Sunshine Sketches of a Little Coast

For 30 years they have held a literary festival at Sechelt. That very first year I was glad to send Jack Hodgins (from his Lantzville home on Vancouver Island, right across the Strait of Georgia from the Sunshine Coast ) as one of the five authors attending. He had a wonderful time, and reported back with great enthusiasm.

Over the years, as the little festival grew into the established “Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts,” in my role as Publisher I was pleased to send a steady stream of authors to this festival, assuring them that they would “have a great time.” They always did.

This year, in my new role of author, I got to see for myself. The hard-working Jane Davidson had secretly attended my performance at the Vancouver Writers’ Festival last October, and followed up with an invitation to attend the Sunshine Coast Festival that she runs.

So August saw Jane and me flying in to Vancouver, then dashing off to catch a seaplane that skimmed up the coast to land us at Sechelt. There we were met by Sally Quinn, a welcoming volunteer who identified herself brilliantly by displaying a copy of my book . . . always visible to an author’s eye at 100 paces. A quick tour of Sechelt took us to the Festival site, where we met Jane D. (astonishingly calm, given that over the next three days she would be receiving more than 20 performing authors from across the country, yea, even unto Michael Crummey’s Newfoundland, and Linden MacIntyre, fresh from Edinburgh). I also got to see the hall where all of the readings/performances take place. It is an all-wood open structure, the ceiling held up with tall pine poles, lending the air of a West-coast longhouse (crossed with a Cathedral, as one admirer put it). Ten seconds on the empty stage were enough to show me that this was a very special space, open yet intimate.

Since one of the strengths of this fine festival is that all events take place there, with no competing events at different venues, Jane and I were to spend many happy hours in the audience at that theatre over the weekend, enjoying the varied readings, Q and As., conversations, and performances. I’m happy to report that my own tightly scripted but apparently informal Stories About Storytellers show was reviewed by the local paper as “polished ramblings.” Aha!

Most of the time we sat with our host and hostess, the authors Sharon Brown and Andreas Schroeder, who live just outside Sechelt as “Roberts Creekers.” (Over time, we warned them, “Roberts Creakies” may apply.) We had the great good fortune to stay at the cabin down by the shore that Sharon and Andreas (whom I have published with great pleasure over the years) provide for lucky friends. And the blackberries! Words fail.

One of the high points of the festival is that at the end of each session, the great Hall is cleared, and everyone files out to drink, chat, or (usually) line up for the next session starting in 30 minutes. As a result, the placid queues along the Rhododendron-lined paths are a great place to meet old and new friends, and to chat about books and authors.

The local support for the festival is all you would hope for, and people are proud of what they have built up over the years. One retired man who sought me out to sign his copy of my book said it best. When I commented on what a great thing for the community this festival must be, he said, “This is why we moved here.”

A footnote: on Sunday Andreas took us for a quick tour of Gibsons, just to the south. For someone with my name, the place is a goldmine for delusions of grandeur. A quick tour reveals “Gibson’s Cinema,” “Gibson’s Curling Club,” “Gibson’s Swimming Pool” and so on and on. At the waterfront (near where The Beachcombers was filmed) is a statue of Captain George Gibson, who founded the town in the 1880s, rowing his produce down the coast to Vancouver. I posed proudly with my arm around his oilskin-clad shoulders, and felt right at home.

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Stories About Storytellers on stage: Jack Hodgins

Thanks to Candida Paltiel at Mining Stories Productions and her team, we’ll be featuring weekly snippets of Doug’s one-man stage show. In this week’s clip, Doug talks about Jack Hodgins.

For upcoming performances of Stories About Storytellers the show, head to the events page. For more on Jack Hodgins, see chapter 9 of Stories About Storytellers.

An excerpt on Jack Hodgins on the Canadian Encyclopedia blog

Your weekly dose of Stories About Storytellers continues at the Canadian Encyclopedia blog. This week, Doug guides us through his relationship with Jack Hodgins and Vancouver Island. To read the excerpt, head over to the Canadian Encyclopedia.

(Have you missed the previous excerpts? You can still read the selections on R.D. Symons, James Houston, Morley CallaghanPaul Martin, Barry Broadfoot, Brian Mulroney, Mavis Gallant, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, Stephen Leacock, and Alice Munro.)

Stories About Storytellers Companion Reading (#2)

Many early readers of Stories About Storytellers have remarked that they finish reading it only to rush to pick up one of the other books Doug has so lovingly described. So to make it easier, this recurring feature revisits some of those books and reminds you why they’re worth a read. Last time, we revisited Dickens of the Mounted, and this we’re featuring . . .

Broken Ground by Jack Hodgins (1998)

Many readers think of Jack Hodgins as a fine, good-humoured writer  whose strength lies in writing cheerful stories set on Vancouver Island. Not this time. This novel is set on the Island, but in a “soldier’s settlement,” where veterans who survived the First World War have been given land by a grateful nation. Of course the land is marginal, dominated by giant tree stumps that have to be blasted out in a landscape that reminds the men of the trenches in France they escaped so recently.

The war is a constant dark, brooding presence to the men  and women whose voices tell this story, with many scenes set at the Front. Then the horror of an advancing forest fire brings the present dangerously alive.

When you read it, you’ll see why this book won the Drummer General’s Award, given to protest the fact that such an excellent book failed to win the Governor-General’s Award or the Giller Prize. It is a remarkable blend of the two worlds, the trenches and the pioneer settlement, and it is told with immense power. Don’t miss it.

For more on Broken Ground, see page 149 of Stories About Storytellers.