Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An artist of the natural world

With terraces and granite sculptures, still ponds and cascading waters, Don Vaughan transforms the outdoors

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
Nov. 14, 2007

The workings of Don Vaughan's green thumb are everywhere around us.

If you have strolled the plazas of Expo 86, or tramped the winding waterfront walkways of David Lam Park on the same site; admired the placid ponds of Granville Island, or met a friend at the fountain at the University of Victoria; munched a sandwich in Park Place next to Christ Church Cathedral, or found peace at the Nitobe Memorial Garden; perambulated through Ambleside Park, or sunbathed at Sun Life Plaza; clumped in ski boots through Whistler Village, or sprawled on a lawn at Simon Fraser University; meditated at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden, or contemplated mortality at Ocean View Cemetery, you have been touched by a creation of one of the nation's most accomplished landscape architects.

Few know of him, and, worse, many of us barely acknowledge the planning that created the spaces of our everyday lives.

"People don't see the landscape," he said. "They just take it for granted."

It is the job of a landscape architect to marry aesthetics to functionality, soothing and inspiring a visitor while also handling so mundane a responsibility as drainage. (After all, no one appreciates a flooded pathway, or a muddy entrance.) When it works, as it does so often in his creations, you barely notice.

"Landscape is about space. You're in it," he said.

Mr. Vaughan turned 70 this year. A tall, lean man built like the rower he once was, his hair is white like the froth of churning water. Stray locks spill across his forehead. He has handed over the West Vancouver firm that carries his name to two sons, wading into semi-retirement as a consultant.

For more than 40 years, he has been contemplating the landscape of the University of Victoria, for which he will be awarded an honorary degree today. Mr. Vaughan's vision helped transform farmland and barren grounds into a verdant campus.

Inside the Ring Road, low-rise buildings no taller than the surrounding trees frame a central quadrangle, an open space friendly to pedestrians. It is edged by planted rows of pin oaks. At the library end, a fountain built with funds donated by former lieutenant-governor David Lam has become a meeting place. The fountain shows off the features favoured by Mr. Vaughan - terraces and granite sculptures, still ponds and cascading waters.

Not that anyone would notice, but the fountain is yet another of Mr. Vaughan's efforts to recapture an experience from his childhood, when he lived in Oregon along the Millicoma River on "a piece of land with this beautiful river running through it."

Mr. Vaughan was born into a lumber family based at Coos Bay, Ore. His grandfather owned a logging company. He refused to pay for his son's studies in architecture, so the lad financed his education by working as a longshoreman on the San Francisco dockyards during the Depression. He later returned home to start his own logging firm, where his sons worked in the summer when they were teenagers.

One day, both Vaughan boys were working on the mill pond when one fell off a log and into the drink, his caulk boots quickly filling with water. The other wielded a pike pole to fish him out of the pond. To this day, Denny thanks Don for saving him. Tragedy narrowly averted, the pair were put to work in the mill. . He retired as a rear admiral. "He had an affinity for the water," Don Vaughan says dryly.

Don Vaughan joined the naval reserve, hoping to become a fighter pilot, a dream dashed by hay fever. He wound up instead working on the signal bridge of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.

While aboard the carrier, he read a stack of secondhand magazines featuring the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The articles inspired him to enroll in architecture at the University of Oregon, where he was a member of the rowing team. He was racing to have his photograph taken with the rest of the crew at Dexter Reservoir when he flipped his MG sports car, breaking his back and crushing several bones.

Recuperating from the wreck took many months, interrupting his studies. He wound up in Australia working on a major government building in Canberra, a slow process that convinced him he lacked the patience to be an architect.

He graduated with a degree in landscape architecture in 1965, by which time he had come north to work on two striking projects - a university being built atop Burnaby Mountain, and another on the site of an old army camp just outside Victoria.

One of the more dramatic decisions he made at UVic came when he used an X-Acto knife to cut in half an architectural model made of Styrofoam. He then pulled the two pieces apart. "You create a space," he said. "Now it has a courtyard, an identity of its own."

A favourite project is the Sun Life Plaza at the corner of Thurlow and Melville Streets in downtown Vancouver. In the early 1980s, developers sought to build high-rise towers amid the setting of an urban garden.

Mr. Vaughan wanted to create an oasis in the city. He placed the seating areas below street level, separating pedestrians from traffic, the sound of falling water helping to mask the noise of passing vehicles while luring people into the bowl of brushed concrete. The setting seemed especially to work for the designer, who had long wished to create an urban space in which crowds could gather, yet a solitary figure would feel comfortable.

