TORONTO RAPTURES

On Tuesday, June 17, The Toronto Star ran a huge photograph of me.

It took up most of page 3.

I expect that future Gibson biographers may find their initial excitement tempered by the fact that the fine photograph contains hundreds of thousands of other people.  It is also the reverse of a closeup, since the photographer was high in a helicopter when he snapped the shot, dangling above the crowd at University Avenue and Queen Street. We were all waiting for the Toronto Raptors to parade past us in triumph.

I took up my place at the south-east corner of University and Queen around 11 o’clock. Surrounded by eager Torontonians of all sorts– including an amazing number of babies and little kids in strollers (“You may not remember it, but you were there! Wow, we weren’t going to let you miss that!”) — I began to wait. And wait. And wait.

Finally, close to 3 o’clock, the heroes who had scaled the traffic lights at the intersection began to wave excitedly, telling us that the parade was in sight. When it finally inched its way up University Avenue, three things became clear. First, the Raptors players, who  had been waving to cheering crowds since 10 o’clock, were exhausted. Second, the forest of raised arms holding smartphones to record the moment for posterity had only for a moment the look of a Nazi rally….it was nothing political, you just, you know, like, need to take photos of big things in your life, whether they are an awesome  pizza dish, or the passing of the local NBA champions. And third, although the parade was due to arrive at City Hall at 1 o’clock, nobody seemed to mind all of the hours spent waiting……this was a great Toronto event for all of us, and we were full of smiles and high fives and dazed happiness.

Because I had plenty of time to gaze across the intersection to its north-west corner, I thought a lot about The Campbell House Museum there. That old classical red-brick Palladian mansion has played a large role in the Gibson family. It has also been hugely important for Toronto.

Originally, the house was built in 1822, in the town that was then called York. The owners, William Campbell and his Nova Scotian wife Hannah , were important members of the legal establishment of little York. In fact, in 1825 William became the Chief justice of Upper Canada. The usual boring life story about a successful lawyer, you say?

Read on .

William was born in the Highlands of Scotland in 1758. As a Caithness boy he was almost certainly a Gaelic speaker. After dabbling in the study of the law, he joined a Highland regiment, and was soon shipped off to America, to fight in the Revolutionary War. He was caught up in the surrender at Yorktown, and jailed. In due course he sailed north as a United Empire Loyalist to Nova Scotia.  In Guysborough he resumed his legal studies, married the daughter of a successful fisherman, and did this and that to survive. During this time he rose to become the Attorney General of Cape Breton Island. But his other public posts, leading this group and owning that mine, led to his being suspended from his role as a Councillor, because his behaviour had become “so violent, so disrespectful and indecorous”.

What can you do with such a man?

After Campbell had spent some time in London pleading his case, in 1811 the irritated government (involving a promising young man named Robert Peel) solved the problem by shipping him off to Upper Canada, as a judge. And here he stayed, in 1825 becoming the sixth Chief Justice of Upper Canada.

He and Hannah took great pride in their fine house, where they enjoyed entertaining the growing town’s leading citizens.Then, after he had been knighted, Sir William Campbell died in 1834.

Over the next 150 years the old Campbell house, at the corner of Adelaide and Frederick, went through hard times, as the area around it was converted to warehouses and parking lots. Soon the owner was threatening to destroy it . Tearing down our oldest mansions in the 1950s and 60s was so common that the fine architectural historian , Eric Arthur (author of No Mean City) sadly predicted that very soon no buildings from the 19th century would be found anywhere in Toronto.

The Campbell House changed all that. Learning of the threat to the old building , a group of angels, prosaically known as The Advocates’ Society, stepped in. With the assistance of gigantic maintenance trucks from the Toronto Transit Commission, the old house was carefully lifted aboard, then inched through Toronto’s streets . After a six-hour journey of just over 1.5 kilometres the house had reached the current site at University and Queen, where it was slowly, carefully, winched down, into its prepared place.

And there it remains.

I mentioned that it has played a large role in my family. I was there, watching the painstaking moving of the house, alongside my City Planner wife, Sally, that exciting day in March 1972. We, and the thousands who came to see old York resurrected in downtown Toronto, sensed that, as the Campbell House Museum now proudly notes, “the preservation of the house was an important turning point in architectural preservation in Toronto.”

But the Campbell House wasn’t finished with the Gibson family. When my younger daughter, Katie, was in high school, she got an excellent summer job as a guide at the House. Dressed as a Victorian servant, she would take tourists around the house,explaining what went on in this room, then demurely suggesting that we should all move upstairs into that bedroom. I joined one tour group and became a Mischievous Dad,  After Katie had talked about the bedroom where the twelve of us stood, I pointed to a china object peeping out from under the bed and asked, “What’s that?”

“A chamber pot.” said Katie, calmly. Everyone looked at the idiot in the room.

Score one for Katie.

Score two happened in 2014 when Katie chose to get married in Campbell House. A very happy day.

