Workers of Canada Unite! Striking in Support of the Winnipeg General Strike

(This is Part Two of my three part blog on the momentous Winnipeg General Strike that unfolded 100 years ago, striking terror into the hearts of the ruling class. It covers the astounding wave of spontaneous strikes by Canadian workers near and far for the 30,000 striking workers in Winnipeg.)

In addition to everything else that is remarkable about the Winnipeg General Strike, one aspect inexplicably ignored by most chroniclers is the extraordinary support the strike received from other workers across the country. Sympathy strikes of various lengths and success took place in Victoria, Vancouver, New Westminster, Prince Rupert the Kootenays, Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Brandon, Fort Willliam, Port Arthur, Toronto, Montreal and of all places, in the small, far-off industrial city of Amherst, Nova Scotia, where Leon Trotsky was temporarily imprisoned on his way back to Russia to lead the revolution.

The biggest of all the sympathy strikes took place right here in Vancouver. More than 10,000 workers walked out on June 3, to protest the firing of Winnipeg’s postal workers. Confined mostly to the private sector, most of the 37 participating unions stayed out for a full month. They did not return to work until a week after the Winnipeg strike ended. While much is written and celebrated about the one-day Ginger Goodwin general strike the previous year, there’s been barely a peep about the city’s worker revolt nine months later.

The striking unions had their own set of demands: reinstatement of the postal workers; immediate settlement of the grievances in Winnipeg; the right to collective bargaining; pensions for WW I veterans and their dependents; $2,000 for all who served overseas; nationalization of cold storage plants, abattoirs and, naturally, elevators; and the six-hour day.

The strike was strongest on the docks, where stevedores, sailors and other marine workers united to force all maritime shipping that came into port to tie up. A seaman named Jimmy O’Donnell has left us with a rare eye-witness account of the strike and his own experience during its last few days.

“It was the time of the Winnipeg Strike and everyone went out in sympathy. The sailors and the mess boys and firemen,” O’Donnell told an interviewer sometime in the 1970’s. “So when we come into Vancouver, the skipper said, ‘Don’t go ashore.’ And I said I gotta go ashore. I gotta go to the union hall and report in. I got my union button on and I went up to the union hall and say that I just come in. What do I do?

“And the guy says to get my stuff off, there’s a strike on. So I walk out and this little Cockney guy comes running up to me and says, ‘Waddya doing with that button on?’ I say that I belong to the sailors’ union. He says, ‘Don’t you know there’s a strike on?’ I said, ‘Yeah.” And he says, ‘Where you going? You gonna cross the picket line?’ And I said ‘Yeah. I’m going to the [ship]. We just been in last night and I’m gonna take my stuff off. I’m gonna go on strike with you.’ Two days later, the strike was over and I lost my job.”

After intense pressure from other unions, streetcar operators, who initially voted against the strike, went out on June 5. This sparked a fierce confrontation with city hall and the business community, who immediately sanctioned fleets of small buses known as jitneys to pick up fare-paying passengers. Labelling them “legalized scabs”, the strike committee warned the city that they would call telephone operators out on strike if the jitneys kept running. The warning was ignored.

 

So, on June 14, after locking the doors and dropping keys through the windows of BC Telephone headquarters on Seymour Street, 300 unionized “hello girls” and some of their supervisors joined the general strike. The phone company recruited strikebreakers, many of them high-society matrons, to keep the phones operating. But there was no wavering in the operators’ resolve, despite the financial pinch. “My landlady didn’t come looking for rent money. She kept me going,” operator Leone Copeland told the BC Federationist. “I was pretty close to brass tacks. Most of us who stayed out couldn’t afford to stay out, but we did.”

IMG_2155(I love this cartoon, deriding the women who took the jobs of the striking telephone operators. Note the cat calling the woman’s high-society cat a “Scab”. )

Not only did they stay out, the telephone operators did so for another 13 days after the official Vancouver strike ended. They held out in a noble but ultimately failed attempt to prevent supervisors who joined them on strike from being disciplined. They were the last sympathy strikers in the country to go back to work. “The action of the telephone girls in responding to the call for a general strike has placed them in a class by themselves amongst all women workers in this province,” lauded the BC Federationist.. They have won the admiration of all those who admire grit and working class solidarity.”

Another unusual feature of Vancouver’s general strike involved the International Typographical Union. Rather than strike, union printers set up a censorship board, warning city papers that if they deliberately misrepresented facts or failed to fairly represent the strikers’ views, they would face job action. Sure enough, the Vancouver Sun was shut down for five days over its anti-union diatribes. The last straw was an editorial referring to the martyred Ginger Goodwin as “a dead poltroon” (an utter coward). “Had the wretched creatures responsible for that outbreak (the one-day Goodwin walkout) been imprisoned, as they deserved,” the editorial continued, “the city would probably have been spared the effort being made today by the revolutionary element to impose its will upon the community.” “The Vancouver Province lost one edition because of an anti-strike ad that ITU members refused to print.

All in all, it was an exceptional display of support by the Vancouver working class for the Winnipeg strike, considering that the initial vote in favour was a far from overwhelming 3,305 to 2,499. Labour historian Elaine Bernard suggest it was even more radical than the Winnipeg General Strike, itself. “While the Winnipeg strikers were supporting workers engaged in a struggle with the local captains of industry, the Vancouver strike was remarkable in that it was motivated by solidarity for workers more than a thousand miles away,” she wrote.

They were far from alone.

In the British Empire outpost of Victoria, a split between radical and moderate union leaders prompted weeks of dithering. After the arrest of Winnipeg strike leaders and the violent “Bloody Saturday” crackdown by police and military, however, there was no holding back. On the morning of June 23, 70 per cent of the city’s 7,000 workforce – longshoremen, machinists, boilermakers, caulkers, factory workers and tradesmen – walked out. Virtually all industrial activity came to a halt — shipyards, the waterfront, marine traffic and machine shops. On June 26, the day Winnipeg workers returned to work, a mass public meeting of strikers at Royal Athletic Park voted overwhelmingly to go back the next day, bringing staid Victoria’s one and only general strike to an end.

