The Minister Of Everything & Wacky Bennett's Last ErectionThursday, November 18, 2010
Bob Williams has acquired a reputation as one of the brightest New Democratic Party (NDP) talents of the past thirty years in British Columbia. He started out as a summertime gofer at Vancouver City Hall, trained at UBC’s planning school under Peter Oberlander, and became a planner wit the LMRPB (Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board) in the early 1960s, with Tom McDonald serving as secretary. Williams was elected Vancouver alderman for a term (1966-68) and became Minister of Everything [Minister of Resources] in Dave Barrett’s 1972-76 provincial government, in which capacity he invented the Insurance Corporation of B.C. and made the Agricultural Land Reserve a realistic notion.
City Making In Paradise – Nine Decisions That Saved Vancouver by Mike Harcourt & Ken Cameron with Sean Rossiter
Warning! I am going to have fun with this one. The facts are straight as far as I know but then there might be other versions of this story. This one, as I see it, is right out of the horse’s mouth. (make that two horses' mouths).
|W.A.C. Bennett by Malcolm Parry|
This story really began (or ended, depending on which side your architectural tastes lie) a few days after September 15, 1972. For the purposes of my own story it began on Thursday, afternoon, last week. I picked up journalist and former political columnist of Vancouver Magazine, Sean Rossiter at his home. We had arranged for coffee at the Calabria on Commercial. A block from our favourite café I spotted a man with bushy eyebrows. I called after him, “Mr. Williams!” he stopped to wait for us. It was former NDP MLA, cabinet minister, etc, etc who beamed at us with his smile and I could see his eyebrows bristle up like a cat's hair during an electrical storm. We found out we were all going to the same place. While Williams was there to see another person he did sit with us for a while. I gave him one of my postcards containing a portrait of Arthur Erickson.
Williams looked at the picture and suddenly he grinned with enthusiasm. He told us, “A few days after the Socreds lost the election I called up Arthur Erickson and told him, “I have a job for you and I have lots of money. Right after that Arthur called Bing Thom, ‘Bing, come over, we have a job.’” Williams looked at us and then said, “I felt like Superman.”
Many might know that before the NDP killed what would have been called the British Columbia Centre, our city would have had a tall 208 metre structure that would have been taller than the current Living Shangri-La (201 metres). In order to write this I needed some info on that project. I was unable to really find much until yesterday evening when of all my left messages one person did call back.
The person on the phone was charming architect Henry Hawthorne whose memory on our city’s buildings and whence they came from is phenomenal.
This 55 story building was being called Wacky Bennett’s Last Erection. Had it been built there would have not been enough BC bureaucrats to fill even half of the building. The project was given to two of our city’s firms. One was Thompson, Berwick, Pratt and Partners and the other was McCarter and Nairne. The latter built the iconic Marine Building and the main Post Office on Georgia. The folks at the Socred bench thought that Ron Thom (whom they admired) was still with Thompson, Berwick and Pratt but they were mistaken. He had gone. Paul Merrick from TBP and Blair MacDonald from McCarter and Nairne were given control of the project and architect Joe Wai and myself were given an office on Howe where we planned, worked and drew the project until it was shelved by the NDP. Arthur simply put the tall building on it side and that’s how we got Robson Square.
Now this Bob Williams, does not get all the credit he deserves. He hired some unknown photographer to photograph the most beautiful spots and BC and soon they all became Provincial Parks! There are so many stories like this one. I could tell you about them if we meet soon.
Because I am mostly a portrait photographer I do not have any photographs of Robson Square except this one featuring Gillian Guess. It will have to do.