KnowBC contributor Chuck "Mr. Vancouver" David delivered the following talk to a gathering at the Vancouver Playhouse Sept. 23, 2010.
Back in the mid 1970s I conceived of and edited The Vancouver Book. I described it as an urban almanac; it had just over 500 pages (big pages, too) and contained articles on every aspect of the city, articles by dozens of local people, including me.
The book was successful. In fact, at the end of 1976 the staff at the Vancouver Public Library told me that The Vancouver Book was the second most stolen book in the entire system that year.
I was, of course, delighted. I took that as an indication of the books usefulness, and it also meant that the Library would have to buy more copies.
Being a curious fellow I had to ask: if my book was the second-most stolen, what was the first? The answer was Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler.
Well, some 20 years later I was working on a successor to the book, this one called The Greater Vancouver Book, and happened to mention the Mein Kampf thing to one of the writers, Denny Boyd. And Denny said, Well, thank God the other guy isn’t planning a sequel.
Now, another 13 years later on, I’m working, or should be, on a book that I describe as the capstone of my writing career: The History of Metropolitan Vancouver. The emphasis is on the central city, but all the suburbs are cited, especially when events that happened within their borders impacted Vancouver itself.
But I have run into a snag. And to explain it in more detail I have to take you back to late 2007 when, in the space of one week, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer, prostate cancer and skin cancer.
The skin cancer was minor: they chipped a few bits from my skull and my back. The bladder and the prostate cancer were more serious. They both had to be removed.
I went back to work on the book. But, earlier this year, the cancer returned. I had radiation treatments that stopped the pain, but, just this last Tuesday, my wife Edna and my daughter Stephanie sat with me as an oncologist at the Cancer Agency told us that the cancer was incurable, and had reached a stage where it could not be treated with radiation or chemotherapy. I naturally asked How long do I have? And although she couldn’t be specific, the word weeks was in there somewhere.
Why am I sharing with you these embarrassing personal details? Because, as Will Kane said in High Noon, I could use a little help.
It happens that I’ve been a member of the board, for many years, of the Vancouver Historical Society. I informed the other members of the executive of my situation, and I asked if they would do me two favours.
One, try to find someone who can finish the book. It’s up to 1994 at the moment.
Two, try to find the money to pay the writer who will finish the book. The VHS is a tiny organization, non-profit, and raising the $25,000 to $30,000 (my estimate, incidentally) needed to pay the writer for a years work reshaping and finishing the book will not be easy.
I’m happy to say that the executive agreed and President Scott Anderson has appointed fellow board member, Jim McGraw, an old friend, to coordinate the fundraising.
If you go to my website, vancouverhistory.ca, you will find more than 2,000 pages of local history. The writer will have to hack and hew through that mass of data, besides researching the 16+ years to bring the book up to the present day.
I have 15 file drawers full of material, and about 400 books, all of which I intend to give to the writer, no strings attached.
One of the joys of writing about the history of this astonishing and lively city is that, even after 30 years of work, I am still finding out new stuff. And I have friends who help me.
A week ago today one of my friends, Andrew Martin in the Special Collections department of the library, sent me an item he’d come across from the June 11, 1912 edition of The Vancouver Star.
Volcanic Fumes Invade Vancouver
Vancouver yesterday suffered to some extent from a volcanic eruption. It was a long-distance manifestation of nature's anger, for the scene of the disturbance was some seventeen- or eighteen-hundred miles away, among the islands of Alaska.
All day yesterday the sky was overcast and the atmosphere was impregnated with sulphur fumes which caused considerable inconvenience in breathing to those who are inclined to be asthmatic.
Brass and nickel fittings on automobiles and carriages were also affected, in many instances being badly tarnished within a few hours after having been thoroughly burnished.
It is reported that in some sections of the city a fine ash collected on doorsteps and roofs to a noticeable extent and drifted in at window casements
Today's heavy rain will probably have the effect of clearing the air and putting an end to the city's emulation of Naples when Vesuvius is having a busy day.
This was more than 60 years before Mount St. Helens.
The History of Metropolitan Vancouver will be a big, fact-filled and nicely readable book. But it must be finished. I can’t do it now. I need your help. Let me give you my email address: its firstname.lastname@example.org
And let me close with a small personal anecdote: my Dad and I arrived in Vancouver from Winnipeg (I was born in Winnipeg) in December 1944. When we left Winnipeg the ploughs had piled the snow up higher than the level of the train itself. When we arrived in Vancouver there were flowers growing in front of the CPR station. I turned to my Dad (I was nine years old) and said, I think we’ve come to the right place.
Nothing has happened in the 66 years since to make me change my mind.
This beautiful and exciting city, with a glowing future, needs a big book of its history for you and for your kids.
I hope you can help. Thank you.