Monday, January 31, 2011

Blethering Place serves its last cup o' tea

Eating at the Blethering Place was like visiting your dotty aunt for lunch. Photographs by Deddeda Stemler.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
January 31, 2011


The Union Jack has been lowered over the Blethering Place Tea Room for the final time.

The banner flew over a landmark restaurant in Oak Bay, a municipality whose borders are teasingly described as the Tweed Curtain.

The Blethering Place, where tour buses stopped and the Galloping Gourmet recorded two episodes of his television cooking program, served its last scone and poured its last cuppa on Sunday.

After three decades of helping convince American tourists that Victoria is an outpost of Merry Olde England, the owner is closing the doors. The city’s “favourite faux Tudor tearoom,” as it has been called, is to be replaced by new owners who have in mind a modern bistro.

“It was an oasis,” said Ken Agate, the 66-year-old proprietor who lives in an apartment above the restaurant overlooking Oak Bay Avenue, the local High Street. “It’s not about being fine dining. It’s about being comfortable and welcome.

“It wouldn’t matter if you sat here all day. You can bring the baby. You don’t need a reservation. You don’t even have to eat.”

The restaurant has been packed this week, as old-time customers returned to sample such dishes as Welsh rarebit, shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, and a breakfast item billed as “eggs Benedict Arnold.”

While online reviews of the cuisine can kindly be described as mixed, the room earned accolades over the years from travel writers for the Seattle Times (“beloved and venerable”) and the Los Angeles Times (“lots of local ‘old ducks’ chattering away”).

Diners sat in a room filled with such bric-a-brac as dolls and lesson books, toffee tins and biscuit boxes, packaging for blancmange and mushy peas. A portrait of Winston Churchill shared a wall with two Union Jacks.

The decor consisted of “oak panelling, lace curtains, seersucker tablecloths,” the New York Times once noted, while the clientele “look as if they have emerged from the background of an Agatha Christie mystery novel.”

Tea was served in pots covered by crocheted cozies. It was like eating at your dotty aunt’s place.

Mr. Agate bought the restaurant on a whim. He saw the tea room, thought, “I could do that,” and walked in to buy the business. The owner declined, but that very night Mr. Agate got a call from the owner’s wife. Over time, Mr. Agate expanded the space to take over an adjacent grocery and realtor’s office.

He had not been a restaurateur before taking over the tea room, though his family had dairy expertise. Mr. Agate was born in the Fijian coastal village of Navua, where his father introduced ice cream to the tropical archipelago. He grew up in Palmerston North on New Zealand’s North Island, where an early job at a department store led to work as a traveling salesman. He married a hairdresser and eventually owned three salons, which were sold to finance a relocation to Vancouver Island.

He took over the restaurant on the first day of 1981, when, as he puts it, “I got into the beautiful rut of the Blethering Place.”

The tea room took its name from a Scottish word for “voluble senseless talking.”

One day, he spotted among the diners Graham Kerr, the popular cook known by his television audience as the Galloping Gourmet. Mr. Kerr had begun his media career in New Zealand, so the two hit it off, and soon after two episodes for the chef’s syndicated program were taped in the tea room.

The tea room shared a block with such businesses as the Penny Farthing pub and the Tudor Sweet Shoppe, which contribute to the neighbourhood’s sense of British heritage. Yet, Oak Bay’s exclusive Uplands neighbourhood was designed by American landscape architect John Charles Olmsted, while other subdivisions were planned according to principles outlined by American sociologist Clarence Perry.

The Union Jack that once flew over the restaurant, shredded by winter winds, has found a home in Washington state. A vexillologist in the city of Battle Ground, north of Vancouver in Clark County, collects distressed banners. The Union Jack is tattered by weather, not war, an appropriate keepsake for Battle Ground, which takes its name for a site on which an anticipated battle did not take place.

The Blethering Place, where tour buses stopped and where Graham Kerr taped two episodes of The Galloping Gourmet, was a landmark on Oak Bay Avenue.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Covering the minors propels a dreamer to the Hall of Fame

The premiere issue of All-America Baseball News was a ragged affair with sloppy layout. But the information was good and the publication, later renamed Baseball America, found an audience.

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


Allan Simpson had a dream. He was going to quit his accountant’s job to start a newspaper about baseball.

Not about the star sluggers, or the most popular teams.

A newspaper about unknown players. Amateurs. Prospects. College kids.

Friends and potential financiers issued a unanimous verdict: You’re going to strike out.

“I ran the idea by everyone and they all thought I was completely nuts,” he recalled on Tuesday. “Except my wife.”

He took the gamble, moving his young family, with two toddlers, from Vernon to White Rock, where he had bought a home with a garage, which would be his office.

Years later, he would look back in amazement at his own judgment.

Allan Simpson
“Here I was, a guy with no publishing background, limited financial resources, few active contacts in baseball,” he once wrote, “trying to launch a national baseball publication out of the garage of my house. In Canada, no less.”

