88. The Boneyard, 1961: The Return of Canary Yellow
I’m not sure where my father got the paper from, though I suspect he bought it all at once, some kind of bargain. The sheets appeared first holding Shaw quotes on the walls of our room in Prince Rupert. They were half sized, 5 ½ by 8 ½, Canary yellow newsprint, not bond, of the quality commonly used for scrap notes or carbon copies in those days of typewriter offices. Whatever their provenance, those sheets appeared again, a-crumple, on the floors of our little cabin in the Boneyard.
Remarkably for a man with a grade eight education (and something I never attained with my own two degrees in writing) my father was working on a newspaper column. Fortnightly in The Fisherman his row of words appeared all up and down the West Coast, his picture beside it. Alternate versions of the same, never seen by public eyes, littered our floor with yellow.
Now, it wasn’t a very high resolution reproduction, but even to an eleven-year-old, the photo beside the column seemed too smooth-faced.
“That was the only photo they had,” I remember my father explaining. “I was about 30 then.”
He was 41 in the summer of 1961.
One of my creative writing profs said—I’ve since seen it elsewhere, so he was quoting or paraphrasing—that things are not written, they are rewritten. I had learned that lesson in 1961 from the crumpled yellow balls of paper on the floor.
My father must have sent his columns in hand-written, for all I know on those same yellow half-sheets. That would be fundamentally impossible for a writer during my lifetime, at least in my experience—nothing less than typed, one-sided, with generous margins—but the rules were less strict perhaps for a truly working class publication. The Fisherman was produced out of the offices of the UFAWU in Vancouver, the United Fisherman and Allied Workers Union, with which the newspaper then had a symbiotic relationship.
I remember copies of the newspaper, my father’s column and picture in them, sitting about our cabin, but I can’t remember a single item he wrote. I suppose I read them, some of them anyway, and they were in clear enough English, but there’s an amnesia in incomprehension. Eleven year olds inhabit a parallel but separate world to adults. What my father wrote for The Fisherman was probably untranslatable to me.
I regret the absence of memory, because very little of my father’s writing remains now, though he wrote all his life. Most of what he published, and I’m sure there was an impressive amount of it, were printed as letters, in various newspapers and journals, left-wing, mainstream, local, national. His season at The Fisherman was my father uniquely featured but it wasn’t substantially different from what he did anyway, with less certain publication.
The Fisherman is long defunct as you might expect, and in a much reduced industry the UFAWU has shrunken to the role of adjunct to a much larger, less specialized union. A large cache of records exist, contributed as a gift by The Fisherman’s publishers, archived at UBC, presumably with copies of the newspaper available to researchers in white linen gloves. But I was dismayed to see that the records only go back to 1962. If any copies of The Fisherman exist from the era of my second Boneyard summer, they are not in that archive. Consequently my father’s writings for that paper are still inaccessible to me.
But his motions are not lost. When I began writing myself during the summer of 1965, (with a few fits and starts before then) I temporarily forgot my father’s own writing and somehow convinced myself that I invented the idea myself. That’s amnesia of the ego, I guess. But eventually I realized that my own career in writing originated with the litter on the floor in our little Skeena River squatter’s shack.
My father read, I read. My father thought about things and talked about things, I thought about things and talked about things. My father wrote, I wrote. My creative writing classrooms at UBC were connected to my father and to the Boneyard in ways much more profound than shared lessons about revision.