Chuck Davis: For the love of Vancouver

Chuck Davis speaking at Sullivan’s Public Salon – video on YouTube

Chuck Davis doesn’t want cancer diagnosis to scuttle his labour of love

UPDATE: See the text of Chuck’s presentation below. A $5000 donor has already come on board, and others seem to be lining up. See details on where to give. To reach Chuck email him at

Veteran broadcaster and Vancouver historian Chuck Davis announced to a packed Playhouse Theatre on Thursday night that he just learned 2 days ago that he has incurable cancer and physicians believe he only will live for a few more weeks or months at the most. Wiping away tears while speaking at former mayor Sam Sullivan’s Public Salon, Davis made a plea to the room to help raise $30,000 to hire an editor to complete his history of Metro Vancouver.

Davis, whose website is one of the best resources to know how the city of Vancouver has evolved since its inception, was a radio and TV reporter for nearly five decades and has since gone on to write some of the most popular histories of the local region. He told the room of how he arrived in Vancouver for the first time, getting off a train ride from the Prairies. It was late winter and it was the sight of flowers blossoming that began a lifelong love affair with our city.

During his short speech he talked about how his original history of the city gained a reputation as the "second most stolen book" in the Vancouver public library (#1 was Mein Kampf). Underlying Davis’ words was his profound love of his city, which is what above all brought tears to my eyes.

Sam Sullivan earned a reputation as one of Vancouver’s great political scrappers. He’s left politics and redefined his life in the quest for ideas. Sullivan surrounds himself with very smart and accomplished people, using the venue of the salon to get these people to share their wisdom and their talent.

A common theme of many of the evening’s talks was the strong connection to Vancouver. During his presentation Chief Justice Lance Finch gave a history of the Vancouver Courthouse (now housing the Art Gallery) and made the case for making the building a law court once again.

Artist Ken Lum, who stirred pride among us East Vancouverites last winter with his Monument for East Van at 6th and Clark Drive, talked about his connections to his old elementary school. He asked Vancouver to embrace its "ghosts". He quipped that there are more ghosts on the city’s east side than on the west side, but the west side has more skeletons because their closets are bigger.

Chuck Davis, who spoke last, was the very embodiment of that spirit which connects us to Vancouver. Davis graciously met with me for coffee earlier in the year after several attempts to connect. We talked for an hour about some of the history around city hall. I asked him whom he thought was the most remarkable mayor in Vancouver’s history (answer: L.D. Taylor), but he admitted he was not really interested in political history and more focused on the events which made Vancouver the great city it is.

Chuck Davis asks if there is someone who wants to help support his cause to complete his history book that you contact him.

UPDATE: I received a note from Chuck this afternoon, who corrected me on the scope of his book. He shared with me his presentation in writing, which I am posting below.

UPDATE #2: We’re pleased to report the news that Chuck has already received a donation of $5000 from a Vancouver businessperson towards his project.

UPDATE #3: We now provide a video recording of Chuck’s speech, and as well below information on where to send donations.

– post by Mike

Presentation by Chuck Davis, September 23rd, 2010

Back in the mid 1970s I conceived of and edited a book called The Vancouver Book. I described it as an urban almanac; it had just over 500 pages (big pages, too) and contained articles on every aspect of the city, articles by dozens of local people, including me.

The book was successful. In fact, at the end of 1976 the staff at the Vancouver Public Library told me that The Vancouver Book was the second most stolen book in the entire system that year.

I was, of course, delighted. I took that as an indication of the book’s usefulness, and it also meant that the Library would have to buy more copies.

Being a curious fellow I had to ask: if my book was the second-most stolen, what was the first? The answer was Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler.

Well, some 20 years later I was working on a successor to the book, this one called The Greater Vancouver Book, and happened to mention the Mein Kampf thing to one of the writers, Denny Boyd. And Denny said, “Well, thank God the other guy isn’t planning a sequel.”

