Thursday, March 27, 2008

B.C.'s incredible rescue of 1963

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 26, 2008


Charlie Hamilton went down to the basement to fetch a piece of airplane.

He returned with a battered bit of fibreglass. He blew dust off before holding it aloft. It stretched as long as his own 6-foot-2 wingspan.

The scrap carried on it the designation “N58856.”

It came with a story.

Mr. Hamilton, 77, once owned half of the B.C.-Yukon Air Service, for which he worked as a bush pilot based out of Watson Lake near the border between the province and the territory. “We flew miners and prospectors in the summer, the odd trapper in winter,” he said.

Back in the winter of ‘63, he was piloting a two-seat Piper PA-18, known as a Super Cub, on a flight to the Diamond J ranch in the Kechika River Valley. The spread was owned by John Ogilvie Davidson, a famed guide and mountain man known as Skook, a shortened form of the Chinook word skookum, meaning strong.

You had to be strong to survive in such isolated country, where only a handful of humans lived in an expanse of rivers and mountains.

While flying over a meadow, Mr. Hamilton could make out the letters SOS stamped into the snow. He then spotted a woman in a makeshift tent. He waggled the plane's wings to indicate he would return.

He flew on 15 kilometres to a cabin where he alerted two aboriginal trappers. They returned on foot to the crash site midway up a mountain.

It was a sunny day and unseasonably warm with the temperature hovering around freezing.

They found two people in rough condition. Ralph Flores, a 42-year-old pilot from California, had a broken jaw and a broken rib. Helen Klaben, his 21-year-old passenger from Brooklyn, had a broken arm and a broken right foot. Both were strikingly thin. He had a scraggly, unkempt beard.

Lost in a snowstorm and flying low to get bearings, Mr. Flores had crashed into the side of the mountain. Both were knocked unconscious by the impact. Miss Klaben awoke first, after about 30 minutes. The pilot came to after eight hours. They took stock of their precarious circumstance.

The temperature outside was 45 degrees below zero.

The only tools on board were a chisel and a hammer.

Their food supply consisted of two tins of sardines, two cans of fruit, one box of crackers. They also had two tubes of toothpaste.

In the coming days, they would count more than 40 aircraft flying near the crash site. All missed them because of their position up the mountain. Some planes flying along the valley were even lower than their own elevation.

Days passed. Then a week. The temperature remained below freezing.

The pilot was a convert to Mormonism. He took the crash as a test of faith. He read aloud from the Bible, tried to persuade his Jewish passenger to convert.

One week became two.

A second week turned into a third week.

They tried snaring rabbits without success.

Their last meal was toothpaste. Their diet consisted of melted snow.

“Water for breakfast, water for lunch and water for supper,” Miss Klaben said.

A fourth week passed.

Then a fifth. And a sixth.

“I didn't mind dying,” she said. “I was eager to die because of the pain. The hunger and the sleep deprivation was terrible. But I didn't want to die with my mother not knowing where I was.”

The pilot's faith never wavered.

He used a chunk of the fuselage as a toboggan and he fashioned homemade snowshoes from bark and branches, stamping out a three-letter distress signal.

Mr. Hamilton spotted this from the air 49 days after the crash.

When he arrived, Miss Klaben grabbed him to give him a kiss. “I was jumping up and down even though I had a gangrenous foot,” she said. She would lose all the toes on her right foot.

Mr. Hamilton carried her from the crash site on his back. Plump by her own description, the “crash diet” left her weighing less than 45 kilograms. Mr. Hamilton was accustomed to toting that much moose meat when hunting.

Still, it was a tough slog.

“The snow was three- to five-feet deep,” he recalled. “I must have fallen 40 or 50 times. I had to fall on my face. I couldn't fall on her.”

After each stumble, he would tramp the snow to give himself a footing, before again placing Miss Klaben on his back to continue the downhill trek.

Word of the rescue was front-page news around the world.

A photograph of Miss Klaben appeared on the front cover of Life magazine.

Mr. Hamilton and his wife, Marion, were flown to New York, where they visited Miss Klaben in hospital before appearing on Garry Moore's I've Got a Secret television show. The panelists quickly guessed the bush pilot's identity, as it was all people talked about.

Miss Klaben's grateful mother presented her rescuer with an engraved watch.

Mr. Hamilton had always wanted to fly. As a boy, he carved Spitfire models from pine and yellow cedar. But he eventually sold his interest in the airline, becoming a salmon fisherman on the west coast of Vancouver Island. He retired to Esquimalt some years ago. He has not seen the woman he rescued since visiting her in a Manhattan hospital.

