Books

Inventing Stanley Park (web)

Inventing Stanley Park

by Sean Kheraj, BA’02
UBC Press
304 pages

Any urbanite who has not left the city in a while might think the 400 hectares of Vancouver’s Stanley Park is an untouched forested wonder. But those who have recently hiked into the wilderness might recognize the park’s eastern grey squirrels and majestic mute swans as imports, and the overly‑numerous Douglas firs as replacements for hemlock and western red cedars.

Sean Kheraj’s Inventing Stanley Park dispels the myth of an untouched urban wilderness. Kheraj tells the story of how the park became what it is today by looking at the impact not just of nature’s influences – such as the ice age, insects, and volcanic eruptions – but also of economics, politics and the public perception of nature.

Instead of starting in 1888, when the park was officially opened, the book begins with the winter storm of 2006 that uprooted thousands of trees. If people weren’t aware how much work had gone into creating Vancouver’s “crown jewel,” the reconstruction, which cost upwards of $5.5 million, was an awakening.

The history of the park reaches back to an underwater peninsula with a wealth of marine life and mammals that sustained a pre‑European population estimated at anywhere from 20,860 to 62,580. Whoi Whoi, the largest First Nations settlement in what is now Stanley Park, was so severely depopulated by early smallpox epidemics that it appeared empty to George Vancouver who, according to reports, was greeted by only 50 men when he entered the Georgia Straight. Kheraj says Whoi Whoi’s history in the park is lost in the tourist literature of the twentieth century. It has been replaced with totem poles transplanted from as far away as Alert Bay. Most striking is the story of a midden comprised of shells and human bones found during the construction of the ring road around the park. The shells were used to pave the road giving it a white surface that glowed in the sun.

Kheraj’s writing is sharp and his research extensive. The analysis builds on a cumulative scholarship of park planning, but what makes the read interesting are stories about park evictions that included burning Chinese people’s homes, and plans to combat insect infestation that included dumping lead arsenic from planes as recently as the 1960s. Kheraj ends on the idea that, unlike previous park policy, recent forest management plans engage with park ecology, not nature myths. How he gets here is worth a walk in the woods.


BC Historical Atlas (web)

British Columbia: A New Historical Atlas

by Derek Hayes, MA’70, Dip (Urban Land Econ)’90
Harbour Publishing
368 pages

In one hefty volume, geographer Derek Hayes attempts, quite successfully, to cover the entire history of British Columbia using maps. While the accompanying text fills in details, British Columbia: A New Historical Atlas, is a tale told in images. A significant number of these maps have never been published. Many document events in the province’s history. Some illustrate hopes and dreams, not actual places. One maps murder. As a collection, they illustrate how a place comes into being.

More than 100 of the images come from a vault of historical maps at the Land, Title and Survey Office in Victoria. Many others were culled from the Rare Books and Special Collections Department at UBC. Hayes points out that despite the volume of survey maps, treaty maps, tourist brochure maps, railway maps, and mining maps presented here, many did not survive. Often when maps are consulted, says Hayes, the contemporary are prized over the historical.

Hayes’ book starts with the province’s First Inhabitants and includes a rare 1859 hand‑sketched map of a First Nation village drawn by Somena chief Thiusoluc on request from an American surveyor. The map does not follow Western cartography conventions, such as positioning north at the top. What is more interesting though is the idea that First Peoples would not have drawn maps at all, since most lived locally and had no need for them. The maps move chronologically. There is a series that outline the European quest to find the Northwest Passage. There are maps made by fur traders tracing routes to find sea otter pelts called “soft gold.” From the gold rush to the railways, to mineral expansion and salmon fishing, Hayes winds his way through to Olympic Torch relays and ends with New Treaties.

Hayes is the award‑wining author of a series of historical atlases that range from the cities of Toronto and Vancouver, the North American Railroad, the United States and the Arctic. British Columbia: A New Historical Atlas won the 2013 Basil Stuart‑Stubbs Prize, a new award from the UBC Library and the Pacific Bookworld News Society. (Basil Stuart‑Stubbs was a former UBC University Librarian. He died in 2012. See page 47 for his obituary.)


