Monday, November 21, 2011

“The Chuck Davis History of Vancouver”

By Chuck Davis
ISBN No. 978-1-55017-533-2

Vancouver is hot – in realty, on TV and on the bookshelves. Homes are worth $1 million, hit TV shows are filmed on our sidewalks, and not one but two – that’s TWO! – major books about the city are being released this season. The first, another book of photographs by Fred Herzog, should be the heavyweight. Famous for his heartbreaking Technicolor shots of Vancouver in the 50s and 60s (when everyone else was shooting in black-and-white) his new book is wisely called simply “Photographs” because only a few of the shots are of Vancouver – and they were included in his first book. That disappointing double-dip makes Harbour Press’ blockbuster-sized “The Chuck Davis History of Vancouver” the real thing this season – and then some; it’s an elegiac last work by the late “folk historian”, and a majestic valentine to the city he loved.
And there’s a lot here to love.
There’s the news piece about how the first badges for the Vancouver City Police were made of American silver dollars and a story about the Hallelujah Lassies – four ladies who launched what became the Salvation Army in 1887. There’s the factoid about how the fire department hauled their own engines to and from the fires until they got horses in 1889, and an article about the fire that destroyed ALL of Vancouver…in just 45 minutes. This is one book where the stories are share-with-a-friend-worthy and the words are as fascinating as the haunting black-and-white pictures that accompany them. And certainly there’s the poignancy of Davis’ death to put a thoughtful period (literally) on the project. In an age where old homes in Vancouver are going for a million dollars and being turned into generic monster houses worth twice that, “The Chuck Davis History of Vancouver” is more than just a publishing event. It’s a document that’ll be studied decades from now to find out what kind of people we were.