Cumberland’s dilemma: Save the Ilo Ilo or create arts space elsewhere?

Cumberland’s dilemma: Save the Ilo Ilo or create arts space elsewhere?

Henry Fletcher at The Convoy Club, an attempt to create a co-working space in Cumberland. Photo by George Le Masurier

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER

Does Cumberland want to save the historic Ilo Ilo Theatre or does it want to create a performing arts space in the most viable location?

That was a question debated Saturday afternoon in the renovated lobby of the former opera house by about 30 Cumberland business people, residents and performers.

It’s an urgent question because Henry Fletcher, who has spent “a stressful” year trying to save the theatre as a performance venue, has reached the end of his resources and is moving back to Toronto this week.

His parents, who bought the building in 2007, have listed the Ilo Ilo for sale at $1.25 million.

The building began life in 1914 as an opera house and transformed over the years into a movie theatre and a dance hall. It was last used as an an auction house operated by Dave and Cathy Stevens until July 2007.

None of those discussing the theatre’s fate on Saturday questioned the need for a new performing arts venue in the Comox Valley.

“There’s a hunger for performing arts space,” said Meagan Coursons, an arts promoter and executive director of the Cumberland Community Forest Society. “People are starving for it.”

It’s hard to book the busy Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay, and it’s expensive for struggling performing arts groups.

And there was no doubt among participants in Saturday’s discussion that a cultural economy could be created in Cumberland around the demand for space.

Darren Adam, owner of the Cumberland Brewing Company, said if the building could be renovated, then the “end result as an economic driver is beyond words.”

But Adam questioned whether a community project to preserve, restore and promote the Ilo Ilo as a performing arts space was a viable option.

Nick Ward, owner of The Update Company, a website design and marketing business, said it would take at least $500,000 and probably more to renovate the theatre building. And Adam doubted whether the village or individuals with the expertise to take on such a large fundraising project had the capacity to do so at this time.

“There’s no privately owned theatre in Canada that doesn’t rely on a public subsidy,” Adam said. “And the village is already heavily taxed.”

He said it took “an amazing effort” to create the Cumberland Community Forest, but to do it again would be “a long shot.”

Admitting that she has a “romantic attachment” to historic theatre, Cursons said the community needs to have a larger conversation about it really wants — to save the Ilo Ilo or to create performing arts space.

The Cumberland United Church building is also for sale at a much lower purchase price and could be renovated more inexpensively.

“We have to focus on one project, or we could lose both,” Cursons said. “What is the more achievable goal? If it’s performing arts space we want, then we need to get this conversation outside of the building (Ilo Ilo).”

The group agreed on the need for a community mandate.

There was also consensus that to attract an “angel benefactor” willing to preserve the Ilo Ilo and transform it into a quality performing arts space, the village has to have a governance structure and a business plan already in place.

And that raised the question if there are people willing to donate time and energy creating a society and a plan knowing that another buyer could tear down the building for some other commercial purpose.

A spokesperson for the Cumberland Culture and Arts Society said they already have a nonprofit society for this purpose. It staged the recent Woodstove Festival. It’s annual general meeting is scheduled for January.

Cursons expressed sadness around how many times people have gotten their hopes up about restoring the Ilo Ilo only to see it flounder again.

An exhausting experience

For Henry Fletcher, the Ilo Ilo has been “an emotionally exhausting period of exploring an idea that nobody in their right mind would undertake.”

Fletcher came to Cumberland with hopes of creating a cultural economy, using the Ilo Ilo as a hub for performing arts, town hall meetings, a dance studio, weddings and other events.

“I’ve been spraying ideas around to see what sticks,” he told Decafnation. “But nobody was ready to join on that train.”

Fletcher is a performer himself, mainly through a fictional comedic character he created called Henri Faberge, a naive buffoon and European aristocrat. Faberge is the protagonist in improv performances whose eyes help the audience understand other characters.

