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.
“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 email@example.com for details.