He knew Americans would balk at a baseball periodical from Canada, so a post office box was rented across the border in Bellingham, Wash.

He had a killer name for the publication, too — All-America Baseball News.

It was, he acknowledges, “a little deceitful.”

He built his own angled layout table and bought a primitive typesetting machine that in 1980 was already obsolete.

The office was primitive.

“Unheated,” he recalls. “Had my skis in there. Beer bottles. Winter tires. The works.”

At night, he skimmed out-of-town newspapers looking for nuggets of baseball wisdom. He wore a jacket, though found it difficult to turn pages with gloves on.

Mr. Simpson was an avid and longtime reader of The Sporting News. Known as the "Bible of Baseball,” the newspaper decided in the 1970s to forego coverage of baseball’s minor leagues in favour of articles on professional football and hockey. He’d fill the niche with a tabloid newspaper.

Through direct mail solicitations and a handful of small advertisements in the rival publication, he found a modest audience who shared his obsession with all things baseball. About 1,500 fellow diehards bought his pitch, almost all of them Americans, forked over $16.50 US for a 22-issue charter subscription.

He had no idea what he was getting into.

Mr. Simpson had been born in Kelowna, the grandson of Stanley Merriam Simpson, a sawmill owner whose box company made the crates in which the Okanagan’s rich bounty of fruit was shipped around the world. Young Allan attended a private school where the preferred sports were soccer, badminton and cricket. He did not play baseball until age 15.

He had a summer job as a sportswriter with the Kelowna Courier and covered university sports briefly for the Vancouver Sun until the daily went on strike. He eventually headed north to become the assistant general manager of the Alaska Goldpanners amateur baseball team. When the local newspaper discovered his background, he also became summertime sports editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

On his honeymoon, he stopped in Montreal to talk his way into becoming the first general manager of a fledgling farm team in Alberta. The one star on the Lethbridge Expos was a skinny, 20-year-old outfielder from Miami named Andre Dawson. Mr. Simpson earned just $700 a month. He returned to school and became an accountant. Until he had his dream.

The first issue was overdue. He thought he could typeset all 32 pages of articles himself. Strike one.

A friend had to be called in. A day before the pages were to be sent to the printers, long galleys of typeset articles hung from the rafters of the garage like flypaper. He thought he could paste down all the articles in one night. Strike two.

He knew little about design. For the masthead he chose a font that would be more appropriate for Irish Spring soap. Pages were incomplete and riddled with errors, but the presses were ready to roll, so he rushed across the border to the Bellingham Herald. They slapped in some final corrections in a different typeface.

“A classic it was not,” the editor/publisher/typesetter said.

He was so tired after two sleepless nights of production that he didn’t dare drive the 40-kilometres home to bed. He slept in his car at a rest stop on Interstate 5.

The next day he took the premiere edition to Seattle to be mailed.

With horror, he realized he had less than two weeks to produce the second issue.

The publication, later to be renamed Baseball America, nearly died that year, but a strike by major league players fueled an appetite for news from baseball’s lesser circuits. Circulation grew.

Mr. Simpson sold a majority interest in the newspaper two years later, moving with it to Durham, N.C. In time, it became a must-read trade publication. He left the newspaper five years ago to become a vice-president with Perfect Game USA, a prominent baseball scouting service.

Next month will mark the 30th anniversary of the paper’s debut.

On Monday, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame at St. Marys, Ont., announced their latest inductees — Tom (The Terminator) Henke, a relief pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays: George (Dandy) Wood, an 19th-century player from Prince Edward Island; and, Mr. Simpson, 62, a dreamer.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A bittersweet tale of two wartime histories

Victoria author Chris Gainor reprises his role as Winston Churchill for annual commemoration at Beacon Hill Park, where Churchill planted a hawthorn during a visit in 1929. Deddeda Stemler photograph.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
January 24, 2011


The men hauled fish from a bountiful sea in bays known to them as Bunji, Hakoda and Shimizu.

The protected waters offered cod and salmon, herring and halibut.
What was harvested from the sea was then processed on land, providing jobs in canneries, salteries, and reduction plants. Some craftsman founded boat works.

A Japanese-Canadian community thrived along the welcoming waters of Ucluelet Inlet, where bays were named after local fishermen. Other families settled on the west coast of Vancouver Island near Tofino and Bamfield, while similar settlements could be found at Nanaimo, Chemainus, and Campbell River, as well as on the Gulf Islands.

There were loggers and merchants, importers and entrepreneurs.

It all disappeared so suddenly.

Within weeks of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a festering political wish to remove Japanese-Canadians from the coast got official government sanction.
Boats were seized, homes confiscated, neighbours exiled.

Families were broken up, as able-bodied men were placed with road crews and on railroad gangs, while women and children were ordered to ghost towns in the British Columbia Interior.