On one sunny day, he struck up a conversation with a woman in the plaza who was reading a book. She told him it was her favourite spot in the city. He then asked her what she thought of the person who had designed it.

"Never thought of it," she replied. "I just thought it happened."

The exchange seemed to capture his frustration with his profession. He wound up enrolling as a mature student at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design, where he earned a diploma in fine art in 1989. His graduating project was a series of granite cubes set in an artificial tide pool at water's edge at Ambleside Landing in West Vancouver. At least, he thought, people don't take sculpture for granted.

So, the next time you enjoy the reverie encouraged by one of his designs, take a moment to cast a grateful thanks to Mr. Vaughan, whose work is so good you can't even imagine it needed to be done.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Diamond days gone, she's still in a league of her own

Marge (Callaghan) Maxwell and her sister, Helen, played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which inspired the movie, A League of Their Own. Maxwell also starred as a softball player in Vancouver.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
Nov. 7, 2007

For years, Marge Maxwell left untold a story about her life she thought no one cared to hear.

She married, gave birth to two boys, divorced, juggled jobs while raising her sons. She worked in a drugstore, took in foster children, served as a dietary aide at a care home. All were posts where one expected to find a woman.

Mrs. Maxwell is, by her own admission, a chatterbox. Yet for nearly 40 years, she never talked about the time she spent in the batter's box as a professional baseball player.

While men fought overseas, she did battle in a tunic and a skirt on the baseball diamonds of the American Midwest. She fielded grounders for the Belles and the Daisies, smacked doubles for the Redwings and the Blue Sox. After she kicked off her cleats and hung up her leather glove, the memories of her time as a pro athlete were left as untouched as the scrapbooks she stored in a cedar chest for safekeeping.

Even her sons didn't know Mom had once been a ball player, as had her younger sister.

“It just wasn't something we talked about,” she said.

The tale of the sisters would inspire a Hollywood movie, a notion that would have seemed preposterous when they first agreed to play for pay.

Mrs. Maxwell turns 86 next month, her diamond days long behind her.

She buried her little sister more than a decade ago, and tries to make the most of the extra innings she has been afforded. She is no longer as reluctant to talk about being a belle of the ball game, as long as she's asked. Bragging is not part of her game.

Margaret Callaghan was born on Dec. 23, an early Christmas gift for her parents in 1921. Her sister, Helen, came along 15 months later.

The girls grew up in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, where they played softball, lacrosse and basketball at school and in nearby public parks. The Callaghan sisters were a blessing for the Western Mutuals softball team, which played at Centre Park at the corner of Fir and Broadway. Marge had a trustworthy glove, while Helen was a demon on the basepaths.

In 1943, their team played exhibition matches across the Prairies on their way to Detroit for a championship tournament. The Mutuals defeated teams from Cleveland and Moose Jaw before losing to the defending champion Jax team of New Orleans.

The sisters returned home, where they learned they had been scouted during the tournament. P. K. Wrigley, the chewing-gum magnate who owned the Chicago Cubs, had decided to launch a women's league of his own as a business rival to the so-called Glamour League already in operation in Chicago.

Both sisters were invited to attend spring training. Helen headed south, but Marge needed government approval as she held an essential job in a war industry.

With young Canadian men serving in the armed forces, Marge had been hired as a squad leader at the Boeing plant on Sea Island, just south of Vancouver, where bombers were built. She wore boots, a kerchief on her head, her diminutive figure clothed in coveralls.

Her job was to supervise the women stamping numbers on parts, ensuring their eagerness, or their carelessness, did not damage the sheet metal.

“I felt we were doing something worthwhile,” she said, “while the kids were over there fighting.”

Her father, a truck driver, urged her to join her younger sister as soon as possible. Midway through the summer of 1944, she was at last granted permission. She traded the plant's dull uniform for the colourful uniforms of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Baseball offered a freedom not to be found in a factory, even though both shared a need for precision and repetition – a bolt screwed properly here, a ground ball scooped correctly there. A factory was an exercise in predictability, whereas the diamond offered the promise of random, even bizarre, events. Why, even the grass itself could hide a pebble leading to a bad hop, transforming a routine ground ball into a plot-turning device. Besides, one paid more than the other.

“At home, I was working eight hours a day, six days a week, and I was earning $24 a week. Baseball paid $65 a week.”

She joined her sister on the Minneapolis Millerettes, a team that did better on the field than at the box office. It abandoned the Twin Cities to play all of its final games on the road. The homeless squad was jokingly referred to as the Orphans.