IMG_2159Far up the coast in Prince Rupert, the spirit of solidarity with Winnipeg was also strong. But, like Victoria, it was not without division. Votes went back and forth. Job action was initially confined to the Grand Trunk Railway and the docks. Those off the job became increasingly angry at the reluctance of other unions to support an all-out strike. Finally, the Labour Council’s George Casey called a meeting June 8 to hold a final, once-and-for all vote. To make sure of their commitment, he ordained that the vote had to pass by a two-thirds majority.

At the highly-charged mass meeting at the Carpenters Hall, Casey, a fiery, charismatic speaker from the Fish Packers’ Union who subsequently spent 23 years on city council, declared in ringing tones that the workers of Prince Rupert “had a duty to organized labour and workers in general throughout the whole dominion.” When the ballots were counted, the vote in favour was 345 to 170, just making the mandated two-thirds majority. When American leaders of some unions ordered their members to stay on the job, the Labour Council’s Ralph Rose tore a strip off recalcitrant unions who “[expressed] themselves in favour of the strike, but when it was put to them, refused to come out”.

Prince Rupert’s general strike began at dawn, June 10. Nine industrial unions went out– dock workers, loggers, boilermakers, machinists, pipe-fitters, railway checkers (not a game, apparently), freight handlers and fish packers. Despite the usual pressure from the business community, foaming at the mouth about violence and Reds under the bed, they stuck it out to the end of the Winnipeg General Strike. And then beyond.

The strike committee refused to recommend a return to work, until 10 workers fired by the Grand Trunk Railway were reinstated. The pledge was strongly supported at another overflow gathering. “We will stick it out until we are starved out and become busted and have to leave town,” roared George Casey. This time, the emotional principle of protecting fellow workers’ jobs spurred all unions to rally to the cause. An expanded walkout was set to begin July 4 at 6 p.m. The pressure worked. Just 30 minutes before the deadline, the strike committee announced “as good [a deal] as we can expect under the circumstances”. Even so, the Labour Council voted only 15-12 to accept. (This account relies largely on original research by Donna Sacuta of the BC Labour Heritage Centre.)

In Edmonton (Edmonton!), thousands of union members were off the job for a month. City hall closed, trains and streetcars stopped running. Most utilities, including the telephone system, shut down, along with factories, packing houses, cold storage plants, shops and restaurants. Workers at Chinese restaurants and laundries courageously risked deportation to walk out. Police voted 74-4 to strike, although, as in Winnipeg, they stayed on the job.

City Mayor Joe Clarke was sympathetic. He refused requests from the Board of Trade and the inevitable “citizen’s committee” to call in the militia. He further vowed the city would not allow strikebreakers. When he was accused of being a dupe of the “Bolshevik” strike committee, the mayor retorted that he would not be forced to break the strike “by the Bolsheviks on the Board of Trade”. Although the strike wavered as June progressed, some unions stuck it out until the Winnipeg General Strike was called off.

In Brandon, Manitoba hundreds of workers stayed on strike for six weeks. Their ranks included civic employees who had just won their own strike, yet came out again to protest anti-strike crackdowns in Winnipeg.

And yes, in Amherst, Nova Scotia. (who knew?)  Workers there were as radical a bunch as any in North America. The Amherst Federation of Labour voted 1,185 to 1 (who was that guy?) to join the western-based One Big Union, even before the radical organization had been formally established. They campaigned successfully against the introduction of daylight saving time as a capitalist plot to lengthen the working day. In May, stirred by the Winnipeg General Strike, several thousand Amherst workers at the city’s eight largest industries walked off the job for three weeks. Their demands were the same as workers in Winnipeg: shorter hours, better pay and the right to collective bargaining.

Other strikes were briefer but no less heartfelt, as workers took up the cry to fight back. The defiant words of Jean MacWilliams, a laundry worker and organizer in Calgary, could have echoed anywhere: “Are we in favour of a bloody revolution? Why any kind of revolution would be better than conditions as they are now.”

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It was a time of unsurpassed working class consciousness and resistance, the likes of which Canada had never seen, before or since. Few demands were achieved, but the Winnipeg General Strike had a profound impact on events to come. That will be covered in Part Three, The Aftermath.

 

 

REMEMBERING DAVE BARRETT AND THE SUMMER OF ’72

In the best of summers, Dave Barrett ran the best of campaigns. Up against the seemingly unbeatable W.A.C. Bennett, the NDP leader was as unruffled as the weather, relaxed and purposefully out of the media spotlight. Forty people at a small gathering in Houston, a brief visit to the distant mining town of Stewart, a mid-morning tea in mighty Yahk, mainstreeting in Revelstoke. It was all the same to Barrett, part of his strategy to defuse once and for all Bennett’s tried-and-true election fear mongering about the “socialist hordes”. Of course there were hard-hitting political speeches at larger public meetings, but none of them predicted victory. He simply refused to be a target.

When needed, there was Barrett’s trademark humour. An allegation  that he followed Marx was laughed off with “which one, Groucho, Harpo or Zeppo?” Bennett’s ongoing charge that he was part of the NDP’s left-wing Waffle movement, prompted Barrett to call the premier a pancake, then a stack of pancakes. When Bennett persisted, he threatened to call him a Crêpes Suzette, “knowing how he feels about Quebec.”

But the best joke he told on himself. In Prince George, he advised the audience that an astrologer, asked by a local Vancouver newspaper to assess various attributes of the four provincial leaders, had given him a good mark for “sexual proclivities”. Rather pleased, Barrett told the tittering crowd he phoned home that night and asked his wife Shirley if she’d seen anything interesting in the paper. “No, Dave,” she reported. “Just the same old lies.” It brought the house down.