Henri Faberge is also a foil for Fletcher’s own self-examination.

“Sometimes the lines are blurred,” he said, referring to his obsession to animate community interest in his ideas for a common performing arts space. “It me, it’s not me. It’s hard to shut off.”

He questions whether it was his own naivete about navigating bylaws, about how to do fundraising and writing grants and about how to run a business that doomed the Ilo Ilo project.

“I struggle with not pursuing the vision I have. It’s a mental illness, I can’t not do it,” he said. “Everyone wants arts and culture, they just can’t pay for it.”

Fletcher thinks his timing might have been wrong. He sees Cumberland at a point where it has attracted a large community of creative people, yet not enough resources to support them.

But he’s glad for having tried and for the learning experience he’s had.

“Because, you know, it’s the maniacs who are either A) burned at the stake; or, B) achieve a new paradigm and change the world.”

 

HISTORY OF COURTENAY’S SID WILLIAM THEATRE

Vancouver Island entrepreneur E.W. Bickle designed and built what is now the Sid Williams Theatre. The state-of-the-art movie house was opened on June 20, 1935, with a gala presentation of the new colour film spectacle “Babes in Toyland.” E.W. wanted to create the finest movie theatre on Vancouver Island, and his new Bickle Theatre on Cliffe Avenue featured many luxuries that event theatres in bustling Victoria did not offer. Bickle also built and owned Cumberland’s Ilo Ilo Theatre, Courtenay’s E.W. Theatre (subsequently the Palace Theatre on 5th Street), and the Comox District Free Press. The theatre’s current namesake, Sid Williams, actually worked at the E.W. in the 1940’s.

Bickle was a “hands on” theatre owner; many locals still remember attending shows and seeing him sitting in a leather wing chair in the lobby supervising the crowds as they came and went. Well into his senior years he arrived each evening in a chauffeured limousine to collect the day’s box office take. After E.W. Bickle passed away, the building operated for a time as an auction house and later became vacant for a number of years. On an early January morning in 1968, the Riverside Hotel next to the theatre at the corner of 5th Street and Cliffe Avenue in Courtenay burned down. This event was the turning point by which the citizens of the Comox Valley acquired a civic performing arts theatre.

After a great deal of fundraising, a land swap involving Crown Zellerback, a generous donation by the E.W. Bickle family, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears on the part of many individuals and groups in the community, the black hole of the former Riverside Hotel got cleaned up. A fountain was built, the old Bickle was renovated and in September 1971 the new Civic Theatre and Civic Square were opened by Premier W.A.C. Bennett.

In honour of a much loved local actor and comedian, it was named the Sid Williams Civic Theatre in 1984. Sid Williams was born Frederick Sidney Williams on October 14th, 1908, in New Westminster, BC, and arrived in the Comox Valley in 1921 at the age of 12. Sid’s earliest stage appearance was in a school production in 1922. This began a lifetime of theatre involvement. From his tours with the Barkerville Players and as Century Sam; his many live appearances, both local and distant; to his television work (on The Beachcombers, PharmaSave commercials, and a documentary for CBC’s On the Road Again), they brought him many honours. Sid also served continuously as Alderman for the City of Courtenay from 1942 to 1964.

Sid ran the Civic Theatre for many years as a one man tour-de-force, and rain or shine could be seen up a ladder every week changing the messages on the theatre’s marquee. He passed away on September 26th, 1991. View the Courtenay & District Museum’s online exhibit Sid Williams: Out of the Ordinary.

The Sid Williams Civic Theatre has been serving the Comox Valley for over 25 years as a performing arts facility, and has had a professional administration since 1992. In 1998, the theatre was closed for some much needed renovations. After a few seismic tests, the City of Courtenay extended the original $1,000,000 budget to an incredible $2,500,000. The renovations extended the lobby, added a concession, a large ticket centre, family viewing seats, a 144 seat balcony, many needed washrooms, larger dressing room space, and much more.