Four years would pass following the defeat of Japan before even those born on these shores would be allowed to return to the coast, where the homes and businesses they owned had been sold without their consent.

The Second World War ended more than 65 years ago, yet some wounds remain raw and some heroes demand commemoration.

On Sunday, two unrelated events in Victoria — one a lecture, the other an outdoor toast to a wartime leader — highlighted the powerful hold the war still has on some here.

At the Royal BC Museum, the husband-and-wife team of Stanley and Masako Fukawa spoke about the Japanese-Canadian experience.

“When I interview people who grew up in these communities before the war they did not feel objects of discrimination,” Mrs. Fukawa said before her talk.

“The politicians made them scapegoats. In the 1920s, they wanted to eliminate Japanese-Canadians from the fisheries.”

News of the sneak attack on the American naval base on Dec. 7, 1941, left the community in “utter shock. They couldn’t believe it.”

“The fishermen thought once the initial shock was over they would be going back fishing. So, when their boats were impounded, then confiscated and sold off, they couldn’t believe it. They kept thinking, ‘This will blow over.’ ”

Mrs. Fukawa spent the war at Greenwood, a once-booming gold and copper mining city that had fallen on hard times. As a little girl, she wondered how her father could be a fisherman when the only water was a nearby creek. Only as an adult did she learn she had been raised at an internment camp.

She worked as an educator and administrator, later playing a role in getting internment included in the curriculum for B.C. schools.

At 70, she is the principal writer and editor of the Nikkei Fishermen’s Book Committee, an organization dedicated to preserving the history of those whose nets were pulled from these waters against their wishes. Her husband works as a translator for the project, which has included such books as Spirit of the Nikkei.

The work has helped preserve the names of such places as Bunji Bay in Ucluelet Inlet.

At about the same time as the Fukawas began their presentation, a small crowd gathered in a park a few blocks away to toast Sir Winston Churchill, the British prime minister who famously led his people in defying the Nazi hordes.

In 1929, he planted a tree at Beacon Hill Park at a site known as the Mayors Grove, a meadow where dignitaries were asked to wield a spade. His visit came at a time when the ex-chancellor of the exchequer was more likely to find a favourable reception in the colonies than at home.

He traveled across the Dominion, admiring Niagara Falls, attending the wheat exchange in Winnipeg, placing an Indian-rubber ball in a ceremonial face-off for the Mann Cup lacrosse championships at New Westminster.

In Victoria, he spoke at a luncheon attended by 800 and toured the Esquimalt dry dock, where, a decade later, ships would be built at breakneck speed.

For more than a decade, newspaper columnist Les Leyne has played host to a modest gathering to commemorate the wartime leader’s death at age 90 on Jan. 24, 1965. Once again, the author Chris Gainor reprised his role as the British Bulldog, dressing in trench coat, homburg and cigar.

This being Victoria, the annual commemoration has attracted former premiers, retired cabinet ministers, and military historians. It has also attracted anonymous heroes, such as the woman whose wartime contributions included helping cracking the code of the German Enigma machine.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The magical history tour of John Lennon's Rolls-Royce

The gypsy-themed paint job on John Lennon's Rolls-Royce is often mistakenly referred to as psychedelic. BELOW: A close-up view of the Flying Lady hood ornament and an unforgettable paint job.

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


Rolls-Royce painted it black. John Lennon had other ideas.

His car is parked in the lobby of the Royal BC Museum, a surprise attraction for those exploring the history of the province. The Rolls travelled a long and winding road from London’s Carnaby Street to Spain to Manhattan to South Carolina before winding up in a city Mr. Lennon never visited.

Only one person is allowed to drive the car. Jim Walters, a 56-year-old mechanic and proprietor of Bristol Motors, is named on the insurance forms. He recently drove the Rolls off a flatbed truck before squeezing the car between double doors and easing to a stop in front of the museum’s ticket desk.

The body is painted a garish yellow with flowers on the door and signs of the zodiac on the roof, all framed by fanciful scrollwork.

The car is so valuable now that it can no longer be driven on city streets. It last had a spin along the Pat Bay Highway three years ago. Before that, it was even piloted as far afield as Seattle by Mr. Walters.

“It floats down the road,” he said. “Very, very smooth and quiet. Absolutely silent. You don’t feel bumps like you would in a normal car. You don’t feel the transmission shifting. No clunk, or jump.”

What’s it like to drive a car that has ferried the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Moody Blues, Bob Dylan, Yoko Ono, and Elton John?

“You feel like you’re in another world. It feels like you’re back in the 1960s.”

In 1965, shortly after getting his driver’s license at age 24, the famous Beatle bought a sports car and a luxury car. The latter was a Rolls-Royce Phantom V Limousine, serial number 5VD73, painted a sober shade known as “Valentine black.” The Phantom was the carriage of choice for the upper classes. The Fab Four rode in Mr. Lennon’s new limousine to Buckingham Palace to receive their MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) medals from the Queen.

