Happy Birthday, Big City! Unlike many Johnny- and Jill-come-latelys, I was actually born in Vancouver. Events have occasionally taken me elsewhere, but the bulk of my so-called professional life has been spent as a reporter in this absorbing paradise-with-warts by the sea. Since this isn't a grand anniversary, I'm not marking the city's first 125 years with a top 10 list of anything, but rather by arbitrarily singling out some individuals I've noted over the years who have left an impression and marked the city. In a good way.
Pavel Bure (hockey player): Say what you will about his short stay and the kind of guy he was, the Russian Rocket was by far the most exciting player ever to lace up skates for the Vancouver Canucks. In the Canucks' heart-stopping drive for the Stanley Cup in 1994, Mr. Bure recorded 31 points in 24 games, including his memorable breakaway goal to eliminate the Calgary Flames in sudden-death overtime.
Syd Thompson (union man): When Syd talked, people listened. They had no choice. Mr. Thompson's booming voice could make babies cry. When he spoke at a podium, he turned the mike away from him. Head of IWA Local 217 and the Vancouver Labour Council for many years, he was a union leader of the old school. I remember Syd's voice thundering out of a closed door meeting with forest company negotiators at the Hotel Vancouver. "I'm a simple man," he bellowed. "And there's only one way to resolve this thing, and that's to put your goddamned money on the table!" They did.
Wayson Choy (novelist): No one has depicted life in Chinatown and adjacent Strathcona during the Depression better than Mr. Choy in his evocative novel The Jade Peony. I know. My mother told me so. She was there, as a recent immigrant from Finland, living with her parents, who ran a boarding house on Heatley Avenue. When Mr. Choy wrote about the legendary "Miss Doyle" of Strathcona Public School, my mother could relate. She had Miss Doyle, too. "It brought back a lot of memories," my mother said. Good memories.
Arthur Erickson (architect): Whenever I notice a leak in the courthouse, curse the oddball elevator system there or get lost in the maze of corridors at Simon Fraser University, I think of Arthur Erickson. But he was our most renowned architect, and, near the end of his life, he set his mind to, of all things, designing a 10-storey building in the heart of the Downtown Eastside to house the difficult. Far more interesting than building condominiums for the wealthy, Mr. Erickson observed.
Lilian To (immigrant): She didn't do it single-handedly, of course, but it often seemed so. As the tireless, long-time head of SUCCESS, Ms. To relentlessly transformed the city's vast immigrant services society into a Lower Mainland tour de force, with thousands of volunteers, hundreds of staff, and a dozen offices. Her skill at fundraising and bending the ears of politicians was the envy of NGOs everywhere.
Jimmy Pattison (entrepreneur): Abandon preconceptions all ye who enter the business world of the city's amazing multibillionaire. This guy grew up on the tough streets of East Vancouver and made it all the way to the top through his own unerring hard work. A driven capitalist, he nonetheless gave good jobs to two former NDP premiers, also from the city's east side, Dave Barrett and Glen Clark. Not to mention bringing John Lennon's famous painted Rolls Royce to Expo 86.
Bruce Eriksen (politician): He was as crusty as they come, but few did more for an area of Vancouver than Mr. Eriksen did for the downtrodden Downtown Eastside in the 1970s. He awakened the city's conscience to the plight of its poorest residents, spearheading campaigns for the Carnegie Centre, making it harder to get booze, and, most life-saving of all, mandatory sprinkling systems in every flophouse hotel.
Allan Fotheringham (columnist): There was a time in this fair land when the Vancouver Sun was one of the best newspapers in Canada. Certainly it had the finest collection of columnists. Imagine, Allan Fotheringham, Jack Wasserman, Bob Hunter, Paul St. Pierre, Jim Kearney, Jim Taylor, all writing regularly in the same paper. No one was better than "Foth." A superb wordsmith with a brilliant, acerbic wit, his daily chronicling and skewering of our raft of colourful but flawed politicians remain unsurpassed.
Judy Graves (advocate): Amid Vancouver's soaring office towers, opulent condominiums and endless flow of money, there are also those with nowhere to live. The homeless are by far our biggest social blight, and Ms. Graves, who works out of city hall, is their most steadfast champion. Her personal interventions have made countless lives better.
Steve Dawson (musician): A skilled artist in his own right, Mr. Dawson is perhaps even better as a producer, deservedly earning a reputation as the T-Bone Burnett of Canada. His assemblage of musicians and resulting tribute to the legendary Mississippi Sheiks was world class. He also spearheaded the best workshop I have heard in my many years attending the Vancouver Folk Festival, 90 minutes of ground-shaking gospel music on an unforgettable Sunday morning.