Hycroft History by Ron Jobe

After attending the Roundtable-CWILL BC Celebration at Hycroft last week, I was asked if I would share the history of the Hycroft event. I thought you might be interested. Initially we must remember that Hycroft is merely a location and not the event.

Ever since the Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable started in March of 1979, a November Gala was established to recognize the Canadian Children’s Book Centre and to celebrate ‘Canadian Children’s Book Week,’ later to become the ‘Canadian Children’s Book Festival,’ and now the ‘TD Canadian Children’s Book Week.’  The initial intent of the Gala was to celebrate quality Canadian literature for children and young adults, but more importantly to recognize the writers and illustrators of British Columbia and promote them to teachers and librarians, thus encouraging school visits and school book sales!  We have always strongly believed this, and indeed have done so over the years. Lately, the Gala has become a writer/illustrator event, not one attracting teachers and librarians.

Back to history for a moment: Fortunately for us the Roundtable Gala was selected (each year) to receive one of the five Canada Council readings for our area. The speaker, of course, was selected by a committee from the CCBC. What a rich range of guests we have enjoyed: Monica Hughes, Alan Daniel, Claire MacKay, Marilyn Halvorson, Marie Louise Gay, Welwyn Katz, Meir Gottesman, Diana Wieler, Camilla Gryski, Adrian Forsyth, Ruth Ohi, Aubrey Davis, Mark Thurman, Barbara Nichol, Michael Kusugak, Martine Bates Leavitt, Ange Zhang, Gillian Chan, Eric Walters, and Anne Laurel Carter.

I would like to acknowledge that Wendy Sutton and I were co-chairs of the VCLR and it was an exciting partnership, along with 40+ enthusiasts on the steering committee. I shared my experience that Monica Hughes told me when her first novel was published, she went outside and ‘on that day not even the church bells rang!’ It became a passion for Wendy & I to make certain that the Roundtable celebrated each new book. We started with a cake for each person, then a larger cake for two and…on and on it went!

At our first November program, illustrator Douglas Tait spoke on “There is More to Illustrations Than the Picture.” An unexpected highlight of this session was that the bulb in the large and bulky opaque projector exploded, spraying fine pellets of glass all over. One of our more dramatic moments! Next year Patti Stren blasted in from New York! Gordon Korman (1981) gave his first presentation to an adult group, and I have to confess he was frankly terrified.

After many searches for a unique location, including the Vancouver Public Library and the Maritime Museum, Wendy was able to make contact with the University Women’s Club and we were invited to hold the 1987 Canadian Children’s Book Festival Gala at Hycroft. Wendy loved this event, but at this time it was extremely difficult to locate and know about our creators. I can recall her coming into my office and fuming, “I just cannot track that man down!” or “Is she travelling? How can I find her?” But she always did! Wendy invited the guests and arranged for the treats from a local high school (we always had to watch the budget) while I did the promotion and the program. Our speakers that year were John Bianchi and Sylvia Funston, Editor of Owl Magazine. You might recognize some of the names of our B.C. Writers: Sue Ann Alderson, Elizabeth Brochmann, Norma Charles, Sonia Craddock, Sarah Ellis, Joan Ford, Christie Harris, Jan Hudson, Heather Ketherhall-Stewart, Ainslie Manson, Florence McNeil, Mary Razzell and Paul Yee.

Jean Little brought out an overflow crowd to Hycroft in 1992…a joyous evening which also featured Sue Ann Alderson, Joan Buchanan, Elvie Butler, Norma Charles, Sonia Craddock, Odette Johnson,Claire Kujundzic, Marge Lightfoot, Ainslie Manson, Kit Pearson, Marion Crook, Mary Razzell and Irene Watts.

The Vancouver Roundtable has always had the second largest, if not the largest formal celebration of Book Week in the country and in 1994 we were ‘asked’ to host the National Launch, which we did spectacularly in a window-lined ballroom at the Westin Bayshore Hotel. Eugenie Fernandes was our special guest and along with a bevy of B.C. writers and illustrators we hosted a crowd of hundreds of children and adults. When Harvey Chan and Kim Fernandes came in 1998, we also featured Norma Charles, Marion Crook, Sandra Diersch, Joanne Findon, Gayle Friesen, Deborah Hodge, Shelley Hrdlitschka, Pascal Milelli, Cynthia Nicholson, Kit Pearson, Ginny Russell, Joan Skogan, Vickie Scudamore, Irene Watts, and Joan Weir.

On November 16, 1999 (my birthday would you believe!) we had perhaps one of our most memorable Children’s Book Festival Galas. We welcomed Kenneth Oppel (Silver Wing) to HMCS Discovery on Deadman’s Island in Stanley Park. At least 285 of the 300+ attendees came in Bat Black! This included Linda Bailey, Lillian Boraks-Nemetz, Norma Charles, Sandra Diersch, Sarah Ellis, Bob Heidbreder, Jim Heneghan, Nancy Hundal, Diane Jarvis Jones, Heather Kellerhalls-Stewart, Shar Levine, Cynthia Nicholson, Mary Razzell, Florida Town and Irene Watts. I am not certain if the attraction for them was the chance to speak on a naval reviewing stand or to join everyone in the officer’s mess for drinks (at naval prices!!).  Our crowd used every glass they had in the place! What a thirsty assembly of enthusiasts!

With all this reflecting of past delights, I do want to state that the objective of the Gala has always been to showcase talented British Columbian writers and illustrators to teachers and librarians. I have viewed it personally as a classy ‘meat’ market! Teachers often watched the presentations to determine who to invite to their schools. For ‘Author Fest’ at UBC, we waited until after this event to see who made a major impact, especially amongst the newbies. I always paid close attention to these two-minute presentations and when asked who to recommend, I could honestly say “Do you know who was really good at Roundtable!”

Ron Jobe

November 2010