Sailing club a lightning rod for waterfront debate

Appeared in the North Shore News – January 15, 2016

Amy Baird grew up going to the Hollyburn Sailing Club every summer. Her mother, Anne, was its first woman commodore.

“As a young girl I was so proud of her. Still am,” Amy says. The club was “a great way to meet new kids and to learn a valuable skill. … Too many people buy big boats without learning to sail on a smaller dingy where you really need to know the rules on the water.

“Hollyburn is such a valuable asset to this community for people of all ages.”

Amy Baird will be lending her voice to protecting that asset at a Jan. 27 meeting on the waterfront’s future, organized by the Ambleside and Dundarave Ratepayers’ Association at the West Vancouver Seniors Centre.

Jim Bailey will be blooded — as opposed to bloodied — in his first major public appearance since inheriting Bob Sokol’s role as West Vancouver’s planning director last September. He will give a presentation followed by Q&A from the floor.

Bailey won initial approval from one of council’s bluntest-talkin’ critics, Scenery Slater: He “gets points in my book for readily agreeing to attend our preferred “town hall” format. …  I like him.

I don’t always agree with him, but so far I have found him honourable and honest.”

For her part, Amy Baird has at least one councillor, Bill Soprovich, on side (not all had a chance to respond to my invitation to comment): “The sailing club absolutely should be kept and revitalized. There’s real heritage value there.”

There are many other issues: Proposed parking under the tennis court. Protection of three beautiful nearby trees. Fate of the Silk Purse. Role if any of the Spirit Trail (as a recent serious Stanley Park accident confirmed, whoever thought mixing pedestrians and cyclists is a good idea wins the dumb-dumb award).  Holdouts from town offers to purchase of two beachside houses, one owned by multi-billionaire Jimmy Pattison, that in my view deserve retention as beacons of safety when the beach becomes a different place after dark.

And should CAAD, the proposed Centre for Art, Architecture and Design that can’t get a nickel from Ottawa or Victoria, be part of the discussion?

Soprovich says no: “To involve it now with the waterfront plan I think is wrong, it’s an entirely separate consideration,” he declared at a November council meeting. Coun. Christine Cassidy disagreed: “It’s again what’s been happening in this community, which is … the horse is always coming after the cart.” Coun. Michael Lewis’s take: “Our community has been talking about Ambleside formally for over 40 years and these sessions (like the ratepayers’ association) are intended to show the culmination of that work and give the community another chance to comment before ‘plans’ become ‘reality.’”

(Constant Reader knows I thump CAAD’s location and its operating costs, but I bet its backers are euphoric over MP Pam Goldsmith-Jones’s election — and her boss, Trudeau the Younger, is throwing people’s money around like a drunken sailor. Not that the sailing club has any of those, forsooth.)

The club is something of a lightning rod for the whole issue of the waterfront’s future.  Overhanging the club is Grosvenor’s condo-plus-businesses development — whose jackhammers causing thunderous noise pollution make the area almost unbearable, and surely hurt established businesses in the 13th and 14th-blocks Marine Drive. (And no, town hall is not offering any compensation. Price of progress and all that.)

But the only opinion with the power to push the issue — and the sailing club to some new location — is Mayor Michael Smith’s. He wants a restaurant-cum-bistro suitable for Grosvenor’s glitterati.

The clubhouse has an appealingly jaunty, weatherbeaten-grey look, remindful of the preciously protected oceanside houses of Cape Cod. But I don’t detect a hair of heritage interest in the mayor. At a meeting-by-invitation last year on WV development, where some knowledgeable souls questioned him hard, Smith detailed how valuable the site is, deriding its present use. At one point he scorned the “negative Nellies” — and his finger darted directly at my good self. (I responded with my customary calm good sense.)

Amy Baird and others with fond memories are likely to be left with just that.

• • •

Appropriately minutes before Dal Richards would have extended  his astonishing record of 79 earthly New Year’s Eve performances to an 80th, The Great Conductor in the Sky offered Dal a better gig, possibly with St. Paul & His Swingin’ Seraphim. (The trumpet section — heavenly. And the choir? To die for.)

Dal and I met in unique circumstances. In my Vancouver Sun column I mentioned someone as being “as up-to-date as Evelyn and Her Magic Violin.” Intrigued because only three living persons knew the reference, he invited me to spin a few records on his radio show, Dal’s Place. Loved it.

