There's an instructive and funny little sidebar
buried in Michael Kluckner's newest book, Vancouver Remembered.
In 1985 he was commissioned to paint an image of Vancouver for a
centennial poster series, and tried in vain to find a streetscape
that combined old and new Vancouver. Finally, he invented
a view, looking west from the corner of Frances Street and Victoria
Drive. In the distant background were the towering office buildings
of modern downtown Vancouver. There was a corner store on the block,
and Kluckner painted that, but changed its name. There was a turreted
house at the end of the block, and he kept that in his painting
. . . but instead of the row of three-storey walkups that lined
the street he painted a variety of houses, a representative
sampling from other parts of Grandview.
I was intrigued, he writes, by
the number of people at poster signings and public events that Centennial
spring who said they had once shopped at the store or lived in one
of the houses.
Books like Vancouver Remembered help to keep
our memories tidy and correct, and alive. This one, Michael tells
us, completes a trilogy on the physical evolution of Vancouver,
and brings his own very personal overview of the city's past almost
up to the present day. (The two preceding volumes were 1984's Vancouver
The Way it Was and 1990's Vanishing Vancouver.)
Vancouver's long decline and slow rebirth,
he writes, are the main themes of this book.
You can see more detail on Michael's own site.
The specific period covered in this book, his 15th,
is the time between the end of the Second World War and Expo 86.
Once upon a time, the publisher's blurb tells us, in
the near-forgotten era before Expo '86, Vancouver, like a sleeping
beauty, needed an awakening and a makeover. The downtown had a scattering
of new office buildings, interspersed with aging hotels, shops and
parking lots. Derelict industrial blocks lined the waterfront .
. . In a recent public appearance at the main library to talk
about the book, Michael described it as an elegy for
Vancouver before Expo. An elegy expresses sorrow for something vanished.
It's a word that seems to be at odds with the book's own blurb!
For the first 27 years of my own life, I spent roughly
two years in Burnaby, and two more in Vancouver . . . far fewer
than Michael, who was born in Vancouver and grew up here. That gives
him a feel for the city that-even 30 years after I began to write
about its past-I can't begin to approach. His preface is rich with
personal reminiscences of growing up in Kerrisdale in a $12,000,
20-year-old house, of playing road hockey on his quiet street, of
walking unaccompanied to school, going to brand-new Oakridge Shopping
Centre with his mother, visiting his father's office in the BC Electric
building at Carrall and Hastings, attending the little Anglican
church on West 57th near the tracks. He comes by his
knowledge of and affection for the city honestly. I was fortunate
to have him as one of the writers in my Greater Vancouver Book
in 1997, to which he contributed many fine articles on the city's
There are two main sections in the new book. The
first is Commercial Vancouver, with chapters on Gastown &
the Downtown Eastside; Chinatown; Victory Square; Downtown; and
Yaletown & False Creek. The second, Residential Vancouver,
has sections on Strathcona; the West End & Stanley Park; Fairview,
Mount Pleasant & False Creek; Kitsilano & Jericho; the West
Side, and the East Side.
birthday topographical study; contribution to the Artropolis
2001 Self-Portrait Exhibition
You get a lot in a Michael Kluckner book: watercolor
paintings, photographs, hand-rendered maps, vintage advertisements,
personal reminiscences, anecdotes and informed architectural detail.
His paintings are charming, created, incidentally, out of a comically
tiny paintbox-made by Winsor & Newton of Sheffield, England-that
he showed his audience at the library. It's the size of a cellphone,
but he gets big effects from it.
The book is attractively laid out. It's a really
handsome work and will make a fine Christmas present. His hand-painted
maps, with buildings and railways and rivers and streets and the
like nicely rendered and labelled, are terrific. There's a small
map drawing, for example, of the Upper Kits Industrial Area
1910-60s on Page 175 that is a joy to look at. The annotations
add to its funky charm: McGavin's Bakery occupied the half-block
west of Arbutus; a 10-foot hand holding a loaf of bread rose above
the building's northeast corner. And on the map there's a
tiny representation of that big bakery building. If he made a wall
map of today's city in the same style I think he'd sell thousands!
There are pleasant nuggets of information all through
the book. We learn that nearly a century ago Lost Lagoon was the
target of a City Beautiful plan that would have seen
the lagoon filled in to provide space for a sports field or a museum
or stadium. Michael quotes a Park Board engineer of the time who
said, Fortunately, they never got beyond the plan stage. The
design might have been suitable for a Peace Palace or a European
Capitol, but would have resulted in substituting for the present
beautiful natural lagoon a purely artificial treatment at a very
high cost. Michael comments, Once again, lack of money
saved Vancouver from the visionaries.
Curiously, the major problem in the book is the
facts. Not that they're wrong, far from it; it's just that there
are so darned many of themlots and lots and lots and lots
and lots and lots of them. In its 233 pages it's a rare paragraph
that doesn't contain a half-dozen facts or more.
Here's an example, from Page 197: The west
side, with the exception of Marpole and the Kerrisdale village,
is the city's single-family heartland, a bastion defended vigorously
against incursions by apartment developers, lot subdividers and
basement-suite barons. Its geographic base is the CPR's 1884 land
grant south of the original city boundary of 16th Avenue; its historic
base stems from a distrust of the freewheeling land-use and management
practices of the old Municipality of South Vancouver, which proved
incapable of systematic tax collection, street paving, tree planting
and park creation. Calling themselves the Municipality of Point
Grey, the west-siders separated in 1908, establishing a more orderly
fiefdom west of Cambie Street, building the Point Grey Municipal
Hall in Kerrisdale at 42nd and West Boulevard (the community centre
site) and enforcing strict zoning rules, the most noticeable of
which is the uniform house setback from the streets.
Read by itself that might seem okay. But read as I did for this
review, in a couple of long sessions, the avalanche of facts in
the book occasionally works against opportunities for eloquence
and the affection Michael has for the city. Inventories are seldom
But there are so many riches here that we can safely
add this to the list of genuinely valuable books on Vancouver. Due
to the amount of Vancouveriana, Michael writes, it has
become quite a challenge to create a book that presents relevant
new material . . . Not to worry, Mr. Kluckner, you've done
(This article originally appeared in The Vancouver Sun on
November 25, 2006.)
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