 

 

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News from Near and Far

I’ve been neglecting my blog recently, because I’ve been in China. While I was there I gave the show in Beijing, where the organizer of The Bookworm Literary Festival, Peter Goff, described me afterwards in these kind words:

Doug Gibson’s show brings you into the hearts and minds of Canada’s literary giants, wonderful writers he has edited and published and drank with and danced with over the years. Throughout his career Doug had a gift for identifying great storytellers. It clearly helped that he’s one himself.”

Later I flew to Shanghai, where I gave the show in the Canadian Consulate. It was gratifying, and fun, although only a very small proportion of China’s 1.3 billion population were able to attend.

But in a whirlwind tour, I was able to speak twice to groups assembled in our Embassy by the very able Ambassador, Guy St. Jacques, and gave a series of lectures at universities and libraries in Suzhou and Hangzhou (don’t worry, if you don’t know them, they only have 12 million people in each city). One day our consular people picked me up at my hotel at 7 a.m., and got me back at 11 p.m. Standing on guard for thee, spreading the word about our fine authors.

An amazing experience.

NOW, AN EVENT FOR ALL ALICE MUNRO FANS AROUND TORONTO:

On Thursday, April 16, through Sunday, April 19, at The Isabel Bader Theatre, Charles Street, Toronto, the San Francisco group Word for Word will be producing a remarkable read-and-acted version of two Alice Munro Stories, at 8 p.m.
On Thursday through Saturday, I’ll be involved in leading post-show discussions from the stage.

If you love Alice Munro, please come along. It should be a remarkable evening.

On Rob Ford and Alice Munro

On Saturday, November 17 the Globe and Mail asked several “prominent Canadians” to comment on Rob Ford. Here is what Doug had to say, looking at the disgraced Mayor through the prism of Alice Munro.

It’s sad that just weeks after Alice Munro brought Canada to the admiring attention of the world, Rob Ford is dragging us all down. As a storyteller he lacks Alice’s variety; everything is based on denial (“I wasn’t there,” “I didn’t do it”), and even Alice wouldn’t invent a character who is so unbelievable, in every sense.
But her titles alone explain much of the Ford story: Something I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You (about that crack question); Friend of My Youth (they’re not gangsters, they’re good guys); Open Secrets (nothing more to hide, honest); Who Do You Think You Are?(why should I stay away from your parade?); The Love of a Good Woman (keep my wife out of this, from now on).
As he runs out of people to lie to, let’s hope that he finally takes up the suggestion in another Alice Munro title — Runaway. That would be Too Much Happiness.

Gibson’s Stage Show Returns to Toronto

After around 50 performances, in places from Haida Gwaii to Halifax, Douglas Gibson’s Stories About Storytellers stage show is returning for a rare midtown Toronto performance. On Tuesday, May 7th at 7:30 p.m., Doug will be bringing his memoir to life at the Heliconian Club (35 Hazelton Ave.). For tickets, call 416-922-3618.

Update: This show is now sold out. Watch the events page for more Toronto shows.

Douglas Gibson at Toronto’s Metropolitan United Church

On Sunday 20, January, the Metropolitan United Church in Toronto (at the heart of downtown, at Church and Queen ) will be hosting Doug Gibson’s show immediately after the lunch that follows the Sunday Service given by the Reverend Malcolm Sinclair.

The church service begins at 11:00, the lunch is held around 12:30, and the show will run from roughly 12:45 until 2:00. All are welcome.

Books will be available for sale and for autographing.

After more than 40 shows around Canada from coast to coast, this will be one of Doug’s rare public appearances in Toronto.

The Al Purdy Show in Toronto

Al Purdy For months a group based in Toronto has been building on the work started by Jean Baird and Howard White in B.C. to preserve Al Purdy’s historic A-Frame house in Prince Edward County. Thanks to Jean and Howie’s inspired work over the years, the building has recently been bought. Now it’s up to us to save it and  restore it so that it can be used as a literary centre.

Hence the February 6 fundraiser at Koerner Hall. I’m part of the local committee, chaired by George Goodwin, and involving the talents of Marni Jackson, Leslie Lester, Christopher Goodwin, Alexandra Manthorpe, Patrick White, Don Oravec, Duncan Patterson, and Valerie Jacobs. The event itself is being organized by the excellent Laura McLeod.

I’ll be appearing on-stage in a modest role in what looks like being a great and memorable event, an affectionate celebration of Al Purdy, whom I knew well, and published with pride.

Now read on and buy your tickets while you can . . . and spread the word!

 

THE TRAGICALLY HIP’S GORD DOWNIE
TO APPEAR AT AL PURDY TRIBUTE

“When Al Purdy died, among the stuff in the newspapers was
his answer to this same question:
‘I write like a spider spins webs and much for the same reason,
to support my existence.’ I really liked that.”
— Gord Downie

For immediate release

TORONTO, ON  (January 9, 2013) The Al Purdy A-Frame Association announced today that Gord Downie, Canadian poet and lead singer of The Tragically Hip, will be appearing in the THE AL PURDY SHOW on February 6.

