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  • Volume Eight, Number Seven: October 2003

    Our Own Private Hobo Jungle

    Stanley Park In Fact And Fiction


    Tom Sandborn


    Stanley Park

    By Timothy Taylor

    Vintage Canada

    Random House Toronto


    $21.00 423 pp.


    Stanley Park coverStanley Park was in the headlines a lot this summer. The local morning paper expended a lot of ink whipping itself and its more impressionable readers into a frenzy of alarm about the "discovery" that our world-renowned civic parkland was teeming with impoverished and potentially pyromaniac "squatters.”


    Somewhere in the park's emerald depths, the headlines screamed, live a tattered, dangerous and no doubt ill smelling population. The Province estimated the squatter population at over 500, although more sober guesses ran to about a hundred. The CanWest daily claimed these unauthorized campers were on the brink of burning down our city's share of the forest primeval at any minute, sparking an insolent blaze that would no doubt race from those poverty campfires behind Beaver lake to the luxury townhouses of Yaletown and the business towers of the downtown core. Something, the press thundered, must be done, and done immediately!


    Well, actually, no. The rains came soon enough, and even the remote danger of a forest fire in the park faded. In fact, cigarette buts discarded by SUVs on the cross park causeway have always posed more proximate danger to the city forest than the carefully tended fires of the desperate few who live in the green shade beyond Lee's Trail.


    Besides, there was really nothing new to the story. Stanley Park has been home to human settlements for thousands of years, long before the British Navy set the end of the downtown peninsula aside as a source for masts and timbers in the 19th century, and long before the city itself existed.


    After European settlements began to appear around the harbour, the forests we now call Stanley Park held tents, shacks and lean-tos erected by folks pushed out to the threadbare margins on the city, as well as a few stubborn surviving first nations villages. The trumped up forest fire panic was a new angle to the story, but settlements of what Shaw's Mr. Dolittle called the "undeserving poor" have existed in the Park for over a century, and attempts to root them out go back at least as far.


    If we don't want the unsightly and unruly poor on the streets of the city, or in the visible micro parks from which they have been most recently expelled, and we aren't willing to let them live even in the depths of the park, just where are they supposed to go?


    While the Province was waxing ever more rebarbative on the subject of pyro-hobos, I was restoring my threatened faith in the usefulness of the printed word by reading Timothy Taylor's elegant first novel, Stanley Park. Taylor's debut effort, first published in 2001, has recently come out in paper back, and it is strongly recommended reading for anyone interested in good food, strong drink, hot sex and the rain forest city we uneasily share with parkland poor and the predatory rich.


    Taylor has given us a first novel with an impressively mature, and measured tone, a cast of keenly observed characters and a Vancouver that is both immediately recognizable as our own and uniquely the product of his artistic imagination.


    The characters range from Jeremy Papier, a struggling and innovative chef devoted to local produce and passionate gastronomy; his father the professor, who has abandoned his offices at the university to live among the homeless in Stanley Park, and the evil Dante Beale, whose international coffee franchise (can you say Starbucks? I knew you could) threatens to take over and denature Jeremy's pioneering restaurant, The Monkey's Paw. Others in the teeming cast include Caruzo, a ragged and haunted figure who has lived in the park for too long, and carries too many of its secrets, a whole kitchen full of lumpen apprentice cooks who help Jeremy pull off a renegade restaurant opening night never to be forgotten by anyone who had a chance to taste the loin of raccoon and roast mallard harvested just down the street in the park, and several convincing scenes of sexual passion and loss.


    In addition to the keenly observed and imagined characters, the lovingly described food and the profound reflections on the value of the local and the specific in an age of globalization, the virtues of Stanley Park include portraits of the homeless that are neither alarmist nor sentimental. As a bonus, Taylor gives the reader a plausible true crime re-working of the Babes in the Woods murder mystery, the unsolved killings that occurred in the park in the 1940s.


    Forget the Province. Save your quarters and buy yourself a copy of Stanley Park today.


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