Chances are that any Vancouverite around my age has some memories of Chuck Davis. He had long stints as a TV reporter, radio host, and newspaper columnist, so his face and voice were familiar.
I first met him in the early 1970s, when he learned that a colleague and I were going to team-teach a course in science fiction at Capilano College. Fascinated with the idea, he invited us on his CBC Radio afternoon show, broadcast from a dank and dingy studio in the basement of the Hotel Vancouver.
We ran into one another again a few years later, when our mutual friend Ernie Fladell put some municipal money into Chuck's new project, The Vancouver Book. That book was a success, and set him on a new course as the Lower Mainland's historian.
As education columnist for The Province in the 1980s, I often ran into him in the newsroom; he was doing a kind of trivia column for the paper, mostly about Vancouver places and people. It was addictively readable. I often invited Chuck in to talk to my article-writing students. He was great at showing them the potential for story ideas in what we take for granted: Who, he wondered, produced the sticks for ice-cream bars and Popsicles? And why didn't they put ads on them?
That kind of curiosity led him to find many offbeat stories, and he had a talent for telling them in the style of a standup comedian: a simple premise, a bizarre twist, and a punchline.
Clearly he loved that kind of storytelling, and Vancouver gave him thousands of examples. Long before the web, he surfed the microfilms of Vancouver Public Library and the Pacific Press clippings library. His notes and files accumulated in a home office that had to be seen to be disbelieved.
It's one last gift to the city he loved so much. The Chuck Davis History of Metropolitan Vancouver is being launched tonight at the Vancouver Public Library.
The nearly 600-page book is a career capstone for the man often described as the keeper of Vancouver's historical flame.
Local journalist Allen Garr was asked to step in and help complete the project when Davis revealed he had terminal lung cancer. The 75-year-old died of the disease in November 2010.
"He did the first 250 years of the history and it took 40 of us to do the last 20 years," says Garr. "This is going to survive you, me and a whole lot of people that are around. This is really a great effort."
He admits Davis was never rich, but had what he calls incredible social capital around town and figures this book has more photos than any book ever published about the region.
Part of his job was contacting the City of Vancouver archives, the Vancouver Public Library and Pacific Press.
"It didn't matter who I phoned, they just said yes. It was like the community coming together. Everyone, just, oh my God, it's like your favourite uncle is going to be leaving soon and you haven't done enough for him," said Garr.
This project will mark Vancouver’s 125th anniversary by creating and publishing a very special book-The History of Metropolitan Vancouver by the late Chuck Davis. In writing the book Davis set out to cover each year of Vancouver’s incorporation in a chronicle style. In other words, the text forms a massive collection of stories, news reports, essays, character portraits and factoids that are joined chronologically rather than thematically.
The hardcover book will have 512 large-format pages, 500 archival photos and will be published in October, 2011. This project will result in an appropriate and lasting monument to Greater Vancouver’s first 125 years.
Celebrate the book and the life of Chuck Davis with a free book launch event on Tuesday, December 6th at 7:00 pm. Join journalist Allen Garr, broadcaster Red Robinson, musician Dal Richards & others to celebrate the launch at the Vancouver Public Library—350 West Georgia Street, Vancouver.
I checked out the year I was born, 1965, and found out that Simon Fraser University enrolled its first students, The Vancouver Sun and Province moved to 2250 Granville St. from the Sun Tower, B.C. premier Christy Clark was born, and Whistler Resort was created.
Checking out another year at random — 1938 was the page I landed on — I found out that Vancouver police used tear gas and clubs on “Bloody Sunday” to evict unemployed men who had occupied a federal building to demand relief, that fogs were more frequent and thicker than usual in the city, and that the Lions Gate Bridge opened for the first time.
[Allen] Garr said one tidbit that stood out for him is from 1909. As the book explains, Vancouver “took its first mechanized ambulance out for a test drive and ran over an American tourist, killing him.”
Harbour Press’ blockbuster-sized “The Chuck Davis History of Vancouver” [is] the real thing this season – and then some; it’s an elegiac last work by the late “folk historian”, and a majestic valentine to the city he loved.
And there’s a lot here to love.
There’s the news piece about how the first badges for the Vancouver City Police were made of American silver dollars and a story about the Hallelujah Lassies – four ladies who launched what became the Salvation Army in 1887.
There’s the factoid about how the fire department hauled their own engines to and from the fires until they got horses in 1889, and an article about the fire that destroyed ALL of Vancouver…in just 45 minutes.
