Let’s take a trip down memory lane today – my memory lane anyway, for I suspect that a lot of you weren’t even gleams in your father’s eye in the 1950s.
In 1961 I was in my 30th year – it was the year I articled with the late Tommy Griffiths and was, on May 15th, called to the bar. It was also a year when an amazing performer from Oz. Rolf Harris was in town for a gig at the Arctic Club. In fact, earlier he had lived in Vancouver for nearly a year.
A word about the Arctic Club.
Cocktail lounges didn’t come to Vancouver until The Sylvia Hotel, built in 1912 as an apartment house, opened Vancouver’s first “cocktail bar” in 1954, Prior to that, the only public drinking holes were “Beer Parlours”, ghastly places now that I look back but, as they say, any old port in a storm. (Later, in 1978, as Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, I ended these dumps with the creation of the Hotel “Pub” license).
There were, however, what were no more than “speakeasies” which billed themselves as “private clubs” but one could join immediately when presenting oneself at the door and the membership fee was only $1.
There were several of these clubs – including the Pacific Athletic Club, the Quadra Club as well as the Arctic Club.
Ken Stauffer and Bob Mitten ran the Arctic Club – my dimming memory tells me they also had something to do with the Cave Supper Club when it was owned by Max King (whose super daughter, the late Jeannie King (Jackes), who later sold it to Izzie Walters, whose son Ritchie was at Prince of Wales with me. Jeannie and Bob Jackes also were at PW with me. At any rate, Ken and Bob were something less than punctilious about looking at your ID, so that those of us under the then legal age of 21 could, after slopping beer in the old Georgia Pub, where likewise, the manager and waiters (Barney and Cec) had no great interest in looking at ID, repair to the Arctic Club for nightcaps.
These speakeasies brought this from a wag, the late great columnist Barry Mathers who said “The Pacific Athletic Club is no more noted for athletes than the Arctic Club is for Eskimos”.
The clubs usually had entertainment and the truly great Chris Gage banged away at his jazz piano in the Arctic Club for years and a lovely Seattle singer, Pat Suzuki, was a regular.
I first saw Rolf Harris at the Arctic Club and, like the rest of Vancouver, was blown away by his talent and his obviously sincere love for Vancouver. His big hit was “Tie Me Kangaroo Down” and one could not listen to that without wanting it again.
Permit me to digress. Vancouver, in those days, had a steady stream of great performers: Sandy DeAantis at the Palomar Supper Club (which was where the present Burrard Building is), and the Cave on Hornby and Pender.
Here are some of the performers I remember seeing; Ella Fitzgerald, Frankie Laine, the Mills Brothers, Nat “King” Cole, Lionel Hampton, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Junior, Stan Kenton, Louis Jordan, George Shearing, Count Basie, Billy Eckstine, Mel Torme, The Ink Spots (whose leader, Bill Kenny fell in love with a local girl, married her and spent the rest of his life here) and many others.
Back to Rolf Harris – he’s back in town at the age of 80 and performing with nonagenarian Dal Richards who back in the days I mentioned above, was a fixture at “The Roof” in the Hotel Vancouver.
One last note. In the early 70s I lived in Kamloops and Rolf Harris came to town to sing at the Kamloops High School Gymnasium for several performances. Of course I saw him but on this particular night. I had been at the Stockmen’s Hotel lounge with some cronies. In any event we decided to see what was happening at our favourite cabaret, Friar Tucks. (Later I defended Friar Tucks when they were charged with obscenity for having a bottomless dancer perform – we and the lady in question were acquitted.)
When my mates and I walked into Ralph and Liz Biggar’s Friar Tucks – in those days I had a dark beard and wore horn rim glasses – I received a thundering round of applause. I couldn’t figure out what the hell this was all about until I realized they thought that I was Rolf Harris! Deflating to the ego but pretty funny.
Let’s then raise our glasses to an Aussie who distinguished himself first in Vancouver, lives amongst us and has returned “home”.