Category Archives: History

CBC Report on 1971 Gastown Riot

Interesting cast of characters in this CBC report following the Gastown Riot in August 1971. The venerable Doug Collins is the reporter. Starts and ends with Tom Terrific. There’s a minute longer version in the CBC vaults with special appearance by Art Phillips, looking so dapper and rational in comparison.


Docs on a Wire


#Occupy Vancouver: Out of Sight, Out of Media

Less than two months ago, the #occupy movement captured the hearts and minds of people around the world. Tent cities sprang up in cities everywhere, and idealistic videos like “Women of #Occupy Wall Street” (above) wistfully showed articulate young people to be quite the opposite of the entitled, apathetic losers the media often likes to paint them as. The positive public reaction was sincere, widespread and powerful.

But somewhere around the beginning of November, public opinion began to change. As Naomi Wolf’s excellent Guardian article points out here, there was a concerted effort to discredit the tent city occupiers, and turn the general public against them. Vancouver city officials and police admitted to being privy to continental-wide conference calls between #occupy cities, which were organized by the US Department of Homeland Security, about how to deal with the tent cities. Clearly, there was serious concern in high places, if Homeland Security was getting involved. The fact that our “progressive” civic officials took part in this, and, after some delay, caved in and went along with this propaganda effort against the most progressive movement in decades, speaks volumes about how progressive they really are. (Quisling comes to mind.)

So not coincidentally, during Remembrance Day week, police departments across North America began issuing form letter-like media press releases claiming that violent, Black Bloc anarchists had infiltrated the tent cities (supported by no evidence whatsoever). The media in every #occupy city in North America lapped it up without ever bothering to check to see if it was true. Fire and public health concerns were constantly raised. Drug use and overdose deaths were signs that anarchy was prevailing. Surrounding businesses were reportedly losing money. This peaceful, non-violent protest was suddenly being portrayed as a dangerous shit show, and calls for it to be shut down grew louder by the day.

It was, undoubtedly, one of the best-orchestrated propaganda campaigns of recent decades.

Regardless of who actually was in the protest camps, those tent cities were a symbol of the seething discontent prevalent today, and the possibility and hope that maybe, just maybe, the pendulum of avarice, greed and conspicuous consumption that has dominated the west since the 1980s had finally reached its extreme, and was about to swing back hard.

And as long as those tents remained, the debate about what they represented went on. The media, slow on the uptake at first, began pumping out stories and column inches debating the movement. People from all strata of society were engaged. Everyone had an opinion and seemed to care, one way or the other.

And for the corporate agenda, that is probably the scariest world imaginable: people questioning their ethics, the ponzi scheme they have created, the corruption that has infiltrated the pillars of democratic society.

People talking about change.

And so the symbol of the movement — the tent cities — had to go.

It’s been barely two weeks since the #occupy Vancouver tent city was dismantled, and, not surprisingly, media stories about income disparity, Wall Street ethics, campaign finance reform, progressive taxation, have all but completely vanished. #Occupy might as well have happened in 1968 it seems so distant now, since it has been virtually expunged from the public discourse.

It was swift, often brutal, and entirely effective. Erasing the key symbol was like dropping a nuclear bomb to end the war for public opinion. Time will tell if it really was a death blow to the movement.

#1 Reason to Grow a ‘Stache for Movember: Get Lucky!

Let’s face it, mustaches went out of style for most straight guys sometime in the early 1980’s. Nowadays, us heteros associate lip sweaters with gay men and cops. Van Dykes became popular again in the 90’s, thanks to grunge, and meterosexual stubble soon followed suit with the proliferation of Calvin Klein models moodily posing topless with waxed and oiled torsos.

But the days when chest hair was a sign of virility are long gone, unceremoniously shaved and plucked into oblivion, just like the disco bush. Along with musicals like Hair, the mustache died a pretty horrible death, and has never really recovered. Although lately there’s been a bit of a resurgence in mutton chops, beards and afros, the mustache just seems to have too much baggage to make a comeback.