Rainbow Rocket (web)

The Rainbow Rocket

by Fiona Tinwei Lam, BA’86, MFA’02
Oolichan Books
32 pages

In the digital age opposable thumbs are not needed to flip through a book, but some reads – like The Rainbow Rocket, a children’s book by Fiona Tinwei Lam – are a visceral reminder of the book as a format for physical enjoyment. The cover is an explosion of colour on black matting that is smooth and pleasant to touch. Illustrated by Kristi Bridgeman, whose art has illuminated the work of Canadian poet and novelist P.K. Page, The Rainbow Rocket is a story told equally in image and word. The pictures make you pause and the tale is hard to read without a tear or two.

The Rainbow Rocket is about a young boy named James and his relationship with his Poh‑Poh, which means grandmother in Chinese. It starts with a regular Sunday visit: eating cookies, drinking tea and talking about rockets, invented, says Poh‑Poh, by the Chinese 800 years ago. Poh‑Poh guides James’ hand as he draws a rocket and on his next visit, she gives him a stone stamp with a tiny horse carved on top. When pressed in red ink, it prints his name in Chinese. Soon Poh‑Poh starts to forget things and her words become “a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing.” The Sunday visits move from her small art‑filled apartment to a nursing home and finally the hospital. When she dies, the horse from James’ stone stamp and his drawing of the rainbow rocket carry him into an imaginative world where he falls asleep in his grandmother’s arms. But this dream is not enough to fill the gap left by Poh‑Poh’s death. Ching Ming Day, a Chinese holiday that remembers and honours ancestors, helps him integrate memory and loss.

For children who have recently experienced loss or are about to, The Rainbow Rocket is a good launching pad for discussion, but the story is not limited. Read out loud, it is an opportunity to immerse yourself in rich imagery and perhaps a cathartic cry.


Stay (web)

Stay

by Aislinn Hunter, MFA’99
Anchor Canada
279 pages

It is easy to imagine Aislinn Hunter’s 2002 novel, Stay, as a film. The story is detailed with precise descriptions, like the “two blue welts” of eye makeup worn by the girl behind the counter in the only store in Spiddal, an actual village on the shore of Galway Bay, where the novel takes place. Tensions here are buried and dug up while people pass both pints and stories around Hughes, the local pub. The lilt of conversation begs the words be read aloud. Add dark humour that passes off as a day‑in‑the‑life and all elements of a movie are accounted for – there is even a film crew and catering truck.

Hunter’s characters are convincing and their stories linger. She casts an entire town as a backdrop to the painful past of her main character, Dermot Fay, a Catholic professor ousted from a Protestant University in Dublin. Fay hides from his past in a run‑down cottage on the coast. His only friends, aside from the drink, are his dog and a British archaeologist who teaches at the university. But then Dermot meets Abbey Gowan, a young Canadian whose relationship with her alcoholic father forced her from Ontario to Ireland, where she hopes to rid herself of his ghost. The desire to belong, stay, and flee pervade the book. So does the ambiguity of time.

Originally published by Raincoast books in 2002, Stay is now a motion picture. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in the fall but comes to a theatre near you late 2013 or early 2014. Wiebke von Carolsfeld – director of Marion Bridge, which won Best Canadian First Feature film at the Toronto Film Festival the same year Stay was published – adapted it for screen. While Marion Bridge featured Canadian actress Molly Parker, Stay boasts Aidan Quinn (from Desperately Seeking Susan, The Mission and the current TV series Elementary) as Dermot Fay.

What works in print cannot always translate on screen and von Carolsfeld combines elements of the novel that, although connected by theme, do not involve the same characters or city; Windsor is traded for Montreal. Given its director and cast, including Taylor Schilling as Abbey, the film is promising. Nonetheless, the book deserves to be read first.

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