Fool's Gold: The Life and Legacy of Vancouver's Official Town Fool
By Jesse Donaldson. Anvil Press, 128 pp, softcover
Are you sick of hearing about the pandemic?
Would you prefer to focus on a simpler time in Vancouver's past when there was an official town fool to prick the consciences of the powerful?
If so, then Vancouver author Jesse Donaldson has an ideal solution for you—a lively, colourful, illuminating, and sometimes heartbreaking tale about one of Vancouver most peculiar residents.
In Fool's Gold: The Life and Legacy of Vancouver's Official Town Fool, he tells the story of Joachim ("Kim") Foikis, who used to wander the streets of the city dressed as a jester.
In 1968, much to the shock of Vancouver's establishment, the well-educated Foikis received a $3,500 Canada Council for the Arts grant to be the official town fool.
That's roughly $26,000 in today's currency, so this naturally provoked a public debate over the wisdom of this expenditure.
In his role, Foikis engaged in several stunts to challenge conformist thinking in the wake of the Summer of Love. That included riding a cart pulled by two donkeys through city streets to raise awareness about pollution from motor vehicles.
He also promoted street parties—foreshadowing car-free days decades later—and other zany acts designed to spread joy and confusion.
But Donaldson's book doesn't merely dwell on reasonably well-known episodes of Foikis's life as the town fool.
Through interviews and extensive research of media archives, the author delves far deeper into the life of the German immigrant who morphed from being a serious theology student into a madcap, minimalist prankster.
Donaldson also chooses an unusual approach. Rather than telling a straight chronological story, he jumps around in time.
This provides a cinematic feel, delivering revealing insights at unexpected moments into a man who loved organic gardening, lost contact with his family, and occasionally ran afoul of the law.
Foikis fell to his death at the age of 72 while dancing on rocks above Victoria's Inner Harbour in 2007.
So what motivated Foikis to turn his back on the trappings of modern life, sometimes living off the grid on Lasqueti Island while, at other times, dwelling in a Downtown Eastside SRO?
Was it linked to the death of an infant? A wild acid trip in 1966? Or the fallout of spending his childhood in Berlin at the height of the Nazi era?
There are no easy answers, no Rosebud moment, in explaining Foikis's eccentric life path.
This is Donaldson's second contribution to Anvil Press's series, 49.2: Tales from the Off Beat, which kicked off with his Land of Destiny: A History of Vancouver Real Estate.
Like Fool's Gold, that book is also an enlightening and sometimes disturbing stroll through the city's history, written with a similar degree of verve and imagination.
Foikis may have been Vancouver's only official town fool. But if Donaldson keeps it up, he's on his way to becoming the city's premier unofficial historian, sharing stories of those who weren't on the winning side in Vancouver's past.