Now, another 13 years later on, I’m working—or should be—on a book that I describe as the capstone of my writing career: The History of Metropolitan Vancouver. The emphasis is on the central city, but all the suburbs are cited, especially when events that happened within their borders impacted Vancouver itself.

But I have run into a snag. And to explain it in more detail I have to take you back to late 2007 when, in the space of one week, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer, prostate cancer and skin cancer.

The skin cancer was minor: they chipped a few bits from my skull and my back. The bladder and the prostate cancer were more serious. They both had to be removed.

Weighing a little less I went back to work on the book. But, earlier this year, the cancer returned. I had radiation treatments that stopped the pain, but, just this last Tuesday, my wife Edna and our daughter Stephanie sat with me as an oncologist at the Cancer Agency told us that my cancer was incurable, and had reached a stage where it could not be treated with either radiation or chemotherapy. I naturally asked How long do I have?, and although she couldn’t be specific the words “weeks” and “months” were in there somewhere. I don’t recall hearing the word “years”.

That adds a note of urgency to what I’m about to tell you.

Why am I sharing with you these embarrassing personal details? Because, as Will Kane said, in the movie High Noon, I could use a little help.

I need two things.

One, I need to find a writer who can finish the book. It’s up to 1994 at the moment.

Two, I need to find the money to pay the writer who will finish the book.

This has happened so suddenly—the bomb was dropped just two days ago—that I don’t know how to handle it. One suggestion: a law firm (pro bono, please) offers to hold, in trust, any funds raised. The funds would be for the writer who takes on the task of finishing the book.

If you go to my website——you will find more than 2,000 pages of local history. The writer will have to hack and hew through that mass of data, bringing it down to a reasonable size, besides researching the 16+ years to bring the book up to the present day. I’ve estimated it will take a year, and I’m suggesting something in the range of $30,000.

I have 16 file drawers full of material. I also have about 400 locally-oriented books, all of which I intend to give to the writer, no strings attached.

And, really important, I have a publisher: Harbour Publishing, Howard White, who has been waiting patiently for some years for this manuscript.

One of the joys of writing about the history of this astonishing and lively city is that, even after 37 years of work, I am still finding out new stuff. And I have friends who help me.

A week ago today one of my friends—Andrew Martin in the Special Collections department of the Library—sent me an item he’d come across from the June 11, 1912 edition of The Vancouver Star.

Volcanic Fumes Invade Vancouver

Vancouver yesterday suffered to some extent from a volcanic eruption. It was a long distance manifestation of nature’s anger, for the scene of the disturbance was some seventeen or eighteen hundred miles away, among the islands of Alaska.

All day yesterday the sky was overcast and the atmosphere was impregnated with sulphur fumes which caused considerable inconvenience in breathing to those who are inclined to be asthmatic.

It is reported that in some sections of the city a fine ash collected on doorsteps and roofs to a noticeable extent and drifted in at window casements

Today’s heavy rain will probably have the effect of clearing the air and putting an end to the city’s emulation of Naples when Vesuvius is having a busy day.


This was more than 60 years before Mount St. Helens.

The History of Metropolitan Vancouver will be a big, fact-filled (just like me) and nicely readable book. But it must be finished. I can’t do it now. I need your help and advice. Let me give you my email address: it’s It’s advice I need now.

Let me close with a small personal anecdote: my Dad and I arrived in Vancouver from Winnipeg (I was born in Winnipeg) in December 1944. When we left Winnipeg the plows had piled the s
now up higher than the level of the train itself. When we arrived in Vancouver there were flowers growing in front of the CPR station. I turned to my Dad (I was nine years old) and said, “I think we’ve come to the right place.”

Nothing has happened in the 66 years since to make me change my mind.

This beautiful and exciting city, with its glowing future, needs a big book of its history for you and for your kids.

I hope you can help. Thank you.