Now a 500-seat performing arts facility, the Sid Williams Theatre will continue to host quality entertainment in the Comox Valley for many years to come.

Excerpted from a history courtesy of the Courtenay & District Museum on The Sid’s website

 

 

Art Alchemy shows 250 square feet of art

Art Alchemy shows 250 square feet of art

By George Le Masurier

Art Alchemy, the Comox Valley art collective born out of a desire for more places to see local art, will hang its eighth annual Square Foot Art show this weekend

This article was updated Nov. 20 to include a quote from painter Sofie Skapski

H elen Utsal came to the Comox Valley to paint. She pictured a place “riddled with artists” and wanted to become part of the cultural scene that, she assumed, would have an abundance of public places to see the art created here.

She found something quite different when she arrived. There was, in fact, an abundance of artists working in a variety of mediums. But they mostly worked in isolation from each other, at home and in small out-of-the-way studios, and they all had little visibility in the community.

“It was and still is a struggle for local artists to get their work shown,” Utsal told Decafnation. “There’s just not many places to see art.”

So Utsal began forming the idea of a Comox Valley collective of artists who would create their own gallery and studio space, and share overhead costs.

She rekindled a plan by fellow artists Lucy Schappy and Jennifer Weber to take a chance on renting a space for a studio and gallery. They found a small space in Comox, but it fell through when the physiotherapists that owned the building decided to expand their own office.

Undaunted, Utsal formed the West Coast Art Collective during the winter of 2010-2011 with other nine Comox Valley artists who shared the dream of making local art more visible. The collective staged their first exhibition — a selection of 12-inch by 12-inch canvases they called The Square Foot Show — in June of 2011 at the now-defunct Purple Onion cafe in Comox.

Two years later, Utsal, Shappy, Weber and two new artists, Stacey Wright and Guillermo Mier, found the perfect space at 10th Street in Courtenay, above United Floors. It’s bright, has high ceilings and big windows and is large enough for all nine artists to have both studio and gallery space. They named the new endeavor Art Alchemy.

The artists at Art Alchemy have changed over the years, but the goal of having a place for artists to share their creative vibe and camaraderie has remained a constant.

And so has the Square Foot Show.

The nine current artists of Art Alchemy will be joined this weekend by 38 other mostly Comox Valley artists for the eighth annual Square Foot Show. (Friday, Nov. 23 from 7 pm to 10 pm, and Saturday and Sunday, from 11 am to 5 pm.)


Art Alchemy artists:  Mary Gorman,Shea Kottila, Sharon Lalonde, Larissa McLean, Nancy Randall Burger, Sofie Skapski, Helen Utsal, Nicolette Valikoski, Maggie Ziegler


It’s the first year the show has been juried and that submissions were accepted through a digital process.

“The whole purpose is to support artists and encourage them,” Utsal said.

Most serious art buyers have traditionally lived in larger cities, where cultural demands are greater.

“The Comox Valley is not a prime market,” Utsal said, noting that most local professional artists — those who support themselves through their art — sell to buyers in Vancouver, Toronto and internationally. “But that’s changing. Our population of art collectors is growing.”

Twenty-five artists have passed through the collective in its first seven years. Artists will rent space for two or three years and then move on, creating their own studios or moving from the area.

Sofie Skapski, one of the current artists at Art Alchemy, describes the experience like this: “I love our studio space here at Art Alchemy because of the openness and the wonderful light. It is important to me to work within a group because working alone in a studio can be isolating. Here we have camaraderie – we inspire each other in a supportive atmosphere but at the same time still maintain our privacy in our own personal spaces.

As the only remaining founder of the collective, Utsal has assumed the role of Art Alchemy’s principal artist, which means she takes on most of its administrative chores, like organizing the exhibitions. But it’s made easy by the “generous cooperative spirit we value and encourage.”

“Everyone pipes up, we’re all protective of the vibe,” she said.

