Arnprior Is a Priority

The day after my time swanning around the Chateau Laurier as one of the Honoured Guests at Politics and the Pen, I was picked up at the hotel and whisked an hour west to Arnprior. The whiskers were my old friends David Lewis Stein and his wife, Alison. Dave is famous as the author (whom I’m proud to have published) and Toronto Star columnist who dressed like a Damon Runyon character, a fedora always perched on his head. He was also famous as the man who really knew Toronto city politics, inside out, and was the ultimate streetwise, big-city guy. And now he has retired to Arnprior, a little town of about 8,000 in the Ottawa Valley, where Alison’s family has ancient links.

How are they doing? Very well indeed, to judge from my happy stay with them at the big Victorian house that sits about 100 yards away from the distinctive Arnprior Museum, where Alison puts in volunteer time. About fifty yards down the main street is Gwen Storie’s bookstore.That evening the amazing Gwen and her staff rearranged the store to accommodate 40 paying customers ($15.00, including a delicious snack in the bakery next door) and I gave my show.

And we sold 26 copies! If you walk down the street in Arnprior, the odds that the first person you meet has a copy of my book at home are pretty good!

The more serious message is that a good local bookstore can act as an important community centre, and I’m glad to do all I can to help the Gwen Stories of this world.

Uxbridge (Or, More Formally) Tuxbridge

Uxbridge (or, as Terry Fallis amended it, since it was a formal dinner, “Tuxbridge”) staged a fine “Book Lover’s Ball” on April 14 in aid of the local Library.

The setting was the local “Wooden Sticks Golf Club,”  a name that spoke to the ancient tradition of golf clubs with hickory handles. I was able to mention that in my ancient Scottish village, I actually grew up playing golf with “wooden stick” clubs, which at the time seemed normal to me. But then, true to my “make things last” Scottish roots, that evening I was wearing the tux that my parents gave me as a 21st birthday present. Dinner jackets don’t change much over 47  years, and nor does my lean shape — nor my respect for my parents’ admonition that if I looked after the tux properly I “should get many years of wear out of it.”

The excellent Terry spoke about his three books (The Best Laid Plans, The High Road, and this fall’s Up and Down, which will prove that he can make readers laugh, and also make them cry) and delighted the audience after the salad course. I did my stuff after the (very fine) chicken course, talking about a few of the authors featured in my book, and telling stories about them.

But the best speaker of the evening  — and by far the best storyteller — was Michael, a local dentist. He spoke about his family’s experience  escaping from Vietnam as “boat people” who were sponsored by kind people in Uxbridge. The local librarian made a special point of always asking him what he was reading, and, like dental patients flossing before an appointment (an interesting professional analogy), he read voraciously, to be always able to answer her question.

When the family was moved away from Uxbridge to downtown Toronto, although his parents both worked two jobs, things were hard for the young family in a tough area. In time their Uxbridge friends contacted them with an offer that would bring them back to Uxbridge, with a down payment on a house supplied by an anonymous benefactor. The family accepted gladly, on one condition: that they learn the name of the benefactor, in order to pay him or her back.

It was the librarian.

Now here was Michael (like his brothers and sisters a successful professional) giving back to the Uxbridge community by providing major sponsorship for this fundraiser for the Uxbridge Library.

Stories really matter, don’t they?

Peterborough and the Mafia

One interesting side of a publisher’s life is how the families of your authors regard you. In my book I write about how in mid-summer Alistair MacLeod was hard at work finishing No Great Mischief, and I was guilty of putting unremitting pressure on him.

As the book says, “In the course of these frantic weeks I had occasion to call Alistair in Cape Breton. The phone was answered by a MacLeod son to whom I introduced myself as the man who was ruining his father’s summer, ha ha. “Oh yes,” he said, heavily, and passed the phone to Alistair.”

In the Peterborough event, held at Traill College downtown, Lewis MacLeod (who teaches in the English Department), was my host and the MC of the performance I gave there. He spoke of growing up aware of the name “Doug Gibson” as someone who distributed good things “like a second-rate Tooth Fairy” but who over time developed a more threatening side, “like a Mafioso.”

What an interesting take on the two sides of the Publisher/Editor, part Tooth Fairy and part Mafia enforcer!

In the audience were two others with family links to one of my authors, Orm Mitchell and his wife, Barb, the biographers of W.O. You can imagine my delight when Barb told me that in my acting out a phone conversation on stage, I “sounded just like W.O.!”

It’s wonderful that my friendship with W.O. and Merna has descended down to the next generation, where Jane and I are able to stay (not for the first time) with our friends Orm and Barb.

Aurora Public Library

This March event was my first appearance at a library (apart from the Wolf Hall Theatre, in the London library), with the enterprising Blue Heron Books on hand to sell copies. I hope that there will be many other library events around the province and the country.

The talk was held in the Magna Room in the library, which reminded me of just how extensive the impact of Magna is on the community (and have you ever driven around the massive Magna main campus, modelled on Versailles, just east of town?) I did not get around to mentioning Wayne Lilley’s balanced but properly critical book Magna Cum Laude: How Frank Stronach Became Canada’s Best-Paid Man, which I was proud to publish half a dozen years ago. It criticized Frank for excessive interest in his money-losing racetracks, and for corporate governance that neglected share-holders, two themes that were to become headline news in the years after the book was published, when the Magna Chairman, a former politician named Mike Harris, was ridiculed for the rich pay-out granted to his friend Frank.

Ah, well, the Magna Room was a fine space, and I had an enjoyable evening.

