Several friends have asked me to post some speeches that I have made to City Council and elsewhere. At the risk of textual overload, here are four of them. You can scroll down and around to whatever, if anything, that interests you.
They’re in this order:
1. SAVE THE YORK THEATRE (December, 2008)
2. EULOGY FOR JACK (September, 2009)
3. NO CASINO IN DOWNTOWN VANCOUVER (February, 2011)
4. SUICIDE–A SENIOR’S PERSPECTIVE (September, 2011)
SAVE THE YORK THEATRE
Speech to Vancouver City Counil, December 18, 2008
Mister Mayor, Mister Chairman, Members of Council, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I draw your attention to the three remaining historical theatres in Vancouver: The Vogue, The Pantages, and The York. Out of a past when there were a dozen or more legitimate theatres operating in our city, these three are the only ones that have miraculously survived Vancouver’s obsession with the wrecking ball. Each of these theatres plays an important part in our history. I remind you that if we destroy our heritage, we leave no place for our ghosts to walk.
Today, we have the last chance to save one of these—The York Theatre, a proud reminder of the developing culture and prosperity of East Vancouver in the early 1900s. Since it was built, this theatre has been not only a vital part of its neighbourhood but also a cultural destination, especially through the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, for the entire city. (Incidentally, it was designed by a young John McCarter, who went on to become one of Vancouver’s most distinguished architects, creating The Marine Building and a number of other fine landmarks, now destroyed.)
Originally named the Alcazar, it became the York Theatre during the tenure, from 1923 to 1977 of the Vancouver Little Theatre. During those 54 years, it was THE home of locally produced theatre. Every name in Vancouver’s theatre history walked upon that stage at one time or another. Through the past 30 years, the York Theatre has worn a wild variety of guises. It has served as a rehearsal space for rock bands, a venue for the Fringe Festival, a discount movie house, a mosh pit, a performance site of bands such as Metallica and Nirvana, and most recently showing South Asian movies. Back in 1981, demolition was threatened, and we formed the Save the York Theatre Society in response. While we were successful in preventing loss of the theatre at that time, we were not successful in generating interest in its restoration. I mention this, just to let you know that my interest here is not just a passing fancy.
By the 1990s, however, the dear lady had become the victim of too many fact lifts, too many makeovers. There was no theatrical lighting, the stage was cluttered with junk, and the dressing rooms were dark, dank, and damp. When it went on sale in 2006, several valiant but unsuccessful attempts were made to purchase and preserve the theatre for use in its intended purpose. The building was sold to its current owner in October 2007. Though enquiries were made, he was not informed—neither by the City nor by the real estate agent—of the theatre’s historical and cultural significance nor of the efforts being made to save it. Nevertheless, what Mr. Phillips bought for under $1 million was a fully operational movie theatre, with projectors, sound, and a well-equipped concession area. A little cosmetic fixing and the place could have been re-opened to the public in a few days.
Now, due to pre-demolition work—started without permit last August—the interior is completely trashed and anything of value has been removed or destroyed. Nevertheless, engineering studies have pronounced the building sound, and she awaits tender loving care to be restored to her original pristine glory, with the addition of modern equipment, enhanced audience amenities, and new dressing rooms and offices.
As you know, on September 18th Council approved a 120 –day Protection Order, delaying any further action until January 16th, 2009. On that date, the owner will have every right to proceed with his plans to demolish the building.
You have before you a report from City staff entailing recommendations regarding the important issue of density bonus. A patron and potential benefactor has come forward, seeking density transfer in exchange for restoring and adding to the building. The theatre would then be put in the hands of the Vancouver East Cultural Centre for operation. Staff recommends a transfer of density equal to 1/3 of the cost of this important project. The other 2/3—or around $8 million—to be raised by the York Theatre Advocacy Group and the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. I remind you that this report came into our hands on December 10th—just 36 days before the wreckers can move in. Given the time of year, we can probably delete two weeks from the 36 days. Coming up with funding and support in this short time is obviously out of the question—impossible. As it stands, the staff report is nothing but a demolition order.
Given the urgency we are faced with, I can think of no other way for us to save this precious theatre than to ask for a transfer of density equal to 100% or 3/3 of the cost of the project. This will give our benefactor the confidence to proceed immediately with purchase of the property, thus saving it from destruction and enabling the start of its long-awaited revival. I urge you—in fact, I beg you—to take whatever measures are necessary to give this treasure back to the community to which it belongs.
