Sunday, November 4, 2012

A modest election proposal

By Tom Hawthorn

Boulevard Magazine
November, 2012

A cocky America invaded Canada 200 years ago. Conquering our land would be “a mere matter of marching,” insisted Thomas Jefferson in one of his less Jeffersonian moments.

American troops occupied Laura Secord’s house, ordering her to serve them food and drink. She plied them with booze, overheard their battle plans, then rushed to warn the local British commander. The red coats and Iroquois allies repulsed the invaders. A chain of chocolate emporiums was then named in the heroine’s honour by a grateful nation. (I may have fudged some of the details here.) Unfortunately, it has proved difficult to build a national mythology around the Battle of Beaver Dams, which sounds like an episode of Hinterland Who’s Who. Only about 30 combatants died, which is what police in Detroit now consider a slow night.

The war continued. They burned down Muddy York. We burned down the White House for the win.

What did the United States get out of the War of 1812? Two songs — Francis Scott Key’s Star-Bangled Banner and Johnny Horton’s Battle of New Orleans. Only one of those became a Billboard No. 1 hit and it is the one not sung before baseball games.

Two centuries later, our noisy neighbours in the basement claim to be the greatest democracy on the planet. Heck, I’m not convinced our American cousins have the greatest democracy on the continent. As those jokesters from the Canada Party argue, our frozen wasteland is “America, but Better.” They have suggested Canada take over the downstairs neighbour. “Not an invasion,” they insist, “an intervention.”

Invasion or intervention, you can expect push back from a nation with a constitutional right to the “pursuit of happiness,” which means they don’t much cotton to being told what to do by no well-meaning, socialist-medicine-taking northern varmints.

We Canadians should continue our policy of stealth infiltration. In the 1950s, Americans were convinced Communists were everywhere — acting in the movies, teaching in their schools, putting fluoride in their water, even hiding under their beds. While distracted by Red witch-hunts, those patriots entirely missed the maple invasion as Canadians slowly poured across the border before quietly insinuating into all facets of American life. Why, you’d hardly know we were there. Play spot the Canuck.

Kiddie crooner Justin Bieber? Canadian.

Michael Bublé? Canadian.

The Band? Neil Young? David Letterman’s musical sidekick? Canadian.

Celine, Avril, Joni, Alanis, Shania? Canadian.

Big-eared electronic dance deejay deadmau5? Canadian.

Titanic director James Cameron? Canadian.

Cutie patootie actor Michael Cera? Canadian.

Cutie patootie actress Ellen Page? Canadian.

Ironsides, from the old television show? Canadian.

Let’s Make a Deal host Monty Hall? Jeopardy! quizmaster Alex Trebek? Capt. Kirk and Scotty from Star Trek? Canadian.

John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Jim Carrey, Dave Foley, Mike Myers, Leslie Nielsen, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short? Canadian.

Curly-haired silent-film ingenue Mary Pickford, known as “America’s Sweetheart”? As Canadian as a maple donut at Tim Hortons inside a hockey rink.

Jennifer Granholm, the firebrand former Democratic governor of Michigan who made a keynote address at the Democratic convention? Canadian.

Conservative political pundits David Brooks (born in Toronto) and Charles Krauthammer (raised in Montreal) and David Frum (son of Barbara) all have a Canuck connection.

With so many of us having successfully infiltrated, we have lulled our southern allies into thinking we’re pretty much similar. With Americans going to the polls this month, we should quickly launch the final volley in our two-century-old plan — to finally end the War of 1812 by allowing ourselves to be absorbed into the United States.

Canada agrees to become the 51st state in exchange for adding a maple leaf to the 50 stars on the flag. Our population is about the same as California’s, so we’d get about 55 votes in the Electoral College. Barack Obama outpolls Mitt Romney by 68-10 in Canada (and by 50-19 even in Alberta, aka Texas North). A close contest becomes a landslide. Americans get health care and, overnight, become a world curling power. Meanwhile, we Canadians get our hands on the mightiest military machine history has ever seen. Today, America. Tomorrow, the world. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Baseball Necrology, 2011

By Tom Hawthorn
The Emerald Guide to Baseball, 2012
Society for American Baseball Research

Reno Bertoia
Pierino (Reno) Bertoia [1953-1963] died on April 15 at Windsor, Ontario, Canada. He was 76. He was born in San Vito al Tagliamento, Italy, on Jan. 8, 1935, sharing a birthdate with Elvis Presley. He moved to Canada with his family as an infant. At age 18, he signed an $11,000 bonus, joining the Detroit Tigers without playing a single game in the minors. A smooth infielder, he hit .244 over 10 major-league seasons with the Tigers, Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins, and Kansas City Athletics. While with the Tigers, he began studies at Assumption College in his Windsor hometown. After baseball practice in Detroit, he would walk across the Ambassador Bridge to attend classes. He became a teacher after leaving baseball. Bertoia was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988.

Wes Covington
John Wesley (Wes) Covington [1952-1966] died of cancer on July 4 at Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He was 79. A football prospect in high school in his native North Carolina, a knee injury led him instead to sign a minor-league contract with the Boston Braves. The 20-year-old prospect was assigned to a farm team at Eau Claire, Wis., where he was joined by a teenaged shortstop from Alabama. Hank Aaron, the future home-run king, hit nine homers for the Class-C team in 1952; Covington swatted 24. After two years of army service, the outfielder led the South Atlantic League with a .326 average in 1955. He joined the parent club, which had since moved to Milwaukee, the following season. The knock on Covington was that he was all bat, no glove, but spectacular catches in Games 2 and 5 of the 1957 World Series helped the Braves prevail against the New York Yankees. The lefty batter stayed with the Braves until 1961, when he was selected off waivers by the Chicago White Sox. He also played for the Kansas City Athletics, the Chicago Cubs, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Philadelphia Phillies, including during their infamous slump to close out the 1964 season.

Billy Harris
William Thomas (Billy) Harris [1951-1965] died on May 28 at Kennewick, Washington. He was 79. Born in the hamlet of Duguayville, New Brunswick, Canada, the right-handed Harris caught the attention of scouts by pitching his junior and senior teams to consecutive Canadian Maritime championship. At age 20, he went 25-6 with the Class-B Miami Sun Sox, recording a sterling ERA of 0.83 in 294 innings pitched. He’d appear in just two major-league games, losing his 1957 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, giving up three runs in seven innings. He pitched in relief for the Los Angeles Dodgers in one game in 1959. Over 15 seasons in the minors, including several fine campaigns with the Montreal Royals, Harris went 174-134. In retirement, he operated Billy’s Bullpen Tavern in Kennewick. He was named to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.

Ron Piché
Ronald Jacques (Ron) Piché [1955-2004] died on Feb. 3 at Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He was 75. Piché (pronounced pee-SHAY) made his major-league debut with the Milwaukee Braves in 1960. The right-hander started only 11 of the 134 major-league games in which he appeared. He compiled a 10-16 record with a 4.19 earned-run average over six seasons with the Braves, California Angels and St. Louis Cardinals. (He had a lone single in 42 at-bats in the majors, but did manage two runs batted-in.) The reliever spent 16 seasons in the minors including stints in four Canadian cities (Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, Quebec) though not in his hometown of Montreal. He retired as a player in 1972. Piché served as director of Canadian scouting for the Montreal Expos from 1977-1985. He later did promotional work as a roving ambassador for the club, earning the nickname Monsieur Baseball (Mr. Baseball) in his native Quebec. Piché was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988.