On the last Saturday before the election, Dave and Shirley finished the evening at a social event in Surrey, dancing. His final campaign speech was a traditional tub-thumper before a roaring crowd of 1,200 in his home riding of Coquitlam. But Barrett preached love, not revolution. By the time voters went to the polls on Aug. 30, 1972, the fear was gone. Barrett and the NDP coasted home to an unimaginable victory. After 39 years of the CCF/NDP finishing second to the forces of free enterprise in election after election, the province had its first socialist government.

With the sad news of Dave Barrett’s passing last month, I found myself thinking back to that unforgettable time more than 45 years ago, when everything went right and British Columbia wound up with what was, during its brief 39 months in office, the most progressive and transformative government in Canadian history.

A refugee from Ontario, I was with my West Coast relatives that evening. They could not comprehend what was happening. Almost every Socred kingpin fell to virtual NDP unknowns. “Phil Gaglardi lost!” I remember my cousin screaming with disbelief and delight. The same incredulity prevailed at Social Credit’s anticipated victory gathering at the Bayshore Hotel. “These results can’t be right. They can’t be,” said one perplexed supporter. When Attorney General Les Peterson showed up, a woman rushed towards him. “At least you won,” she exclaimed. “No, said Peterson, “I lost. We all lost.”

At the NDP’s celebratory headquarters at the Coquitlam Arena, emotions were off the charts. Barrett’s mother Ruth, a former Communist who wrapped her young son’s head in bloodied bandages for a Spanish Civil War May Day float, gave him a hug and began to cry. The province’s new leader-to-be was serenaded to the podium with raucous renditions of “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” from the delirious, overflow crowd. Veteran union official Rudy Krickan, who had worked for the CCF and then the NDP since the 1930’s, called it “the greatest night of my life”. One less sober celebrant, who seemed not to have paid much attention to consent, yelled: “I’m so happy I’ve kissed 23 women and 17 men.” Up in Lillooet, far from the bedlam in Coquitlam, legendary newspaperwoman Ma Murray, who loathed W.A.C. Bennett with a passion, declared she had never felt so happy in all her  73 years. The beaming Barrett headed home early, for a beer and bed, but not before pledging: “I will not let our hopes and aspirations down….The people of British Columbia have the right to expect a great deal from us and we must deliver.”

Delivery did not take long. The Barrett government got to work right from the historic September day they took office. Hansard and Question Period at last, a doubling of MLA salaries so members could be full-time legislators and increased funding for the Opposition. New ministers took on a whirlwind of assignments: public auto insurance, a new labour code, a complete review of health services, preserving farmland, the plight of First Nations in the province. The long-proposed Third Crossing between Vancouver and the North Shore was killed, in favour of a planned “seabus” across Burrard Inlet. Social Services Minister Norm Levi quickly grasped what being in government meant after years hammering away from opposition benches. He ordered the BC Hydro to restore service to a woman on welfare, whose hydro had been cut off for non-payment.

During a brief, 18-day fall session, the minimum wage was raised 33 percent to $2 an hour, teachers were given bargaining rights, budget responsibilities were restored to local school boards, a broad-based committee was struck to bring democratic reforms to a legislature that had operated under WAC Bennett’s one-sided version of the rules for two decades and most significant of all, the government brought in Mincome, guaranteeing seniors a minimum income of $200 a month. The pioneer program, unmatched anywhere in North America, is “the unfinished work of the socialist movement in its concern for people of all ages,” proclaimed Norm Levi. Pretty well the Barrett government’s first order of business, Mincome remained its most popular measure for all the time it was in office.

Meanwhile, as the days ticked by towards Christmas, Barrett was a whirling dervish of news and off-the-cuff announcements, captivating reporters with his availability, humour, espousal of socialism and denigration of greedy, capitalist speculators in rhetoric that seemed to get him on the front page every day. One scribe calculated that the roly-poly, non-stop premier had committed his government to 42 new polices during its first 55 days in office. By the time Guy Lombardo ushered out 1972 with Auld Lang Syne, Dave Barrett might have been the most popular premier in BC history.

It didn’t last of course. The bitter fights to preserve BC farmland from development, bring in public auto-insurance, tax windfall mining profits, dramatically increase spending on social services for the disadvantaged and enact a myriad other controversial measures aimed at making the province a more enlightened place to live evoked large protests and sometimes over-the-top opposition in the media.. The inevitable government gaffes,  coupled with more than a few missteps by Barrett, himself, did not help. By the time the NDP was voted out of office three years later, that early glow was but a memory.

Looking back, those faults pale in comparison with the rich legacy left behind, a legacy that is with us still. None is greater than the preservation of farmland throughout British Columbia. Forty-five years later, the Agricultural Land Reserve stands as a beacon to what a committed government can do to change a province.  (My list of the Barrett government’s 100 achievements, over those short 39 months, is available here (https://mickleblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/100-achievements-of-the-dave-barrett-government-1972-1975/). BC never had a more alive, activist government.

The summer of 1972 made it all happen. As he is remembered at a state memorial in Victoria and a gathering the next day in Vancouver, for all his  accomplishments and fighting the good political fight for so many years, that’s when Dave Barrett did the impossible. By “slaying the Socred dragon”, as the Vancouver Sun’s front page headline put it, and refusing a cautious, go-slow approach, he set BC on course to a modern future from which there was no turning back.

 

 

LARRY STILL, THE BEST COURT REPORTER IN ALL THE LAND

11391416_1399793827016260_3900624691454878330_n-1 We’ve lost another of those legendary reporters from what, in retrospect, was a golden age of journalism at the Vancouver Sun. You know, the days when newspapers told you everything you needed to know about your community, your country and the world at large, and more.

