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Review

Deadlines: Obits of Memorable British Columbians

By Tom Hawthorn

November 4, 2013

Review By Patricia Roy

The biographies in Deadlines died between 2001 and 2011, had sufficient importance or interest to be have their obituaries published in the Toronto Globe and Mail or be considered for it, and had at least a tenuous connection with British Columbia. One of the fifty subjects falls outside these parameters. That is Gertrude Ettershank Guerin (Klaw-law-we-leth) who died in 1998. As the elected chief (1959-1961) of the Musqueam Reserve, she oversaw the introduction of such amenities as running water. Quite rightly, Hawthorn places her in his section on “Trailblazers” along with two other women: Margaret Fane Rutledge, a commercial pilot, who worked mainly on the ground as a radio operator and reservations supervisor; and Dr. Josephine Mallek, who practised medicine for over fifty years and, as president of the Vancouver Medical Association, took on Premier Vander Zalm over doctors’ fees.

These women and four politicians — Frank Howard, Douglas Jung, Jack Kempf, and Dave Stupich — had long-term if not life-long links with British Columbia, as did W.A.C Bennett’s publicist, William (Bill) Clancey. So too did entrepreneurs and inventors such as Jean Crowley, the operator of Avalon Dairy; Ted Deeley, the “motorcycle millionaire;” Donald Hings, the inventor of the walkie-talkie; Jim Spilsbury, the founder of Queen Charlotte Airlines; and James Wallace, whose Neon signs were famous in Vancouver. Longtime British Columbians who made a mark in the arts were Sid Barron, the editorial cartoonist; John DiCastri, an architect who brought West Coast modernism to Victoria; John Juliani, a CBC radio producer and theatre director; Eric Nicol, the humourist; and Art Thompson (Tsa Qwa Supp), a Nuu-chah-nulth carver. Still others were athletes such as Doug Hepburn, the weight lifter, and Jimmy McLarnin, the boxer. Labour is represented by Steve Brodie, who led the 1938 Sitdowners’ Strike, and Homer Stevens of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union. Others are not easily classified: Ian Hunter, a marijuana advocate; Gilbert Jordan, who killed women by poisoning them with alcohol; Harvey Lowe, yo-yo champion and host of a Vancouver radio program, “The Call of China;” Foncie Pulice, the sidewalk photographer of Vancouver; and Bergie Solberg, the “Cougar Lady,” who lived off the land in an isolated part of the Sechelt Peninsula.

Some British Columbians achieved fame or fortune elsewhere. Cecil Green made a fortune with Texas Instruments. Norma MacMillan was the voice of Casper the Friendly Ghost. Spoony Singh became the flamboyant proprietor of the Hollywood Wax Museum. Leila Vennewitz lived in Vancouver where she was little known despite winning international prizes for translating German literature into English. A few subjects did little more than pass through the province. The American avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage died six months after arriving. Another American, Billy Cowsill, a singer and songwriter, stayed but a few years, as did Gene Kiniski, the Alberta-born wrestler. Several are included because of their activities during the Second World War: Roy Borthwick bombed the bridge on the river Kwai; Patrick Dalzel-Job, a British commando, may have been the model for James Bond; and Syd Thomson commanded the Seaforth Highlanders at the Battle of Ortona.

The biographies are not a representative sample of people who once called British Columbia home, but their stories help to illustrate the diversities of British Columbia. Moreover the book, with its many anecdotes, is a good read.

Deadlines: Obits of Memorable British Columbians
By Tom Hawthorn 
Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 2012. 288pp. Illus.  $26.95 paper.