Artists Al Neil and Carole Itter’s cabin under demolition threat in North Vancouver

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      Two of Vancouver’s most revered senior artists—sculptor Carole Itter, 75, and interdisciplinary artist Al Neil, the 90-year-old winner of a lifetime-achievement award from the City of Vancouver last year—face eviction from the waterfront cabin that Neil has occupied on a part-time basis since 1966. And the Lower Mainland faces an even greater loss: that of a structure that is both a work of art in itself and a rare example of West Coast vernacular architecture.

      The cabin—built as a Coal Harbour float home during the 1930s but beached between Deep Cove’s Cates Park and the McKenzie Barge shipyard for the past several decades—has existed in a state of legal limbo for years. It’s on land owned by Port Metro Vancouver, the entity that has given Itter and Neil until January 31 to vacate the premises and that is threatening to charge them for the cabin’s removal or demolition. But when Neil moved in, he initially paid rent to McKenzie Barge, before being granted tenure in return for serving as the facility’s de facto night watchman. The cheerful blue structure has since served as both retreat and muse for the two artists, with Neil creating music on its upright piano, Itter combing the shore for sculptural material, and both turning the cabin and its surrounding property into a living installation.

      As Eastside Culture Crawl executive director Esther Rausenberg told the Straight in a telephone interview, there are a number of ironies surrounding the impending eviction. Port Metro Vancouver’s order came when it decided extensive habitat restoration was needed after the purchase of the McKenzie Barge site by Polygon Homes, which is owned by art collector and philanthropist Michael Audain. (At press time, Audain has pledged an unspecified amount toward the removal of the cabin.) And North Vancouver has recently installed interdisciplinary artist Ken Lum’s replicas of three North Shore squatters’ cabins—those once occupied by author Malcolm Lowry, artist Tom Burrows, and marine researcher Paul Spong—at the Maplewood Flats Conservation Area, the former site of a vital but illegal community of artists and countercultural visionaries.

      Eastside Culture Crawl executive director Esther Rausenberg is one artist who is speaking out about the cabin.

      “It’s ironic that we’re spending money on having artists reproduce mudflat cabins but we’re struggling to save the real thing,” says Rausenberg, who has joined grunt gallery director Glenn Alteen and other artists in an attempt to save the structure. “And this is a part of a bigger history on that shore, in terms of artists and squatters and what they have contributed to Canada’s artistic legacy.”

      A fund is being established to support the cabin’s preservation, but for now offers of support—up to and including a temporary storage site—are being routed through grunt; contact for details.




      Jan 20, 2015 at 4:38pm

      So, the art collector Michael Audain's Polygon project destroys wildlife habitat to build condos, which then destroys the habitat of some of Vancouver's surviving artists, whose mudflat cabins are then embalmed and recreated by the artist Ken Lum to be looked upon by oblivious new condo owners. Ironic doesn't begin to describe this cluster-f*#@& of contradictions. But, then again, it's all so typical of a society that prefers its marine mammals doing tricks in a swimming pool, rather than swimming unfettered and free in the Salish Sea.

      Renee Rodin

      Jan 20, 2015 at 6:53pm

      Thanks, Alex, for your well-written article. You got it in a nutshell!

      Facts Please

      Jan 21, 2015 at 11:38am

      Polygon's project is being built on a former industrial site. They are remediating industrial impacts and recreating lost environmental features. The cabin is not on Polygon's property - it is on land owned by Port Metro Vancouver.

      Dale Sakawsky

      Jan 21, 2015 at 8:17pm

      It sounds to me like the(Federal Cons.) are more than likely the ones pushing this . We the PEOPLE need to do something about this , and the only way is to get more involved in the prosess . This is totaly uncalled for , there is power in #s . The people have to stand up and make their voices heard . Start with Silly Hall .


      Jan 21, 2015 at 8:30pm

      They have been squatting there for decades. When you don't own the land (or even have a lease) you don't get a say. And they are NOT destroying the habitat. Have you been there? I have. The land they are developing is contaminated industrial land. They are cleaning it up!

      Sherrill Jackson

      Jan 25, 2015 at 2:45pm

      I remember visiting Dollarton in the 60's when there was a pre-eviction party for many talented artists/residents living in free-form squatters shacks on stilts dotting the flats.
      I would like to see the Vancouver Museum house Al's cabin, along with photos and memorabilia from the other famous artists who lived at that unique location and time. Could the house be strengthened, shunted onto a barge, and dragged to the museum where it could be relatively easy to rehabilitate for exhibition? Vancouver should show respect for its artists and what they have contributed to our history. This could make a great permanent reconstruction. Just picture the little blue house floating behind a tugboat to its new location through the harbour, under the Lions Gate Bridge, past Stanley Park, to the beach at Vanier Park, greeted by a cheering crowd and a jazz band. Rather than ruthlessly trashing a fascinating part of our history, let us use our imaginations to add to it in a positive, and even entertaining, way. Worth funding?

      glen andersen

      Jan 30, 2015 at 12:45am

      that cabin is a harmless bit of west cost history that should have heritage classification. i saw it today and though right next to it is a massive barnacled slag heap, the cabin itself is in its own pristinish cove. Surely the Consortium for the Perpetuation of Knee-jerk Demolition can surgically remove the offending bits and leave the cultural relics intact


      Feb 3, 2015 at 1:20am

      I went there the other day. The cabin is a living piece of cultural heritage, a reminder of alternative life styles, and we would all benefit if it were treated as such.