At the end of the baseball season, she returned to Vancouver to work at the Hudson's Bay Co. store downtown, where she priced merchandise in the stockroom.

The following season she was playing third base for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Daisies. The team was managed by Bill Wambsganss, a major leaguer whose 13-year career was remembered then as now only for his having the good fortune to turn the only triple play in the World Series, an unassisted one at that.

About a tenth of the players in the All-American league came from Canada. They received instruction in the arts of remaining feminine, including classes on properly applying makeup. They were schooled in etiquette, as well as in executing the hit-and-run. The players wore skirts, mandated by league rules to be no more than six inches higher than the knee. Each club had a matronly chaperone responsible for ensuring good behaviour on the road.

Of course, the young players got up to their share of high jinks.

“We did a lot of short-sheeting,” Mrs. Maxwell said. “We'd hide brassieres, or slip a rubber snake into a chaperone's bed. We were always sneaking out on dates. How could they keep track of 19 girls at once?”

In 1947, the entire league held spring training in Havana, where the novelty of women ball players attracted larger crowds than those attending the games of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The women became favourites of the baseball-mad Cubans.

Helen Callaghan was so adept at the plate and on the basepaths that she was dubbed a “feminine Ted Williams.” Marge Callaghan had a longer career, playing for South Bend, Ind., Peoria, Ill., and Battle Creek, Mich., before retiring after the 1951 season.

Soon after came marriage and children. Over time, an exciting sojourn seemed to have been a dream.

That changed after she appeared with her sister in a documentary that in turn inspired a Hollywood movie of the same name. After the release of A League of Their Own in 1992, folks were keen to know more about the “girls of summer.” Bits of the story of the Callaghan sisters were to be found in the characters played by Geena Davis and Madonna.

The original documentary was prepared by Kelly Candaele, one of Helen's sons. Another of her boys, Casey Candaele, broke into the major leagues with the Montreal Expos. It was the one time when a big leaguer could be accused of playing like a girl and take it as a compliment.

All these years later, after Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and women's lib and Ms. Magazine and Gloria Steinem; after a woman has served as prime minister and another woman can run for U.S. president as the most qualified candidate, a fan would be hard pressed to find women playing baseball for money.

Mrs. Maxwell and her late sister (Helen died of cancer in California in 1992, aged 69) were recognized recently by the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame for their pioneering roles. They joined basketball's Kathy Shields and badminton's Sandra Stevenson as this year's honorees in a program called, “In Her Footsteps: Celebrating B.C. Women in Sport.”

For her part, Mrs. Maxwell was delighted to meet the figure skater Karen Magnussen. “I'd watched her skate for years and here she was asking me to pose with her for a photograph. Imagine. Her admiring me?!

The roster of the league's veterans gets shorter every season, as old players get their final call-ups. More than a half-century has passed since Mrs. Maxwell last swung a bat. Baseball is just numbers without stories. She never imagined anyone would ever care to hear hers.

“I never set the world on fire,” she said, “but I had a lot of fun.”

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A storied portrait of a team set apart

Special to The Globe and Mail
October 31, 2007

Jennifer Koos slipped 17 photographs into a green-and-white plastic bag before sliding another grocery bag over the other end.

She was going to the baseball park.

No game was scheduled at Nat Bailey Stadium. A group of local baseball researchers were holding their annual meeting in the concourse, sitting at tables sandwiched between concession stands.

Ms. Koos, 39, stood apart from the others.

She had brought the photographs here after calling an executive of the Vancouver Canadians professional baseball team, who put her in touch with the team's historian, a fan named Bud Kerr who, she would say later, reminded her of her grandfather. He suggested she attend the meeting, which would be attended by fans, collectors and former players.

During the trivia contest, she quietly unveiled her keepsakes. The photographs stunned the baseball crowd. She had team portraits of players wearing uniforms reading "NBC" and "Purdy." Others wore shirts with an old English letter V. The baseball experts began deciphering clues in the photos.

Max Weder, a tax lawyer who was conducting the meeting, stopped at one image.

"This one is special," he told her.

Thirteen men stood in a row, all but one of them wearing a baseball uniform. Their wool flannels had the letters CHICAGO in a crescent stretching across the chest, with a stylized AG in a circle below that.

In the middle stood a broad man in a dapper three-piece suit, a fedora on his head, a tie around his neck, a chain across his vest, his hands shoved into his pants pockets. His face was as round as a baseball and he looked like the boss he was.

This was Rube Foster and these were his American Giants.

Some 90 years ago, the Chicago-based team barnstormed along the West Coast each winter. They drew large crowds who wanted to see in action the black players forbidden from plying their trade in the major leagues.