Dick Williams
Richard Hirschfeld (Dick) Williams [1947-2002] died of a ruptured aortic aneurism on July 7 at Las Vegas, Nevada. He was 82. Williams was one of the most dynamic managers of his era. A hard-nosed stickler for fundamentals, he was an abrasive and volatile firebrand who battled with players, general managers and owners. The pitcher Vida Blue once said Williams made “drill sergeants look like Boy Scouts.” His autobiography was titled, No More Mr. Nice Guy, a witticism not lost on the baseball world. Williams had a knack for squeezing victories from teams that seemed to have little business as contenders. A utility journeyman as a player, he spent enough time on the bench to absorb the nuances of the game. He kicked around the majors for 13 seasons on five teams for a .260 average, playing all three outfield positions as well as every base. After guiding the Toronto Maple Leafs to consecutive International League championships in 1965 and 1966, he was promoted to handle the Boston Red Sox, a moribund team that had finished ninth in both those seasons. The turnaround was dramatic, the club winning 20 more games than the previous season. The Red Sox claimed the American League pennant by winning the 162nd game in a campaign forever to be remembered as the Impossible Dream. Williams did well to push his squad to a seventh game in the World Series before losing, for a third time, to Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals. Williams lasted two more seasons in New England before being fired. In 1971, he was hired by the mercurial Charlie O. Finley, a tyrant whose own disdain for society’s niceties matched those of his new manager. Under Williams, the Oakland A’s won three consecutive American League West division titles, as well as World Series championships in 1972 and ’73. Tired of the owner’s meddling, Williams quit. He handled the California Angels for three seasons before building the Montreal Expos into a contender, though he was fired late in the 1981 season, the only campaign in which the franchise qualified for the playoffs. Williams moved on to the San Diego Padres, another franchise enduring a decade of mediocrity. After two .500 seasons, Williams guided the Padres to the National League pennant in 1984, though they lost the World Series to the Detroit Tigers in five games. Williams ended his managerial career after three seasons in Seattle. He had been only the second manager, along with Bill McKechnie, to lead three different clubs to the World Series. Williams was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2008.

The Emerald Guide can be downloaded for free by clicking here.

The black-and-white world of photographer Bev Davies

Joan Jett sneers while in performance at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver in 1981. All photographs copyright by Bev Davies.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 7, 2012

For decades, you’ve been able to find Bev Davies squeezed against the stage of even the most raucous concerts.

Dressed in dark clothes, armed with a trusty Canon, she is still and contemplative even while all around her is frenzy.

She has photographed the famous (Bono, James Brown), the infamous (Iggy Pop, John Lydon) and the obscure, capturing in an instant a revelatory image from even the most familiar figures.

She’s been doing it for so long that young concertgoers now approach to ask if she has a son in the band.

“They’ve been kind enough not to ask if my grandson is in the band,” she said.

Her black-and-white photographs have graced posters, album covers, and the slapdash pages of fanzines. They have been in the pages of the Georgia Straight and on the walls of art galleries. Her image of the high-flying, scissor-legged bassist Randy Rampage of D.O.A. has even been imprinted on a limited-edition skateboard.
James Brown

Some of her work is ephemeral, some of it timeless, and some of it only lasts as long as there are days in a month.

Ms. Davies has produced her sixth calendar of rock photographs, this one distributed free with each copy of the Busy Doing Nothing! compilation album put together by the Vancouver deejay Nardwuar the Human Serviette.

The photographer’s legion of fans prefer to think of her latest calendar coming with a free vinyl LP.

The calendar runs from May, 2012, until December, 2014, merrily ignoring the pending Mayan apocalypse.

It includes 17 photographs, including a striking cover shot of a teenager doing a jackknife dive off the stage into a crowd at a 1981 punk show in Pasadena, Calif.

Other notable images include a fully-clothed Iggy Pop casting a mesmerizing stare; Viv Albertine of the Slits in a babydoll dress a full decade before Courtney Love ever hit the stage; a sweaty and straining James Brown (“a bit too much girdle,” notes the photographer); an exhausted and shirtless Lux Interior of the Cramps on a leopard-patterned couch backstage at the Commodore Ballroom; and, Bono being grabbed by stagehands before tipping into the crowd at an outdoor festival in California.

One of her favorite images depicts John Lydon of Public Image Ltd. wearing a pajama-style shirt on stage at War Memorial Gymnasium in Vancouver.

“I like the shape of it,” Ms. Davies said. “So many of the shots are close-ups of people singing and playing guitar. He’s listening to the audience. He’s got his hand cupped to his ear.”

She began photographing the nascent local punk-rock scene in the late 1970s, suffering a black eye on her first shoot when she brought her camera to her eye while in the midst of the mosh pit. She quickly learned to keep elbows high while staking a spot stage left or right.

It was an exciting time when unknown do-it-yourself musicians filled out nightly lineups in dingy halls and decaying clubs. Ms. Davies offered a calm presence in a turbulent time. Her images were warmly received by the bands.

They were unknowns, but she thought they’d someday be famous.

She had seen it happen before.

Ms. Davies, the daughter of a auto mechanic and a potter from Belleville, Ont., left home to study art in Toronto. The Yorkville folk scene was “breaking out," she said, "and turning on and and tuning in and dropping out.” For a time, she helped operate the Cellar Club, a jazz and chess venue at 169 Avenue Rd., where musicians would drop by to jam and hang out after playing gigs. Among them was Neil Young, whom she befriended. He announced one day that he was leaving for California in a ’53 Pontiac hearse. Bev was invited to join him, though he wanted her to chip in for the cost of gas to the coast. She was penniless.

“The invite was pulled away,” she said. “Neil said I couldn’t go because I didn’t have any money.” Her reaction? “At that time, Neil didn’t handle women crying very well.”

Two of her roommates joined him on the transcontinental trek. Soon after arriving in Los Angeles, Mr. Young formed a group called Buffalo Springfield and within days opened for the Byrds. It happened for him just that quickly.

(A later meeting between the photographer and the rocker, with Nardwuar in tow, is told in hilarious detail by the Vancouver novelist Kevin Chong in his nonfiction work, Neil Young Nation.)

Later, after she settled in Vancouver, Ms. Davies befriended the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. They first talked when she called an open-line radio show on which he was appearing. Intrigued, he later asked the host for her contact information. They went for dinner — an odd experience for Ms. Davies, still broke, who associated such extravagance with visits by her parents — and established a platonic friendship.

He later wrote her a warm letter in which he described his latest relationship woes — he would be married five times before his death in 1982 — with candour.

“Bev, you were nicer to me than anyone else I met in Canada, and I’ll always remember that,” he wrote. “You made me feel like a person.”

In recent years, acolytes and those studying Mr. Dick have approached the photographer for her insights on the writer.

“He was nice,” she said. “He wasn’t crazy. I know crazy.”

She continues to attend shows, her dedication creating an important documentation of the music scene in Vancouver over the decades. Incredibly, her work has yet to be gathered in a book. Publishers, start your bidding.

Stagehands grab Bono as he teeters toward the crowd at the US Festival in San Bernardino, Calif., in 1983. Photograph ©Bev Davies.

The 100-year plan to restore Bowker Creek

Jody Watson of the Bowker Creek Initiative cleans up trash while checking out a culvert. Chad Hipolito photographs for the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 5, 2012


The creek running behind Oak Bay High emerges from a culvert and streams along concrete channels before continuing to the sea.

Over a century, Bowker Creek’s natural path has been piped and paved, boxed and walled with concrete.

Once in a while, students climb down into the channel to fish out rusty cans, plastic pop bottles, discarded shopping carts and other detritus of urban life.

