This is the way it happens, sometimes. On Saturday, I was out at Fort Langley, browsing through some shelves of used books at one of the community’s myriad antique stores, when I came across a few books by Paul St. Pierre. I leafed through them, trying to remember which ones I had purchased long ago, when his books were a staple in so many British Columbia homes. I hadn’t thought about the long-time Vancouver Sun columnist and sublime chronicler of the Chilcotin for years. I found myself wondering how he was doing, only to learn a few days later that Paul St. Pierre died the very next day in, yes, Fort Langley. Eerie.
He left behind a rich collection of beautiful prose that brought to life the vast, sprawling landscape of the sparsely-populated Cariboo-Chilcotin region of B.C., its rugged ranchers and First Nations people. From his books and columns, you got the feeling that no one ever said more than a few words at a time up there, and even those sparse sentences were uttered only around a pot-bellied stove or a fence post. But there was no shortage of colourful characters and gently unfolding stories. They were a natural for movies and CBC TV series, one of which first brought to prominence the legendary Chief Dan George.
However, I most remember Paul St. Pierre from his many years at the Vancouver Sun. It’s hard to imagine today, with the product that now arrives on our doorstep, that there existed a time when the Sun had the best roster of daily columnists in Canada, perhaps North America. There was Allan Fotheringham at the peak of his powers, Jack Wasserman — so much more than a nightclub prowler, the far-out, enviro-hippy Bob Hunter, essential Jim Taylor and lovely Jim Kearney in sports, and, if you liked Marjorie Nichols, she was there, too.
And there was Paul St. Pierre. Somehow, St. Pierre engineered one of the best columnist gigs ever. The Sun trusted him to almost never come into the office, while allowing him to write whatever he pleased about an area and people he loved. I’m not sure how his expenses worked, but he managed to wangle trips to his winter retreat in Mexico, too. Of course, Sun readers were the winners. Paul St. Pierre may never have written a prosaic column, in his life. No slouch with the pen, himself, Sun veteran Doug Sagi calls St. Pierre the finest writer to ever grace the newspaper, and his short story, Dry Storm, a Canadian classic to be compared with Hemingway, Twain “or any of them”. Highly-esteemed political columnist Les Leyne recalls tearing open bundles of the Vancouver Sun so he could read Paul St. Pierre’s column, before heading out on his paper route. There’s also this from the ageless Ron Rose, who went to work at the Vancouver Sun in the late 1930’s, never left, retired in 1985, and is still going strong at 94. Rose recounted these stories about the one-of-a-kind Paul St. Pierre on the occasion of his 80th birthday. They are also a reminder that newspapering was once fun, even away from the job. https://www.facebook.com/ronald.rose.980?fref=nf
As a young scribe at the Sun, I was too intimidated by St. Pierre’s stature to say much to him during his rare forays into the office. It was also unclear whether he was happy to be back at the paper, after being bounced in 1972 by the same Coast-Chilcotin voters, who had elected him as a Liberal MP during the Trudeau sweep of 1968. But I vividly recall his elegant shock of white hair, imposing sideburns, glasses dangling from a string as he strode imperiously through the newsroom, smoking one of those thin cigarillo things, and a face lined with character that spoke volumes about someone who knew how to live, while enjoying ever minute of it.
Paul St. Pierre (1923-2014), RIP. In the words of Doug Sagi: “Read and remember him.”
(Vancouver Sun photo)
For those unfamiliar with his legacy, this YouTube vignette is excellent. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2S69u7hfpVU
And here is John Mackie’s piece in Tuesday’s Vancouver Sun:http://www.vancouversun.com/Obituary+columnist+went+road+beyond+story/10070550/story.html