Out of the blue, Dal used his connections to get me a role producing a well-known institution’s convention. “You’re in show business!” he enthused over coffee. I wasn’t. Asked a few halting questions and backed off. Who knows what Oscars slipped through my fingers in that moment.

Wife and partner Muriel Honey Richards surely gave Dal an extra decade or two of spreading joy. A couple of gems.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Regendered Jenner faces feminist critiques

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 19, 2015

Hold on — is it possible that those demanding social tolerance are themselves harshly intolerant?

The news elites have chosen as our times’ biggest story the transformation of former male Bruce Jenner to female Caitlyn Jenner, with the triumphant media epiphany of a cover photo in Vanity Fair magazine. You can’t buy that kind of advertising.

But in the tsunami of media coverage, of course all zealously positive — who dares dawdle in the leftist/progressive parade? — I’ve found no comment on a simple question pertaining to the regendered Jenner: Will women accept him as a woman?

Above all, will Jenner pass muster with the only women who really matter in the court of media opinion — radical feminists — as one of their own?

Michelle Goldberg’s article last August in The New Yorker anticipated this question, or rather effectively raised it. In all its compelling nuances, the article should be read in full.

Goldberg begins with a quote from Robin Morgan, the keynote speaker at the West Coast Lesbian Conference in 1973, scorning transsexual (terminology then) folksinger Beth Elliott: “I will not call a male ‘she’; thirty-two years of suffering in this androcentric society … have earned me the title ‘woman’; one walk down the street by a male transvestite, five minutes of his being hassled (which he might enjoy), and then he dares, he dares to think he understands our pain? No, in our mothers’ names and in our own, we must not call him sister.”

Detect any tolerance? That was 42 years ago, but such hostility remains. Few feminists now share this view, Goldberg writes, but she found some prominent ones.

Their view is that gender is a caste position: A transgendered male “has a choice … he can never understand what being a woman is really like.” One declared at a 2011 conference that the transgendered wouldn’t have access to women’s sleeping spaces or bathrooms — less “progressive” than the Downtown Eastside’s Carnegie Centre in Vancouver.

• • •

The replacement of the leafy glade that was the West Vancouver Memorial Library’s courtyard by a blaring white tiled deck, furnished with black post-modern metal chairs and computer tables, is an unbelievable stupidity, a secluded environment’s desecration.

That its opening was marked by a proud official ceremony beggars belief. It deserved a wake for what it replaced.

This is not a personal hobby-horse. The undersigned was in it only once or twice. The courtyard was not well known, or, past the fine pre-Raphaelite-style stained glass window, even readily noticed. That was its value. It was a quiet retreat inviting reflection over, or without, a book, or for writing a few notes or, who knows, a sonnet. Now the computer empire has overrun it.

Where the hell is plain good taste among this town’s presumed elites? Ah, right, the elites also wanted to tack a hideous addition onto the Ferry Building Gallery — even turn it to kneel worshipfully toward the lordly Grosvenor building. Canada’s wealthiest town, but, beyond the natural bounty are the monster homes and the lust for views. What crass blindness to charm and beauty.

• • •

Short years ago, Capilano University grad Bria Skonberg played hot-jazz trumpet with her combo at one of the pay-what-you-can jazz concerts at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in West Vancouver. I lingered to bestow my shy praise and get her business card, which one day may be a collector’s item.

Dal Richards, Vancouver’s amazing living legend (is he sick of that phrase?), now a stripling of 97, hired the young graduate of Capilano University’s music program for his orchestra. Dal became a big mentor, as he was of singer Michael Buble.

Bria moved on to New York in 2010. Now her name crops up in Manhattan media. She’s received heady praise and multiple awards.

She’s coming home to play at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival next Friday at Performance Works, Granville Island, with her quintet, including fellow Cap students Evan Arntzen, scion of a family of Vancouver jazz aristocrats, and Sean Cronin. Local girl makes very good.

Not to overlook that Pierre Aderne performs tomorrow and Sunday at West Van’s Kay Meek Centre, also part of the jazz festival as well as the North Shore Jazz Series.

• • •

I wish to report the driver of Blue Bus 994, No. 250, which left Horseshoe Bay at approximately 10 a.m. on June 10.

He was a model driver. He radiated conscientious attention to the job. He waited before starting forward until frail riders sat down. Some Blue Bus drivers do. You were expecting a complaint?

• • •

Wrong figures blundered into my last column: Overwaitea tea in the 100th anniversary tin box at Save-On-Foods stores is 510 grams — or, for those still wedded to avoirdupois measure, 18, not the 16 ounces (i.e., a pound) common a century ago. Got that straight?