This is one book where the stories are share-with-a-friend-worthy and the words are as fascinating as the haunting black-and-white pictures that accompany them.
Checking in on my favourite website this morning I saw a small announcement at the top of the page: “The Chuck Davis History of Metropolitan Vancouver goes to press! Chuck Davis’s final gift to the people of Greater Vancouver, his History of Metropolitan Vancouver, has been completed and will appear in bookstores November 15, 2011.”
I’ve never been as excited to see a book go to press. Not even when my own book was being published did I have this feeling of anticipation and relief. Chuck Davis was and will always be a local hero of mine along with Major Matthews (who founded the Vancouver Archives), Author E. Pauline Johnson, and photographers like Leornard Frank.
Chuck put our city’s history online, year by year. He pored through newspaper archives, he wrote columns, and he published books like Vancouver Then & Now.
Our city lost Chuck Davis last November. I emailed back and forth with Chuck a few times over the last few years and our last exchange was about a month before his passing. I never got to meet him.
I also regret not having the funds to sponsor a chapter in his forthcoming book but I hope that over the years, through blogging about his research, I have helped out in some way.
Chuck was always gracious enough to let me know he read my blog posts about him and his material. I wrote, and continue to write them, out of admiration and respect for the tremendous amount of work he has put into documenting our history.
Via thecommentary.ca, Joseph Planta interviews Allen Garr. Here's Planta's intro; click through to hear the interview.
Last year when the author and historian Chuck Davis died, I hosted a bit of a tribute program with guests Alan Twigg, Sam Sullivan, and David Berner. Harbour Publishing’s Howard White was also on, and we talked about this book that Davis was working on, and about the work that White along with so many others were doing to help get the thing published.
Well, that book is out now, and like Chuck Davis, it’s ‘fun, fat, and full of facts.’ The Chuck Davis History of Metropolitan Vancouver is a very fine achievement. After getting it a few weeks ago, I haven’t stopped going to it, looking at it, flipping through it, spending hours at a time reading up on the stories and anecdotes contained therein. It’s a book that many people will be looking at literally the rest of their life. It’s a towering achievement.
Joining me now to talk about the book is someone who was instrumental in getting it to press, Chuck’s friend, the journalist Allen Garr.
There will be a public book launch Tuesday, 06 December 2011 at the Vancouver Public Library, that’s at 7.00pm.
Allen Garr’s column is read weekly in the Vancouver Courier, and he was last on during his campaign for a seat on the Vancity board.
After a heart-warming launch with contributors and Vancouver media at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia last Wednesday, The Chuck Davis History of Metropolitan Vancouver has been released onto bookshelves across British Columbia. A host of writers, historians and friends came together to complete Chuck Davis’s final work after his death in November of 2010, and the community continues to push for the success of this important book.
On Tuesday, December 6th at the Vancouver Public Library beginning at 7:00 pm, Vancouver legends Red Robinson and Dal Richards will share stories of Chuck Davis and the city he loved, along with other individuals who were key to the completion of the book.
The complete release includes links to other events in the launch.
Chuck Davis was a Vancouverite whose love for his city drove him to take on a seemingly impossible task: to singlehandedly document and record its history, beginning with the birth, in 1757, of the English explorer George Vancouver. The task, as it turned out, was impossible. This year, some 40 people came together to finish what Mr. Davis had started, in an extraordinary collaboration which has itself become an important chapter in Vancouver’s history.
“His contribution to the city was amazing,” said Erick Villagomez, one of the people who stepped forward to help. “And for me to be a part of that, even in any minute way, I was more than happy to do that.”
Mr. Davis had made it to 1994 when in September, 2010, he stood up at one of former mayor Sam Sullivan’s public salons and stunned the crowd: He was dying, he said, and he needed people to help him finish his book.
A few weeks later – a year ago this weekend – Mr. Davis, who had just turned 75, did indeed die, of lung cancer, and the future of his herculean project was in question.
Chuck Davis’s History of Metropolitan Vancouver is now on sale. It is, in a word, magnificent. Kids, and even people my age (pictures and big print!), already love leafing through the masterfully designed tome to see what was going on in the big city the day or year they were born.
The weighty volume is chock full of facts and events, from those illustrating the sweep of history to tantalizing tidbits. One of my faves is a garage sale in North Vancouver, stocked by practitioners of the break-and-enter trade. The soon-to-be-arrested thieves’ sign read: “If it isn’t here now, it will be soon.”