It's hard to believe that it has been 50 years since I first met Dan McLeod.
It was in front of my dance hall, the Afterthought, on West Fourth Avenue in 1967. It was raining, and there was Dan, hawking (what I now believe was) the first edition of the Georgia Straight. He had long hair and was rather wet. It struck me that he was a dedicated vendor; I didn't know at the time that he was, in fact, one of the founders (and soon to be owner) of the Straight.
I struck up a conversation with Dan and found out about what he was trying to do: to have a paper about free speech, a paper that was not censored. Dan told me that he believed that this would probably be his last issue as no one was willing to print his next edition. I told him that my dad owned a print shop and that I was sure he would print it.
My relationship with my father was not great, as I had been busted a little earlier by notorious local narc Abe Snidanko for possession of cannabis; times were strange. But I felt it was important for Dan to be able to do what he was passionate about. I was equally passionate about the right to smoke an herb and operate a dance hall, but the City of Vancouver and the police found a way to stop me.
So it made sense to me that I could help Dan do something that I knew was right. (I always thought that my dad printed only one edition but Dan thinks it was more than one.)
My path would go on a downward spiral for the next two years and would not turn around untill May 1969, when I would get married to the love of my life and have a beautiful baby girl, Celeste, who would forever change my life.
Dan would continue to persevere with the Straight, as I would have with my dance hall. He had many different people to work with, all with different ideas. The city, under anti-hippie mayor Tom Campbell, would try everything to close him down but somehow Dan would persevere. I knew he had what was needed to run a paper that was truly a open and that would not be controlled by corporations—it would be a paper for the people. While I had my dance hall, a few people that I worked with tried to start a paper in Vancouver but no one could pull it off.
During later years, I would not see a lot of Dan, because in the 1070s I would move to Courtenay with my family and start a new life, working for the government. Life had progressed far too fast, but whenever I needed something from Dan, he was always there. It seems like yesterday that we celebrated the Georgia Straight's 30th anniversary.
Now it is 50 years and the paper continues to be a beacon for free speech. Last year, it was Dan’s son, Matt—now the Straight's general manager—who asked me to contribute some columns for the online Straight about the things that happened in this city five decades ago. And about five years ago, I was asked to write a book about my life, and one of the first people I went to for help was Dan. He gave me a lot of insight and assistance in getting the book out.
Over the years, I would talk about how our lives have criss-crossed, and now Dan and the Straight are having their own book put out, and by the same publisher that produced mine. During the past 50 years, I had lot of lunches with Dan, talking about how important it was for people to know about the Straight's journey. I am proud that the paper continues to be a voice for the people (and it seems fitting that we both would have the same publisher).
A strange occurrence: I went to see Arlo Guthie in concert as I was writing this story. I saw Arlo before the concert and I gave him a copy of my book. He told that he thought the book was cool, the greatest compliment I could receive from the son of Woody Guthrie. Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger were early mentor of mine, teaching me the importance of equality for all and to take care of the planet that has been entrusted to us all. Here we are 50 years later and I listened to Arlo give the same message as his father.
More than ever now, I believe that what we are facing on our planet is a battle to save the world for all.
This poster at the top of this article was for the Teen Age Fair in 1967. It was held at the armoury on Burrard Street near the bridge and featured both local and international bands. It was a standalone event (before then it had been part of the PNE) that was well attended and featured band posters that for the first time did not have a specific date on them. The event posters were done by a group of local artists: Frank Lewis, King Anderson, and Lloyd McKinnon.
Please attend Jerry's book-signing this Saturday (May 20) at the Museum of Vancouver from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.