© Trevor Lautens, 2015

Behind council’s sober second thoughts

Appeared in the North Shore News – August 15, 2014

Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow was bloodier, but West Van council’s U-turn on its slamming of proposed liquefied natural gas tankers on Howe Sound was quicker.

Councillors at the Aug. 4 meeting volubly backed off their unanimous decision two weeks earlier when they had asked Ottawa to ban Asian-bound tankers from waters uncomfortably close to the western shores of West Vancouver.

I pause. Let’s be fair. This is what politicians should do more often, right? – have sober second thoughts, admitting mistakes first time around.

By this measure, Mayor Michael Smith deserves praise for the frankness that slick politicians avoid when they give a 3,000-word, non-answer to an unwanted interview question.

At the second-thoughts council meeting Aug. 4, Smith commendably took full responsibility for the July 21 decision.

“All blame lies at the feet of the chairman of the meeting,” Smith was quoted by News reporter Jeremy Shepherd. “My legendary impatience sometimes gets the better of me after over an hour of going around in circles on a debate. You get desperate to call a question, any question.” (If you can recall any time that former mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones publicly admitted to her blunders, jog my memory.)

On that point – what the hell did we agree to? – Coun. Craig Cameron was equally candid: “I didn’t know what we voted for.” His only vote he’s been embarrassed about in three years on council, he confessed.

Returning now to my usual sunny cynicism: Why council’s hasty retreat?

Wild guess: Largely because John Weston, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country – the LNG tankers would sail through the population heart of his riding – wacked council’s motion, the way it was passed, and its timing. Otherwise he’s OK with it, one might drily say.

Strange. Does Weston carry such clout? Another wild guess: Yes, if he’s the messenger boy for the big guy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and by proxy for an equally agitated Premier Christy Clark. (As indispensable Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer recently noted, Clark vowed in 2011 that the first LNG export venture would be “operational by 2015.” Not.)

If my take is correct, Harper, Clark and the oil and gas industry don’t need the distraction of yet another protest.

The Howe Sound LNG plant, a subsidiary of Pacific Oil and Gas, owned by a Singapore billionaire, would be small potatoes compared with the proposed Northern Noway Gateway project. But it’s our small potatoes. The issue hits close to home.

So was council’s first decision correct? Or its second? Or will it be its third, next month? Coun. Michael Lewis expects more information will uphold council’s original decision opposing the project.

Predictably, industry leaders say LNG is safe. Predictably, opponents, including chemistry doctorate Eoin Finn, cite the worst case: An LNG tank explosion destroyed a square mile of Cleveland and killed 130 in 1944.

Extraction industries are locally popular, generating prosperity and jobs. Unless something goes hugely wrong. Hello, Mount Polley.

Agent 7p2sd4g angrily writes: “Just as dear old Dal Richards was about to sign off on his delightful Harmony Arts concert at John Lawson Park (Aug. 7), who should enter, accompanied by 100 or so (mostly) female followers, right at the foot of the stage, but Justin Trudeau. Absolutely tasteless, and downright rude. Poor Dal looked shell-shocked.”

Or was Dal willingly cooperating? We may never know.

Also speculative: Lisa King’s front-page photo in the Aug. 7 News was a great shot – worthy of an award-winner – of Justin Trudeau dancing in a steamy, almost orgasmic clinch with Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, John Weston’s Liberal opponent in next May’s federal election. But was it winning politics? My guess is that it turned off as many voters as it turned on.

Agent C8tt0j4 reports “turmoil” at CKNW. Right, vertigo must be swirling in management/ownership heads – dropping its best and most loyally listened-to segment, Cutting Edge of the Ledge, with top Victoria-watchers Vaughn Palmer and Keith Baldrey, hosted by Bill Good. The Three Wise Men, I called them.

Except for sharp Mike Smyth, NW is wildly shuffling the deck, conscripting mostly affiliate Global TV staffers as temp fill-ins replacing

Good and Philip Till – it’s radio’s new Amateur Hour. Complete disclosure: I hold parent company Corus Entertainment stock. I sell my shares, you guys could be done like dinner!

Closing in Ambleside: Familiar, colourful and long-established Amadeo, and Redfish Kids Clothing, consolidating its business at its Hornby Street store after only two years in West Van.

