City of Vancouver’s 125 Legacy Books Project unearths forgotten literary riches
The words are strangely, and disturbingly, familiar. “Logging in B.C. today is an orgy of waste,” says the patriarch of the Norquay family, in conversation with his youngest son. “They’re skimming the cream of the forest, spilling half of it. Kicking the milk pail over now and then, refusing to feed the cow they milk.”
Apart from that oddly rustic milk-pail metaphor, the sentiments will be familiar to anyone who’s followed the fight to preserve Haida Gwaii, the Stein River Valley, or Clayoquot Sound.
Clear-cutting is a short-term strategy. Reforestation is a must. We’re killing the goose that laid the golden egg, or at the very least starving the sacred cow.
But these words weren’t written during the epic conservation battles of the late 20th century or even last week, however relevant they might seem. No, they were published in 1924, in Bertrand W. Sinclair’s novel The Inverted Pyramid.
Anyone who still thinks environmentalism is a recent phenomenon—some kind of hippie nonsense cooked up by tofu-coddling tree-huggers—might want to recalibrate their timeline, and their characterization. Sinclair, who died in 1972 at the age of 91, somehow managed to pen 14 books while juggling successive careers as a Montana cowboy, freelance writer, and Sunshine Coast fisherman.
The Inverted Pyramid is reputedly the best of Sinclair’s books, although only a true B.C. bibliophile would know: his last volume was published in 1954, and to assemble the lot would require either years of haunting used-book stores or spending a small fortune online. This one, though, has just been revived as part of the City of Vancouver’s 125 Legacy Books Project, which is also bringing three other novels, four works of nonfiction, and two volumes of poetry back into circulation, in most cases after a prolonged absence from the marketplace.
It’s the oldest of the 10 volumes—but not, says project instigator Brad Cran, the work that sparked this collaborative undertaking with the Association of Book Publishers of B.C.
“For me, the project really came out of my long desire to reprint Opening Doors,” says Vancouver’s municipal poet laureate, citing visual artist Carole Itter and poet Daphne Marlatt’s endlessly fascinating and long-unavailable oral history of the Strathcona neighbourhood, initially published in 1979 and reissued as part of the Legacy Books collection in March of this year. “I’ve been talking, on and off, with various publishers about that for probably five years. And the main reason Opening Doors is an important book for me is that it gave me the idea to do the Hope in Shadows: Stories and Photographs of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside book that we did. In fact, when I was first thinking about doing an oral history of the Downtown Eastside, the first person I contacted was Daphne Marlatt. We went out and had coffee and she gave me a rundown of how they’d done it and that sort of thing.
“So, for me, Opening Doors has been a directly inspirational book—and it’s a book that the people who own it know really well, and revere.”