly, the parents are taking a soft position.

“We’re not debunking it,” he said. “I’m a sentimental kind of a guy.”

Which is to say the Loxton household is experiencing the three stages of Santa theorem: You believe in Santa. You don’t believe in Santa. You are Santa.

An illustration from Ankylosaur Attack by Daniel Loxton and Jim W.W. Smith.

Anarchist archive

The University of Victoria library has received seven boxes of papers from Ann Hansen, who was sentenced to a life term for conspiring to rob an armoured car and for a series of bombings in Ontario and British Columbia in the early 1980s. The material, which includes pamphlets and prison correspondence, will be included in the Anarchist Archive founded by art historian Allan Antliff, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Modern Art.

Mr. Antliff approached Ms. Hansen for the donation, for which she will receive no payment. Much of the material will be posted online alongside other anti-authoritarian materials in what is the only archive of its kind in Canada.

The most interesting contribution is a transcript of conversations recorded from a police bug police placed in her bedroom before her arrest. Alas, a 70-year privacy restriction has been placed on the transcript, which will not be accessible to the public until 2081.

Ms. Hansen, 58, spent seven years in jail. She got permission from her parole officer to travel to the campus last week from her home on a farm west of Kingston, Ont., where she remains active in the prison abolition movement.

Official loudmouth

George Bowering, who was Canada’s first parliamentary poet laureate, is a baseball aficionado. He has been issued business cards by the Vancouver Canadians baseball club on which he is identified as the Official Loudmouth Fan. (Anyone who has heard his Foghorn Leghorn declamations from his perch behind home plate would not need a card to confirm his role.) Mr. Bowering’s team won the league championship on the weekend, sending dozens of rooters into paroxysms of non-riotous celebration.

The prolific author took a break from his own merrymaking to write a letter decrying the award of an Order of B.C. to former premier Gordon Campbell. Mr. Bowering was himself invested in the order seven years ago.

Perhaps honours for professional politicians should mirror those of professional athletes, who typically must wait five years before induction into a sports hall of fame. The passage of time allows for a more sober-minded accounting long after passions have cooled.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bubble Man blows a trail of lustrous wonders

Four-year-old Frankie Latimer reaches for that most elusive of prizes, the soapy bubble. Behind her is neighbourhood legend Terry Wilson, 65, the Bubble Man of Fernwood. Globe and Mail photograph by Chad Hipolito.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 12, 2011


Like a swordsman preparing for battle, Terry Wilson unsheathed a slender plastic rod from a long narrow tube.

He strolled across the street, deliberation in every step.

As he did so, he held out his instrument.

What he held in his hands is for play, not war.

Behind him trailed gossamer clouds.

Mr. Wilson, 65, is known as the Bubble Man. On 363 days of the year, excepting only Christmas and New Year’s, he can be found on or near Fernwood Square in Victoria, where he delights passersby by blowing, manufacturing and otherwise interacting with soapy bubbles.

“Little kids chase them. Middle-aged sophisticated people coming out of the wine bar in their finest clothes jump up to pop them,” he said.

“That little kid inside each of us comes out so easily with bubbles.”

To spend an hour with the Bubble Man on a sunny day is to erase a week’s worth of routine and clock-watching deadlines. Children run up to him to play. Drivers slow as they pass, shouting, “Hey, Bubble Man!”

A caution sign at the corner depicts nine black bubbles of various size on a yellow background. Caution, bubble crossing.

For almost a decade now, the Bubble Man has been doing his thing in Fernwood, a neighbourhood that reminds you of what Haight-Ashbury must have been like before it became Haight-Ashbury.

At the Cornerstone Cafe, where he is a regular, the Bubble Man ordered his favorite cup of joe, known here as a Terrycano (rhymes with Americano), for which he does not pay. The free java is a tribute to a beloved character who helps make Fernwood feel like Fernwood.

