Ray Spaxman, Bill Yee & All Those Other Fine MenWednesday, September 19, 2007
Between 1973 and 1989 Ray Spaxman, a practicing architect and planner in England before moving to Toronto (where he was a city planner) was Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver. He is credited with changing the direction of development of our city and bringing more public participation and community engagement into the planning process. Starting in 1977 I started contributing photographs to Sean Rossiter's civic affairs column 12th & Cambie which appeared monthly in Malcolm Parry's Vancouver Magazine. On any given day that I might go to the old office on Hornby Street (a third of a block on the south east side and south of Nelson Street I remember one day seeing a most elegantly handsome man posing for photographer James La Bounty in Mac Parry's office. Behind the man, architect Arthur Erickson, were some buildings that soon would make way for his vision of Robson Square and the Law Courts. That day Erickson could have easily played either Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett in a film. On other days I might find Max Wyman or Daniel Gutstein, who with Rossiter wrote on city development and housing. Or I might find a theatre actor or writer Ben Metcalf. It seemed that Vancouver Magazine's door was open to those who cared for our city and worked for making it what it has become today. And Parry never was that much of an elitist. For one memorable Christmas party in the 80s (by then the magazine had moved to Davie and Richards he had personally invited as many prostitutes as he could find on the street that evening. It was at that Christmas party where I saw my first ever punch bowl fountain and realized that the Playboy Magazine cartoons, of their Christmas issue, were based on fact. Some of us made jokes about Rossiter's obsession in writing about Spaxman. No matter the subject I was assigned to photograph the man. After a few sessions with Spaxman I understood Rossiter's enthusiasm. I am including here only four of the many more that I took of the man. The b+w was the last one and the gentle (but extremely tall) Spaxman posed by my side garden gate. I thought he needed some texture so I lent him my electric blue knit sweater that Rosemary had given me for my birthday. I remember one special day in the middle 80s when I had photographed Alderman Bill Yee in the morning. In the 80s aldermen were aldermen. We had hit it off and he invited me to attend to the opening of a new Chinese restaurant that evening. I did not know what the evening had in store for me. When I arrived, with my illustrator friend Ian Bateson, there was a large round table. There were a few more aldermen, besides Yee, and the city clerk. And there was not only Ray Spaxman but also Vancouver City Engineer Fritz Bower who instantly reminded me of Wernher von Braun. I had lived too many years in Latin American countries where we considered that all in politics were corrupt. Sitting at the table with these men (they were all men) who seemed to be philosopher kings had me in awe. The conversation was stimulating even though the 13th or 14 course was a most difficult to eat sea cucumber. As I look back on those years I know I received a rare glimpse into the formation and planning of Vancouver. I saw Ray Spaxman a few weeks back. He was still the gentle man and he had the look of enthusiasm and love for the polis. A few months before I ran into Bill Yee at the Floata Restaurant in Chinatown. He is now an immigration judge. Vancouver has been blessed with these men but then there was May Brown and Darlene Marzari, and Shirley Chan, and Carole Taylor..... After I had photographed Bill Yee I had returned to Vancouver Magazine. Equity Magazine was publishing out of the same location. I went into editor Harvey Southam's office and told him, "Today I photographed a man who could be Vancouver's first ethnic mayor." Southam looked at me, and with a smile on his face he replied, "Not while we are around."