The two lost touch over the years. Neither knew where the other lived.

Until yesterday, that is, which was the 45th anniversary of their unlikely meeting.

The 21-year-old “girl survivor” is now 66 and living in California under her married name.

Helen Klaben Kahn finished her education at Columbia University before becoming a book editor. She married a securities analyst, raised two sons (one an inventor, the other a doctor), and wrote a book about her ordeal titled, Hey, I'm Alive. This was turned into a made-for-TV movie with Ed Asner as the pilot and Sally Struthers as the passenger.

The author is considering a sequel to be titled, Hey, I'm Still Alive.

She makes presentations to school children and community groups about surviving in subzero temperatures without food. “I put my toes across the threshold of death and came back to tell the story,” she said.

She and Mr. Flores maintained a father-daughter relationship until his death a decade ago. After his passing, three of his children made a pilgrimage to the crash site in northern British Columbia between Aeroplane Lake and the confluence of the Gataga and Kechika Rivers.

They later had the wreck winched off the mountainside. It is now in a Missouri warehouse awaiting restoration.

On the telephone, the rescued had a request to be delivered to her rescuer. “I'm so appreciative. I love Chuck Hamilton,” she said. “Give him a hug and a kiss from me.”

Mr. Hamilton told me he preferred more traditional greetings. We shook hands.

He regrets having lost the engraved watch while moose hunting. But he still has a scrap from an airplane once used as a toboggan by desperate people whose time had not yet come.

2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Saving the Subhumans and their sweaty friends

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 19, 2008


Musicians scrawled set lists on scrap paper.

Kids in black leather glued posters to lampposts, or stapled flyers to telephone poles.

Budding entrepreneurs who were as much fans as businessmen released vinyl records on obscure labels in limited pressings.

The Vancouver punk scene of the late 1970s had a do-it-your-@%&*#!-self ethos. The musicians adopted noms des punque — Wimpy, Dimwit, Rampage, Useless, Jughead, Shithead. Bands formed and disbanded and reformed, sometime before ever performing. They called themselves D.O.A., Dishrags, Subhumans, K-tels, Moral Lepers, and they Rocked Against This and they Rocked For That.

Gigs were doused in blood, sweat and gob.

An exhilarating scene faded away just as mysteriously as it had first appeared. Over time, some of the musicians succumbed to 9-to-5 wage slavery. Others surrendered to addictions. A handful continued to make music in their own fashion.

Thirty years later, the W.A.C. Bennett Library at Simon Fraser University has launched what is believed to be the first institutional archive of punk material in Canada.

The library is seeking donations for the use of generations of scholars to come.

Perhaps some future doctoral thesis will explore the common themes to be found in such Vancouver punk anthems as D.O.A.’s “Disco Sucks” and the Subhumans’ “Fuck You.”

“It’s been fun building this collection,” said Eric Swanick, the head of special collections. His own musical tastes are such that he describes himself as “just an old rock ‘n’ roller.” The former New Brunswick Legislative Librarian was unfamiliar with D.O.A.’s oeuvre, but happily has a 15-year-old son who is an aficionado of headbanging hardcore.

The librarian has since attended a show by the Pointed Sticks (his verdict: “Not so punkish”) and continues to seek leads on other material. Punk’s ephemeral nature offers special difficulties for the archive. Posters were printed on the cheapest paper possible. Much else was temporary and disposable.

He struck a motherlode last year. John Armstrong, the writer who founded the Modernettes as Buck Cherry, a name he has since licensed to an American band, turns out to have been a punk packrat.

Mr. Armstrong collected comic books as a boy and, when he joined friend Art Bergmann in the nascent music scene of the late 1970s, he brought to it an acquisitiveness and a sense of history.

He kept flyers, set lists, gig posters, photographs, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, backstage passes, and handwritten lyric sheets.

“I started with a plastic Safeway bag,” he said. “Then it was two bags. Then three. Then a box. The box turned into a suitcase bought at Value Village.

“I just hung onto stuff and it grew and grew and grew.”

He schlepped the suitcase even as he moved umpteen times. When the hinges finally broke from trying to restrain the growing pile, he dropped $15 on a large, travelling wardrobe at a second-hand store.

When the librarian heard about the wardrobe, he asked for an invitation to Mr. Armstrong’s downtown eastside residence.

