Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The West Beyond the West

{Textile squares hanging in Kim's design studio at Capilano College reminded me of Tibetan "prayer flags"}.

Last Thursday morning Krista drove me to the airport and I flew just over an hour to the city of glass, water, and cedar. Douglas Coupland has written well about this fair city. And soon, in an annual dance, it will be drenched with cherry blossoms. In Life After God, Coupland writes about how the geography ofVancouver, hanging on the edge of the world, created a new moral space, beyond the boundaries of the Rockies, a place where people from "back east" could create something new.

Vancouver has always lived large in my consciousness, since, for most of my childhood it was "the city." My parents used to take us often - a few times a month to picnic on the lawn in front of the Ferguson Point Tea House at Stanley Park, overlooking Spanish Banks. We would stroll through Gastown in the early 80s, and I had a ritual of playing amidst the First Nations' treasures at Hill's, and then buying butterscotch candies in a tartan tin at some Scottish tourist shoppe.

At the course I took on Friday on the topic of "The Challenge of Sustainability for Heritage Conservation" , I learned that in the 1970's the plan was to raze all of Gastown to build a dozen or so high-rise towers. I also learned how, during World War Two, the Canadian beaurocrat W.C. Clifford wrote most of the tax code here in Canada specifically to encourage the demolition of older buildings. He wanted a fresh start, and worked tenaciously to make level every historic urban area in Canada a tabula rasa for his conception of a rational, Modernist plane. Clifford went so far as to actually call those who cherished older buildings "perverts." Are we? Am I? Despite the fact that "sustainability" is perhaps the slipperiest of planning buzzwords, and if you've been to a dozen conferences on the topic you've pretty much been to them all, I took one thing away from this day. That the possibility still exists to foster a culture of repair. This is really what the whole thing is about: finding modest ways to consider what we discard and throw away. The practice of salvage lived large in the course. Salvage is sometimes good - but not "vulturistic" salvaging... robbing Peter to pay Paul. The very fact that the culture of repair was mentioned was hopeful to me, planning as I am to take my broken wedding shoes to a cobbler one of these days.

* * * * * * *

In the course of the weekend, I had many blessings: Attending Kim's classes with her and just getting some good visits in, meeting some new friends (as well as visiting old ones for French Toast on Saturday), and enjoying some peaceful music. Back in the Edmonton airport, as I waited for my Beloved to come pick me up, I talked Church politics (God, forgive me!) with an Eastern Catholic nun from Saskatoon. No matter how enchanting Vancouver is, there is substitute for coming home.

* * * * * * *

Speaking of another kind of "conservation," please do take a moment to check out A Rocha Canada. This is an amazing organization that works worldwide, encouraging Christians to engage in care for the Creation. Our good friends Jay and Milissa Ewing are embarking on a journey with A Rocha as Directors of the Field Study Centre in Canada. This is an amazing work, so please join in prayer with and for them!



Blogger daniel greeson said...

I need to come to Canada and visit, obviously...

I was looking @ some schools in Toronto... ha.

God bless you matthew.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...

Thanks so much, Dan. God bless you too!

You have an open invitation to come stay with us anyime!

8:47 AM  
Blogger Jamie, Julie-Ann & Emily said...

When Jamie and I visited Vancover with the Hendricks 3 we had a fabulous time. We stayed in a hostel at Jericho beach and breakfasted at Spohie's Cosmic Cafe. Oh what a fabulous summer holiday. What a fabulous city! (We also enjoyed Edmonton too; the river valley had great walks!)

11:25 AM  
Blogger Jamie, Julie-Ann & Emily said...

opps! Sophie's Cosmic Cafe :)

11:26 AM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...

I know Sophie's. Had a great burger there some year's back... and Jericho is my personal favourite Vancouver beach!

11:54 AM  
Blogger Rainey said...


I find myself more and more involved in discussion around urban planning, the positive/negative side of redevelopment, and issues surrounding a city's identity at work.

It would be really good to compare thoughts on this.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...

I would appreciate that, Mark. Sounds like Manchester is smack dab in the middle of all this these days. Feel free to email me at:


7:21 AM  
Blogger Ostensive Lime said...

'twas good seeing you out this way Matt! one of these times we'll have a fuller chat i trust. (i totally think 'fuller' should mean 'more full'! infact i insist on using it that way :)
anyway i was out with your sis this afternoon-- she's feeling a bit better you'll be glad to know. yay muscle relaxants! :)

God bless you and Krista;

8:08 PM  
Blogger Eric said...


Good post.

I'm shocked at how willfull the desolation of our public cityscapes has been. It's amazing how much influence the law has in shaping our lives.

It's nice that you had a conversation with the nun at the airport. That's the sort of thing that makes Edmonton great; conversations like that don't arise in the same way in Calgary.

And I'm pleased to see the Ewings are involved in as worthy an organization as A Rocha Canada.



7:16 PM  
Blogger kim francis said...

hey matt,

nicely written post.

i'm thinking about those keen to tear all the old stuff down...i wonder if it's a bit like some families who, after weathering a hard blow (a divorce, or trauma) there is sometimes one member with an urge to re-decorate the whole place, make it all different, without the traces and rememberances- the pencil marks on the wall. I wonder if historians traced back in some of these communities--what might be found ?

i like our strathcona for that reason.

hoping to make it back to the fred herzog exhibit. (the photographer who has documented "vancouver's growing up", since the 50's) he'd be a fun one to sit in on a planning session. ;)

oh hey, went to see josh ritter the other night at the VECC...with Jay and Miliss + the awesome beckums. So we're all cozying in and guess who opened for him? yeah, John Mann. cool surprise..he's 44 and still kickin the air like it's 1989. he told some fun stories of hanging in Venice, way back, on his honeymoon writing Venice is sinking...

Josh Ritter's something-- One of the most joyful performer's i've ever seen live.

hey thanks for coming out for the conference and all. it was good to have you around.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Rainey said...


I've written a couple articles for the Materialist Psychogeograhic Affiliation (of which Im a founding member!!). I'll send you a copy when the final version comes out - you might be interested.
One article was actually a paper that I gave at Manchester University earlier this month.
Its urban planning/ myth/ social impact etc. . .

7:23 AM  
Blogger Jay and Milissa Ewing said...

It was good to have a visit. And the French toast was fabulous... Thank you for the great breakfast and indulging me as I gushed about A Rocha! As you could probably tell, we're pretty excited about the future...


5:07 PM  

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