In the square, the bubbles quickly attract a gaggle of giggling children, among them four-year-old Frankie Latimer. Watching nearby, her mother can only laugh and smile at her daughter’s antics as she plays with the Bubble Man.

“She absolutely, ridiculously adores him,” Phoenix Demski said. “He’s like Santa Claus.”

Mr. Wilson also has toys for children. He scavenges playthings found on the street, repairing them and offering them to children for free. These used to be available at his old home, a collection of oddball squirt guns, bubble wands, and plastic chickens. “Funny, weird stuff,” in the words of another parent.

Some of the castoffs have been used to decorate the Bubble Man’s convertible Volkswagen Bug. A toy Donald Duck head is attached to a front fender, while plastic flowers adorn the rear bumper.

The Bubble Man recently ran afoul of The Man in the form of a bylaw enforcement officer. He had been living in a recreation vehicle parked in the side yard of a house from which he received electricity and whose bathroom he used for a $350 monthly rent. After being evicted, he found a room in a nearby apartment, for which he pays $875, a steep price for a pensioner.

Mr. Wilson has been collecting a disability pension for 12 years after being diagnosed with “depression, sleep disorder, anxiety.” At a recent meeting of the Neighbourhood Resource Group, he proposed the creation of subsidized housing for poets, artists and characters such as himself. He calls his idea “Keep Fernwood Funky.”

The Bubble Man’s father was a geologist with a the mining company before becoming a professor and dean of geology at the University of Manitoba. Terry Wilson lived as a boy in Europe and Africa before the family settled in Winnipeg, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Environmental Studies. He later got a masters degree at York Unversity in Toronto.

He didn’t care for working in government and wound up back in Winnipeg, where he opened a shop from which he sold handmade toys and other wooden crafts. He came to the West Coast nearly two decades ago. He stumbled into bubbling, a lustrous pastime whose responsibilities he takes seriously.

About two years ago, he discovered his favoured Miracle Bubbles® had been watered down, no longer produced bubbles of satisfactory size. After a period of experimentation, he settled on a mixed solution with Ivory Clear Dish Soap for bigger, better, longer-lasting bubbles.

In the square, brothers Cairo, 3, and Ronin Gates, 5, whirled to chase an elusive prize whose capture is necessarily a short-lived triumph. Pop!

The Bubble Man spreads delight by blowing bubbles. Terry Wilson holds a masters degree in environmental studies. He has been called the patron saint of the Fernwood neighbourhood. Globe and Mail photograph by Chad Hipolito.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A family's long, tough haul from the Comox Valley to baseball's major leagues

Taylor Green golfed a low change-up into right field at Miller Park in Milwaukee for his first hit in the major leagues. Green is the first big leaguer to hail from the Comox Valley. Photograph by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 5, 2011


Taylor Green, 24, a professional baseball player, got called into the manager’s office.

He was greeted by grim-faced coaches and a manager with bad news.

You’ve flunked a drug test, he was told.

The young athlete’s career flashed before his eyes. Must be a mistake.

“No way,” he insisted, heart pounding. “How is that even possible?!”

He was told his punishment was greater than a 25-game suspension. Worse even than a 50-game suspension. The punishment, his manager said, maintaining a straight-face, was a one-way ticket to Milwaukee.

There was no failed drug test. Instead, the Milwaukee Brewers of the National League had use for a left-handed hitter and Mr. Green was about to be rewarded for years of hard work, including recovery from two serious injuries. He was being promoted to the major leagues. To The Show.
Taylor Green at age 5

A few days later, he was called upon to pinch hit.

His parents, Jacqueline, a teacher now on disability, and Bill, an elementary-school principal, scrambled to get from the Comox Valley to Milwaukee. His mother needed a wheelchair to navigate the stadium. They sat in box seats 20 rows up behind home plate.

Brewers fans have anticipated Green’s arrival. Before he arrived, he was hitting so well in the minor leagues that some rooters launched a “Free Taylor Green” campaign to encourage the Brewers to promote the prospect.