For 30 years at the Sun, Larry Still was perhaps the best court reporter in the land, undoubtedly the best in B.C. by a country mile. His immaculately-worded coverage of Vancouver’s many long, gripping, often grisly, trials in the last three decades of the twentieth century stand as a tribute to the craft – clear, concise, comprehensive and oh, so readable. As dramatic testimony and give-and-take from the city’s best lawyers played out in the courtroom, he put you right there.

Yet it says something about Larry Still that word of his June 25 death in Oak Bay (from an overdose of painkillers) did not trickle out until earlier this week. Outside work, he tended to be a bit of a loner, when he wasn’t at the Press Club across the street from Pacific Press. Still used to be a fixture at the Club, positioned in a corner of the bar in a haze of cigarette smoke, relieving the tension of the day’s work with what Pat Nagle liked to call “the grape”. He was never at the centre of glad-happy journos, yukking it up. Mostly, he drank alone, occasionally, when angered by some remark that he considered inconsequential, spitting out that he used to work “on Fleet Street”. He might then puff out his chest in a belligerent manner and boast, if the reporter was particularly beneath his notice at the time, that he could “write rings around” him. Much as I admired his work, I was always somewhat intimidated by him. He was, shall we say, not one to suffer fools gladly, and his definition of “fools” often depended on how much he had had to drink.

I never heard many details of his life before the Sun, other than his English background, time “on Fleet Street”, and an indeterminate tenure as a correspondent for Time Magazine. How and why he washed up at the Sun in Vancouver is a mystery, at least to me.

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From Larry’s Facebook page.

(Larry, his mother, and his brother Mike, as they were evacuated to the countryside during WW II)

As I drifted away from Vancouver, Pacific Press and “the Club”, I lost track of people and events. I heard that Larry mellowed in later years, lessened his drinking and became more convivial. I also heard that he had a son back in England, with whom there had been some sort of reconciliation. I hope all these things are true.

Certainly, some of the Facebook postings attest to his helpfulness as a colleague, without forgetting his acerbic reputation. Quipped Craig Ferry: “I can’t think of a single person I’d rather be insulted by.” Andrea Maitland wrote: “When I started at the Sun, he was very helpful. Crabby and always right.” Salim Jiwa recalled the pleasures of covering the extradition hearing of Air India bombing conspirator, Inderjit Singh Reyat, with Still in his old stomping grounds of London. Scott Honeyman summed him up: “An unforgettable character.”

In an e-mail, former Sun Business Editor George Froehlich said he often had Still over for dinner. “He was charming, witty and vey insightful….Larry, believe it or not, was quite an accomplished cook,” George elaborated. “He was often quite moody, especially when editors at the Sun did not give his court stories the prominence they deserved….He used to say: what can you expect from people who have never been anywhere, a reference to the fact he had travelled all over the world for Time.”

The last time I saw Larry Still was at the huge wake for Patrick Nagle (sigh) in 2006. He was in fine form, tearing a strip off long-time colleague Wyng Chow, in a jocular way, of course, for managing to be fired by the Sun. “You could piss all over the assistant city editor and not be fired. And yet you, Wyng Chow, you managed to be fired!” Wyng, now comfortably ensconced in Hong Kong and a friend of Larry’s till the end, took it in stride.

Still leaves an impressive legacy. In those days, there was space in the paper for long stories. If a trial was important enough, he was given copious room for his riveting stories on what went on in the courtroom the previous day. One of the last reporters with superb shorthand, he was able to quote sharp exchanges and compelling testimony verbatim. Still was also smart in the ways of the court, justly celebrated by the legal fraternity for his insight and knowledge. I heard once that his book The Limits of Sanity was regularly used as a key teaching tool at law schools on the issue of criminal insanity. The book is based on a one night, murderous spree by Kootenay logger Dale Nelson, who violated the bodies of at least two of his eight victims. Nelson’s lawyer, the celebrated Mickey Moran, argued persuasively but ultimately unsuccessfully that his client was not guilty on the basis of insanity. Still, naturally, had covered every moment of the trial. Image (Michael Finlay, Chester Grant and Larry Still, at the wake for Patrick Nagle.)

Alas, his brand of court reporting is long gone. Today, court stories, no matter how critical the trial, are expected to be relatively short, containing only selected highlights of an entire day’s proceedings. That’s fine, but they don’t provide a reader with what Larry Still did. For historians and archivists, his copy is a treasure trove. When Aaron Chapman was compiling his excellent history of the colourful Penthouse cabaret, he relied heavily on Larry Still’s coverage of two famous trials involving the renowned nightclub: owner Joe Philliponi’s prosecution on a charge of living off the avails of prostitution and the murder trial of two men accused of murdering Philliponi at the club in 1983. What kind of record is left behind bythe abbreviated newspaper stories of today?

Larry Still, RIP. No one was better at what they did than you, sir. 11391416_1399793827016260_3900624691454878330_n

I SEE BY THE PAPERS……

E01JEC Newspaper readers in Nisch, 1914. Image shot 1914. Exact date unknown.

E01JEC Newspaper readers in Nisch, 1914. Image shot 1914. Exact date unknown.