+ + +

Where you can send your offers of help for Chuck Davis

People may send funds for the “Chuck Davis Vancouver Almanac Project” by cheque payable to “Christine Elliott in trust” to me at my address below where their cheque shows their name, their address and their telephone number:

Christine Elliott


Suite No. 102
280 Nelson Street

Vancouver, BC  V6B 2E2

I will hold their funds in trust on my legal undertaking to the donor to pay the funds either:

  1. with the prior written consent of the donor, to the group which is tasked with the “Chuck Davis Vancouver Almanac Project”; and
  2. if I cannot do the foregoing by December 31, 2011, I will pay such funds, without interest, back to the donor at the address on their cheque;
  3. if my trust cheque refunding their funds under paragraph 2 above is sent to the address on their cheque by registered mail of Canada Post and returned to me marked “Return to Sender” or “ No such person at this address” or some equivalent reason for returning my mail ” I will pay such funds to the Canadian Cancer Society, without obligation to obtain any receipt for a charitable donation.

Prior to any payout of trust funds by me under paragraph 1, I will, as required by our BC Law Society Rules, require two pieces of ID of the donor issued by a Canadian or Provincial  Governmental body, one with a picture.  (eg. BC Driver’s licence, Passport, Citizenship Card, BC ID card). 


  1. As a BC Lawyer, I am governed by our Law Society of BC and trust accounting rules.
  2. This means I require a copy of any cheque before it is deposited into my trust account and will require ID as above before any payout other than as a refund to the donor.
  3. Donors should know that it is not economic for me to invest their kind donation to earn  interest.  No interest will accrue on any donor’s funds.
  4. No interest on any donor’s funds will be received by Christine Elliott because BC lawyers do not receive any interest on any “pooled trust account” – being one in which the funds of more than one person are deposited, as is the case here.
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About The Author

  • A great cause and if you folks at CityCaucus or someone else would like to start a fund or an account towards the $30 000, I’ll start it off with a month’s worth of my Commissioners salary.

  • Judy Rudin

    Oh, no…I have loved and used The Vancouver Book since it was first published.
    When I was a kid, a cousin told me that I should be a Vancouver tourist guide, because I could spout so many stories and factoids from Chuck’s wonderful work. The fact was, reading and learning about our colourful and fascinating history made me an even prouder Vancouverite.
    I regularly visit Chuck’s website, using it to fact check info on the people, places and things that make up this city.
    My heart is breaking. Both Chuck Davis and “The Vancouver Book” and the website are absolutely indispensable parts of the Vancouver experience.
    Mike, can you please get us an address so that we can respond to Chuck’s request?
    And, thank you, Chuck, for making such a tremendous contribution through your obvious labour of love.

  • Dominic Wong

    Thanks Mike for sharing your words and the words of Chuck Davis. I happened to be sitting in the back trying to take in an overwhelming amount of information and internally responding to the calls for action by all the presenters. Typically, at the end of such a night, life unfortunately takes over and these ideas just become fodder for light conversation. However, a man who I’ve never heard of before that night, didn’t allow me to leave unscathed.
    It was such an honour to be present to witness such a proud citizen of our city. Chuck didn’t come off as being bitter about his dire situation, but was so grateful for the life he had, that it was more important to him that we get to know our city. God bless Chuck Davis and the writer entrusted to continue his work.

  • Trish

    The Vanouver mayor and his council should be the first to make a pledge to help support Chuck. Have they already done this? How about other mayors and councils? They should be making a public appeal that we all support him in his time of need.
    We need to do all we can to ensure he has the funding he needs as soon as possible. I know I will.

  • George

    I agree, if you hear of or start a fund raising event, could you post here?

  • Christopher Richardson FCA

    I am truly sadden by the death this morning of Chuck Davis … The Vancouver Book and The Greater Vancouver Book among others (and hopefully The History of Metropolitan Vancouver) have defined the history of Vancouver … for which we are all grateful … it was a pleasure to know you … that willingness to offer ‘one last story’ at Sam’s September 23rd Public Salon — a memory I will never forget …