The high school’s campus is pleasant enough — a creek runs through it — but the waterway is far from being in a natural state. It has no fish. The creek banks are bereft of a native riparian habitat — choked by invasive yellow willow and Himalayan blackberry.

That’s about to change.

On Friday, the federal government announced it will provide $738,000 for a project to restore the section of the creek running south of the school.

The news was greeted warmly by those who have been working on a long-term plan to rehabilitate the 8-kilometre-long creek.

“Our hope is much of it will be returned to a much more natural state,” said Jody Watson, chair of the Bowker Creek Initiative. “We’re never going to get it back to what it used to be. There’s a city here and that’s not going to change.”

The headwaters of the creek can be found on what is now the University of Victoria campus, where storm runoff joins spring water. The stream runs through three municipalities, as well as near the grounds of Hillside Mall and Royal Jubilee Hospital.

The creek originally followed a sinuous path to Oak Bay, a downhill journey now mostly hidden in culverts and storm drains. Less than one quarter of the creek is in an open channel.

“A lot of people don’t realize it’s all one creek,” Ms. Watson said. “It comes up and goes into a pipe, comes up and goes into a pipe.”

The creek once provided drinking water for the Coast Salish peoples, who also fished coho salmon and cutthroat trout. Archaeological digs have uncovered shell middens (refuse heap) near Willows Beach and what is now Fireman’s Park. These are at least 2,500 years old.

After the founding of Fort Victoria, settlers began farming in the areas near the creek. The stream first appears on a Hudson’s Bay Company map in 1855, when it was labelled Tod’s Creek after John Tod, whose original farmhouse still stands at 2564 Heron St. It later carried the grand name Thames River before becoming known as Bowker Creek after John Sylvester Bowker, a farmer who married one of Mr. Tod’s daughters.

Over the years, the creek’s tendency to flood led to calls to control its outpour. Even the creek bed is covered by concrete and asphalt along some stretches. Of course the fish disappeared.

Some 30,000 people now live in the watershed, about half of which is covered by such impervious materials as roofs, streets and parking lots.

At the high school, the creek will be returned to a more natural state with a meandering channel. The invasive plants now growing along the banks will be replaced with native species. Out goes yellow willow, in comes Pacific willow.

While the design has yet to be completed, it is expected viewing terraces will be incorporated into the rehabilitation of the north bank on the high school grounds. Not only will passersby be able to enjoy the creek’s bucolic splendors, but it is hoped that future classes of students will monitor water flow and study the creek as part of classwork in freshwater biology. Students will be creek stewards.

The funding announcement comes soon after the municipalities of Saanich, Victoria and Oak Bay accepted a proposal called the “Bowker Creek Blueprint,” which outlines a 100-year plan to restore the watershed. That’s right. One hundred years. It took a century to cover the creek and it will take another century to restore it.

This is Year One. You might call it a watershed moment.
Bowker Creek has been boxed and diverted into pipes and culverts over the past century. It will take another 100 years to return it to a more natural state.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A tip o’ the tam o’ shanter to Nardwuar the Human Serviette

Nardwuar is Canada's greatest celebrity interviewer. Darryl Dyck photograph for the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 1, 2012

Brian Linehan is dead and Ben Mulroney is slicker than Zamboni ice, so that means our nation’s greatest celebrity interviewer is a squeaky-voiced interlocutor from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

He goes by the oddball name Nardwuar the Human Serviette, the origins of which are the least interesting thing about the guy.

Nardwuar is a radio deejay, music promoter, and frontman of The Evaporators, a surf punk band. His wardrobe features garish, thrift-shop fashions and a tartan tam o’ shanter.

A creature of habit, Nardwuar always spells rock as rawk; always places himself in “Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada;” always posts his interviews in wrestling poster fashion as Nardwuar vs. Whomever. He ends every interview with the salutation “Keep on rawkin’ in the free world,” followed by a sing-song call-and-response exchange in which he says, “Doot doola doot do...” and the interviewee is supposed to reply with, “Doot doo!”

His manic interviews involve a fast-paced battery of questions, showing deep research on his part and an obsession with connections, no matter how obscure. (Leave it to Nardwuar to draw a Pied Piper link between Montreal’s Arcade Fire playing music while leading audiences out of a venue to Toronto’s Shuffle Demons having done the same two decades earlier.) Nardwuar often brings along a rare LP or other prop to incite a response.

The sessions are not so much confrontational as performance pieces in which he succeeds (usually) in getting artists out of their message-track groove.

A Nardwuar interview is a Rorschach test. When it goes well, hilarity ensues. When not, mayhem ensues — to wit, Sonic Youth assaulting Nardwuar and shattering the seven-inch record he’d brought them as a gift.

He also does politicians, provoking Prime Minister Jean Chretien to respond to the pepper-spraying of students by saying, “For me, pepper, I put it on my plate.” Nardwuar also once asked Mikhail Gorbachev which world leader wore the biggest pants, but got the bum’s rush before the formerly second-most-powerful man in the world could answer.

Nardwuar remains a radio (CiTR), television (MuchMusic), and Internet ( sensation.

On Saturday, the indefatigable character will be performing at a free, all-ages gig with the Evaporators at 2 p.m. at Neptoon Records on Main Street in Vancouver to mark the release of his latest effort, “Busy Doing Nothing!” The compilation record — yes, it is a vinyl LP, like the old days — includes new releases from the American singer-songwriter Andrew W.K., as well as such popular English performers as The Cribs and Kate Nash, and Scotland’s Franz Ferdinand. Each covers a song by a local punk band.

“How did (these) people get turned on to the sugary pop of Vancouver rawk ’n’ roll? I knew once we’d get them the songs they’d love ’em,” Nardwuar said. “They were totally down with it.”

The LP also comes with a three-year calendar featuring the brilliant black-and-white concert photography of Bev Davies (about whom more in a future column).

Nardwuar inherited his writing and performance chops from his mother, the former Olga Bruchovsky, who died two years ago. She had been a court reporter in Toronto before moving to the West Coast, where she worked as a teacher. When Nardwuar was a boy, she hosted a television show on a cable-access channel called, Our Pioneers and Neighbours.

“I’d come home school and I’d see my mom on TV and I’d go, ‘Oh, god, my mom’s on Cable 10!’ because I knew when I went to the school the next day people would tease me. It was embarrassing. Now I think it was cool.”

His mother also co-wrote the first biography of pioneer Gastown saloon-keeper Gassy Jack Deighton, inspiring Nardwuar to write a song about Gassy Jack.

(Fun Nardwuar Fact: His mother’s co-author was Raymond Hull, who also co-wrote The Peter Principle with Dr. Laurence J. Peter, positing that in a hierarchy every person will eventually rise to a level of incompetence. Happily, Nardwuar does not work in a hierarchy.)

(Second Fun Nardwuar Fact: Since they were recording at a studio owned by Bryan Adams, Nardwuar took the three brothers of The Cribs and Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand for Skookum Chief burgers at the Tomahawk Restaurant in North Vancouver, where Mr. Adams once laboured as a dishwasher.)

On Monday, BBC Radio Scotland host Vic Galloway opened his eponymous nightly show with an overseas tune.

“That is brilliant. Franz Ferdinand’s Real Thing,” he announced as the song played out. “It's a cover of a Vancouver punk band called Pointed Sticks.”

Uncle Vic, as the deejay styles himself, urged his listeners check out the compilation record and its curator.

“If you don’t know who Nardwuar is you need to search online and find out all about him.”

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to BBC Radio Scotland. Nardwuar is the real thing, a national treasure.

The Cribs and Alex Kapranos (far right) from Franz Ferdinand join Nardwuar for Skookum Chief burgers at the Tomahawk Restaurant in North Vancouver.