This weekend’s Square Foot show is one of two exhibitions staged annually by Art Alchemy. They have another proprietary show in June that coincides with the Valley-wide art studio tour. And Art Alchemy artists also display their work at the Comox Valley Airport from May through October each year.

The Art Alchemy studio gallery is open to the public at 362C 10th Street in Courtenay. It’s open to the public from 11 am to 5 pm on Saturdays, or “whenever the door is open.”

 

 

 

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Marianne Enhorning: architecture to art

Marianne Enhorning: architecture to art

By George Le Masurier

Marianne Enhorning mixes her love of nature and the human figure with subtle architectural elements to create dreamlike paintings that establish her place in her family’s artistic heritage

 

Marianne Enhorning dances around her new Comox Avenue studio/gallery, adding brush strokes to multiple paintings she’s working on simultaneously, sometimes measuring herself up against a life-sized canvas as if she’s trying to connect with the figure of a woman in motion, sensing the image’s next movements.

Enhorning is preparing for an important exhibition in San Diego, one that might result in an American tour of her recent work, a series exploring the beauty and strength of women.

She’s got a dozen new paintings on the go and divides her attention among them, moving gracefully around jars of brushes, paint cans, easels and paint-stained buckets.

The stereotypically messy studio area strikes a sharp contrast to her gallery, where a clean, simple design reveals Enhorning’s Swedish heritage. The gallery would not look out of place in an IKEA showroom.

But it’s no accident that Enhorning’s gallery is well organized and attractive. She has a degree in architecture and worked in that field for 25 years designing houses and small commercial buildings. She spent 10 years in private practice in Vancouver before moving to the Comox Valley, where she continued to do architectural design. She also worked  off and on for a few years with Comox architect John Chislett.

There’s a subtle architectural influence in much of Enhorning’s work that wouldn’t be obvious without knowing her background. Whether she’s painting women, dancers, landscapes or communities of people, they are often framed in vertical linear shapes — trunks of trees, lines of people, stems of flowers or herds of unicorns — and the human figures provide a sense of scale to the grandeur of nature.

“In architecture, I loved the design, and was always looking at the art aspect. The technical side is so unlike me. There are so many rules and bylaws and restrictions. And in the end, it’s not really your own work. You’ve been compromised by all the limitations,” She says.

By contrast, Enhorning says that painting is “completely free.”

“When I’m painting there’s no client, no budget, no rules. I can do anything. Nothing is right or wrong, and nobody can say it’s wrong,” she says.

Art has always been a part of Enhorning’s life, but she didn’t always believe she was an artist.

She counts her grandmother, Louise Peyron, as her greatest influence. Peyron was a famous Swedish artist, who studied in Paris during the Lost Generation of Left Bank artists, writers and ex-pats around the 1920s, a community that included Gertrude Stein, Picasso and Hemingway.

But it was Enhorning’s older brother, Ulf, who their grandmother took under her wing. He became “the artist” in the family.

A SPECIAL PAINTING BROUGHT MARIANNE ENHORNING’S PARENTS TOGETHER: Read this story below

“So even though my parents had tons of art in the house, every room was like a gallery, and art was all I ever knew, my brother was ‘the artist.’ I didn’t think I could do it,” she says.

Still, Enhorning studied her grandmother’s work so intensely that those who know Peyron’s work can now see Peyron’s influence in Enhorning’s paintings. “She was my teacher, I feel it so strongly,” she says.

Enhorning only began painting seriously about five years ago. She was working exclusively with her own architectural clients, and doing some painting while juggling her role as a mother to two young children.

Then she was offered a chance to rent some studio space at Courtenay’s Art Alchemy by her friends Lucy Schappy and Helen Utsal. Enhorning thought she would try it out for a month.

“I painted for a month and I couldn’t stop,” she says. “It was so obvious that I had to paint.”