Vancouver has a long history as a stop for travelling sports teams in search of an audience. The Harlem Globetrotters basketball team still pops by every year, while earlier generations cheered, or booed, such baseball troupes as the Bloomer Girls (women with a handful of ringers in cross-dressing males, undoubtedly a future doctoral thesis for some enterprising student) and the House of David (bewhiskered men who promoted a religious community in Michigan).

The segregation enforced by baseball led black athletes to form their own teams and their own leagues. The demented mores of Jim Crow somehow permitted exhibition games against white teams.

Before the start of the regular season, the American Giants would travel north from California, playing teams in Portland and Seattle before facing the Victoria Bees and the Vancouver Beavers.

In time, Mr. Foster's squad would be recognized as one of the greatest teams of all time. He would be elected posthumously to the Baseball Hall of Fame, as would such other American Giants as Ben Taylor, Pop Lloyd and Bill Foster (Rube's half-brother).

Rube Foster's weight ballooned to more than 300 pounds, yet he would still sometimes seek the form on the pitching mound that made him a terrific hurler at the turn of the century.

In 1913, the Beavers beat the Giants twice. In 1914, the Giants took two of three, with Mr. Foster losing the final game after surrendering five bases on balls, the result of wildness or, perhaps, an unsympathetic umpire. The teams split their two-game, preseason showdown in 1915.

The undated photograph portrays a happy and healthy American Giants team in an age when even professional athletes did not always look hale. The miners and farmers who escaped their gruelling fate to make a living on the baseball diamond were by no means wealthy, or even comfortable, by the standards of the day.

The American Giants photograph is a magnificent portrait of a little-remembered day in Vancouver's sporting history.

Ms. Koos got the photos from her grandfather, a railway labourer and Second World War veteran named Harold Crummer from Indian Head, Sask. She found them at the bottom of a set of drawers in his bedroom. He said he had been given them by Stuart Thomson, a commercial photographer who was his father-in-law.

Mr. Thomson, himself a railway worker who had been born in England in 1881, had immigrated to Vancouver in 1910. Photography was at first a mere hobby, but he soon built a thriving business shooting events in the thriving city. He ran a commercial studio and sold images to the several competing newspapers. The Vancouver Sun bought more than 5,000 of his photographs and negatives in 1954, before donating them to the city archives in 1963, three years after the photographer's death.

Some of the photographic prints Ms. Koos had can be found in the archive's online database. The NBC team was likely an amateur nine representing the National Biscuit Co., while the club wearing the old-English letter was the Vancouver Beavers.

All but one of her prints were sold to an American collector. She has consigned the American Giants photo, measuring 16½inches by 6½ inches, to Robert Edward Auctions at Watchung, N.J.

When he first saw the image, auction house president Robert Lifson thought, "How the heck did this survive?"

The clarity of the image was striking. Mr. Lifson could even count the eyelets through which the players had laced their spikes.

The long-time dealer is not an easy man to impress. He has handled 20 of the 60 known Honus Wagner T206 cigarette cards, the Holy Grail of baseball-card collecting, including the one co-owned by Wayne Gretzky that sold for $1.265-million (U.S.). Mr. Lifson also identified the New York Yankees flannel uniform worn by Lou Gehrig as he made his emotional "I-am-the-luckiest-man-on-the-face-of-the-Earth" farewell speech. It sold for $306,000.

The Vancouver photograph will be included in the house's annual auction to be held on May 3. The two blockbuster items currently in the catalogue are a Babe Ruth rookie card from 1914 (one sold earlier this year for $199,750) and an 1887 cabinet photograph of a baseball team from Wheeling, W.Va. The latter item, which was found in a family's photo album, includes Sol White, a black baseball pioneer who was cut from the team the following year when the colour line was established.

The American Giants photograph likely will be listed without an estimated sale price. There are simply too few team photographs of Rube Foster and his players with which to compare.

"Items like this are so rare, there's no formal market value," Mr. Lifson said. "The collectors decide. It's not a hundred-thousand dollars. But it's more than a thousand dollars."

The Vancouver aficionados who looked at the photograph felt it could fetch as much as $15,000. However, if two collectors with deep pockets decide to get into a bidding war, then Ms. Koos will have hit a jackpot.

She has not yet decided what to do with the money, other than noting she has a 19-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son. "I'll take care of the kids," she said.

The men who did battle on dusty diamonds would no doubt be impressed by the worth of even their image. Were they only alive today, every man in the photograph would be a millionaire many times over, a sad truth for some who died as paupers.