A local journalist is a terrible thing to waste

By Tom Hawthorn
Boulevard Magazine
March, 2012

The newspaper’s title is displayed in Old English letters cast from metal set above the entranceway on Douglas Street. Between the venerable names Times and Colonist can be found the impressive crest that appears daily in newsprint, featuring a lion and unicorn, the royal crown, and the words, “Dieu et mon droit,” the monarch’s motto since the 15th-century. A similar crest appears on the nameplate (or, as the industry knows it, the flag) of The Times of London, a distinguished publication. The crest’s presence states that here in Victoria can be found a most serious journal, one that traces its lineage back to the colonial days of 1858.

Dressed in a suit and tie, I was in Victoria for the day for a job interview. On the way up Douglas Street from the bus terminal, I’d been stopped by a panhandler. He got $5 for his troubles. I figured I could use a dash of karma to go with my resumé. Parading smartly beneath the impressive entrance, bounding up the stairs, I strode confidently to the front counter, asking in a clear voice, “On what floor would I find editorial?”

This query earned a bemused smile. Big-city newspapers house reporters and editors on different floors than, say, the brash lot who sell advertising. The Times Colonist was a modest operation where all departments fit on a single floor.

The interview went swell, the job was mine, and, at the end of the school year, the rest of the family moved across the strait from Vancouver. The first parent-teacher meeting at the children’s school was instructive. The teacher, a no-nonsense figure of decided opinions, asked my partner where she worked. Oh, CBC Radio! How the teacher loved it, citing hosts by name as though they were old friends, recalling ancient broadcasts and forgotten personalities. And, you, she said, at last turning her attention to me, where do you work? Why, the Times Colonist was a lousy, no-good tabloid supermarket rag filled with typos and non-sequiturs. I should have lied and said I sold tobacco to children. I would have had a better response.

The city’s antipathy to the paper surprised me then, as it does now. Right-wingers refer to the TC as the Times Communist. Left-wingers complain about a bias, too, yet in my almost four years on staff, I’d found the reporters to be diligent and dedicated. The paper’s problems — yes, there were too many typos and some stories were not reported as fully as they might have been — stemmed not from incompetence on the part of editors and reporters, but from the negligence of the owners. The size of the staff shrank steadily over the years. I began work in a 10-person sports department; it is half that size now. The paper has remained profitable, but that money has funded other projects. (Hello, National Post.) Decades of bloodletting has left the paper looking anemic.

Last fall, Glacier Media Group bought the TC from PostMedia. The paper had been owned previously by Canwest Global, Southam, Thomson, and FP Publications. The sale marks the first time a Victoria daily has been owned by British Columbia interests since 1950.

Previous ownership changes resulted in a whittling of staff to save on costs. As of the new year, the change in ownership has not altered what is delivered on the doorstep. So far, so good.

The TC does much admirable work and it does so with a small staff. Last year, it exposed disgraceful cutbacks, waiting lists and service problems at the government agency responsible for caring for the disabled. Those stories improved the lives of vulnerable people. It is the kind of enterprise reporting the TC has done countless times.

These are tough times for newspapers. Morale is down, as is circulation. No one is even certain whether a daily print product will be produced a decade from now. Three paid newspapers are delivered to my door — the TC, the Globe and Mail, and the Sunday edition of the New York Times. I know I’m an exception. On recycling day, the blue boxes hold fewer newspapers than they once did. I’m hoping the neighbours are at least getting their news online.

However we access news, whether from blipping pixels on a computer screen or from old-fashioned ink on dead trees, we need it. We need people with the skills to ferret information from reluctant authorities and from government agencies. Just ask the families of the disabled how much better there lives are today thanks to the newspaper’s intervention. That’s why I support a local media outlet like the Times Colonist. I’m on the 100-mile news diet.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jim Green, organizer (1943-2012)

Jim Green was widely considered the best mayor Vancouver never had. John Lehmann photograph for the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 28, 2012

Jim Green housed the homeless, found money for the indigent, created jobs for the unemployed.

A burly, brooding presence in Canada’s poorest neighbourhood, he indisputably made life better for many of those living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Mr. Green, who died at his home earlier today, aged 68, became known as the best mayor Vancouver never had, though he ran twice for the office.

He knew poverty as a child and saw no nobility in its depredations. Nor did he see hunger and want as God’s will. Poverty existed because man created it, and if man created it man could change it. He made that his life’s work.

A prominent figure in the city’s history for more than three decades, he went from taking part in noisy sit-ins at the offices of politicians to working hand-in-hand with developers in rehabilitating dilapidated hotels and constructing shiny condominium towers.

Such alliances, as well as his willingness to play politics with his elbows up, created enemies both on his right and left.

“I’d rather house one person than please a thousand critics,” he said in an interview just five days before his death.

The landscape of the Downtown Eastside is dotted with buildings — old and new — in which Mr. Green had a hand in preserving, or constructing. The list is lengthy — Tellier Towers, Pandera Place, and Four Sisters Co-op, as well as buildings named after beloved neighbourhood figures, such as the Lore Krill Co-op, Bruce Eriksen Place, and Solheim Place. The latter was named for Olaf Solheim, an 84-year-old retired logger who died soon after he was evicted from his room at the Patricia Hotel, which was one of many single-room occupancy hotels in the area that forced out long-time residents in hopes of cashing in on tourists attending Expo 86.

Those buildings offer safe, secure housing, while also presenting to the street attractive facades, helping to make the streetscape aesthetically pleasing for all passersby.

Mr. Green’s crowning achievement was his role in the development of the site of the former Woodward’s department store, which is revitalizing an historic area. The development, a mix of market and social housing, remains controversial in some circles, as it is feared it will lead to further gentrification and displacement of the poor.

Mr. Green played a leading role in many of the initiatives that made life better in the Downtown Eastside. When a new hockey arena was being built, a job-training program called BladeRunners was founded. It continues to find construction work for inner-city youth.

As well, Mr. Green helped bring a dental clinic and a community bank to his beleaguered neighbourhood. (Dental work made it possible for some to find jobs in the hospitality industry. Before the bank opened, welfare recipients were targets for muggings, as they had no safe place to secure their money.) A program called Humanities 101 gave residents access to university courses in the arts and social sciences.

A husky physique combined with an ease in earthy expressions — he had, after all, once worked as a longshoreman — gave Mr. Green a commanding presence, which was amplified by his penchant for wearing a dark trench coat and black fedora. He had a doughy face that became jowly in middle age and it seemed as though a scowl rested more comfortably on his visage than any other expression. Critics took him for a bully, but the underdogs who benefited from his work saw him as their fearless champion. To walk the streets of the Downtown Eastside with him, as did generations of reporters, was to witness the genuine affection with which he was regarded. As a conversational companion, he was engaging, funny, profane, quick-witted and learned.

He could argue left-wing politics with denizens of skid-row pubs, while also debating the artistic merits of an overture as an habitué of the opera, a passion he found more time to indulge late in life. He also had an eye for original works of art.

Born into a military family in Birmingham, Ala., in 1943, James Thomas Green spent an unhappy childhood in the rural South. His father hailed from Tennessee coal country, while his mother was the daughter of Oklahoma sharecroppers. His upbringing was more Southern Gothic than Norman Rockwell, as his father was a drinker and violent.

“You didn’t have a relationship with a guy like that,” he once said of the man whose name he carried. “You just stayed out of his way the best you could.”

He learned to drive at age 14 so as to make deliveries for his mother’s floral shop, which she opened in a converted garage to support Jim and his younger brother, Paul.