Yet, she still didn’t consider herself a full-time artist. Even when her work sold well at a small show at Art Alchemy with two other painters, who were also renting space there, she didn’t believe it.

“I thought that’s not real. That’s just my friends being nice to me, buying my painting because they felt sorry for me or something,” she says. So Enhorning kept doing architectural projects, even though she was selling more and more art work.

“Eventually, the counselor I was seeing told me to ‘just keep painting’ and not to come see her anymore,” she says. “Painting had become my therapy.”

So, she did. And now says that “even if a dream job in architecture came along today, I would say no.”

 
An emotional exercise

Enhorning describes her painting process as lying down in a grassy field looking up at the passing clouds on a summer day, seeing them change shapes and transition from one thing into something else. She turns her panels upside down and sideways, and looks at them from different angles, trying to discover where they are going to go next.

“I used to think that when authors said they don’t know where their characters are going until they write it, that was hokey. But it’s not. Now I understand it,” she says.

“The act of creating comes from the soul,” she says. “I get very emotional, I feel the experience of creating so deeply.”

For her series on women, Enhorning stands up close to the panels made by her husband at her exact height. She puts herself in the painting’s shape, trying to experience how the woman might feel, how her body might be moving. That often moves her to tears.

It’s so personal, and I feel fortunate to be able to do it,” she says.

Enhorning grew up with three older brothers, and she wanted to be a boy. She was a tomboy and thought girls were boring. They couldn’t match the thrill-seeking action of boys.

“But now, in my 50s, I realize the strength and beauty and power that women have. It’s taken me until now,” she says.

For Enhorning, the emotional process doesn’t end when a painting is finished.

“It’s hard to understand that people will spend money to have one of my paintings in their life. Obne client told me that my painting makes her feel so happy, so alive. It’s mind boggling,” she says.

Where to see Enhorning’s work

Vancouver Island collectors have purchased the bulk of Enhorning’s work, though she has buyers in Vancouver and Toronto, and is represented by a gallery in Waterloo, Ont. She sells through galleries as diverse as the Salish Sea Market in Bowser, Embellish, an interior design store in Duncan. She will be the featured artist at the Stock Home gallery in the Kitsilano neighborhood of Vancouver. Her work can be seen locally at her gallery and the Blackfin Restaurant in Comox.

Unlike some artists, Enhorning enjoys doing commissions, partly because it appeals to her architecture background and love of design. She uses 3D software from her former house design career to mirror a client’s room and create graphics of different size painting on the wall. Then she creates at least three different paintings for the customer to choose.

You can view Enhorning’s work on her website, enhorningdesign.com, on Instagram @enhorning design or at her public gallery in Comox, 1671 Comox Ave, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Next exhibition: Miami, Florida

Since Decafnation visited with Enhorning in October, she had a successful show in San Diego, selling seven large paintings and acquiring two commissions. It was so successful that her series on women was shipped from San Diego to Miami, Florida, for an exhibition in early December. She’s also adding new work for the Miami show.


How a special painting brought her parents together

Just how deep is Marianne’s Enhorning’s connection to art? Well, without art, she might never have existed.

It was a painting by her grandmother, Louise Peyron, that brought Enhorning’s parents together.

Here’s how Marianne Enhorning’s mother tells the story

“My mother was an artist. Her best friend was a journalist for one of the Swedish daily newspapers. She had a younger brother who was a doctor. He wanted to purchase some art, and asked his sister if she could arrange for him to see some of her friend’s work.

“So, he was invited to visit my mother in her studio. Looking over her various paintings, he selected one, and that was a portrait of a young girl.

“Oh, my mother said, that is my daughter, and I normally don’t sell portraits of my children. But, since you are my best friend’s brother, I might be willing to make an exception.

“So, he bought the painting of me, took it home, put it on his wall, and began to think that he would like to meet this girl ….

“Soon after, my mother gave a Christmas party, and among the guests were, of course, her best friend with her brother.