Still, one has to admire the Prostate Cancer awareness campaign, Movember, that started nearly a decade ago in Australia, and has since spread to Europe and North America. Grow a mustache and raise awareness for cancer, what a great gimmick, given how men with mustaches are so conspicuous these days.

But now the ladies have apparently gotten on board, too, and no longer are studiously avoiding mustachioed men like the plague. That’s right, for one day a year at least, the women are actually urging their sisters to Have Sex With a Guy With a Mustache on November 18th.

If this catches on, expect to see a lot more men participating next Movember!

Why I’m Voting for “Good Guy Gregor”

I have to admit, amidst all the violent crackdowns in #occupied cities, Mayor Gregor Robertson – despite taking a lot of flack from conservative pundits (and the opposition NPA’s mayoral candidate, Suzanne Anton) for not quashing Vancouver’s tent city – is starting to look like one of the more civilized mayors in North America.

While New York City’s Mayor Bloomburg called in bulldozers, pepper spray, water cannons and riot police in the dead of night to address “fire and safety concerns”, our own city officials went in and had a chat, negotiated the removal of a few obvious problem structures, and got the VAG grounds cleaned up nicely. No trampling of Charter Rights, no barring the Free Press, no mayhem or arrests.

So yeah, I back the Juiceman.

Wordsworth Retweeting

“On the day when you again allow abominable men to confiscate your freedom, your money, your lives, your private property, your manhood and your sacred honor, in the name of “security” or “national emergency’” you will die, and never again shall you be free.

If plotters again destroy your Republic, they will do it by your greedy and ignorant assent, by your disregard of your neighbors’ rights, by your apathy and your stupidity.

We were brought to the brink of universal death and darkness because we had become that most contemptible of people — an angerless one.

Keep alive and vivid all your righteous anger against traitors, against those who would abrogate your Constitution, against those who would lead you to wars with false slogans and cunning appeals to your patriotism.”

— Taylor Caldwell, The Devil’s Advocate (1952)

Burning Rituals

The detail of this map was sketched in by Major Matthews, Vancouver’s first Archivist, some 50 years after the fire that wiped out the new city of Vancouver on June 13th, 1886. Matthews interviewed dozens of Vancouver’s early inhabitants — many who were children when the fire occurred — and pieced together a detailed account of the fateful day.

The CPR work crews had been clearing land between the old Granville townsite (Gastown) and today’s Burrard Street, preparing their land grant to sell lots in anticipation of the coming railway, and the influx of new settlers it was expected to bring. They burned the massive slash piles and, as June 13, 1886 was a hot dry day, the conditions were ripe for the fires all over the area to catch and spread. The accounts tell of a “summer gale” blowing up from the west in the early afternoon, carrying embers that began raining down on the townsite. Within forty minutes of the first building catching fire, the whole town was ablaze.

The heat of the fire was apparently so intense that people were vapourized, and the sap of the wood buildings would heat and boil, making buildings literally explode into giant fireballs that leapt across streets and buildings like incendiary bombs. Of the town’s original 600+ buildings and shacks, only about half a dozen were spared, including the Hastings Sawmill, the town’s main source of industry and employment. The next day, the millowners opened their gates and allowed anyone to come and take lumber so that the rebuilding could begin immediately.

In order to prevent another destructive fire, many landowners decided to rebuild using bricks and mortar, and so the Gastown buildings we see today are mostly built of these materials. One exception, which can still be seen today on the SE corner of Hastings and Columbia, is the oldest original woodframe building in downtown (the original Hastings Mill store, which survived the fire, was later moved to the foot of Alma street and is now a museum).

125 years later, the Fire Department held a celebration of the history of firefighting in the city at Maple Tree Square. It was kind of odd for firefighters to choose this day — a day when the fire won and devastated the city — to celebrate their history. But burning rituals, like civic celebrations, help us to both remember the past, and move on from it. If I had a spot of land, or even a wood burning fireplace, I’d be burning a bunch of relics from my past as I prepare to move on from this chapter of my life, too.