“We had no income from my dad,” Mr. Green once told me, “because he drank it all.”

By 17, he was driving an ambulance in Sumter, S.C. “The funeral homes owned the ambulances,” he said. “The ambulance service was free. The idea was that out of good PR, you’d get the body, eventually.”

It was his job to race to accident scenes, as 17 competing firms also sought business from highway carnage.

One of his assignments as a teenager involved transporting a young girl’s body to her family in New England in winter. He needed a jackhammer to dig a grave in the frozen Massachusetts ground.

In time, he moved into the rear of the funeral parlour, a respite from what he described as the craziness of life at home.

He played varsity football at his segregated high school, moving from guard, a position that gets hit by others, to a linebacker, one who gets to do the hitting. He graduated, believing himself the first in his family to do so, moving on to university, where he registered black voters at a time and place where doing so could cost you your life. Later, he organized migrant workers for the farmworker’s union in Colorado.

When his draft board told him he was to lose his student deferment, he headed north to Montana, crossing the border near Cardston, Alta. He was disgusted by the Vietnam War and sick of bigotry in his homeland. He became a Canadian citizen five years later in 1973.

The decision to avoid the draft led to an estrangement with his younger brother, who served tours of duty in Vietnam before returning home a decorated lieutenant in the U.S. Army Rangers, an elite unit. The brothers reconciled at the funeral for their mother.

An anthropologist, Mr. Green studied at the Sorbonne in France (he was thwarted in his ambition to write a master’s thesis on Babar the Elephant as a symbol of neocolonialism) before settling in Vancouver. He worked as a cabbie and on the docks, before being hired as a community organizer by the Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA) in 1980.

Years earlier, those residents, many of them retired loggers and fishermen, as well as the businesses in Chinatown and those living in neighbouring Strathcona managed to halt the city’s ambitious plans to tear down single-family houses in favour of urban renewal and a network of highways.

“We were beginning to build an American freeway city,” Mr. Green said recently. “Doomsday was knocking on the door.”

He saw his advocacy work at DERA as continuing that struggle. The dimly-lit corridor outside DERA’s office was often filled with supplicants — elderly women of Chinese ancestry, lumberjacks with bad backs, single mothers with crying children — who needed help with welfare, or a landlord, or immigration.

Mr. Green became a familiar figure in the news as an irritant at City Hall and to the Social Credit government in Victoria, where his criticisms of Expo 86 in particular generated outrage. He was forcing people to look at a neighbourhood too long and too easily ignored.

His history of the Canadian Seaman's Union,  "Against the Tide," was published in 1986.

He lost a campaign for mayor in 1990 against Gordon Campbell. Six years later, he unsuccessfully challenged Mr. Campbell for a seat in the provincial legislature. Elected to city council in 2002, Mr. Green made a second run for the mayoralty in 2005, losing to Sam Sullivan by a margin less than that gained by an unknown candidate named James Green, a mysterious figure whose motive for campaigning remains unknown to this day.

In the end, Jim Green showed greater skill and enjoyed greater success negotiating with developers, politicians and residents than he ever did as a campaigner for public office.

Two weeks ago, his family announced that the lung cancer with which he had struggled earlier had returned. The news generated an outpouring of praise for Mr. Green, who made his final public appearance at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre on Sunday. He was presented the Freedom of the City by Mayor Gregor Robertson, as well as a lifetime free-parking pass, about which he immediately asked, “Is it transferable?”

Mr. Green died Tuesday morning at his home, a rented unit in the Woodward development that afforded a spectacular view of the city he loved.

At 88, Victoria's Blue Bridge begins to come down

Workers complete the wood decking of a bridge in Victoria in 1924. For 88 years, the Johnson Street Bridge, popularly known as the Blue Bridge for the colour of the paint used to match the oxidation of the structure, has spanned a narrowing of the Inner Harbour in Victoria. The bridge was designed by the same man responsible for the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 27, 2011


The barge Arctic Tuk was anchored in the still waters of the Inner Harbour with one end tucked beneath a bridge whose days are numbered.

The barge held a Manitowoc 4600 Series III, which is the formal designation for what is a super-duper, heavy-duty crane from what looks like the world’s biggest Meccano set.

On the bridge deck, men in hard hats wearing reflective vests and special breathing apparatus, their eyesight protected by shields, completed the severing of a venerable bridge from its terrestrial mooring.

The Johnson Street Bridge, better known as the Blue Bridge, a longtime city landmark, designed by the same man responsible for the Golden Gate Bridge, is to be replaced.

First, though, a structure that has safely transported generations across the water needs to be removed. On Friday, crowds gathered in a downpour to witness the first stage of demolition, the removal of a parallel railroad train deck.

For some, it was a happy day in which to herald the future of the city. For others, it was a time to bid adieu to an old friend, a sad moment in which an historic landmark was discarded like a pair of worn-out shoes.

Ross Crockford, who organized a spirited but ultimately failed campaign to preserve the bridge, looked crestfallen.

“Not a happy day,” he said. “Not a day to celebrate.”

Mr. Crockford and others urged the old bridge be refurbished instead of replaced. They gained enough signatures on a petition to force the city to hold a referendum, only to end up losing at the ballot box.

“As soon as I heard the referendum results, I knew this day would come,” Mr. Crockford said.

The 88-year-old bridge was painted blue some years ago, a colour choice made to match the oxides of the corroding structure.

The Blue Bridge has inspired the naming of a local repertory theatre, a batch of India pale ale, an anthology of memoirs (“Beyond the Blue Bridge”), as well as a song by The Bills titled, “Old Blue Bridge.” It is a bluegrass number, of course. “The old bridge is coming down,” the Bills sing in the tune’s opening line, recorded seven years ago.

The bridge enjoyed cameos in several Hollywood films, as well as a more prominent role in the 1997 action comedy Excess Baggage, starring Alicia Silverstone, Benicio Del Toro and Christopher Walken.

The steel bridge depended on counterweights to lift either deck for passing vessels. The bascule (from the French for “seesaw”) design had been patented by Joseph Baermann Strauss, a Cincinnati-born engineer whose university thesis described the construction of a railroad bridge across the Bering Strait.

When lifted, the road and rail bridge spans seemed to imitate the beak of a traditional Kwakiutl mask.

(For the past several months, the rail portion has been left in the lifted position. Some thought it looked as though the city of Victoria was giving a blue finger to the residents of Esquimalt.)

The removal of the bridge deck on the weekend also severed a rail link to downtown Victoria that had existed since 1888, when the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway was constructed as part of the fulfillment of a promise when the colony of British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871.

The replacement bridge, which is to be built slightly to the north and expected to be completed by 2016, does not include a rail component.

The old railway deck is to be barged to the Ralmax yard further along the harbour. Some of it is to be retained for sculptural pieces, while most of it will be dismantled and barged to the Lower Mainland, where it will be melted down.

A local radio station joked the Blue Bridge ought to be recycled in blue boxes.

As the rain fell, 26 students from James Bay community school arrived for a real-life lesson. They walked two wet kilometres from their schoolhouse to see a simple machine in action.

The Grace 5 class was led by vice-principal Scott Clazie, who leaned in to explain the science of levers and cranes.

“Public safety announcement,” Mr. Clazie bellowed in his loudest voice. “Do not put your fingers under the bridge.”

The teacher grinned broadly. One of his pupils rolled her eyes.

As an entertainment, the dismantling of a bridge is more exciting in imagination than it is in practice.

Watching part of the famous Blue Bridge being removed turned out to be as exciting as watching blue paint dry.