“I had helped with preparations for this party, baking various cakes and cookies, and this young man showed an enormous interest in these cookies, asking me to describe in detail how they were made.

“So, I told him! The rest is history!”

 

 


 

 

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Bob Cain: Hornby Island’s photographer laureate

Bob Cain: Hornby Island’s photographer laureate

PHOTO: Sand castle building, Tribune Bay, circa 1978. For a gallery of Bob Cain’s photography, click here.

Photographer Bob Cain has documented life on Hornby Island for nearly 50 years, capturing the people, events and rituals of island living in black and white, and going mostly unnoticed. Now he’s sharing his voluminous archive with the world.

 

The advent of the 35mm camera in the 1940s and the ensuing popularity of documentary photography that followed inspired a whole generation of baby boomer photographers.

For example, Bob Cain, of Hornby Island.

But like most who found a creative outlet in photography during the ‘60s and ‘70s — thanks to smaller and more affordable high-quality cameras — Cain’s work never attained the notoriety of well-known photographers like William Eggleston or Annie Leibovitz.

He was never published in (the now defunct) Life Magazine.

Nor was his archive of ten thousand photographs discovered posthumously in a storage locker, as happened to the work of Vivian Maier, a Chicago and New York City nanny.

No, Cain’s photographic work has mostly gone unnoticed by the world, as have the millions of other images recorded by the big wave of baby boomer photographers.

Unnoticed by the world, but not on Hornby Island, where Cain, now 74 and retired, has spent the last 46 years documenting the lives of his friends and neighbors and the ordinary rituals of life on a small island. On Hornby, Cain is famous.

Cain is Hornby’s de facto Photographer Laureate.

But now, the rest of the world can view and enjoy Cain’s photographic collection in its entirety.

At the prodding of his son, Fraser Cain, and a growing sense that something must be done with his large and still growing archive of prints and negatives — for historical reasons if nothing else — Cain has created a website filled with his photographs, writings and other memorabilia.

FURTHER READING: A Bob Cain gallery; Photos from Hornby Island

Photos from Hornby Island is an expansive and rambling website, and low on graphic design glitz. It feels more like a personal album of memories spanning nearly 50 years of life on one of British Columbia’s most eclectic Gulf Islands than a high-falutin attempt to scream “fine art.”

Helliwell Park, 1972

As it turns out, that’s one of the whimsical charms of the website and also of Cain’s photographs.

The website spans an impressive 1,114 pages (as of May 22) and nearly 10,000 photographs broken up into 69 categories. Not even the famous Henri Cartier-Bresson consumes that much cyber real estate.

Cain photographs show the people of Hornby Island and how they live in glorious black and white, captured in a deceivingly simple style, as if the viewer was peering in, unnoticed.

But in every image there’s also a sense of the photographer.

Cain’s unique vision subtly makes his presence felt in every image. It might be a touch of humor created by how the scene was composed or the reality of a tableau completely unaffected by the existence of Cain’s camera.

Photos from Hornby Island also includes images from Cain’s travels and much of his early work around Vancouver in the 1960s. There are also writings, postcards, advertisements and cartoon strips that he has created.

The early years

Growing up in the small community of Marpole — a city squeezed between Kerrisdale and Richmond, near the Vancouver airport — Cain took his first pictures with his mother’s Baby Brownie camera, and later with the more advanced Brownie Hawkeye given to him as an inducement to keep delivering the soon-to-be-defunct Vancouver Sun-Herald.

When the family moved into a new house in Marpole that had a fully functional darkroom in the basement, he started to get serious about taking pictures. He and his brother taught themselves how to develop film and print photographs, as well as 8mm and 16mm reversible movie film.

Young Bob

His first real job in the photographic world came in 1967. He worked at Focus Prints in Vancouver making azos, which are black and white line negatives of copy sent over by a number of ad agencies.

But when, in his late teens, Cain discovered celebrated photojournalists such as Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, he moved beyond amateur photography.