“We sat down in my living room. We opened it up and started going through things. Making piles. He played it pretty cool. He’d pick something up and go, ‘Umm-hmm.’ ”

Mr. Armstrong has written two brilliant and funny memoirs in “Wages” (his working life) and “Guilty of Everything” (his so-called musical career) for New Star Books. He was eager to let go of the material.

“Please take this away. I hung onto all this stuff. I did my duty. I’m sick of having it around.”

The librarian even took the wardrobe itself.

Some punk material is on display at special collections on the library’s seventh floor on the Burnaby campus, as are other items donated last year.

These include a book with an original Marc Chagall lithograph; a hymnal published in the Carrier language in 1901; a bound volume of the satirical journal Karagoz (Blackeye), published in Istanbul at the end of the Ottoman Empire; and, several works by William Cobbett, the popular English journalist and pamphleteer who championed rural peoples during the Industrial Revolution.

The novelist Eden Robinson donated her papers, making her the latest addition to the library’s roster of British Columbia writers, which includes Shani Mootoo, Bill Gaston and Michael Turner.

The library is the repository for the papers of the Little Sisters Bookstore in its long-running legal battle to import material for its gay and lesbian clientele. The Canadian Farmworkers Union has also placed its papers with the institution.

The editorial cartoonist John Larter, who was nominated last week for a National Newspaper Award last week, donated 1,185 works. Another 800 cartoons were added to the collection by Bob Bierman, Graham Harrop and Bob Krieger.

The library maintains a searchable database of 5,000 scanned toons. As it turns out, the W.A.C. Bennett Library holds 65 editorial cartoons poking fun at the foibles of its namesake.

Next year, the library and the English department hope to host an international punk conference for academics at the university’s downtown campus, which is only a short stagger down the road from the old Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret, scene of many a punk bacchanalia.

As it turns out, the library offers donators money or an official receipt to be filed with Revenue Canada. For Mr. Armstrong, the call was easy, “It wouldn’t be very punk to take a tax break,” he said. He took the money. Unlike so many of his shows back in the day, his gig as amateur archivist ended with a payday.

Teen City, here we come

Some of the bands from Vancouver’s punk heyday have reformed in recent years, the reunions driven by a new generation of fans who discovered the music through the wonders of the Internet.

Joe Keithley launched Sudden Death Records in 1978 to release D.O.A.’s “Disco Sucks.” Thirty years later, the band and the label survive. D.O.A.’s uncompromising motto — “Talk Minus Action Equals Zero” — is a graffito that sums up the politics of punk in five words (or three words and two mathematical signs).

D.O.A. are recording a new album with producer Bob Rock. “Northern Avenger” is to be released this summer.

With amiable frontman Brian (Wimpy Roy) Goble and the classic songwriting of Gerry Useless (nee Hannah), The Subhumans cranked out raucous, two-minute, buzz-guitar anthems, some of the lyrics which can even be printed in this newspaper.

The Pointed Sticks were new-wave fave raves. Lured to Japan a few years back, fans stunned the band by knowing the lyrics to songs that hadn’t been performed in a quarter-century. Sudden Death Records has re-released the group’s early recordings, as well as a seven-inch record, “My Japanese Fan.”

The Modernettes were a co-ed trio with killer songs, the best-named couple (Buck Cherry and Mary Jo Kopechne) and a gutful of teen angst. John Armstrong has formed a new group under the same name. They have a Myspace page. The records are available on Sudden Death.

Among the many contemporary documentarians of the scene was the ubiquitous Bev Davies, whose black-and-white portraits capture the scene in sweaty, passout glory. Her photos now illustrate punk calendars.

Punk History Canada is a fun site covering Canada’s punk scene from 1977 to 1987. Check out the gallery to gander at some outrageous gig posters.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Victoria lawn bowling club fights to stay alive

Photograph by Deddeda Stemler

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 12, 2008


Ray Turner dressed against the morning chill with a blue wool sweater beneath his blue coveralls. A green scarf covered his neck. A workingman’s cap kept his head warm.

In his labouring days, he cared for golf courses and he cut lawns as part of a city crew. Now 81, he is president of the Canadian Pacific Lawn Bowling Club, a magnificent title, although one which he did not have to contest.

“I’m stuck with the president’s job now,” he said, his Yorkshire homeland crunching through every syllable. “No one wanted it.”

The club occupies a small greensward on Belleville Street downtown, just one long block from the Inner Harbour. A magnificent lawn has been used for bowls since 1930.

