By Ben Nuttall-Smith
Thanks to initial research by George Opacic and my own collection of 30 issues of WordWorks magazine, I’ve been able to glean the following tidbits of Federation of BC Writers history. I would have finished research much sooner if I hadn’t been delayed by my propensity to read so many great stories and articles by our members. Still, please note many vital items of information as well as names and dates are missing. I would urge readers to make corrections and additions to this project. The FBCW was initially founded in 1976 as The Federated Association of British Columbia Authors, “to answer the needs of writers in the province on a grass roots level and to provide more of a western perspective.” Still, I have been unable to find records of meetings nor an AGM through 1977, 78, 79, 80. Trevor Carolan speaks of a meeting 29 June, 1981 at Langara College, when members of various Canadian writer organizations got together to discuss forming a provincial writers’ association. Scribblers at that meeting represented The Writers’ Union of Canada, The Periodical Writers’ Association of Canada, the Canadian Authors Association, The League of Canadian Poets, The Guild of Canadian Playwrights, members of ACTRA and Mona Fertig represented The Literary Storefront. Following that daylong meeting, The Federated Association of British Columbia Authors name was officially changed with a new charter to The Federation of BC Writers. The founding meeting was arguably Saturday, March 20, 1982 when we were registered as a non-profit organization. Writing is, by nature, a solitary occupation. Writers are used to being alone. However, writers also need community. The Federation of BC Writers provides community and much more. According to Sylvia Taylor, long time Executive member, The Federation of BC Writers has “weathered many a storm. It has survived on passion and commitment.”
During Sylvia Taylor’s time in office as Fraser Valley Regional Director, President, then Executive Director, (1999 to 2013), the Fed became “the largest provincial writers organization in Canada, with nearly 800 members—the envy of other provinces.” According to Sylvia, “The President of the Quebec Writers Federation said she was stunned by the scope of what we offer. Never had she seen so much done for so many with so little.” By January 1990, under the leadership of President Heather Glebe, The FBCW counted 950 members. The FBCW has survived many crises, especially when governments withdrew most funding from artistic and literary organizations. We had to close our office and let staff go. Yet, with volunteer help, we carried on. When funding for our “Off the page” Writers in the Schools program was denied, a private donor wrote a cheque for $2,000 and the program continued for another year. Members carried on by donating workshops and serving fellow writers. For several years, we survived on membership fees alone. Still, we struggled to carry on, sometimes with very little volunteer help. The years 2010 – 2011 brought rapid turnover in leadership due to burn-out. Craig Spence, who served as both President and later as Executive Director, termed his stint as president “A wild ride”. “The ravages of fiscal storms nearly drowned the FBCW in the last few weeks of 1989. But do we say die? Never!” and from retiring Executive Director Bob Webster in his final report:
“It has been the most interesting, exciting, stressful position I have ever held.”
Below are a few intriguing lists of important dates and people, as well as a list of journal entries regarding the FBCW AGMs from the date of inauguration, all the way to 2008.
(Notes from Jan Drabek’s Diaries)
Saturday, March 20, 1982: Joan (my wife) takes me along with two Saskatchewan delegates to Langara at 9 am for the inauguration meeting of the BC Writers Federation. Tom Fielding (BC Government) arrives after lunch but none of us respond to his smooth talk. I take pix and David Watmough becomes the first chairman of the BC Federation of Writers but I bow out of the dinner and party afterward because I am too beat after the day’s proceedings and come home and am off to bed early.
Saturday, March 19, 1983: I hop on the bike again and drive to Langara for the BC Fed of Writers meeting. About 20 people show up. We elect a new council and I agree to sit on it because the outfit really has to get off the ground this year…
Sunday, April 29, 1984: In the am I work on my report to the federation. The meeting starts at 1pm and by four I have been elected 1st vice despite Dorothy Livesay’s indirect attempts to get me off the council. It’s a generally upbeat meeting all the way and by 5:15 I am home, making an omelette for dinner.
Saturday, April 27, 1985: In the am we have a pretty productive meeting of the BC contingent of the Writers’ Union at our house. Afterwards I clean up, then it’s off to BC Writers Fed meeting. I am the new chairman, Trev Carolan is First VP, Elfrieda Reid 2nd vice. Home about 11.
Saturday, May 3, 1986: I walk down Davie to the Arts Council and the long federation AGM which is attended by about 20 people. It’s not very successful I am afraid and there aren’t really many new people on the council. We say goodbye to Trev Carolan and dead tired I go home.
Saturday, April 18, 1987: I pick up Ann Walsh to go to the Unitarian Church for the provincial council meeting first. It’s a great success — we sure have some new, enthusiastic types! Lunch at Umbertino’s, then back to the church for a talk by Peter Newman on how to write a bestseller. He’s good, damn good. Then on to the AGM broken in two by an excellent dinner. All went well.