Soon after, Mr. Lennon had the rear bench modified to convert into a Pullman-style double bed, a shagadelic bit of interior decorating. A radio telephone was added, followed by a television, a refrigerator, and a floating turntable for some 45-rpm rock ’n’ Rolls. A loud-hailer was also installed, so that he could address people outside the cocoon of his luxury ride.

The Rolls was shipped to Spain, where Mr. Lennon was portraying Gripweed, a private, in the filming of the anti-war comedy “How I Won the War.” A chauffeur drove him to and from the set, the blowing sands of the arid Spanish soil, as well as the limousine’s low clearance, necessitating repairs on his return to England.

Inspired by an old gypsy caravan he had bought for his garden, Mr. Lennon ordered his Rolls to be painted in a similar motif. An English coach builder commissioned the artist Steve Weaver to paint the Romany-inspired flourishes, which are often mistaken for psychedelia. The repainted car was delivered to Mr. Lennon, along with a bill for £290, on May 25, 1967.

One tale, perhaps apocryphal, describes an elderly woman setting upon the car with her umbrella while yelling, “You swine! You swine! How dare you do this to a Rolls-Royce?”

The vehicle followed Mr. Lennon and Yoko Ono to New York after the Beatles broke up, though the crowded streets of Manhattan did not prove welcoming to a behemoth stretching more than six metres.

The couple donated the car to a museum in 1978 in exchange for a tax credit. It soon wound up in storage. In 1985, five years after Mr. Lennon was shot to death by a deranged fan, the car was placed for auction with Sotheby’s, which expected to fetch about $300,000 US.

A fierce bidding war was won by Jimmy Pattison, the Vancouver entrepreneur and car dealer, who bid a shocking $2,229,000 US for the car, which he wished to place in his Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museums. It was exhibited for a time in South Carolina, before being put on display in a glass case outdoors during Expo 86 in Vancouver.

Mr. Pattison donated the Rolls to the province. It spent several years at an automotive museum in suburban Vancouver before winding up in the hands of the Royal BC Museum.

In 1993, Mr. Walters was contracted by the museum to maintain the vehicle. He had been shocked to discover it beneath an old parachute in an underground garage in which pigeons had taken roost.

Some of the chrome yellow paint had flaked, so he undertook the painstaking task of repairing the paint job without altering the hand-painted gypsy flourishes.

For years, the car could be found in his shop on Chatham Street, near Chinatown, a gobsmacking sight for the unsuspecting. “It blew a lot of minds,” Mr. Walters said. These days, the Rolls is usually stored in a climate-controlled warehouse in suburban Saanich.

One repair remains. He haunts thrift stores in search of a 1967 portable, black-and-white Sony television to replace the original that has gone missing.

To keep the car in running order, it needs to be taken for a spin.

Mr. Walters thinks the solution is to rent Western Speedway and have a street sweeper clean the debris from weekend races.

“Get all the seals lubricated,” he said. “Oil pumped through everything.”

Of course, he will be behind the wheel.

Otherwise, baby, you cannot drive the car. Beep, beep. Beep, beep. Yeah.

On Feb. 5 in Paris, the British house Bonhams will be auctioning Mr. Lennon’s first automobile, a blue 1965 Ferrari 330 GT. The auctioneer’s upper estimate for Lot 363 is €170,000 (about $226,000). The Beatle bought the Ferrari in April, 1965. Six weeks later, he took delivery of his Rolls.


The Beatles rode to Buckingham Palace in John Lennon's new Rolls-Royce Phantom V Limousine, a glimpse of which can be seen towards the end of this Pathe newsreel clip.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mistake in naming of flying reptile leads to lost credit, bruised feelings

Doctoral student Victoria Arbour holds a fossil found off Collishaw Point on Hornby Island. University of Alberta photograph.

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


On a warm May morning six years ago, Sharon Hubbard took advantage of an extraordinarily low tide to wander far off a beach on Hornby Island.

What she found would lead to the discovery of a new species of prehistoric flying reptile. An inadvertent mistake in its naming would lead to bruised feelings.

The shoreline near Collishaw Point is known by locals as Fossil Beach, a rocky stretch littered with concretions — rocks that can be cracked open to reveal fossils. The ammonites hidden inside are usually the fossilized hard shells of extinct mollusks.

Ms. Hubbard, an artist, likes to carve their coiled image into soapstone.

An amateur paleontologist, she has eagerly shared with academics discoveries from Hornby and places farther afield such as Apple Bay on northern Vancouver Island.

Far off the shore at Hornby, in an area usually under water, she clambered over rocks slick with kelp.

“I tapped this one concretion,” she said, “expecting something else than what I got.”

She had never seen anything like it.