For years, the landscape surrounding the club went unchanged with the brick-and-glass Crystal Gardens to the west, and the Church of Our Lord, in its charming board-and-batten, Gothic Revival style, to the northeast. A modest, two-storey motor lodge is across the street. The Legislature and the Empress Hotel are just a few long bowls farther west.

Yesterday, an earth mover roared back and forth just beyond the club’s northern fence, pushing dirt in front of the twin towers of the adjacent Aria condominium development. Across the street, the motor lodge’s windows are boarded.

The club is located on city-owned land that it leases for $1 per year. The city issued a study last week looking at options for the block. Among the wish list were an art gallery, a children’s museum, a conference centre extension, an open space above underground parking.

None of the possibilities included keeping the lawn for bowling. Page after page showed a building atop the grass where players will soon return for the club’s 85th season, the 78th on this site.

“We’re trying our best to stay alive,” Mr. Turner said.

“I know we’re only tenants. We don’t have much power.”

As it now stands, eviction could come soon after Labour Day.

If so, the city will lose one of the features that makes downtown unique. The sight of bowlers in their whites cavorting on grass trimmed to crew-cut perfection has long captured the imagination of tourists, who have been known to stop their vehicles in the middle of the road to snap a quick photograph.

Travel writers still refer to Victoria as a remnant of Olde England, which is what happens when you stick a pitchman in a beefeater’s costume and having bagpipers among your buskers. The club, originally launched for railway workers, is one of the last authentic throwbacks to the city’s British heritage.

A guest book greets visitors inside the door of the clubhouse. The most recent entry is dated Sept. 15 and is signed by two bowlers from a club in Surrey. England, that is, not the Vancouver suburb. Other travelling sportsmen hailed from Jersey in the Channel Islands.

Nearby, an automatic bowls polisher manufactured in New Zealand offers players a better grip. “Cleans, polishes, restores for better handling,” it promises. The machine costs just 25 cents.

In the main room, a portrait of the queen is flanked by the Canadian and British Columbia flags. A display case in one corner shows 11 wooden bowls donated by a member identified only as “Mrs. Peden,” the mother of the famed cyclist Torchy Peden and great all-round athlete Doug Peden.

The trophy case holds a dozen beautiful silver trophies, including the Ladies’ Rose Bowl and the Adshead, which is awarded in an over-80 competition. The most coveted is the Yarrow Cup, donated by the Esquimalt shipyard in which were built the vessels that helped win the Second World War.

Mr. Turner walked into the club one day 13 years ago and immediately felt he had found home.

He emigrated to Canada back when the great monarchist John Diefenbaker was still prime minister. The new arrival came to Canada out of curiosity, eager to see a new land. The son of a Sheffield steelworker did his damnedest to avoid his birthright at the steel mill.

“I was too scared to go in there,” he said. “It was like hell. Flames and heat from the furnace. All the noise.”

Nearly a half-decade later, he still ends his spoken sentences by saying, “innit?” As in, “Everybody used to bowl. It’s in decline these days. Too much other stuff going on, innit?” Think of it as Yorkshire punctuation.

The inexorable march of time has cut the membership of the club in half since the current president joined. The 50 members now pay an annual dues of $125, little more than $10 a month, which is about the price of a movie admission.

The old-time members were jolted last year by the arrival of a handful of 30-something wannabe acolytes. Among them was Kris Constable, a self-taught computer privacy and security consultant who expected bowls would be similar to the Italian game bocce. He was surprised to discover the bowls are biased, being “eccentrically balanced,” which is not a bad description of more than a few players.

Mr. Constable, 31, admits he came to the sport in unlikely fashion. He was enjoying drinks in a bar with some mates when one of them noted that lawn bowling — a genteel, sociable recreation — remained a medal event at one of the world’s top sporting competitions.

“Delhi 2010, that’s our goal,” he said. “We figure if we start practicing now, we could make it to the Commonwealth Games.”

First, though, he will have to protect a postage-stamp lawn from being turned into a construction zone.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Turning the camera on a man whose photographs live in our collective memory

Photograph by Deddeda Stemler

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 5, 2008


Ted Grant has shot bullfights and cowboys sleeping in a bunkhouse; an Olympic runner at a moment of triumph and an upside-down equestrian rider bucked from a horse; John Diefenbaker chortling and Pierre Trudeau sliding down a banister.

He has covered a war that lasted a week and another that seemed would never end.

For a half-century, his photographs have been part of our collective memory. The images appeared in the likes of Star Weekly and Weekend Magazine, the newspaper supplements that once offered the nation's readers a shared experience.