Sunday, May 22, 1988, Naramata: The day begins at 8 with a meeting of the provincial council where members get to know each other. Then there is a capable Keith Maillard reading, then lunch and the AGM. Bob Webster gets his anti free trade motion through, we pass some amendments and things, elect new council and then go to dinner.
Saturday, April 8, 1989, White Rock: I pick up Linda Rogers and together we drive to White Rock for the federation AGM. It’s my swan song on the council.
April 7, 1990, Nanaimo: At seven my wife and I are on our way to Tsawassen and the ferry to Victoria. We park the car at the Empress. At 12:15 there is lunch and at 1:15 the AGM gets rolling, I am presented with honorary membership in the federation by the prez Heather Glebe.
NOTE: Throughout the 1990s I was not only absent from the affairs of the federation, but also from Canada: I lived in Prague, then Nairobi, then Prague again, followed by Tirana and finally Prague once more.
April 27, 2007, Victoria: Eventually I find Murchie’s Tea Room and arrive half an hour late for the board meeting. I also attend the AGM in the hotel above (Bedford Regency?), where I meet some old friends – Michael Hetherington, Leona Gom and Richard Olafson. In the end I am elected the fed’s president again.
May 9, 2008, Vancouver: It all starts on a wobbly note at Starbuck’s across the street from the hotel where the AGM is to be held later. Fernanda Viveiros and I get into each other’s hair over some constitutional matters but the AGM itself goes smoothly with Sylvia Taylor elected the new prez. One of the subsequent readings is by Trevor Carolan.
David Watmough, Trevor Carolan, Jan Drabek, Sandy Duncan, James Barber, Christie Harris, Mona Fertig, Andreas Schroeder, Bill Bissett, Michael Mercer, David Conn, Scott Dunlop, Daniel Wood, Alan Twigg, Dona Sturmanis, Richard Payne, Christopher Moore, Jennifer Alley, Keith Maillard, Donna McCluskey, Frank Gerber, Betty Millway, Madeleine Allsbury, Richard Payne, Leonard Angel, Gary Marcuse, Robin Skelton, Ron Stanaitis, K.O. Kanne, Sonia Craddock, Bella Chen, …..
Other early members and benefactors have included:
John Gray, Judy Villeneuve, Knowlton Nash, Spider Robinson, Pierre Berton, Ann Walsh, Linda Rogers, Angela Hyrnuik, Bob Webster, P.K. Page, Susan Musgrave, Joe Rosenblatt, Al Purdy, Betsy Warland, Howard White, Peter Newman, Moira Morningstar, W.P. Kinsella, Patrick Lane …..
Members of Note:
David Fraser – long-serving Regional Rep – The Islands
Sylvia Taylor – Fraser Valley Rep for 9 years, 1999-2008
President for 2 years
Executive Director for 3 years
Barbara Coleman – Secretary & Membership Manager for 15 years
Margo Lamont – longtime volunteer editor of WordWorks
Susan Greig – volunteer editor of WordWorks and website developer
David Watmough – 1982-1985
Jan Drabek – 1985-1989
Heather Glebe – 1989-1990
Linda Rogers – 1990-1992
George Fetherling – until 2004
Margaret Thomson – 2004 – 2005
Brian Busby – 2005 – 2007
Jan Drabek – 2007 – 2008
Sylvia Taylor – 2008 – 2010
Margaret Thomson – 2010
Hendrik Slegtenhorst – 2010
Craig Spence – 2010
Candice James – 2011
George Opacic – 2011 – 2013
Ben Nuttall-Smith – 2013 – 2015
Coco Aders-Weremczuk – 2015
Ann Graham-Walker 2016 –
EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS (ED)
Trevor Carolan – First ED, 1982-1986
Bob Webster – 1987-1990’s
Merrill Fieron – 1990s to 2005
Fernanda Viveiros E.D. – 2005 to 2010
Sylvia Taylor E.D. – 2010 to 2013
David Blinkhorn E.D. – 2013 – 2014
Craig Spence E.D. – 2015
Shaleeta Harper E.D. 2016 –
Life Members: Jan Drabek, George Fetherling, Lorna Crozier, Patrick Lane, Naomi Beth Wakan, Ann Walsh, Ben Nuttall-Smith
Annual: Write on the Beach initiated June 2011 [there were previous events in Crescent Beach, along with many other places]
Fed Anthology – most recently, Winter 2007
In 2014, we donated our large collection of Books by B.C. Authors, which had been held in storage, to the new North Surrey Library to be displayed and lent out from an especially marked section.
**Names & information gleaned from What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been … by Trevor Carolan – WordWorks – Summer 2007. see https://issuu.com/wordworks
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