EULOGY FOR JACK
Jack Glover (June 19, 1928-August 6, 2009)
September 27, 2009, Brock House, Vancouver
I first started this by saying, “I knew Jack for about 30 years.” But now, I’d rather say, “I have known Jack for about 30 years.,” because this isn’t limited, it’s only “so far …”. I know that I shall go on knowing him for the rest of my life because the people that we know and love and who have touched out lives go on living as part of us whether they are physically present or not. We all have Jack’s face, his voice, his enthusiasms, his vulnerability and tenderness, his love of life, now as part of us. He lives on. I also know that at a time like this when we feel sorrow and loss, he would be the first to be at our side with comfort and consolation. He was that kind of man.
We first met Jack and Cecile when they regularly turned up at concerts on Hornby Island when I was managing the summer festival there. Jack’s enthusiasm for the performances was immediately apparent. In fact, it was contagious. Then, it wasn’t long before it seemed that we (and by “we” I mean my dear friend Cath and I) would see Jack and Cecile everywhere, especially at the opera—in Vancouver, in Seattle, and even, I think, in San Francisco. As you know, opera was one of the major passions of Jack’s life—one that he and I shared.. As we became better acquainted, there were many dinners and get-togethers at the their place and at mine—and always opera, to be listened to and to be talked about. He always arrived with a gift of tapes that he had made from various broadcasts. Then there were the long—very long—lunches that Jack and I had together usually at Joe Fortes restaurant downtown. Jack was a great fan of the Cobb Salad, which I usually had, too. Should you go there, be sure to have one, they are really good. Well, of course, there were also the martinis—many! I lost count after the third or fourth one. I hasten to add that we were always perfect gentlemen. These were convivial and enjoyable occasions. While the topic was mostly opera—along with stories of whom we saw in what and when, our favourite moments, memorable performances—we also talked about our own lives, our growing up, our work; Jack spoke lovingly about his family, about Cecile, his daughters, his grandchildren.
So you and I know that there was much more to this man than love of opera. He was interested in every aspect of human creativity: music, theatre, art, literature, movies, musicals, all that good stuff. I used to run into him at the library, where he’d be spending an afternoon reading and pursuing his many enthusiasms. I have to mention a small detail that I found very touching: He told me that, on his walks, he would take some cabbage or lettuce leaves to give to the rabbits in Jericho Park. To me, this gentle compassion toward the creatures with whom we share this planet is one of the most endearing and valuable attributes a person could have.
I know that Jack must have been a memorable and favourite teacher, and I know that some of you here were lucky enough to be in his classes. And, by the way, I know that he used to bootleg opera into his French lessons. He was, for years I believe, a driver for Meals-on-Wheels—caring for others. He remembered and sent a card for every birthday. He was also the indispensable accompanist for numerous musicals at the Metro Theatre. He loved those musicals—and all the people that were in them, as he loved his students. He touched the lives of so many people, and always with caring, enthusiasm, and love of life. I’m sure there were many other acts of kindness that I don’t know about. This was his way of being in the world.
If Shakespeare can say, “All the world’s a stage …“. I think we can say that life is like an opera. It has its overture that fills us with anticipation and expectation—and even as it begins, we know that it will end. The curtain rises and the scenes and acts proceed. There will be love and tenderness, there will be heroism and thrills, and there will be laughter and there will be tears. It’s a magnificent performance that stirs our emotions.. And when the curtain comes down at the end, we are sorry that it’s over but our hearts and souls are full. We have been part of something truly memorable. We rise to our feet and cheer. Bravo, Jack! That was truly marvellous.
NO CASINO IN DOWNTOWN VANCOUVER
To Vancouver City Council, February 17, 2011
Also on YouTube
Mr. Mayor, Members of Council,
My name is Tom Durrie and I will speak first as president of the Grandview Woodland Area Council and then as a private citizen with an interest in Vancouver’s arts and culture scene.
I remind you that traffic is one the major concerns of GWAC. At a recent workshop, attended by one of our directors, Councillor Meggs was reported as saying that an estimated 200-300 cars per hour would be travelling to and from the proposed casino at all hours of the day and night. Many, if not most, will be travelling through Grandview Woodland on their way to the suburbs. This estimate may even be conservative since promoters of this development are estimating attendance at gambling of 42,000 people per week. That’s 6,000 per day on average. How many of them do you suppose will be taking the bus? Since I understand that there would be at least seven bars and lounges in the development, patrons will have plenty of opportunity to become well-oiled before they aim their cars at our neighbourhood children.
In our letter of January 10th, we also addressed matters of organized crime, the negative affects of gambling, especially on youth, and the reduction of support for charities. While it is tempting to speak to these issue, they will be fully explored by others here tonight.