As regular readers know by now, I remain a big fan of newspapers, despite their ever-diminishing state. Why, just this weekend, I found all sorts of goodies distributed among their varied pages. The treasures are still there. You just have to look a bit harder and be a bit more patient these days. This being both the end of B.C. Day and the end of the full moons, I thought I would share a few. rnewspapersok1. I hadn’t quite realized before that the state most affected by climate change is not media-saturated, rain-starved California, but, of course, Alaska. So far, this summer, wildfires have burned through more than 20,000 square kilometres of Alaskan forestry, a swath larger than all of Connecticut. Other bad stuff, too. An excellent story from Saturday’s Vancouver Sun, written by the Washington Post’s environment reporter, Chris Mooney. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/07/26/alaskas-terrifying-wildfire-season-and-what-it-says-about-climate-change/ 2. The legendary Mark Starowicz, former editor of the McGill Daily and part of so many great things at CBC (As It Happens, Sunday Morning, The Journal, Canada: A People’s History) reflects on the Mother Corp’s decision to kill its in-house documentary unit: “There’s a sadness that comes form the realization that the institution has been totally starved. Starved. The price is extraordinary in what’s not being produced.” 3. In his newly-published autobiography, NDP leader Tom Mulcair says it took him a while to learn that “not every shot has to be a hardball to the head.” 4. North Korea has hopes of becoming an international surfing destination. 5. It’s possible to write about Nantucket without a rhyming couplet in sight. 6. Photography doesn’t get any better or more imaginative than this. Amazing series of photos by the Globe and Mail’s John Lehmann, featuring artists from B.C. Ballet in locations and poses you won’t believe. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/in-photos-bc-day/article25806490/ 7. The per-night price of a room at the storied Hotel Vancouver this weekend was $849. 280715-MATT-WEB_3389347b 8. Lord Sewel’s favourite bra is orange. 9. Stephen Harper once wondered out loud: “Why does nothing happen around here unless I say ‘fuck’?” 10. In the week before Sunday’s election call, the Conservative government announced nearly $4 billion worth of government projects across the country. 11. PostMedia columnist Stephen Maher reminded us that when Stephen Harper was head of the National Citizens’ Coalition, he challenged election spending limits imposed on so-called third parties all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Now, that same Steve guy is justifying his early election call to give his party the chance to drown the country in their own ads, over fears of alleged big bucks being spent by those once-lauded third parties that might sway voters, too. images-2 copy 4Only these third parties are “big unions and corporations…staffed by former Liberal and NDP operations,” the Conservative Party warned its members last week. 12. It has taken Russell Brown less than three years to rise from law school professor to a seat on the Supreme Court of Canada. Apparently it didn’t hurt to have blogged in 2008 that he hopes Stephen Harper wins a majority, and that the Liberals “just fade away” by electing a leader who is “unspeakably awful”. 13. The word “terrorism” is now being used openly by Israeli authorities, including Benjamin Netanyahu, to describe recent attacks by extremist Jewish settlers on unarmed Palestinians. 14. The Bay Area (San Francisco et al) has two dozen transit agencies, each with its own system, funding sources and fare structure. And we complain about TransLink…. 15. Surrey’s Adam Lowen is close to a first in baseball history: going from pitcher to hitter and back to a pitcher, all in the major leagues. Story here: http://www.theprovince.com/sports/Ewen+league+pitcher+Check+Outfielder+Check+Pitcher+again+Could+happen/11261040/story.html 16. On Aug. 1, 1959, Premier W.A.C. Bennett fired a flaming arrow at a raft piled high with voided government bonds from a distance of five feet. He missed. Luckily, a well-prepared Mountie, hidden at the back of the raft, managed to light the paper bonfire, and lo, one of the province’s most outlandish political stunts, dubbed by Paul St. Pierre “the biggest thing” since the cremation of Sam McGee, became part of B.C. lore. (Thanks to John Mackie.) 17. Premier Christy Clark orders a crackdown on gun violence in B.C. That should be easy….

A spill response boat works to clean up bunker fuel leaking from the bulk carrier cargo ship Marathassa anchored on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday April 9, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A spill response boat works to clean up bunker fuel leaking from the bulk carrier cargo ship Marathassa anchored on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday April 9, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

18. Get this. According to an independent review: When a large, toxic fuel spill began fouling English Bay last April, Canadian Coast Guard staff were unsure of their roles. What????? Then, when Port of Vancouver said they couldn’t see the spill and were taking water samples, the private sector response team thought the Port meant they were “standing down”, passed that on to the Coast Guard, who then de-escalated their alert. Further delay resulted from cellphone and computer problems. Oh yes, and once they finally did figure out what to do, there were not enough Coast Guard staff around, since a bunch of them had been busy doing something else in “Granville Channel”, wherever that is. As a result of this Comedy of Errors, which would have done Shakespeare proud, review author John Butler concluded: “The response was delayed by one hour and 49 minutes due to confusion of roles and responsibilities, miscommunications and technology issues.” This is what federal cabinet minister James Moore at the time called a “world class” response. 19. Sally Forth continues to be unfunny, and Rex Morgan, alas, unreadable. 20. Baseball in Toronto is fun again. Oh, and i’m still working my way through the Sunday New York Times. j-seward-johnsons-statue-of-newspaper-reader-at-princeton-uni-garden

LEE KUAN YEW AND THE CREEPING MEATBALL

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So, farewell then, Lee Kuan Yew, grand patriarch of Singapore, who never saw a critic he didn’t want to jail or sue, or a gum chewer he didn’t want to fine.

Much has been written extolling the great man, beloved of entrepreneurs and capitalists for creating a safe, uncorrupt haven for their money and by hordes of ex-pats in Asia for providing a tiny, perfect oasis for a few days’ R and R, coupled with a chance to down a Singapore Sling at the famed Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel.

But none of the lengthy obituaries has included one of the more remarkable confluences of Lee’s long career. That occurred, of all places, on the scenic, normally placid campus of the University of B.C., where he encountered an invasion of raucous ragamuffins imbued with the heady, counter-culture tonic of Yippie-dom. As a survivor of the Japanese occupation of Singapore, however, surviving the wild, student occupation of the UBC Faculty Club – with him in it! – was Peking Duck soup for the wily autocrat.

For the many poor unfortunates and obit writers with no knowledge of this momentous event, return with us now to those thrilling daze of yesteryear, when student power was afoot on campuses throughout the land, harnessed to the widespread anti-war, anti-capitalism, anti-establishment, anti-pig, pro-dope smoking rhetoric of the young. I will tell you the tale.