His most reproduced work – admired by some, defaced by others – has been found on election campaign posters.

After years of showing us to ourselves, Mr. Grant finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having the camera turned on him. He is the subject of a documentary – Ted Grant: The Art of Observation – produced for the Bravo! network in which he is portrayed as Canada's most famous unknown photographer.

Many know the work; few know the name. A photographer who admits to shyness likes it that way.

“I'm just a shooter like anybody else,” he insists.

In his day, he was a Yousuf Karsh of the newsroom, an old-fashioned lensman whose perseverance, hard work and killer eye produced such memorable images as a playful prime minister descending a staircase by riding the handrail on his rump, a naughty boy with his arms flung heavenward.

The National Archives of Canada in Ottawa maintains a collection of Mr. Grant's work. Back in 1999, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Association of Photographers and Artists in Communication (CAPIC). The other recipient that year was Mr. Karsh, the land's most famous photographer.

Where Mr. Karsh created his icons in a studio setting, Mr. Grant has preferred to shoot in a natural habitat (even if that was an office) using available light. Like Mr. Karsh, he sees the world in black and white. Colour photography is for shooting clothes, he says. Black and white captures souls.

A lean, wiry man, Mr. Grant looks happiest when holding a camera. While staring through the viewfinder with his left eye, his lazy right eye gazes up and away from the action. He has limited vision in the right, which has been unhelpful on assignment. He was once struck by a loose tire while photographing a road race. Another time, he was on the sidelines of a football game when Ron Stewart of the Ottawa Rough Riders ran an end sweep. So intent was the photographer on capturing the moment that he failed to notice the two hulking defenders about to drive the runner out of bounds. Mr. Grant became the meat in a hero sandwich.

“I didn't know where I was,” he said. “They all got up and I was left lying there.

“I said, ‘How's my camera?' ”

The basement walls of Mr. Grant's home are covered with a lifetime's work, family snapshots mixing with portraits of John Travolta and others. A room that once served as a darkroom has been transformed into a light room, as the 78-year-old photographer has kept up with technological advances. He has come a long way since the day when he ruined his wife's baking tins with the chemicals he was using to develop his first batch of film.

Born in Toronto a few months before the stock-market crash of 1929, he became enraptured with photography after his father allowed him to take a few shots with the family's Box Brownie, a cardboard contraption. The family did not have enough money on a beer-truck driver's salary to get Ted one of his own.

His wife, the former Irene Irons, presented him with his first camera on his 21st birthday. She had saved $30 from her job as a secretary to buy a little Argus A2. He has it still.

He took the camera with him to car races on a dirt track. The drivers liked his work and were soon paying a princely $1 per print. A shot of a tire popping off a racing car was bought by the Ottawa Citizen, which gave him a photo credit and a modest payment. A young man who had been making a living by repairing restaurant equipment soon after launched a new career.

Journalistic assignments have taken him to the Middle East for the Six-Day War of 1967, to Vietnam for the battle of Khe Sanh, to Ukraine to cover the aftermath of Chernobyl.

“If you're going to war, go with the Israelis,” he said. “It starts on Monday and you're heading home on Saturday.”

Mr. Grant trained for the 1988 Seoul Olympics by standing alongside the Pat Bay Highway with his cameras, honing his timing by trying to focus on the licence plates of the cars speeding past.

On the day of the 100-metre race, he avoided the finish line for a spot farther down the track that he had scouted during the preliminaries. After Canada's Ben Johnson crossed the line, he thrust a finger in the air in triumph before looking back at his heartsick rival.

A single colour frame – perfectly composed, the runners in mid-stride looking like statues – captured the moment. It was the image of a lifetime, at least until the gold medal was rescinded when Mr. Johnson failed a drug test. It was as if someone told Mr. Karsh he had photographed Winston Churchill's double and not the great man himself.

Mr. Grant has the uncanny ability of finding art in adversity. After undergoing nearly six hours of neurosurgery in 1980 to repair nerve damage in his good eye, the grateful photographer decided to turn his lens on doctors and nurses. His seventh book, now in the planning, will be a study of medical students at the University of Victoria.

In the past, he has been an official photographer for the Progressive Conservatives, handling six federal campaigns as well as chronicling the lives of federal and provincial party leaders. Those photos of a Smilin' Brian Mulroney on 1984 and 1988 campaign posters? Take out the darts and gaze on the work of Ted Grant.

2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.