“The teeth were evident, 50 or 60. I had never seen teeth that shape. They were about half-an-inch long, conical, serrated edge.”
Rock on Hornby Island held fossilized pterosaur jaw

She placed a ruler beside the fossilized jawbone, taking three photographs.

She carefully made her way over the rocks to show her find to Graham Beard, who had accompanied her that day. Mr. Beard is curator of the paleontological collection at the Qualicum Beach Museum, where the current star attraction is a 70,000-year-old walrus skeleton, known as Rosie.

“I honestly thought he was going to have a heart attack,” she said. “He couldn’t even breathe. I knew I had something really incredible.”

Mr. Beard took the fossil, which eventually was sent to the University of Alberta, where it was placed in a storage cabinet and forgotten.

Six years passed. Over that time, doctoral student Victoria Arbour stumbled across the Hornby fossil, identified as VIPM 1513, the abbreviation representing Mr. Beard’s Vancouver Island Paleontological Museum. She was puzzled. It could have been a fish, or a dinosaur, or a marine reptile.

The way in which the teeth were set so close together reminded her of piranha teeth.

The dentition also reminded her of a pterosaur, a prehistoric flying reptile.

She compared the fragment with other pterosaurs before coming to a conclusion — this was a new species, a scavenger of the late Cretaceous period, about 70 million years old. It is believed to have had a wingspan of abut three metres.

It is also the first pterosaur to be found in what is now British Columbia.

(When the flying creature dined on leftovers from predatory dinosaur kills, the coastal islands of British Columbia were at least 2,400 kilometres south of their present location, around Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.)

Ms. Arbour wrote an academic paper with professor Philip Currie, which was published online last month. A press release issued by the university a week ago introduced the creature to the world.

As a new genus and species, the creature needed a name. The academics came up with Gwawinapterus beardi — from the Kwak’wala word for raven, because the jawbone is reminiscent of the raven masks worn by the Kwakwaka’wakw people; and, to honour Mr. Beard, who “discovered the specimen, and for his contributions to the study of paleontology on Vancouver Island.”

Only Mr. Beard didn’t discover the fossil. Ms. Hubbard did.

The academics “feel very badly” about the mistake, Ms. Arbour said, accepting responsibility for the error.

They will try to have a correction added to the scientific paper to ensure Ms. Hubbard’s discovery is properly credited.

One thing they cannot do, though, is change the name.

Under the conventions of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, the pterosaur is to remain Gwawinapterus beardi.

Ms. Hubbard, who is the first Homo sapiens to hold in her hands the remains of this creature, had thought it could be called Hornbyensis humbardii.

Though she is not be rewarded with the honour of lending her name to her discovery, Ms. Hubbard, 63, promises to share the find with the people of the province. She would like to place the fossil with the Royal B.C. Museum.

Meanwhile, she will not abandon the hunt.

“I tend to find the unusual. I’ve done it over and over again,” she said.

“Paleontology here is only 150 years old. By finding new stuff, you’re just about an explorer.”

You never know which rock, which “dark grey silty mudstones with thin-bedded sandstone turbidites,” will crack open to reveal a prize never before seen by human eyes.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Raise a glass to Canada's first prime minister

Sculptor John Dann (left, in sweater) helps place the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald outside Victoria City Hall. The Father of Confederation represented the city in Parliament, though he did not get around to visiting until eight years after his election. John MacKay photograph.

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


Happy birthday, Sir John A., born 196 years ago Tuesday, which means we’ve been misspelling your Scottish surname for nigh on two centuries.

Ah, Mr. Macdonald, but how shall we celebrate? Cake?

Who’m I kidding? Cheers!

We mark the august occasion mostly by indifference.

You are remembered in a modest fashion — a bridge here, a highway there. An airport in Ottawa. Lots of high schools. An engraved portrait on our $10 banknote, a bill as purple as a campaign speech.

You have been cast in bronze, usually wearing a Prince Albert coat, holding papers in one hand, mouth open in silent oratory — on Parliament Hill in Ottawa; outside the Ontario legislature in Toronto; sitting on a bench in Charlottetown, PEI; in your hometown of Kingston, Ont.; in Regina (across from a memorial to Louis Riel, the rebel you hanged); and, atop a plinth in Place du Canada (formerly Dominion Square) in Montreal, where you have been the target of bombers and nationalists over the years. You suffered the indignity of decapitation by hacksaw some years ago, but the head has been restored and the entire monument is undergoing a sprucing up to be unveiled later this year.

There is another statue.

You stand at the entrance of the annex to Victoria City Hall, arms behind your back, your weight against the left leg, a rearward lean to your stance.

It is hard to say whether you are coming, or going.

The statue was commissioned by the local Macdonald Society, who wisely chose the artist John Dann. The society graciously offered his work to the people of a city you once represented in Parliament.

The life-sized depiction shows the first prime minister in contemplation. Mouth closed. Belly extended. Gaze fixed in the distance. Whatever can you be looking at?