On a fine fall day in 1968, celebrated, head band-wearing Jerry Rubin of the Youth International Party and unkempt author of the great literary classic DO IT!, ventured north of the border to deliver what he called a “sermon” at a large public rally in front of the Student Union Building at UBC. Rubin was a self-proclaimed radical who loved media stunts, none more headline-grabbing than the Yippies’ presence at the Democratic convention in Chicago a few months earlier, where they occupied Lincoln Park and paraded their presidential candidate, a pig named Pigasus, through the streets of the Windy City. The cops responded by bashing in heads and charging Rubin et al with conspiring to riot.

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At the end of his inflammatory, UBC speech advocating abandonment of “the creeping meatball”, Rubin further urged students to take action to liberate themselves. “We’ve got all these people here. Let’s do something. Is there any place on campus that needs liberating?” Whereupon, several well-rehearsed members of the crowd yelled: “The faculty club!” And then, as The Ubyssey reported: “…off they went.”

Hundreds of students stormed through the doors of the posh faculty club, haven of tweedy, privileged professors swilling from its well-stocked liquor supply and dining on only the finest cuisine. Once ensconced inside the hallowed, professorial precincts, the unruly miscreants didn’t leave. They drank the booze, rollicked in comfy chairs, inhaled illegal substances, went for nude dips in the club’s ornamental pond, discussed the merits of political something-or-other, boogied to live music and generally got up the noses of outraged profs.

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“I’m disgusted,” stormed classics scholar Dr. Malcolm MacGregor. “This gutter-snipe comes up from the U.S. and organizes this thing, and all the students follow along like sheep.”

And where was Lee Kuan Yew during all this merry mayhem? Intrepid Ubyssey reporter James Conchie Lee Kuan Yewfound the bemused Prime Minister of Singapore relaxing in a second floor suite at the faculty club, his home during a 19-day “relax and study” visit to Vancouver. Against the wishes of a nervous security guard and a few, equally-worried faculty, Lee admitted the reporter for a brief interview. “All this isn’t bothering me at all,” he told Conchie, with a wide smile. “It takes something of a much more serious nature than this to get me excited.” He wondered out loud: “What is happening here? Everyone seems to be running around in a great fluster.” At that point, Conchie was ushered out, after Lee promised him a full interview before leaving town.

The escapade, which lasted through the night and into the next day, produced a vintage issue of The Ubyssey. You can peruse the full edition here:

http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/pdfs/ubyssey/UBYSSEY_1968_10_25.pdf

Not only is the paper’s coverage of Rubin’s antics great fun, it’s also a wonderful time capsule. Feast on ads for the legendary Retinal Circus (Papa Bears and Easy Chairs from Seattle), the Czech movie classic Closely Watched Trains, Duthie Books on Robson (sigh), an appearance by Mother Tucker’s Yellow Duck at a weekend anti-war rally, and, best of all, Poulson’s annual typewriter sale!

At the same time, suggesting that the sentiment of the Sixties didn’t prevail everywhere on campus, there were also ads for the Canadian army’s Regular Officer Training Plan, Dale Carnegie’s appalling course: ‘How to win friends and influence people’, business management opportunities at Procter and Gamble, plus my personal favourite, a meeting of the UBC Young Socreds.

As for all those young flacks and hacks whose names are sprinkled through the pages of that particular Ubyssey close to 50 years ago, “Where are they now?” I hear you ask.

Well, Jerry Rubin, who subsequently became a stock broker (groan), is dead, hit by a car as he jaywalked on a busy LA street in 1994. Fence-sitting AMS president Dave Zirnhelt became a Cariboo cattle rancher, horse logger and two-term NDP cabinet minister. The ever-effervescent Stan Persky divides his time between Vancouver and Berlin, and writes books. AMS vice-president Carey Linde became a lawyer based on Haida Gwaii, before moving to Vancouver, where he has established a “men’s rights” practice. Oh, well…

Kirsten Emmott is a well-known poet, writer and family doctor, now living in Comox. Ubyssey movie reviewer Kirk Tougas is a renowned cinematographer, with many fine films to his credit. Contributors to a Younger Vancouver Sculptors exhibition at UBC include Gathie Falk and Takao Tanabe, both of whom went on to acclaimed, artistic careers. “Gathie Falk has some really funky pieces on display, including a grey, velvet-covered bureau with a sculptured shirt on top,” writes reviewer “F.C.”, in all likelihood, the free-spirited Fred Cawsey.

As for regular Ubyssey journos, editor Al Birnie became a printer in Toronto, news editor John Twigg spent three years as Premier Dave Barrett’s press secretary, despite his arrest in the famous Gastown Riot of 1971, wire editor Peter Ladner was fired by the Vancouver Sun for telling a public meeting that a number of Sun reporters smoked dope (not sure what happened to him after that…), associate editor and Bugs Bunny aficionado Mike Finlay went on to an illustrious career as a documentary producer at CBC Radio, reporter John Gibbs switched to the dark side for a long, distinguished career in TV news, while AMS reporter Alex Volkoff abandoned the black and white and “red all over” world of newspapers for the suave, nuanced world of diplomacy. Bonus points for the fate of Lee Kuan Yew’s favourite Ubyssey reporter, James Conchie.

They were great times.

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NEWS YOU NEVER WANT TO HEAR

It’s been a tough month for those of us who have been around ye olde J-biz in Vancouver for a while. Three journalists many of us knew and admired have passed on to the great typewriter in the sky. Sean Rossiter, dead at 68 from the ravages of Parkinson’s. The incomparable Doug Sagi, taken from us just short of his 80th birthday by complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And most recently, and most heartbreakingly of all, the courageous Alicia Priest, her life cut short at 61 by the truly terrible scourge of ALS.