CBC Radio's On the Island aired a terrific documentary on the Blue Bridge and its lore. You can hear it here.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The buy-in, the switch and the wardrobe

The self-taught photographer Hana Pesut has launched a compelling project called Switcheroo, in which couples trade their clothes for before and after pictures. Above: Leila and Azim. Below: Jillian and Andrew.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 24, 2012

Jasmine wore sandals, a silky white T-shirt over black leggings, and a cropped denim jacket. Erik wore marigold sneakers, grey sweatpants, and a baggy black T-shirt. His long hair was tucked into a black-and-gold toque, an anomaly on a warm, sunny day.

The amateur models dressed in their own clothes, an everyday wardrobe for life on the West Coast.

They posed at Prospect Point in Stanley Park with the North Shore mountains as a backdrop. Hana Pesut, a self-taught photographer, captured their image with her trusty Hasselblad.

As the shoot progressed, a bus pulled up, tourists armed with their own cameras snapping the couple, as well as the scenic backdrop.

Then, the models began to undress.

Erik let his hair down, pulled his T-shirt off, unlaced his sneakers, dropped the sweatpants.

Jasmine disrobed as discreetly as was possible under the unblinking eye of a busload of camera-toting tourists.

She handed him her clothes. He handed her his.

Erik looked a bit Fabio with his hair blowing in the breeze. Jasmine looked like a 12-year-old boy.

They were photographed by Ms. Pesut as part of a project she calls Switcheroo. She takes before-and-after images of couples she asks to cross-dress in public places around Vancouver.

“It’s a nice way to take a portrait and to see the way couples interact with one another,” she said. “To see how much fun it is for them to see each other in each other’s clothes.”

The images, posted on her Sincerely Hana website, are causing an online rumble, as the images can be goofy, startling, and hilarious.

In most cases, the women pull it off.

In some cases, the men look ridiculous.

Sometimes, you hardly notice a difference.

“A couple of guys have not liked it. They act like their girlfriend tricked them into doing it,” the photographer said. “Others are good sports. They know they look funny. It’s all just for fun.”

One can make grand pronouncements about gender and identity from the images, but the photographer’s intent is not to make any specific statement at all.

“I like letting people interpret it in their own way,” she said.

One of the more intriguing critiques has come from a site dedicated to male cross-dressers. They expressed dissatisfaction with the wardrobe choices of her models.

Her couples mix and match skirts and jeans, summer dresses and trench coats, trucker caps and straw hats, camouflage jackets and pea coats, pendants and bow ties, flip flops and assault boots.

The idea first came to her while on a camping trip with two friends. One was wearing tie-dyed clothes with sequins, while the other was wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt. “They thought it would be funny if they switched outfits,” she said.

“Right after that I started obsessing with it. I would see people walking together and I began to think what they would look like in each other’s clothes.”

For Switcheroo, Ms. Pesut shoots film, using natural light in a natural setting, often near a couple’s residence to facilitate a private wardrobe switch,

The 30-year-old photographer works as a deejay and handles social media for a company in the entertainment business. She grew up in Whistler, playing point guard for her high school and college basketball teams.

She learned the sport from her father, a man she knew as Steve Tanaka. A decade ago, he was arrested in Vancouver after 30 years as a fugitive following a conviction in Illinois for cocaine trafficking. He skipped bond, fleeing to Europe before eventually landing in Canada, where he took his mother’s maiden name as his own. Steve Iwami has since completed his sentence and now lives in the Seattle area.

“I went quickly from being dependent on my dad to helping him out and taking care of him,” she said.

The secret was a great burden on him, she said.

“I’m happy for my dad that he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore. He can be more honest and open with me now.”

For the first 20 years of her life, her father toyed with identity and disguise, the very elements that make Switcheroo so compelling a project.

Monday, February 20, 2012

At Westminster Dog Show, a Havanese that has it all

Reo, who lives in Cobble Hill, outside Victoria, took the best-of-breed prize for Havanese at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Chad Hipolito photographs for the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 20, 2012


The princess strode with her tiny head held high, her shiny coat swaying above the carpet like a veil of chiffon.

Spectators clapped and whooped, though she ignored the ovation, instead fixing brown eyes on her companion, 15-year-old Emily Dorma, a Grade 10 student from Vancouver Island.

It was show time for toy dogs on the green carpet inside Ring 7 at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Westminster Kennel Club was conducting its 136th annual dog show, which it describes as a combination Super Bowl and Academy Awards for “canine athletes.”

A six-year-old female Havanese, named Mistytrails Double Stuf’D Oreo, or Reo for short, was presented by the high schooler. The dog had travelled from Cobble Hill to Manhattan, where she shared a bed in a room in the New Yorker Hotel. The art deco wonder which made available for four-legged guests grooming stations, Jog a Dog treadmills, and indoor potty areas covered by Perfect Turf synthetic grass.

On judging day, those who qualified to be inside the ring showed impeccable grooming. They had been scrubbed and cleaned. Nary a hair was out of place.

The dogs, too, looked their best.

The Havanese, a toy breed known for a gentle disposition and kewpie-doll cuddliness, were rated by Sari Brewster Tietjen, of Rhineback, N.Y., a stern-faced adjudicator.

Looking on the scene was Bev Dorma, a longtime dog breeder and Emily’s mother. She fretted that the appraiser was overlooking Reo, Canada’s reigning female Havanese champion.

“The judge ignored Emily the whole time,” she said. “We figured we weren’t going to win.”

Indeed, in a video of the judging posted by the kennel club, the judge barely glances at Reo, instead surveying the other little dogs with an unblinking gaze.

“She had poker face on,” Bev Dorma said. “Later you realize she was looking for her second-, third- and fourth-place winners. After her first going over and watching (the dog) move, she knew Reo was her winner.”

Indeed, the judge chose Reo as the show’s best in breed, a decision popular with the crowd.

“When she pulled Reo out of the front of the line, my whole body went into this shaking, oh-my-goodness mode,” Bev Dorma said. “Am I really seeing this? You’re so overjoyed. I don’t know who I was prouder of, my daughter or the dog. Both.”

A crying mother and stoic daughter celebrated with an embrace across the velvet rope, little Reo the meat in their hug sandwich.

Now back home, a proud mother sings the praises of her daughter.

“She wasn’t down on the ground like all the professional handlers. She did not have to keep Reo in a death grip for the judge to see her. Emily had the complete package. Not only did she have a perfect dog, but she presented herself and that dog to a T. She nailed it.”

The Havanese judging lasted nearly an hour, an eternity for even the best behaved pooch.

“The hardest thing is keeping your dog sparkling. And looking up. Looking happy and not bored for 45 minutes.”

Earlier, mother and daughter visited a Manhattan delicatessen to pick up chicken livers and hearts as bait for a dog’s undivided attention. On judgment day, Reo had to skip breakfast, a temporary sacrifice.

“She was a trooper,” Ms. Dorma said. “Solid as a rock. None of it bothered her. She didn’t get stressed.

“Her tail never stops wagging, she loves everybody, and she knows she’s special. She smiles and sneezes, smiles and sneezes.”

Reo was a home-raised pup. She obeys commands to stand, stay, sit, come, go, and heel. As a purebred, her lineage can be traced back farther than that of some families. She was born on March 6, 2006, sired by Pocotesoros Los Gabatos, known as Zorro, out of Mistytrails Catreeya Byemmy. (Catreeya, a champion brood bitch, now lives in a Victoria suburb, where she is a familiar figure teasingly known as the Queen of Sidney.) Reo’s grandmother still lives at the Dorma home.

