Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative


Vancouver's Cultural Hub

July 4, 2022

The Sunday New York Times has an article about some of that city's long-ago literary hangouts. The White Horse Tavern where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death. The Algonquin Hotel where members of the Round Table exchanged witticisms. The Gumby Book Studio, a Harlem writers' salon. And others.

Every city has its gathering places where the artsy crowd like to hang out, get wasted, argue, conspire and celebrate. Vancouver is no exception, and during the interwar period that place was the Vanderpant Galleries on Robson Street just west of Bute. (That's the location above, though obviously the old building is long gone.)

John Vanderpant was a Dutch photographer who emigrated to Alberta in 1912 and moved to Vancouver several years later. In the spring of 1926 he and his pal Harold Mortimer Lamb went into partnership. Lamb, a mining promoter whose real interest was the arts, financed the operation, while Vanderpant ran the day-to-day. (It was modelled on the famous New York gallery, 291, run by Alfred Stieglitz.) After a year the two men fell out and Vanderpant continued on his own.

The Galleries featured a photo studio, exhibition space and a shop. It quickly became a kind of clubhouse for a variety of cultural groups, including the Vancouver Poetry Society and the Arts and Letters Club. Vanderpant's musical evenings were legendary. He owned a modern phonograph and a collection of recordings by contemporary composers. Invited guests would sit on cushions on the floor listening raptly, candles flickering, in an atmosphere that seems more like a seance than a social gathering. On other occasions lecturers spoke about different aspects of the arts. 

Vanderpant had his hand in everything that was going on culturally. When he died in 1939 a friend lamented: "The city seems different without Vanderpant around." His daughter continued to operate the Galleries for a while. Later it became a French restaurant, the Cote D'Azur. The building was torn down in the mid-1990s and as you can see from the photo the site is now a busy shopping street. No indication that it was once Vancouver's cultural hub.

June 27, 2022

I was disappointed last week to hear that the BC premier, John Horgan, was revisiting his government's plan to build a new provincial museum.

I understand that the $800-million project had become an anchor that was threatening to sink his political ambitions. The opposition, and the press, had successfully portrayed the rebuild as a boondoggle and a "vanity project". (Why are sports...

May 18, 2022

No point in having a blog if you don't use it to promote your friends' books.

Jim Marsh and I met at Carleton University in 1973; he was working in book publishing and I was doing a graduate degree. Not long after, Jim became the founding editor of The Canadian Encyclopedia, a hugely ambitious and hugely successful project initiated by Edmonton publisher Mel Hurtig.

Jim has...

May 8, 2022

A very nice review of my new book appears in the May issue of Literary Review of Canada

"As Francis skillfully demonstrates," writes reviewer Marisa Grizenko, "the place called Vancouver has always had a rich story -- if you know where to look and to whom to listen." You can read her piece in the pages of the magazine or it is...

April 14, 2022

I nicked this book from my parents' shelves when I left home back in the Sixties. Don't know why. At the time I had no interest in the subject but I must have known it would come in handy someday, which it has. Anyway, it has stayed with me through many moves.

I was reminded of it when I read Liz Hammond-Kaarremaa...

April 8, 2022

April is National Poetry Month in Canada. Let's celebrate by recalling the Vancouver Poetry Society, one of the earliest arts organizations in the city.

The founding meeting of the VPS took place on the third floor of the Rogers Building downtown on Granville Street on October 21, 1916. It was organized by Dr. Ernest Fewster, physician, theosophist, tireless networker and...