“One of the most stunning photo books was by Larry Clarke, “Tulsa,” which greatly influenced my direction,” he said.

But it’s hard to put Cain into any specific category.

“If I take your passport photo, I’m a passport photographer. If I do your portrait, I’m a portrait photographer. Wedding photographer? Fine art copier? If I spot a tree I like I’m an Artist photographer,” he said.

“I’m just a photographer who can take photos that an insightful editor might publish or I see recordable images on the street.”

Moving to Hornby

“I moved to Hornby for a variety of reasons. I didn’t need to get out of the city,” he said. “What I did need was to get away from my job.

“I was managing a photographic outfit (Focus Prints) and we were getting very successful. I was working 12 to 16 hours a day and beginning to dislike photography. I owned a house in North Van and hardly got to see my wife and new baby (Fraser),” he said. “My marriage was suffering. I had to get away to renew my marriage and renew my love of photography.”

After spending a year building his house on the island, Cain worked for the highways department for five years, then spent many years operating a backhoe business, all the while doing passport photos or shooting weddings for Hornby residents.

FURTHER READING: How I discovered Hornby

Bob today

“I moved here in 1972 and used all my learned skills to try and capture whatever I could of this island society,” he said. “I wasn’t the only photographer here but I was the one that pursued the craft (and the art) the most. So, in effect I became the island photographer.”

Cain also started submitting news photographs from Hornby to the Comox District Free Press in the late 1970s.

(Disclaimer: I was the editor of the CDFP, the “Green Sheet,” and published Cain’s first photo of an airplane crash in 1978. And I encouraged him to send more, which he did for many years. Cain has included on his website some of our often humorous correspondence — sent via snail mail and written on manual typewriters.)

How he does it

Cain’s first serious camera was a Nikon F and three lenses brought back from Japan by a former girlfriend who was Japanese. He has continued using this camera for weddings and portraits until just a few years ago.

His favorite camera, however, is a Leica M6, which he still uses today.

“I have two exquisite lenses for this beautiful camera,” he said. “I also still have a Rolliflex, a 4×5 camera and a 6×9 camera. The darkroom on Hornby is still functioning … but not for long, as I’m slowly accepting the transition to digital.”

But Cain is unlikely to give up the wet darkroom, with its smell of Kodak chemicals, anytime soon.

“There is something restful and comforting about working in the darkroom with the dim light of a safelight,” he said. “I still get delighted when the image in the developer starts to appear.”

Can always carried a camera bag, and says he still does, so he’s ready to shoot anything that interests him.

“I think my eyes have turned into viewfinders,” he said. “I see compositions everywhere.”

What’s next for Bob Cain

When he turned 65, “and the government started sending me money,” Cain notified the Island that he was no longer doing passport photos, portraits and “most of all, no more weddings.” Too many family dynamics, he says, that bordered on assault.

Cain says he will continue to take new pictures until his last breath.

“I’ve already begun to distribute the negatives and contact sheets of any personal and private work to the people involved,” he said.

He hopes his remaining Hornby Island photos will find a home in a museum’s archives.

“Although I’ve had an offer by a collector to appraise my collection,” he said (perhaps whimsically). “Could be worth a lot of money.”

FURTHER READING: The Photography of Bob Cain 

Fraser Cain: from Hornby Island to outer space

Fraser Cain: from Hornby Island to outer space

PHOTO: Fraser Cain launched Universe Today in 1999. Photos courtesy of Robert Cain and Universe Today.

 

Fraser Cain was raised on Hornby Island, but his mind was always on another planet. Most of the time, Cain led the life of a normal teenager. He played video games and fooled around on the two-ferry, two-hour bus ride to school in Courtenay.

But whenever he could, Cain dreamed about the stars, the planets, the universe. He loved Star Trek. Read science fiction books. He watched NASA rocket launches on television.

He devoured information about space like a black hole sucking up everything within its immense gravitational grasp.