Downie considers Al Purdy an important influence as a poet and lyricist.  In addition to Gord’s performance, the show will include readings from Margaret Atwood, Ken Babstock, George Bowering, George Elliot Clarke, Michael Enright, Phil Hall, Steven Heighton, Dennis Lee, Gordon Pinsent, Robert Priest and Karen Solie, as well as musical guests, Bidiniband with The Billie Hollies, and The Skydiggers.

Proceeds from the evening will support the Al Purdy A-Frame Association’s efforts to conserve the late poet’s home and to maintain it as an educational resource and a place for writers to come together and work for years to come.  The show will take place at Koerner Hall — The TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning — 273 Bloor Street West in Toronto at 7:30 pm. Ticket prices range between $25.00 and $50.00.

“This event is a true celebration of one of the most popular and important Canadian poets of the 20th century,” said Jean Baird, President of the Association. “Al loved hanging out with people, talking about poetry and having a good time. We want the evening to capture this spirit. Plus, we have some nifty surprises planned.”

Al Purdy and his partner Eurithe began building the A-Frame cabin on the shores of Roblin Lake, in Prince Edward County, in 1957.  It was here that Purdy came into his own as a poet, and the A-Frame became a gathering place for many of the writers who would shape Canadian literature.  Over their 43 years at the A-Frame, Al and Eurithe hosted Margaret Laurence, Milton Acorn, Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood and hundreds of others in the writing and arts community. The menu usually included spaghetti, and lots of Al’s wild-grape wine.

“This event will be very exciting for Purdy fans,” said Jean Baird. “For the first time, Eurithe Purdy has donated books and other items from Al’s personal collection for auction.”

These include Purdy’s signed and numbered editions from his own extensive library, rare first editions by other poets, and original artwork from Leonard Cohen.  Book-lovers, mark your calendars!

In October 2012, using donated funds, The Al Purdy A-Frame Association, a national non-profit organization, acquired the property.  As part of its mandate to promote Canadian literature and Canadian writers, the Association’s first goal is to preserve the home as an educational resource and a work retreat for future generations of writers.

Tickets can be purchased by calling 416-408-0208 or by visiting alpurdy.ca

#  #  #

For further information:
Laura McLeod
Producer
647-631-6000
lschatzker@gmail.com

Storytelling at the Royal Ontario Museum

I was contacted out of the blue by the ROM, asking if I, a storyteller, born in Scotland, could come to their “Celtic Weekend” as a “Scottish Storyteller.” I said that I knew some good Scottish stories, so, yes, could come along and tell them to a mixed audience of kids and parents.

A few days later, they were back with a further inquiry. This was a Celtic weekend, so could I tell Irish and Welsh stories, too. A little research provided good stories, so I said yes, and we were all set for two 40-minute sessions, at 12:00 and at 2:00.

I sat on a throne-like chair in front of a collection of movable stools occupied by a group of kids, who included my grandchildren Lindsay (7) and Alistair (5). When I told the Irish story, about Niall of the Nine Hostages who was “The Slave Woman’s Son,” I prefaced it with a word or two about slaves in different cultures, and unwisely referred to the Haida totem pole in the space just outside our room. I explained that a visit to the Haida Museum in Skidegate reveals that the Haida were sea-raiders who took slaves, which allowed them to have a slave-supported leisure society that could create great poetry and great art, like totem poles.

This was too much for Lindsay, who dragged Jane off to see the nearby pole, from top to bottom, then loudly returned to interrupt my tale-weaving with the words “What did I miss, Grandad?”

For future reference, the Welsh tale was about “The Lady from the Lake” and the Scottish one (where Alistair proudly told his neighbours, “I know this one. I know what happens.”) was “The Good Man Of Ballangeich,” about a king passing secretly among his people, doing mediaeval public opinion surveys in a very informal way.

Just before the second show, Jane and I were roaming around the main floor of the ROM, where an all-woman Celtic band was playing fine traditional music. When they paused to ask for a song from anyone in the audience, Jane asked them if they knew the old Irish song “The Wild Rover.” When they said yes, and invited her to start singing, she demurred, saying, “Not me, him!” and thrust me forward.

So it came about that the main floor resounded to three verses of me singing “The Wild Rover” while the audience joined loudly in the chorus “And it’s no, nay, never (CLAP, CLAP, CLAP, CLAP) No, nay never no more . . .” Etcetera.

And then as I took my bow, still blushing in disbelief, the PA system cut in to announce that “The Celtic Storytelling Session is just about to begin on the fourth floor” and I had to rush off. Believe it or not, some of the audience actually followed me upstairs, for my second storytelling session.

So clearly my resume has to be updated, to include the sacred title “Celtic Storyteller.” I think we’ll leave out the entry about Irish drinking songs.