Speaking strictly for myself now, I want to tell you frankly what I think of a so-called “entertainment complex” that is focused on Las Vegas style gambling.
Not long ago, I started looking at other cities, similar in size to Vancouver, to see what they were doing to develop their city centres, what they were offering to their citizens, and how they were promoting tourism. Four cities quickly emerged: Copenhagen, Valencia, Miami Beach, and Oslo, each promoting new cultural facilities—concert halls, opera houses, art galleries—as major reasons for visiting. If you take a moment to look these up, you’ll see that they also offer their historical heritage along with exciting contemporary architecture. No wonder they can speak with pride. I was drawn especially to Oslo, Norway, a city of around 600,000, because it reminds me so much of Vancouver. Situated on a fjord and surrounded by mountains, the city offers the same outdoor attractions as we do. The difference, however, is that in their promotional advertising they say, and I quote “Hike in the forest, swim in the fjord and go to a concert—all in the same day!” Oslo also informs us that there are 50 museums and galleries in the city centre. Out of a listed ten top attractions, there are no fewer than four major cultural institutions: The National Opera and Ballet (a simply stunning and user-friendly new building), The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, the Vigeland Sculpture Park; and the National Gallery. I could list another six cultural attractions that are offered to the visitor along with the city’s spectacular natural setting. What do Pavco and Paragon want Vancouver to offer to us and to the world? 1,500 slot machines!
In light of what many other cities are offering, the Pavco/Paragon notion of entertainment seems somewhat limited.
The promoters promise lots of jobs and great amounts of cash flowing into the City’s coffers. If money is what counts, let me see, I could have cashed in by selling my daughter into prostitution or by dealing heroin to downtown east side addicts. Why not? Think of the employment—in medical and psychiatric services, paramedics, morgues. Would this be justified even if I gave the proceeds to the Children’s Hospital? Sometimes we have to make moral and aesthetic judgments. This is one of those times.
Some people will say that these notions are romantic pie-in-the-sky fantasies, but if we don’t dream we are doomed to be left in the muck.
You know as well as I do that this proposed development, with its aura of suspect deals and little regard for public values, is nothing more than a money-grab; it is an architectural and social disaster that would be a shameful blight on our city forever. It would be a mockery of the greenest city initiative so dear to this Council.
I trust that the name Vision Vancouver will ring true. I call on you to show vision, imagination, courage, and leadership. I know the future of Vancouver is as important to you as it is to me and to the many others gathered here. Give us a city that we can be proud of, a city that can rank with Oslo and the others as a place of civilized culture, social responsibility, and respect for citizens and their aspirations. We trust our voices will be heard. Say NO to this re-zoning proposal. Or even better, as good Canadians, say no thank you.
WORLD SUICIDE PREVENTION DAY
A SENIOR’S PERSPECTIVE
Georgia Plaza, Vancouver Art Gallery, September 10, 2011
What follows is my two-hour lecture about some reflections on aging and dying. Don’t panic, it’s condensed to five or ten minutes. I hope you’ll pardon the omission of a number of details.
There are three things I want to talk about today the first of which is a subject we shy away from speaking about openly in our society. That subject is Death. We have made death largely invisible. We hide it away in hospitals and so-called “extended care homes” for the aged. We employ euphemisms such as “passed away” or “passed on” to avoid saying “dead.” And it is almost unheard of to see a dead person.
Nevertheless, no matter how hard we try, we are unlikely to obliterate thoughts of death and dying. Death is ever present, lurking there in the shadows—waiting for us. And as age advances that mysterious light at the end of the tunnel is coming closer and closer. Thoughts of death and dying will—especially as the end becomes ineluctably nearer—bring up questions about the brevity of life and its meaning and purpose. Put simply: What’s it all for? And, if I were to die tomorrow what difference would it make? At the end of Stanley Kubrick’s magnificent epic Barry Lyndon, the following words appear on the screen: “It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarrelled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.”
An older person is not only faced with philosophical questions like these but also with a growing sense of alienation. I’m full of aches and pains, I have to ask people to repeat themselves because I can’t hear very well (My grandfather said that the younger generation were mumblers. Speak up young man!), my digestive system has become unreliable, and I don’t sleep very well any more. These are minor annoyances, it’s true, but I might also be subject to more serious disabilities: arthritis, kidney failure, heart and circulatory problems—the list goes on. In addition to my physical state, the contemporary world is no longer the one I grew up in. Many, if not most, of the people I have known and grown up with are now dead, and I can’t relate to the young people and the popular culture of the present: the music, the movies, the automobiles and the technological gadgets that mean nothing to me. I no longer belong here.