The statue was installed 19 years ago this week, a birthday gift from private citizens.

Originally, you were placed looking towards city hall. You have since been spun ’round, where at least you can catch the action on the street.

Hardly anyone pays any attention.

Even those who donated it soon after asked for permission to move you to a locale more fitting your stature. It was suggested the man responsible for Confederation, the building of an intercontinental railway, and the National Policy of tariff protection might be better suited amidst the flower beds of the manicured grounds of the Empress Hotel. (Left unsaid was your role in the Pacific Scandal, or the imposition of the Chinese head tax.) In any case, city councillors voted 8 to 1 to keep you as a sentry at the Pandora Avenue entrance.

Lest you take solace in the single vote, it should be noted that councillor thought you a drunk bought and paid for by railway interests.

The reception was warmer in 1878. In those early days for the nation, voting in a federal election did not take place simultaneously across the land. Mr. Macdonald lost his Kingston seat by 144 votes to a Liberal wholesale grocer. He sent a telegram to supporters in Victoria asking for a nomination in the two-member constituency.

The day after the Kingston defeat, a raucous gathering was held at the Philharmonic Hall to discuss the proposal. “During the proceedings, a fracas took place and for some minutes the meeting was in a state of confusion and excitement,” the Daily Colonist reported. “The police, however, intervened and order having been re-established, everything passed off harmoniously.”

Not quite. Two other candidates ended up on the ballot — Judah Phillip Davies, an auctioneer and Macdonald backer, and Amor de Cosmos, the Liberal incumbent and former premier. The auctioneer finished third in balloting conducted a month later. Mr. Macdonald returned to Parliament, once again prime minister. (Always wily, Macdonald had also been acclaimed in the Manitoba riding of Marquette.)

The member of Parliament did not get around to visiting the constituency until eight years had passed.

On Aug. 13, 1886, Sir John wielded a silver sledgehammer to knock home a golden Last Spike at Cliffside, near Shawnigan Lake, at Mile 25 of the new Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway. The prime minister praised the railway as “a means of settling the beautiful island, and adding to the prosperity of the country at large.” He proposed three cheers for the railway and for its builder, the coal baron Robert Dunsmuir.

Back at city hall, the statue is not without critics. One suggested it made the Old Chieftain look like he was riding a skateboard.

Instead, let’s consider his propensity to enjoy libations. So august a periodical as the Journal of Canadian Studies just four years ago published a footnoted article titled, “John A. Macdonald and the Bottle.” To me, the statue has the look of a drinker gathering himself to once again enter the fray.

Let other lands celebrate mighty warriors. We have clever dipsomaniacs.

Sir John A. Macdonald (No. 13) arrives at Port Moody, then the western terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The prime minister's visit in 1886 included a trek to Vancouver Island, where he used a silver sledgehammer to drive home a golden Last Spike in the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway. City of Vancouver Archives photograph.

Monday, January 10, 2011

An isolated wait in the mountains for the perfect shot

Victoria photographer Mike Andrew McLean checks out the scenery in the Rockies.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
January 10, 2011


Each summer for the past three years, Mike Andrew McLean trekked up alpine paths with heavy camera equipment in search of spectacular vistas.

Acting as his own sherpa, the Victoria photographer carried with him a 1960s-era Linhof Technika IV field camera. It has a bellows, stands on a tripod, and requires a black cloth to be draped over the shooter.

After setting up near summits, he then waited for a passerby.

Sometimes, hours passed. Winds whipped along ridges. The photographer was exposed, though not always his film.

Mr. McLean, 34, was working on a project he calls “Range: Mountain National Parks Photographs.” He returned to the Rockies he had explored as a youth, seeking to make photographic portraits of strangers against a breathtaking backdrop.

In an age when wafer-thin cellphones take snapshots, a photographer with a large-format camera is an odd sight to stumble across in so isolated a site.

“This camera is a magnet for conversation,” he said. “You set it up and people are drawn to it. It is a spectacle, a surreal image.”

Just taking a photograph under the cloth was a performance, as though a hiker had stumbled across a daguerrotypist from another century.

No one turned him down, though he once watched with great patience at Lineham Ridge in Waterton Lakes National Park as a solitary climber neared his position, then sat down to enjoy a leisurely lunch before returning the way he came. The climber never got closer than 60 metres to the camera on a day in which four hours passed without a photograph being taken.

In their isolation and in the exertion needed to hike to a mountain pass, or to climb a peak, mountain travelers share a kinship. Those who posed for images were rewarded with a Polaroid developed as they waited, a souvenir of an unexpected encounter.

Accompanied by his wife, the writer Laura Trunkey, the Victoria photographer spent three summers in the national mountain parks. He estimates he hiked 1,000 kilometres, fueled by a diet of peanuts and beef jerky, his home a tent, or, in poor weather, the rear of the couple’s Pontiac station wagon. They seemed to encounter as many bruins as bipeds.