I mostly knew Alicia from a distance, via occasional phone calls, emails and paths crossing when we were both journos in Vancouver. But as a one-time health policy reporter myself, I was a big fan of her excellence on health policy matters. A former nurse, she knew the field, and her solid, comprehensive articles were always on the side of improving the country’s beleaguered health care system. Many made their way into my bulging clipping files. Alicia cared, and she was smart.

With life partner Ben Parfitt, a master of the thorough, hard-hitting, investigative report, the two eventually abandoned working for bosses, forging a freelance living for themselves in Victoria, while raising their daughter Charlotte.

Then, in 2011 she received the cruel news that the cold numbness in her hand was a symptom of ALS, often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It was a death sentence. As Alicia told Paul Lukas of The Province: “In the 75 years since Gehrig died, medical science has come up with zilch – no treatment and no cure.”

Alicia faced her fate head on. She chose to regard it as a deadline for a writing project she’d had in her mind for years: the story of her family and her flawed, off-beat father, who masterminded the great Yukon silver heist of the early 1960’s. Of course, it was a deadline no writer or reporter would ever want, but it was a deadline nevertheless, one referred to by Alicia as “the ultimate deadline”. As always, she met it with flying colours. Her book, A Rock Fell on the Moon, was published to glowing reviews last fall. Best of all, although unable to speak and nourished through a tube, Alicia was able to return to the Yukon in October for a very special book launch at the Baked Café in Whitehorse.

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A Rock Fell on the Moon is a fine, fascinating read, well-researched and well-told. It relates a saga that seems, itself, to come 1550176722from the moon, accompanied by the heartbreak of growing up in a dysfunctional family. The book has a little bit of everything, including some vintage stuff about life in a remote, Yukon mining town. Recommended — as an unflinching glimpse into a time that has long passed, a family’s intimacies, and larger-than-life characters who might have been pulled from the pages of Elmore Leonard.

This time, life, so often desperately unfair, wavered just long enough to reward her heroic effort to finish the most important story of her career.

Here are two excellent features about Alicia that were written last fall. They serve as vivid reminders of how much spirit and talent were lost with her tragic death.

http://thetyee.ca/Culture/2014/10/31/Alicia-Priest/

http://www.theprovince.com/health/ultimate+deadline+With+tightening+grip+Victoria+writer+completes+book+about+criminal+father/10199096/story.html

Just before that, we lost Doug Sagi, one of the best newspaper guys I ever worked with. It wasn’t because of lights-out brilliance or eye-popping prose. He was simply a pro, master of the craft of consistently turning out clear, well-written, often elegant stories for the folks who read newspapers. I don’t think he wrote a clunky sentence in his life. Below is a classic photo of Sagi in 1977 pounding out the last Sun story to be written on a typewriter. In the words of ex-Sun hack Tom Barrett: “That was Doug, hunting and pecking with his sleeves rolled up. I have this mental image of him confronting the typewriter (and later the computer), while rolling up his sleeves like a guy about to chop wood.”

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Yet there was more to Sagi than that. He was a lovely human being, with a finely-tuned sense of humour, a highly-appreciated mentor to young reporters, someone who enjoyed life and tolerated all our bitching with a bemused twinkle in his eye. He took the job of journalism seriously, yet was never shy about laughing over its vagaries, and criticizing its failures. He was a joy to be around.

10906123_10155142213710085_5331332063716782041_nWhen Sagi joined the Vancouver Sun in 1975, after stints with Canadian Magazine and a time as one of the Globe and Mail’s first western correspondents, I thought it was a real coup for the Sun, and a bit of a come-down for the man, himself. But maybe he relished the stability and the extra bucks of a good-paying union job. He may also have liked the chance to write a regular column, and eventually “win” a spot on the desk as a seasoned assignment editor.

When word came of his death, Facebook tributes quickly accumulated, many from reporters counselled over the years by Sagi’s trademark wit and wisdom. I particularly liked this anecdote from Chris Gainor, which, I think, captures the measure of the man. Having covered the legendary John Diefenbaker during his young newspapering days  in Saskatchewan, Sagi was the Sun’s obvious choice to ride and report from the Dief funeral train. Sagi also knew of Gainor’s strong admiration for “the Chief”. So he picked up an extra copy of the official funeral program and gave it to Gainor when he got back. “It remains a valued part of my Diefenbaker collection,” wrote Gainor. Ever classy.

A memorial service for Doug Sagi is scheduled to take place Saturday, Jan. 17, 2 p.m., 1450 MacCallum Road, in Abbotsford. It’s in the amenities room at the Crown Point townhouse complex.

After scrolling down a bit, you can read the many Facebook tributes here:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/421770301289270/611325509000414/?notif_t=group_activity

And this is John Mackie’s well-done tribute from Wednesday’s Sun: http://www.vancouversun.com/Doug%2BSagi%2Bobituary%2Bclassic%2Bschool%2Breporter/10726463/story.html

Finally, there was Sean Rossiter, who died Jan. 5, after a long, tough struggle with Parkinson’s disease. I remember Rossiter more from the old days, during his brief tenure at the Vancouver Sun, when he was Tom Rossiter and the first guyRossiter I ever knew to write about ferns and household plants. Strangely, he was also the papers religion editor. Rossiter soon tired of the Sun, however, and bravely ventured into the world of free-lancing at a time when such a career move was considered ill-advised at best. But he prospered. For 16 years, he wrote a monthly, groundbreaking city hall column for Vancouver Magazine that treated urban affairs as more than just the latest political shenanigans at 12th and Cambie. As someone mentioned during Thursday’s memorial, “Rossiter made urban planning seem interesting.” He also wrote regularly about one of his many passions, the value of old buildings and heritage. But his bread and butter were long, superbly-crafted magazine features and a myriad books on a myriad subjects. Rossiter defined the term “successful free-lancer”.