Last week, when his name was announced as a pinch hitter, the stadium rose in a standing ovation, a tribute before he had even taken a swing.

The at-bat brought to an end a long journey from the sandlots of Courtenay to a community college in California where he was scouted, drafted and signed by Milwaukee. A minor-league odyssey lasted five seasons as he played for the Helena (Mont.) Brewers, the West Virginia Power, the Brevard County (Fla.) Manatees, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, the Huntsville (Ala.) Stars, and the Nashville (Tenn.) Sounds, whose manager, Don Money, himself a former major leaguer, fooled him into thinking he’d failed a drug test.

Along the way, he overcame a broken left wrist, as well as a beaning to the face. A pitch hit the bill of his batting helmet, ricocheting flush onto his nose, which was shattered. Being hit in the face by a pitched ball has ended more than one baseball career, as sometimes a hitter loses nerve, an affliction upon which pitchers will prey by throwing one inside fastball after another. After recovering from reconstructive surgery, Mr. Green forced himself to face pitches without flinching. With a teammate feeding baseballs into a pitching machine, he donned a catcher’s mask and deliberately had ball after ball strike him on his protected face until he knew he had the fortitude to return to the batter’s box.

Those tribulations, testing as they were, diminish when compared to what his mother has faced.

On Valentine’s Day, 1996, Jackie, a popular teacher, was felled by a massive stroke.

She needed two emergency surgeries, spent six weeks in a coma. When she awoke, the only word she could manage was “no.” She spent arduous weeks at the G.F Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver.

Though she could not speak words, she could sing them. Sometimes, husband and nine-year-old son sang O Canada with her.

One of the friends who rushed to her side was Kim Cattrall, the actress known best for playing the libidinous Samantha in Sex in the City. Ms. Cattrall, who was raised in the Comox Valley, served as maid of honour at the parents’ marriage. She now includes stroke charities in her fundraising efforts. "Whatever I accomplish, I share with Jackie," she has said.

On his debut in Milwaukee, Mr. Green golfed a low pitch into right field for a single. Time was called and the ball was lobbed into the Brewers dugout as a souvenir.

Remarkably, the crowd gave the rookie infielder a second standing ovation, seeing in his modest accomplishment the promise of future contributions.

Behind home plate, his mother was helped to her feet to join in the ovation.

“We’re in awe,” Bill Green said afterwards. “We’re shocked. We’re happy. We’re relieved.”

Two days later, in his next appearance, he slashed another hit as a pinch-hitter, starting a rally that led his team to victory.

On Saturday, he got his first start. In his first at-bat, he rapped his third consecutive single. In a sport in which failing at the plate two times out of three is considered brilliance, the prospect began his career with a perfect 1.000 batting average.

After his debut, his new teammates presented him with a ball purported to be the one he had slashed into the outfield for his first big-league hit. It was scuffed and scratched. Obscenities had been written on it. Another baseball prank.

The real ball was encased in plastic with an engraved plate with details of the hit. It can now be found on a kitchen counter of the Comox Valley home of two proud parents.

Tough road to The Show

Taylor Green is the first player born in the Comox Valley to make a major-league roster, earning a spot in the Baseball Encyclopedia between Shawn Green and Hank Greenberg.

He is only the fifth player born on Vancouver Island to make The Show in the 135-year history of major-league baseball. The others, all born in Victoria, are outfielder Mike Saunders and pitchers Steve Sinclair, Steve Wilson, and Rich Harden, who is with the Oakland A’s.

It is a tough journey that demands skill, luck and timing. Vince Perkins, a fireball-throwing pitcher from Victoria, spent a decade in the minor leagues without ever getting a chance to play in the big leagues. His greatest achievement was pitching for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Mr. Perkins, who turns 30 later this month, was released earlier this season by the Toronto Blue Jays, who owned his rights. The son of a firefighter, he is now completing paramedic and firefighter training in Florida.

CHEK News of Victoria followed this column with a report on Taylor Green.