Mr. McLean exposed 250 sheets of film, selecting 27 images for use in group and solo shows. (An exhibition of “Range” opens on Saturday at the Kamloops Art Gallery.) His series is to be featured in a full-scale solo exhibition at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in his hometown of Lethbridge, which promises to be a happy homecoming for the sessional lecturer at the University of Victoria.

Now he needs to raise money to print and frame his oversized (31 by 40-inch) images. Fourteen still need to be completed. At $750 each, he seeks $10,500, a small fortune to an artist. A possible solution: Crowd sourcing. He has described his project and his funding dilemma on, which describes itself as the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects.

As of Sunday, 33 backers pledged $2,285. He offers modest gifts depending on the amount pledged. Even the promise of as little as $10 earns a thank-you note and a laser print of one of the photographs.

He has 33 days to gain further donors. If he doesn’t make the total, all backers are released from their pledges.

"Horses" by Mike Andrew McLean. Part of "The Whites" series.

Meanwhile, he has yet another exhibit opening in Victoria on Friday. “The Whites” features black-and-white images shot in Victoria over the past year. The series is described as an exploration of the subject of whiteness, from the spills emanating from a paint can, to a vintage wicker lampshade in a budget hotel, to the bunker-like solitude of a small building with boarded windows in a parking lot. (The latter will be familiar to Victoria residents as the law offices of Doug Christie.)

Mr. McLean remains enthralled by the traditional process of developing sheet film.

“Having the print come up in the developer, appearing before your eyes, it’s like magic,” he said.

“The Whites” opens at 7 p.m. Friday at Deluge Contemporary Arts, 636 Yates St., in Victoria. Runs until Feb. 12. “Range: Mountain National Parks Photographs” opens Saturday at the Kamloops Art Gallery.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Remembering Ginsberg and the summer of poetry

Poets gather outside the Vancouver home of Ellen and Warren Tallman in 1963. Allan Ginsberg is in the back row, third from left, standing beside a young, far-haired Dan McLeod in glasses. Warren Tallman is seated in the second row, far right. BELOW: The American poet Charles Olson in Vancouver, as photographed by Ginsberg.

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


Allen Ginsberg, fresh from an Asian sojourn, arrived in Vancouver with his hair and beard untrimmed, ringlets cascading from his face. The poet looked like an Old Testament prophet in an age of Brylcreem conformity.

He was a mad (holy) man amidst the Mad Men.

It was the summer of 1963. A three-week university course brought to the grungy port city with its neon-lit streetscapes an all-star lineup of hotshot writers known as the New American Poets.

George Bowering, at the time a student at the University of British Columbia who would go on to become Canada’s first poet laureate, had been reading these works for years. He intended to follow his favourite, Charles Olson. Instead, he found himself shadowing Mr. Ginsberg.

“Maybe it’s embarrassing to say it,” Mr. Bowering said Tuesday, “but he seemed to have some kind of spiritual aura. The air shone around him.”

He remembers the poet in Stanley Park so taken by its natural beauty to deliver an impromptu recitation of “Adonais,” a pastoral elegy to John Keats. “Pages and pages and pages of Shelley!” Mr. Bowering recalled. “I was astonished.”

The movie Howl, which takes as its title the famous poem written by the late Mr. Ginsberg, is being released on DVD this week after a limited theatrical run. The movie intersperses an interview with the poet, a reading of the poem, and a notorious obscenity trial in docudrama fashion.

For some who see the movie, it is unnerving, though not unsatisfying, to see Hollywood portray characters they knew in the flesh.

Stan Persky, a 69-year-old philosophy professor at Capilano University, knew many of the people portrayed in the film — Jack Kerouac (from whom he received a postcard at age 16 encouraging him in his writing), Neal Cassady, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Peter Orlovsky (Ginsberg’s lover), and the poet himself, whom he met in 1959 while stationed with the U.S. Navy in San Francisco.

“Ginsberg was an advocate of gay liberation 10 years before it was invented,” Mr. Persky said. “Ginsberg was totally open about it. I’d be walking around Chinatown and see him on the other side of the street and he would call out, ‘Hey, have you got a boyfriend yet?’ ”

Mr. Persky worked with the poet in organizing an early anti-Vietnam War protest at Berkeley, Calif. When the local Hells Angels chapter made it known they were prepared to beat the peace marchers for not being patriotic, the poet went to visit them in their compound. He returned to announce the Angels had changed their mind, offering to provide security for the protestors, an entente negotiated after the long-haired, gay poet shared with the leather-wearing bikers a supply of LSD.

The 1963 visit to Vancouver coincided with several parties held at the Kerrisdale home of Ellen Tallman, a writer, and Warren Tallman, an English professor, at 2527 W. 37th Ave. The atmosphere was redolent of cigarette smoke and spilled Black Label.