On the return home, flight attendants permitted Reo to leave the crate to sit on the lap of her human companions, fitting status for a four-legged champion.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On Vancouver Sun's 100th birthday, let's raise a toast to Mr. Nightside, a reporter's best friend

Bruce and Martha Smillie raised seven children and have 32 grandchildren (at last count). Smillie worked days on the docks and nights as late city editor for the Vancouver Sun. His reporters called him Mr. Nightside.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 16, 2012

The police scanner squawked with bursts of excited voices.

Shots fired. Man down.

Bruce Smillie looked out on a deserted newsroom. The reportorial staff had vanished. His crew was chasing down untold stories in the naked city, or, more likely, sampling some of the sinful temptations available in Vancouver on a Friday evening.

At last, he spotted a waif half-hidden behind a pillar — a long-haired, teenaged cub reporter in torn jeans and sneakers whose voice had yet to crack and did not shave.


In a calm but authoritative voice, Mr. Smillie, the night city editor of the Vancouver Sun, the largest and finest newspaper in Western Canada, filled me in on sketchy details gleaned from eavesdropping on the police.

Go with the photographer, he ordered. He’ll drive.

Good thing, I thought. I don’t have a driver’s license.

The newsroom reeked of cigarette smoke and spilled booze in the final year of that blighted decade, the ’70s. The dingy linoleum showed black pockmarks from the stubs of lit cigarettes tossed carelessly on deadline. When pulled open, desk drawers rattled with a symphony of empty glass bottles of booze.

The Vancouver dailies had just endured an eight-month strike. Bitterness prevailed. (The newspaper endured four strikes over the years, each shorter in duration. These are remembered as “eight months, eight weeks, eight days, ate lunch.”)

To fill out the roster, they’d hired a 19-year-old, soon-to-be-dropout with a thin resumé of student newspaper clippings. I handled weekend grunt duties — items, library research, police checks. (“Duty officer, please. Anything to report tonight in Ioco? Squamish? White Rock?”) It wasn’t Woodward and Bernstein, but it was all right.

The shifts began in the late afternoon, or, for a hapless few, at 8 p.m., concluding at 3 a.m. The first edition of the newspaper, known as the Three Star, as two earlier editions had been cancelled somewhere back in the Mesozoic era, rolled off the presses in the morning. The morning and evening crews had a rivalry, though the nighttime shift knew they were not only doing the bulk of the work, they were finding the interesting features for which the daytime deadline crew never had time.

Overseeing the action was Mr. Smillie, whose duties included assigning stories. The son of a Comox postmaster, he had got his start as a circulation clerk in the paper’s New Westminster office, later becoming a reporter in the bureau there. He had big workingman’s hands, a laurel wreath of greying hair, and, unlike so many others in the business, never raised his voice in anger. He had seven children at home, overseen by his wife, Martha. Those were a lot of mouths to feed, so during the long strike he worked on the waterfront, a job he held onto after the dispute settled as he still needed to make up for a shortfall in the family’s income. By day, he was a longshoreman responsible for stacking 50-kilogram (110-pound) sacks of flour in the hold of a cargo ship. By evening, he was at his desk, a lamp nearby to compensate for the newsroom’s dismal, yellowish lighting, the telephone ringing and the police scanner sputtering to life now and then. He was a real life Lou Grant and his staff loved him. They called him Mr. Nightside.

He was assisted by Archie Rollo, a soft-spoken Glaswegian of tidy attire who took dictation by telephone from reporters in the field, asking questions and rewriting even as the story was read aloud. He was encyclopedia, gazetteer, and spell check in human form.

So, though nervous about my first dangerous assignment — shots fired! man down! — I knew my back was covered by Mr. Nightside and his faithful sidekick, Archie.

In the meantime, I was in the hands of wild-eyed Dan Scott, a photographer with hair Brylcreemed to a pompadour atop his forehead. He’d been at the Sun since before I’d been born. By reputation, he would trample his mother to get the shot.

(If he even had a mother. It was within the realm of possibility he’d been raised by a pack of feral lensmen.)

We raced to a night club in suburban Richmond, screeching to a halt in the parking lot. I leapt out the passenger side, notepad in left hand, pen in right, running towards the entrance.

The door opened and a large, square-shouldered man emerged. Startled by my approach, he raised his right hand.



In the slow-motion memory one gets during a car wreck, I was staring down the barrel of a revolver. I put on the brakes, both heels forward like Wile E. Coyote trying to stop from going over a cliff, only to get bumped from behind. Mr. Scott was trying to get his photograph and, dammit, the kid reporter was in the way.

Turned out the man in the doorway was a plainclothes Mountie. The scene inside, a gangland hit, was unpleasant. The suspect, or suspects, had fled. The police on the scene were jittery. Back in the newsroom, Mr. Smillie called the duty officer, who apologized. No harm. No foul. Mr. Nightside dispatched me to the press club across the street. Just another day at the office for him.

Mr. Nightside stayed in the newsroom until retiring in 1994, a revered figure in a workplace not known for its harmony.

Mr. Rollo died 20 months ago, aged 76. The newspaper’s obituary, written by a cub reporter, praised his ability in catching such common errors as misspelling Gandhi. The obit made it through three copyeditors and into print with the leader’s name spelled “G-h-a-n-d-i.” There could have been no greater tribute to Archie’s talents.

Mr. Smillie is 82 now, patriarch of a fecund clan — his seven children have produced 32 grandchildren.

Asked his philosophy of running the newsroom, he said, “It was simple. If you treat people decently, they’re going to respond in turn. If you’re going to sit there as an ogre, they’re going to go in a different direction on you.”

A generation of young reporters thrived under his benevolent hand.

On the weekend, the Sun celebrated the 100th birthday of its first edition. The paper produced two handsome, well-written sections on its history in which, understandably, the ogres overshadowed the kindly Mr. Nightside, which is how these things work. Everybody remembers Mussolini, but no one can name his post-war successor.

Happy centennial, Vancouver Sun. Many happy returns, Mr. Nightside.

For Victoria vocalist Anne Schaefer, the waiting is over

It has taken Anne Schaefer several years to raise the funds to complete her second album of material, which is to be released on March 1. The record has already earned a nomination for album of the year. Chad Hipolito photographs for the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 13, 2012


While giving a songwriting lesson last week, Anne Schaefer got a text message: She’d earned a nomination for album of the year.

The recognition by the Vancouver Island Music Awards was gratifying for the Victoria vocalist.

It could only have been better had the record been nominated in 2008 — when she first stepped into the recording studio.

The past four years have been an odyssey of penny pinching and money raising for Ms. Schaefer.

“I was stalled,” she said. “I ran out of money.”

Anne Schaefer
She held a fundraising concert. A good time was had by all. But she still didn’t have enough.

So, she held a second performance.

And then a third show.

Friends organized a silent auction in which one of the lots offered a private home concert by Ms. Schaefer. Other lots included donations by local businesses: a shiatsu message, a collection of vegan cookbooks, a weekend retreat on Hornby Island, gift certificates from a tea shop and a tattoo-parlor, four quarts of organic granola — you get the idea.

The most expensive item was an oil painting donated by the celebrated Victoria painter James Gordaneer, valued at $2,500.

The artist had played an unwitting role in inspiring the singer’s recording project.

He had loaned her a painting depicting two women atop stools, seen from the rear. She hung it in the room in which her pupils waited their turn for music lessons.

She contemplated the painting. Who were these women? What were they waiting for? She developed a concept for her album, which she dubbed The Waiting Room. The songs she wrote told the stories of daydreaming characters whose trajectories brought them to a temporary shared limbo.