One of my most respected Agents, Y8c5scu, conjectures what town hall will never admit about the delay in a joint police-fire department building: The police and firefighters don’t like each other (not a unique wariness). The plan for a “combined safety building” in fact showed two separate edifices joined only by an atrium.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

What they learned in a year on the job

Appeared in the North Shore News – January 18, 2013

In time, as the Gershwins mused, the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, but love for West Vancouver is here to stay.

As proven by the following. I asked West Van’s three rookie councillors and first-term mayor to write essays on their first 12 months at town hall, no looking up the answers. Bright students. Some droll wit. Slightly condensed for space reasons: Nora Gambioli:

“Municipal government operations and issues are incredibly complex and interesting. The substantive work of council is more about being a ‘judge’ than I had anticipated; weighing the interests of those directly affected, precedent, and the other 44,000 residents who did not have a chance to attend a meeting, speak or write to council, or who are not yet old enough to do so, requires careful reasoning and difficult choices.

“As an educator at heart, I am constantly striving to communicate in practical ways that will encourage as many residents as possible to understand and become involved in local issues.

“Election campaigns are the most lengthy, demanding and expensive kinds of job interviews!

“As a member of the ‘sandwich generation’ (job, young kids, elderly parent) I’m now forced to be an even more highly efficient multi-tasker.

“Speaking of sandwiches, ate them for dinner every weeknight for almost three straight weeks in November (thanks to evening meetings) . . . husband not amused!

“So far, I love this work.”

Mary-Ann Booth:

“I have met dozens of smart and thoughtful residents who care deeply about this community. This has been very much a learning year for me, for while I had some understanding of our diversity through service as a school trustee, it has been deepened vis-a-vis seniors, First Nations, new Canadians, and those who struggle financially.

“It is often assumed that councillors receive a great deal of negative correspondence, but I have found the opposite to be true: most of the feedback I get is respectful, constructive, and even at times inspiring.

“I’m particularly pleased with the progress on new initiatives to support and engage our youth, including a revitalized youth centre. . . . We are off to a great start this new year as we open two new wonderful additions to our community – the new Teen Centre at our much-loved library, and the just-completed salmon rearing pond in Memorial Park, both of which only came about through unique collaboration between the municipality and its dedicated, engaged citizenry.”

Mayor Michael Smith:

“A priority during the past year has been to improve both the look and the vitality of Ambleside. The village atmosphere needs to be retained, but parts of Ambleside need to be refreshed. This spring we are making plans to take this to the public for its feedback.

“While we have had no property tax rate increase for the second year, I am somewhat disappointed by the pace of our review of the programs and services we offer. To help accomplish this, I have scheduled monthly public council meetings in 2013 that will deal only with financial issues and economic challenges.”

On political service: “You have to manage time effectively. I believe it is important that we ensure that citizens with careers can serve on council and offer their talents to the community.

“In summary, I have enjoyed the past year and look forward to the future.”

Personable Craig Cameron was first to express enthusiasm, but his reflective essay just missed my deadline. Wait for it.

. . .

Speaking of essays, I crashed the Fresh St. Market opening-eve party in my university student garb and used the power of the press to avoid getting tossed out. Invitees included suppliers, consultants and the distinguished.

“That’s a supermarket!” marvelled one, examining the lush seafood counter. “I want them!” a woman greedily hissed, staring at some sexy crab cakes. The high-end counters dramatically seduced the eye, all right. In contrast the prosaic canned goods aisles seemed narrow and shy.

Summed up, the “village” Mayor Smith referred to above looks as if it’ll be crushed out of existence between the glossy new store and the development Grosvenor seeks on the police station site.

But – hold on. There’s competition for the humble (and sharp) shopper’s dollar: Example, a couple of “ethnic” markets in the 1400-block of Marine Drive sell produce often sharply below typical supermarket prices.

. . .

Delightful: Minister of State for Seniors and West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan, a coltish 70something, honouring ageless 95-year-old music man Dal Richards with the title Hepcat Laureate. Cool! Dig it! . . .

Sign of the hockey times: In a WV shop selling $200-plus pullovers branded with Canuck players’ names: “LUONGO 50%.”

. . .

I’m giving up lists. How could I have recently omitted from Vancouver Sun North Shore notables the amazing Malcolm Parry, whose narrative skills and encyclopaedic people recognition have raised the traditional “names” column to the reportorial pantheon?

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

The anecdotal life of Vancouver’s daily

Appeared in the North Shore News – December 21, 2012

SHAMELESS shilling: For Christmas, give your beloved 100 Years of The Vancouver Sun, by excellent columnist Shelley Fralic.

