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Visionary British Columbian Alan Clapp dies

Alan Clapp left behind a legacy of innovative concepts and contributed to several now-treasured B.C. touchstones.

Erol Baykal/City of Vancouver Archives

Pioneering broadcaster, innovative thinker and visionary gadfly Alan Clapp, who spent his final days fighting eviction from his Victoria residence, has died.

Geraldine Glattstein, his partner of 30 years, said Mr. Clapp died peacefully at home Tuesday evening, after asking to be discharged from the hospice where he had been staying for the past few days.

"He wanted to die in his own bed," said Ms. Glattstein.

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The couple had been trying to stave off eviction since Mr. Clapp, 83, was diagnosed earlier this year with terminal brain cancer. In the last few days, bailiffs, moving trucks and a locksmith who demanded to change the locks showed up at their apartment, Ms. Glattstein recounted, but she held them off.

It was Mr.Clapp's last struggle against authority, and, given his love of stunts and publicity, if the circumstances hadn't been so tragic, he might have got a kick out of the fact that the media was there near the end to record what was going on.

Throughout his life, Mr. Clapp liked to do things differently.

He was the first producer of BC-TV's nightly news program in 1968, when the station (now owned by Global) decided on a 60-minute newscast, an unheard-of feat for local TV at the time.

Mr. Clapp hired a group of young broadcasters, who quickly established a reputation for producing edgy television that gradually gathered an audience.

"I met him the first day I showed up for work. It was chaos," recalled Cameron Bell, an early hire for the News Hour, which eventually, under Mr. Bell's leadership, came to dominate the ratings.

"He had 15 minutes every night that were totally his, and there followed two years of experimental television, crafted on the fly," said Mr. Bell.

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After leaving the News Hour, Mr. Clapp did various film projects, including the hippie occupation that preserved the entrance to Stanley Park and attempts to save remains of the squatters' cabins once used by writer Malcolm Lowrey in North Vancouver.

In 1976, Mr. Clapp wowed the world by organizing the alternative Habitat Forum in abandoned aircraft hangers on Jericho Beach. The free-wheeling programing in a venue that also featured "the world's longest bar" ran in conjunction with the official UN Conference on Human Settlements taking place in Vancouver.

Much of the structure was created out of recycled timber fashioned by a second-hand portable sawmill that Mr. Clapp managed to scrounge. Long-haired youths made up most of the work crew.

Mr. Clapp's informal Habitat Forum was a smashing success, attended by the likes of Pierre and Margaret Trudeau and their young children, Margaret Mead, Mother Teresa and historian Barbara Ward.

It remains fondly remembered by those who were there, long after the formal UN conference was forgotten.

Mr. Clapp always seemed to have his foot in projects that were a little off-kilter but won wide acceptance. He was among those developing Granville Island in its early days, insisting on a mix of markets, shops and existing industries.

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During the last 10 years, he fought long and hard to find a permanent home for the famous Challenger relief map of British Columbia, which had been featured at the PNE for decades. Certified by the Guiness Book of Records as the largest of its kind in the world, and considered a vintage piece of folk art, the map was constructed piece by piece in the basement of George Challenger. It took him seven years.

Today, the map, much to Mr. Clapp's unending dismay, still languishes in storage out at the airport, with no place secured yet for its display.

"He was always phenomenally committed to what he was doing at the time," said Mr. Bell, who came to know Mr. Clapp well over the years. "He was someone who wanted to get going on things."

Typical of Mr. Clapp's way of thinking were two ideas that didn't happen: lighting up a huge replica of the Olympic Rings on Grouse Mountain during the 2010 Olympics, and projecting a large peace symbol on the top of the then-domed BC Place during an international peace conference held in Vancouver.

"Al was a restless visionary," said Mr. Bell. "He was always searching for community and connection."

In an interview with the Globe and Mail in 2006, Mr. Clapp said: "I like projects. Things that people get off on. I can't stop. I'm like a drug addict."

Mr. Clapp is survived by Ms. Glattstein, and three children Gordon, Gretchen and Robert.

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