“Waiting rooms are such strange places,” she said. “Waiting rooms bring together people of all descriptions — any age, any cultural background, any smattering of people. Different people collect in these places, yet in the end everybody’s suffering from the same stuff. It’s human condition. It’s the same across the board.”

Her debut album, Twelve Easy Pieces, released in 2005, had earned rave reviews. “The best singer/songwriter you’ve never heard of,” pronounced Monday Magazine. “A great musician with a clear love for jazz and world music,” trilled Radio-Canada. “She breathes talent, rigour and taste,” trumpeted Montreal’s La Presse. The Toronto Star hailed an “exceptional voice, a poet’s eye, a courageous heart, and a damn fine set of guitar-picking fingers.”

Reviewers compared her to Sade, Laura Nyro, Rickie Lee Jones, and even Van Morrison.

Not surprisingly, she was eager to follow up such a critical success.

A high-quality album costs about $40,000 to produce.

“That’s like a down payment on a house,” the singer said. “Imagine making a down-payment on a house every two years just to stay current in your profession.”

She got a “substantial” grant from the Canada Council, gratefully receiving a cheque for $13,000 in her right hand before passing it off to the recording studio with her left hand.

The basic tracks of The Waiting Room were laid down over a fortnight at Baker Studios in Victoria four years ago. But she didn’t have the money to complete the final mix and edit, so after spending two decades earning her keep as a musician she took her first 9-to-5 gig.

She became director of the Larsen School of Music.

Much of her workday was spent behind a desk.

In a waiting room.

“That was ironic,” she said. “I met all sorts of interesting characters.”

Born into a family of classical musicians from Saskatchewan, the Weyburn-born, Humboldt-raised Schaefer studied music at McGill University in Montreal. She arrived in Victoria a decade ago after spending four years in Argentina. She performed, taught privately, and offered instruction at what were billed as Rocker Girl Camps (think School of Rock minus the obnoxiousness of Jack Black). Then, she got the music school directorship.

Not so long ago, she returned to the studio for five intensive days of mixing.

“I finally saved enough to get it done,” she said, a donation from her boss helping put her over the top.

The CD will be released at a concert at Alix Goolden Hall in Victoria on March 1.

The choice for album art was easy. It’s the painting that helped inspire her concept.

Anne Schaefer's singing style has been compared to Sade, Laura Nyro, and Rickie Lee Jones.

Black history month a time to remember Joe Fortes

Joe Fortes teaches a girl to swim in the waters of English Bay at Vancouver.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 8, 2012

Mourners lined downtown Vancouver streets, doffing hats and bowing heads as a coffin passed.

The hearse was followed by a float carrying a small rowboat draped in evergreen boughs and the finest flowers from Stanley Park, freshly cut by city gardeners.

The Elks’ brass band played as the procession made a slow, dignified journey down Granville to Hastings to Main and on southward towards Mountain View Cemetery. Mounted police in dress uniform led the way, followed by the mayor and city councillors, as well as the police commission, the school board, and the park board.
Joe Fortes on the beach at English Bay

Ninety years ago this week, Vancouver bade farewell to its favourite citizen with a funeral larger than had ever been held in the city. At age 58, Seraphim Fortes, known to locals as Joe, had died of pneumonia and a stroke.

The city is commemorating black history month with a series of cultural and historical events in the coming weeks. Of the many who made a contribution to the city’s life, none was so loved as Joe Fortes.

His name lives on today, gracing a popular oyster house, where one assumes many diners suppose it is named after the restaurant’s founder.

A branch of the public library also carries his name. It can be found near the English Bay waterfront where he lived, and earned his reputation as a lifeguard and swimming instructor.

On the day of his funeral, the Holy Rosary men’s choir sang hymns in the cathedral. The air was redolent of incense mixed with the sweetness of bouquets and wreaths. A mound of mismatched single flowers had been placed atop the coffin by schoolchildren.

Those youngsters who did not attend the service instead had their studies interrupted in the classroom for five minutes, as a moment of silence throughout the city was followed by a lesson from teachers in self-sacrifice and devotion to duty.

At the gravesite, Rev. Fr. William O’Boyle told those gathered, “You do honour not only to Old Joe, who has just gone out with the tide on the great ocean of eternity, but to yourselves, indeed, in gathering to tender solemn homage of respect for the passing of a great soul.”

A marker placed in the ground atop the final resting place was a simple stone into which had been carved just three letters — JOE.

Named for the highest rank of angel, Seraphim Fortes was born to a Barbadian father of African ancestry and a Spanish (or perhaps Portuguese) mother on Feb. 9, 1863, in Port of Spain in the British sugar colony of Trinidad. At age 17, he left the Caribbean for Liverpool, England, where he won swimming races across the Mersey River.

In 1884, he joined the crew of the windjammer Robert Kerr, embarking from Britain on an ill-fated voyage to the Pacific coast. Rough seas at Cape Horn and an unhappy crew made for a harrowing sail. Then, the captain died. Even as the barque neared its destination, the battered ship grounded at San Juan Island, needing to be refloated. It was leaking badly when it limped into Burrard Inlet nearly a year to the day after leaving Britain.

The damaged boat was sold and the crew members paid off. Joe Fortes wandered into the Granville townsite and found work as a shoeblack. He was soon after employed by the Sunnyside Hotel as a porter and roustabout. As the fledgling city burned to the ground in what would be known as the Great Fire, young Mr. Fortes escorted a married woman and her son to safety aboard his old ship, anchored in the harbour. He also salvaged much of the hotel guests’ luggage before the building was consumed.

Those were but his first acts of bravery.

As the city quickly rebuilt, Mr. Fortes became bartender at the Bodega saloon, 21 Carrall St. He later took up similar duties down the block at the Alhambra Hotel before tiring of the saloon life and establishing himself in a tent on a slight rise of land overlooking English Bay. In time, he built a tidy waterfront cottage at the foot of what would become Bidwell Street.

A regular bather, Mr. Fortes soon became known for rescuing careless swimmers. In 1898, he rescued J.C. McCook, the newly appointed American consul for the Klondike gold-rush town of Dawson City, who suffered an attack in the water while visiting the city. The consul was recorded in newspapers as the fifth person to be rescued by Mr. Fortes.

The count was up to 11 in the summer of 1903, by which time Mr. Fortes had been hired by the city as lifeguard, swimming instructor, and special constable responsible for the beach.

In 1908, the city surprised him with the presentation of a gold medal. “I’ve always tried to do my best at the bay,” he said, “and I shall try to keep that reputation.”

As he aged, his barrel-chest grew ever thicker and he weighed nearly 300 pounds (136 kilograms). He claimed to drink a glass of salt water as a tonic for good health each morning.

He taught generations of children to swim. The newspapers of the day recorded his instruction as holding children afloat by gripping their swimsuits with both hands and ordering them to “Kick yo’ feet!” Among his charges were Sylvia Goldstein, the girl for whom the Sylvia Hotel was named, and Pat Slattery, a future sports columnist and politician. Mr. Fortes even appeared on post cards sold to tourists.

A few years after he died, leaving worldly goods estimated at just $228.66, a water fountain designed by the sculptor Charles Marega was erected in Alexandra Park near the beach he patrolled. An adult needs to crouch to take a sip, for it is not designed for grownups. Engraved on the back of the stone is the inscription, “Little children loved him.”

Joe Fortes stands in front of his cottage overlooking English Bay. VPL-86725.

For years after arriving in Vancouver, Joe Fortes worked in the hotels and saloons at the old townsite. Each day, he walked through the forest to swim in the waters of English Bay. After a while, he erected a tent on a small rise overlooking the waters.