There was one uneasy moment, when, in answer to a question, I spoke about Brian Mulroney sympathetically. This provoked the cynical question “Did you pay him in cash?,” which I pretended not to understand.

Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club

My tour of many clubs as a performer reached new heights here. We had to close the curtains in my lecture hall, otherwise the audience would have been mesmerized, as I was, by the skaters whizzing by to the west, and the curlers scrubbing excitedly to the east. Some of the best figure skaters in the world train here (under staff like Brian Orser) and on a scouting mission before my show I watched a coach use a training harness (like a giant fishing rod dangling above the skater’s head) as the young skater tried a new, tricky, unfamiliar jump.

The evening went well, with Jane selling many copies of my book, some of them via a club chit system swiftly organized by her cousin, the admirable Doug Knights, the club’s manager.

Edmonton

My time as the invited Corus Lecturer at Grant MacEwan University allowed me to spend an entire day on campus, visiting and chatting with classes. Very interesting, especially the sociology of facing a Media Studies classroom where the 30 students are all hidden behind vertical fixed computer screens, on which they are typing . . . who knows what? I had some success in attracting their attention, since some of them followed me to the John L. Haas theatre that evening, where the audience of about 300 seemed to enjoy the evening. The description (attached elsewhere in this website) by the West Edmonton Local uses nice words like “captivated.”

Roaming around downtown Edmonton next day I came on a fascinating Ukrainian-language bookstore, which I was informed is “the biggest in North America.” Who knew?

Close by, I came on a stretch of Jasper Avenue East made up of interesting old buildings erected around 1912-13. One of them, in the “flatiron” style, was named “The Gibson Block.” I regretted not having a camera with me, because I would have enjoyed posing beside it. Ho, ho.

Not so fast. When I investigated the historic plaque, I learned that the building was erected by one William Gibson (good) who came west from Ontario (good, and no doubt earlier from Scotland, very good) and erected this building, where the street level featured a well-known eating place called “The Gibson Café.” All very good, until I reached the line “with its now-notorious sign outside ‘White Help Only.”

Very, very bad.

I guess if we’re going to take pride in our names, we have to take the rough with the smooth.

— Douglas Gibson

Green Door Cabaret

The Lower Ossington Theatre is in the trendiest part of Toronto, near the junction of trendy Queen Street, and up-and-coming Ossington, where hip new restaurants sit alongside auto repair shops and cigar factories.

The Green Door Cabaret is a new venture by my friend (and theatre agent) Bob Missen, and I put on a Sunday afternoon cabaret there. Forget about striding around a stage. I perched on a bar stool and talked about my authors, while I flashed power point caricatures on the screen that Jane and I had rented. We’re becoming pros, able to rent mikes and speakers, or projectors and screens, as necessary.

Forty-five brave souls made up the (paying) audience, and it went well, give or take the odd technical glitch with the music that accompanies the slides. And I got to see a lot of old friends, including the amazing bookseller, Janet Inksetter. She earns the adjective this time by revealing that she read my entire book at one sitting! Surely an award of some sort is in order. And a job as a speed-reading book reviewer.

— Douglas Gibson

Praise for Stories About Storytellers onstage from William Thomas

After Doug’s show at the Readings at the Roselawn Series in Port Colborne on February 23, 2012, series director William Thomas offered the following praise:

“Doug Gibson, the pre-eminent editor, mentor and friend to the giants of Canadian literature has created a riveting, revealing, oh-so-personal one-man stage presentation honouring the icons of our cultural zenith.

With cartoonist Tony Jenkins’ brilliant and impish caricatures of Gibson’s cast of characters in the background, Doug performs a moving, enlightening and very funny tribute to the likes of some of our greatest writers and some of our most controversial Prime Ministers.
It’s “CanLit to the power of one” with touching behind the scenes stories and juicy once-secret exchanges –it’s brilliant and beyond the expectations of the audience.

As host of Readings at the Roselawn in Port Colborne, I have introduced almost every great Canadian writer over the past 20 years. And though I do remember a handful of standing ovations, I have never seen 300 people leap from their seats so fast and stay on their feet so long. Good on you, Doug – the editor who is outshining his stable of stars.”

A Rave for the Show from the West Edmonton Local

The West Edmonton Local featured a review of Stories About Storytellers the Show after Doug’s performance at Grant MacEwan University’s Centre for the Arts and Communications in Edmonton. Reporter Craig Fraser writes,

“Gibson spoke of his adventures fluently with a captivated audience at his fingertips. . . . Gibson was vivid in his recollection of events, and his ability as a storyteller was masterful as he recollected profound and heart-wrenching stories. . . . Ultimately, Gibson’s impressions, memories and even humorous recollections came full circle as he explored emotional reaches of himself and the audience with grace and humility.”

Read the full review here.

Doug Gibson at the Green Door Cabaret

After trekking back and forth across the country performing at lit festivals and private gatherings, now, in a rare one-afternoon stand, Doug Gibson will be performing his show in public in Toronto. On Sunday, February 26, at 3 p.m,, he will give two 45-minute sets at The Green Door Cabaret Winter Series, at the Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Street (south of Dundas), Toronto.

The Lower Ossington Theatre is a licensed facility, with seating for 100. The ticket prices for this convivial two-hour show are $25.00 for general admission, and $20.00 for students.

Booking in advance is strongly recommended. Tickets (and information) are available by phone  (416-915-6747), or through www.lowerossingtontheatre.com, or at the door.

Doug will be available after the performance for book signing and conversation.