Yes, 35-odd years on Sun premises may torque my objectivity. But, much more than a newspaper admiring its handsome reflection in the pool of time, the book illustrates and paints a changing city and its citizens.

Understandably, the tome can’t capture all the paper’s legends and laughter. The following repeats, clumsily, some of Shelley’s anecdotes and adds a few that may be embellished or flatly fictitious.

Sports monument Jim Coleman, equally elegant in attire and prose, once noted that a staffer had the unusual habit of repairing to the washroom for lunch, consumed while he perched on the porcelain. Coleman suggested: “Why not throw your sandwich directly into the toilet and avoid the expensive middle man?”

Publisher Don Cromie threw generous Christmas parties for staff. Generous, meaning spirituous liquors were massively consumed. Until harmless spontaneous dalliances led to actual marital terminations. The party was over.

Drink? The women strove for equality with men before feminism was invented. After working hours, the door of the women’s department closed and bottles decanted.

Cromie, a whimsical gent in days when powerful publishers weren’t just imported business bureaucrats or elevated bean-counters, shuffled the staff deck with restless innovation. As Fralic notes, he sent the beauteous fashion writer Marie Moreau to interview Fidel Castro, perhaps weakening the Cuban dictator’s aversion to capitalism. Cromie madly reassigned sports writer Jack Richards as theatre critic, where he performed surprisingly well (similar beats after all), and silenced top columnist Jack Scott’s nattering about the paper’s inadequacies by promoting him to managing editor – a disaster, notably of the budgetary kind, that lasted six months.

Scott (vengeance?) became a loud cheerleader for Castro in his columns. Cromie, sincere champion of free speech, wouldn’t think of silencing Scott. Instead Cromie penned a front-page editorial denouncing Scott’s ideological fantasies. Imagine that today.

Reporters competed hard to “get” the zipper, a titillating, whacky story across the bottom of the front page. Tom Ardies, a great character, often snagged it. A classic described a sailor on leave caught in flagrante when the Murphy bed snapped shut and left him and friend helplessly pinned against the wall.

Genuine legend in his own time, orchestra leader Dal Richards, a stripling who turns 95 next month, advised me that one memorable season an amorous Sun employee slept with the players at all nine positions (I’m talking baseball positions) of the Vancouver ball team. Who knew?

Illicit assignations aside, sometimes amor vincit omnia, love conquered all. A young chap chose, perhaps recklessly, to convey a young woman on their first date on the pillion seat of his Indian (iconic brand) motorcycle. Her leg suffered a nasty burn from the exhaust pipe. Not the best start for the pair – great future Sun cartoonist Len Norris and wife Marg – one of the two happiest couples this writer has encountered (not counting my own pair of blissful marriages, of course, dear).

Once Norris and Jack Scott were assigned to roam the B.C. heartland in search of illustratable yarns. Scott’s words in print flowed effortlessly, but in numerous hotel rooms Norris witnessed the sweated agonies of its creation.

The coltish Pierre Berton, never caught out being modest, boasted he’d write the line story – top of page one – every day for a week. And did. His “Headless Valley” stories, of suspect authenticity, became a legend.

Later in Ottawa Berton did confess to the intimidating writing speed of another great journalist, Bruce Hutchison, who raced through his daily parliamentary dispatch in a quarter of an hour. Decades later, then Sun editorial director, Bruce casually remarked to me that he’d written the 1942 best-selling, elegiac and pioneering The Unknown Country, in six weeks.

Hutchison was splendidly teamed with Stuart Keate – last of the Sun newsroom-bred publishers except for his successor from the Globe and Mail, Clark Davey, who treated his five-year contract in bush-league Vancouver essentially as a Siberian prison sentence, and hastily returned to the East at the moment of its expiry. I forgo any attempt to speak of Keate objectively. His praising “blue darts” to staffers on publisher stationery were treasured.

The North Shore was and is home to many outstanding Sun staffers: Norris, a West Van institution; his awards-stuffed fellow cartoonist Roy Peterson; gloriously original current cartoonist Graham Harrop; Frank Rutter, editorial-page editor and deft handler of a motley crew of eccentrics; Nat Cole, who kept important stuff especially about energy matters in his head; master writer of the pithy, witty editorial Mac Reynolds; Denny Boyd (a genius, his former sports colleague Jack Lee declares); North Vancouver’s Charlie Warner, who took the famous “Miracle Mile” photo, and photographer and race track habitué Ralph Bower.

I’ve barely touched the surface. Get the book.

© Trevor Lautens, 2012