I know I am painting a bleak picture that is probably not universally applicable, but I’m going to continue. Suppose, as a man—and I want to talk specifically about older men—I have worked all my life, and in my late fifties and early sixties started looking forward to retirement. This seems like my reward for a lifetime of getting up and going to work every day, but, alas, for many men the absence of work equals the absence of meaning and purpose. Leisure is not all it’s cracked up to be. What then if my retirement dreams are shattered by the unexpected death of my wife, who has been my helpmate and caretaker for these many years? What if my grownup children are living in other cities or even other countries? People are not tied to their home town the way they used to be. So, I find myself alone; the future holds little promise; I am asking myself. Why am I here? What do I have to live for? …
The second matter I want to talk about is also something that we have made largely invisible in our society, and that is Art. And by “art” I mean all of the arts that have been practised over the centuries and into the present in societies all over the world. For some reason, a visit to the art gallery or the library or attendance at a symphony concert or opera would be regarded by many as some exotic activity available only to the wealthy or so-called “cultured” classes. The truth is that artists of all disciplines and of all cultures always speak directly to the heart and soul of all other humans. It is art that gives meaning and dimension to the complexities and ambiguities of life. If we care about the meaning of life and of death, we will find that painters, sculptors, musicians, poets, and writers have addressed these issues from the earliest civilizations right to the present day. Questions of life, death, love, jealousy, beauty, and despair are far too important to be left to the doctors, the scientists, or the experts. I say, if you want to know about love, about living and about dying read Emily Dickenson, read Shakespeare, go look at contemporary painting at your art gallery. If you want to know about suicide, listen to opera, read Sylvia Plath, study the work of Mark Rothko. These are only examples of a vast world of human endeavour that we ignore at the risk of devoting our lives to accumulating worthless consumer goods—you can’t take it with you—and anaesthetising precious hours of our lives with mindless commercial entertainment. Yes, I’m being harsh here because, in my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a steady deterioration of the popular fare that’s offered to the public. You can be sure I’d have more to say about that in the two-hour talk you are being spared today.
Now, on to the third and final matter I want to address, and that is What are we going to do to prevent suicide—especially among older men? I understand that the suicide rate among older men is a matter for serious concern. I will start by saying that I believe much of what we are doing is wrong. I have looked at so-called seniors’ programs being offered by community centres, many of which appear to be aimed at bringing old people together to engage in activities, mainly entertainment, like “gentle yoga,” card games, guided tours, and holiday social gatherings. I know I’m being unfair here because these programs—and there are others of greater interest—are designed by extremely well-meaning people, mostly young, who want very much to engage the older people in their communities. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with playing cards, holding potlucks, or even hopping aboard a bus to have lunch and see a waterfall. But that’s not enough.
What I want to suggest is that—especially where men are involved—we offer challenges. I believe that it is just as important for older men as it is for boys to be offered a chance to see what you’re made of—to test your mettle. An active and challenged mind will lead to physical activity and better health—mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a healthy body, they go together.) Now that you’re seventy or eighty years old, what can you do that you’ve never done before? I’m throwing out some generic ideas here: We have a bunch of young guys in our neighbourhood who are getting into trouble with drugs; what can we do about that? There are some young artists in live-work studios out there that are creating some pretty weird stuff; how about getting together with them and finding out what they’re up to? Remember the movies you saw and loved forty or fifty years ago? Let’s have a few movie showings—popcorn and double features. Want to laugh? Why not a marathon of great comedies with the likes of the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin? (They don’t make ’em like that any more. Great artists that could make us laugh and cry at the same time.) Let’s go the art gallery and ask them to create docent tours, like the ones they do for school kids, for us oldsters; maybe we can get a handle on so-called modern art. Why not put us together with the kids? What can we do to bring young people and old people together to work on meaningful projects and social issues? How can we challenge older men to do something to leave the world a slightly better place than when they entered it? In other words what can we do to make the years, days, hours, or minutes we have left exciting and worth living, no matter what? I remind you of some outstanding Canadian men who show no signs of giving up: the well-known environmentalist David Suzuki, 75; the actor Christopher Plummer, 82; the composer R. Murray Schafer, 75; and politician and social activist Ed Broadbent, also 75. Why not hold these men up as role models?
There is something I want to leave you with. Shakespeare has a lot of uncomplimentary things to say about old men. Here’s probably the most famous one from the all-the-world’s-a-stage speech in “As You Like It”:
… The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.
In one of his very finest plays, The Tempest, however, Shakespeare gives us Prospero, an old man of great dignity, wisdom, and purpose. I want to end with one of his speeches, which, I think, conveys a profound thought about life:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.