At one point, Mr. Ginsberg posed outside the home with the host and several poets. Among those in the photograph is Dan McLeod, who would go on to co-found the Georgia Straight underground newspaper. Some years later, the Straight faced a substantial fine for criminal libel by having awarded a “Pontius Pilate Certificate” to a judge who convicted Mr. Persky on a loitering charge. The newspaper held a benefit to raise legal funds, attracting the support of folk singer Phil Ochs and Mr. Ginsberg. In a radio interview with Jack Webster, a hard-hitting interrogator from Scotland known as the Oatmeal Savage, the gentle poet used wit and humour to disarm the host. In the end, Mr. Persky remembers Mr. Ginsberg cajoling a $50 cheque from the Scotsman.

Looking back, the 1963 poetry conference is the day what we think of as the 1960s began in Vancouver.

Mr. Bowering likes to tell an anecdote about the conference.

At one point, the visiting poets were playing a friendly game of Monopoly at the Tallman residence. Savvy purchases and some luck with the die soon had Mr. Ginsberg demanding rent payments and calling mortgages on his fellow poets, as he ignored their entreaties for loans or leniency. The writer who decried the excesses of American capitalism was a whiz at tabletop real estate.

Fred Wah recorded a reading by Allen Ginsberg during the Vancouver conference. You can hear it ">here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A vision of imperial Eden on southern Vancouver Island

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
January 3, 2011


At age 13, John Bosher steeled himself to defend Vancouver Island from a feared Japanese invasion.

He was a Boy Scout armed with a Winchester .30-30 rifle, displaying the bravery of a lad who had seen war only in the movie theatre. He drilled with the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers, alongside white-haired veterans, many with English accents, who had settled on the Saanich Peninsula, north of Victoria.

He trained on the Sten gun and even handled a .45 revolver. “I remember I needed two hands to lift it,” he said. Happily, the enemy invasion never happened and the war ended before he was old enough to enlist.

Mr. Bosher went on to a stellar academic career, studying at the Sorbonne before completing a doctorate at London University. He taught history at King’s College London; at Cornell in Ithica, N.Y.; at York in Toronto; at the University of British Columbia. Over the years, he wrote eight books, academic works examining French history and trade with Canada.

He always remained curious about the backgrounds of the men with whom he had prepared for war.

For the past decade, he gathered material from archives and private letters, from directories and microfilmed newspapers. The result — Imperial Vancouver Island: Who Was Who, 1850-1950 — is an impressive volume offering fascinating portrayals of the men and women of British ancestry who created on southern Vancouver Island a vision of an imperial Eden.

“They saw the empire as a safety net, a kind of gated community,” he said.

The 81-year-old retired history professor, who now lives in Ottawa, has written A-to-Z thumbnail portraits of 769 notables.

The author contends that while nearby Vancouver developed as did other Canadian cities, Victoria with its naval base at Esquimalt more resembled the empire’s other island outposts, such as Malta, Ceylon, Bermuda, Jamaica, Bermuda, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Mr. Bosher’s volume is a delight for anyone interested in the island’s history. You can find the characters for which such places as Mayne and Mears islands are named. Here, too, are the ancestors of the poet Susan Musgrave and the former politician, now again an academic, Andrew Petter. Major Andrew Henry Jukes promoted Social Credit doctrine in the province during the Depression. The name Yarrow, which once made Victoria synonymous with shipbuilding, is now falling out of living memory, so it is good to see the son of the founder in the volume.

Many of those profiled by Mr. Bosher are worthy of a biography of their own. One such worthy is Sir Clive Phillipps-Wolley, a big-game hunter who stalked prey in the Crimea and on Vancouver Island, about which he wrote several volumes, including a novel about a remittance man. He warned of the rise of the Imperial German navy in the years following Queen Victoria’s death, urging Canada to build warships. His son died in the early days of the Great War, during which he was knighted, surely the only Vancouver Island writer to be so honoured. He died in Duncan in 1918 and is buried in the cemetery of St. Peter’s Anglican Church, which decorates the cover of the book.

The poet Rudyard Kipling made three visits to Vancouver Island, likely on scouting expeditions for a retirement home. (In the end, he settled in Sussex in the south of England.)

The author’s own ancestors first came to Victoria aboard a bride ship in 1863. His father, born in England, immigrated to the island, where he became a bulb inspector for the Dominion Experimental Station in Saanich.

While the book’s title is accurate and informative if somewhat terse, the author would have preferred to name it in the 19th-century fashion. He knows modern ears have little patience for the rambling descriptions of yesteryear. Otherwise, his doorstopper volume would be known as — take a deep breath — Some Imperial Campaigners and their Friends on Vancouver Island from the Cariboo Goldrush and the Indian Mutiny to the Invasion from Mainland Canada after the Second World War, 1858-1958.

He is mercifully mute on what he had in mind for a subtitle.