I was never that close to Rossiter. His early tendency to look down on daily journalism irked me. However, he seemed to mellow on that score as time went by, and I was always glad to run into him. No one could deny his talent and ardent embrace of subjects that mattered to him. His death is a loss for the craft of the written word.

I do have one Rossiter anecdote from those funny days at the Sun, way back when. One Sunday, as he sped to work over the Granville Bridge in his vintage Morgan sports car, he was pulled over by the cops. A quick check revealed a raft of unpaid speeding/parking tickets, and he was tossed in the hoosegow. With his one phone call, he called city desk. Sunday staffing being what it was, a young Lesley Krueger was dispatched to the Main Street lockup to bail him out. There, she discovered that Tom Rossiter was listed on the police docket as Tom Seaport Rossiter, which office wags immediately began using as his real name. Meantime, after being sprung from jail, Rossiter was driven back to the Sun newsroom to finish his shift. It was a normal day.

Here is Charles Campbell’s heartfelt piece on Sean Rossiter.

http://www.straight.com/news/803101/beloved-vancouver-writer-sean-rossiter-dies-68

Alicia Priest, Doug Sagi, Sean Rossiter. May you all rest in peace.

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(Photo by Bruce Stotesbury of the Victoria Times-Colonist.)

REMEMBERING PAUL ST. PIERRE

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Paul St. Pierre, B.C.’s superb chronicler of the beautiful Chilcotin and its all-too-human characters, passed away last July. But friends and family waited until Sunday, the weekend of Mexico’s Day of the Dead, to formally say goodbye to the former Vancouver Sun columnist, Liberal MP, gifted writer and, in the words of publisher Scott McIntyre, “accomplished shit-disturber.”

The timing was no accident, clearly a request from the man, himself, who considered Mexico a second home. He particularly relished that country’s Day of the Dead (Nov. 1), an annual holiday set aside for prayers, cemetery visits and celebration of the deceased, replete with ubiquitous, symbolic skulls. No doubt, it appealed to St. Pierre’s life-long love of the off-beat.

So Mexican snacks, a mariachi band and, yes, skulls, were prominent at the packed gathering inside the historic community hall in Fort Langley, where St. Pierre lived for many years. Even some of the goodies depicted those good old skulls, complete with gleaming eyes. It was a good, relaxed, shambling event, of a kind the guest of honour would certainly have enjoyed, if he happened to be peering in from the nearby cemetery, where his gravestone is inscribed: “This was not my idea.”

Since St. Pierre lived past the age of 90, few contemporaries were there to “tell lies” about their old friend, except for 95-10070812year old Ron Rose, who knew him well from their many years at the Vancouver Sun. The ageless “Ramblin’ Rose” brought the house down with his well-delivered tales of life in the outdoors with his irascible companion. After describing one long weekend of hunting and fishing misadventures at St. Pierre’s tumbledown Chilcotin cabin, with only whiskey and canned salmon for nourishment, Rose concluded: “We drove all night back to Vancouver. After a couple of hundred miles, I noticed he wasn’t talking. I asked if he was mad at me. ‘Shut up,’ he said. ‘Can’t you tell I’m writing my column?’”

On another occasion, St. Pierre, with his freshly-earned pilot’s licence, offered to fly Rose from Victoria to Vancouver in a little Cessna for Thanksgiving. The confident new pilot told Rose the flight was a snap. “Paul said it was all right to fly across the strait if you climbed until you reached the middle, so you could coast back either way if the engine quit.”

Said Rose: “We survived one scrape after another by dint of the indomitable cussedness that made  him unique. He was just what he seemed, and you couldn’t ask for a rougher diamond.”

We learned other things about Paul St. Pierre.

As he grew older, he took to calling libraries to see if they still stocked his books. When he phoned the library in his hometown of Halifax, he was pleased to find they did have a few Paul St. Pierre books on their shelves. He then asked what they knew about the author. “Oh, he’s dead,” the librarian replied.

He was never one to mince words. A Fort Langley writer recalled her first volume of verse being reviewed by the eminent St. Pierre in the local paper. “It was a scathing review, the worst I’ve ever had,” she said. Many years later, she hadn’t quite forgiven him, but she looked at things differently. “He made me realize writers need a tough skin. I learned something. So today, I thank him for that bad review.”

Mischief was no stranger to the great, man. We heard of a single mom with a couple of kids who was enamoured of his writing. A friend took her favourite book to St. Pierre and asked him to sign it. She explained how much her friend loved his books, and that she was a single mother. After asking her friend’s name, he wrote in the book: “Dear Mary Lou. Thank you for that beautiful weekend in Vegas. Paul St. Pierre.”

In his latter years, St. Pierre used a motorized scooter to get around. Notorious for driving as fast as he wanted, regardless of the speed limit, he asked a nephew to tinker with his scooter. “Make it go faster,” he ordered. He liked going to Wal-Mart and “accidentally” running into store displays, knocking them askew.

The same writer whose poetry St. Pierre had reviled also noted that a year or two before he died, he showed up at a public meeting in a wheelchair to oppose the three-storey Coulter Berry building proposed for Fort Langley’s historic downtown. “The character of Fort Langley will be gone,” he told the meeting. “We really need a three-storey store like we need a cholera outbreak.” Said the women: “He was an activist in his local community to the end.”

Then, as the rain pelted down outside, the band began to play. After that, the sombrero-topped Mariachi members led a damp, musical procession from the community hall to the cemetery a block away. Despite the rain, about 50 mourners/celebrants gathered around Paul St. Pierre’s grave in the deepening, late afternoon gloom. They placed candles, they remembered, they drank tequila, they went home. And It was good.

(if you want to learn more about this great writer from a long-ago era, read Tom Hawthorn’s fine Globe and Mail obit here)

Image 1(this photo courtesy of Chester Grant)