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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Deadlines: Obits of Memorable British Columbians

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Author: Tom Hawthorn, Harbour Publishing, October 2012

As a journalist it always fascinates me where my colleagues find their passions. For me, it’s how people connect with their houses. For Tom Hawthorn, it’s their deaths. And, while some of the people featured in Deadlines: Obits of Memorable British Columbians are well known, most often it’s the ordinary life that is the quirkiest and most colourful.

In Deadlines, Tom, a veteran newspaper reporter and obituary writer (there really is a Society of Professional Obituary Writers) features 38 people who died between 1988 and 2011 divided into sections that run the gamut from “eccentrics” and “trailblazers” to “warriors” and “innovators.”

Most of these stories appeared in the Globe and Mail between 1988 and 2011, and they have two things in common, he says: they have a connection to British Columbia and they’re dead.

“An obituary is a profile in which the subject cannot grant an interview, so we obituarists behave as newsroom jackals, rending bits of reportage and quotation from reporters who have come before,” he writes. “Perhaps it is for this reason the obituary desk is considered the lowest spot in the newsroom hierarchy. It is a job most typically assigned to cub reporters and burned-out veterans, recovering alcoholics at a rehab from and those who still seek inspiration in the bottom of a bottle.”

If that’s true, then Tom has elevated the profession (and those of us who write about history are reaching for our next drink).

I first heard about Spoony Singh (Sundher) from a paragraph in the Victoria Heritage Foundation’s This Old House series. Tom read about him in a paid obituary notice in the classified section of his newspaper. Before founding the Hollywood Wax Museum in 1965 and a string of other businesses, Spoony, who leads the book, went to school, worked and married in Victoria.

There is Harvey Lowe from “Entertainers,” who was born in Victoria in 1918, and by age 13 was touring Europe as the world yo-yo champion and met Amelia Earhart, the Prince of Wales and Julie Christie along the way.

Born in 1914, Margaret Fane Rutledge founded the Flying Seven, a legendary group of pioneer women from Vancouver, who as Tom writes: “showed a woman’s place was in the cockpit.”

Under “athletes” there is Jimmy [baby face] McLarnin, born in Strathcona in 1907, and who twice won the world welterweight championship. Those are a few of my favourites, no doubt you’ll have your own.

You can read the stories chronologically, but I read the book as Tom suggested, as short stories from a newspaper, read in front of the fire, or just before bed, chosen at random.

I wish I thought up this title–credit goes to Kit Krieger who nailed it. Tom says the ‘also rans’ were “Last Writes” and “B.C. R.I.P.”—almost as clever.


Eve Lazarus is a writer with a passion for history and heritage houses. She is the author of At Home with History: the secrets of Greater Vancouver’s Heritage Houses, a member of the North Vancouver District Heritage Commission, and blogs obsessively about buildings and their genealogies at Her next book “Sensational Victoria” with house stories of Victoria’s murders, ghosts, brothels, artists and sea captains has recently launched.