1987 Narrative Scroll ~ Vancouver Land Of Contrasts

This narrative scroll was made with photographs taken in Vancouver from 1970 through 1987. The accompanying text  recounts seventeen years of change in the cityscape and my personal response to it.

This is the last piece that I made using the idea of the scroll, something I experimented with in the 1980's. The concept allowed me to attach as many photographs as necessary to a continuous length of paper and then add the narrative writing to follow along with the pictures. In some ways this technique shared a harmonic with Kerouac's famously typed manuscript for On the Road– a continuous roll of paper– an expressive mechanism allowing the layout of the pictures, building the story and writing the narrative very quickly. The 4 foot high by 30 foot long scroll was completed in about five days.


Land Of Contrasts

By Henri Robideau


When I first came to Vancouver in 1970 I was a broke and lonely refugee from the violence of AMERIKA. Vancouver was a quiet sawmill town – False Creek filled with log booms and Sweeny’s Cooperage the last place in the world making wooden barrels.

I had a pad on Ash St. in the shadow of the not so normal “NORMAL SCHOOL” – an oppressive kludge of British Colonial architecture. I hung out on the streets eating at the Green Door where Broccoli-beef was a buck. You could go for a sleezo 35¢ beer at the Anchor or Gassy Jack’s and the Last Chance Saloon in Kits was the place to score grass and meet the local narcs who often outnumbered the customers.

All of that’s gone now or changed ~ False Creek has gone residential and people use plastic barrels. The roof burned off the Normal School a few years back and my digs on Ash St got torn down and made into a parking structure. The Green Door changed hands and the prices went up. I became allergic to alcohol and stopped going to bars. The Last Chance Saloon is now the modest CLAY SIGNS and the narcs chase nose burners instead of pot heads.

Before I settled down with Jeannie at 3rd and Blenheim in Kitsalito I lived in seven different houses over a three year period – always one step ahead of the demolishers. I learned that developers rule in Vancouver and there is little respect for old buildings – which fall easily to profit. Some of my favorite joints were erased – like the St Vincent De Pauls on Hastings St and the Blezmo Block (my name for the Capitol Rooms) on Robson. The wooden Imperial Gas on Commercial, the magnificent Birks Block and the entire town of Eburne were chewed up and trucked off to Burns Bog.

And what about the torched-one-foggy-night Jericho WWII hangers and who even remembers HABITAT 76? The Day the finger fell off the Giant Hand on Broadway, Gianthropology was born. I began photographing things I knew would disappear like the old rocket at the airport and the Giant Olive Jar on the Grandview Hwy (won’t be so grand without the view).

In 1976 my life changed when Jeannie gave birth to Frank – I was a father and had to take life seriously (ha!). Vancouver was going through changes as well. An anti billboard by-law cleaned up the view but also meant the loss of the ULTRA HAIR sign with its continuously flapping bald scalp. The Kitsilano Train (OL’ 374) was moved from the parking lot at Kits Beach where it served as a gathering spot for lefty demos over to the redone CPR roundhouse where it served as a gathering spot for the private sector.

One change for the better was the new Giant Chitanya Mahaprabu at the Hare Krishna Hall in beautiful Burnaby. Also the Sheet Metal Workers Local 280 got together with the Transportation Club and revived the Old Rocket – this time in stainless steel. In 1986 the old Cambie Bridge was replaced by a new cement unit – you could look down from it onto the spot where the Bald Head Sign had been and see a Giant Wrist Watch spinning off the brief moments of a Class B World Fair. The Giant Watch lasted less than six months.

When I left Vancouver in 1987 the sawmills were gone but it was still a sawmill town in its soul. The witless villagers of B.C. hunkered down to paying for the crumbling monuments of their small minded empire building leaders. When I left Vancouver in 1987 the geriatrics still rolled their balls in slow motion across the perfect eco surface turf at TERMINAL CITY – the trash garden below the Beatty Street Armory went unnoticed by the curators at the VAG – Expo was being demolished to make way for the next Socred free enterprise wet dream.

When I left Vancouver there was still a sheet metal and neon steamy cloud of Ho Ho rising out of the Giant Chop Suey Bowl in Chinatown – the Gorilla War Surplus on Broadway was down to its last two five hundred pound bombs – the Bible Quotes Truck appeared at major intersections spilling its alphabet soup of tracts into the blurry eyes of early morning rush hour commuters.

As Jeannie, Frank, Pete The Dog and I crossed Boundary Road in our five ton truck, headed for a new life in Montréal, Sasha and the waifs mysteriously appeared by the side of the road as if in a vision, forlornly waving goodbye.

When I left Vancouver it was raining.


Montréal 1987