Today, Cain is recognized world-wide as an authority on space and astronomy. His website, Universe Today, is one of the biggest and most popular sources of news and information about space on the Internet.

The “Astronomy Cast,” a podcast with Fraser Cain and Dr. Pamela Gray

Universe Today had more than 48 million readers in 2016, and 140,000 people follow the website on a daily basis, and they do it religiously. Space buffs are serious about their interest.

He also hosts a weekly podcast on the website Astronomy Cast with renowned astronomer Dr. Pamela Gray, who runs CosmoQuest, a virtual research facility.

His company has published two books on skywatching, and he has an asteroid named after him.

And he does all of this from his home on the Puntledge River in Courtenay.

The early years

Cain refers to his father and mother as “big space nerds.” His dad has been a sci-fi fan since he was able to read.

“I grew up in Vancouver,” father Bob Cain said. “My brother and I built our first telescope before we were teenagers and spent many nights examining the sky.”

To encourage his fascination with outer space, Cain remembers his parents taking him outside to view the night sky, which is considerably darker than in metro Comox Valley, where they taught him about the constellations.

“In the summer, (we) would take sleeping bags out to Helliwell Park where we would watch meteor showers,” his father said.

And, of course, science fiction books and movies were the standard fare around his house. His mother, Josephine, took him to the first showing of the original Star Trek movie. He got his first serious telescope at age 14.

Two of Fraser’s astronomy columns in The Breezeway, circa 1989.

So it was natural that the family would gather around the TV on April 12, 1981 to watch the first space shuttle launch, something they continued to do for every subsequent shuttle mission.

When Cain arrived at G. P. Vanier High School in 1986, he starting writing astronomy columns for the now-defunct student newspaper, The Breezeway. He recalls they were quite well read.

Educator Brent Reid, who taught journalism and oversaw production of the Breezeway, remembers Cain as “a real go-getter.” He graduated in 1989.

Developing his popular website

Turning this passion for space and astronomy into a career didn’t really begin until after Cain enrolled at the University of British Columbia to study engineering.

Well, after he dropped out, to be precise.

Cain left UBC to write books for role-playing games, and co-founded a company called Absolute Software, which has since gone public on the Toronto Stock Exchange. At age 19, he helped invent software that enabled people locate and recover stolen computers, which you can still purchase at any Apple store.

Cain then joined a web design company, Communicate.com, where he helped clients design and construct their websites.

While there he hired a young entrepreneur named Stewart Butterfield, who went on to found Flickr.

Cain calls that, “one of my better hires.”

But Cain didn’t have any experience running a website, so he decided to start one of his own in order to better understand his client’s’ issues and to learn how to help them.

Fraser at age 14 with his new telescope and the astronomy club on Hornby Island.

He briefly considered a website focused on gaming, but of course he settled on space and astronomy. And that’s when he learned what he wanted to do with his life.

Universe Today was launched in 1999 and became so successful that Cain was able to quit his day job in 2003 and make space journalism his full-time career.

Cain has succeeded in a crowded field because he’s one of the few space journalists who do it well. He focuses on stories “way off the beaten path,” the topics that other space journalists aren’t covering.

Cain has written many of the 15,000 articles in the Universe Today archive, but the website also publishes the work of more than a dozen full-time and part-time other space journalists.

His senior editor lives in the U.S. His video editor lives in Prague.

Back to the Comox Valley

“It doesn’t matter where I work from,” Cain said. “During the course of the day, I talk to people all over the planet, some in space.”

Cain still travels to astronomy conferences, but he prefers to work from home, where he can help raise his two children.

He’s completed his university computer science degree now, and found the time to start up a new software company, Keyword Strategy.

The name, Fraser Cain, has become a personal brand within the universe of space journalism over the last 10 years. His name and face are now widely recognized.

But the Hornby Island boy hasn’t forgotten his roots. Not long ago, he took his sci-fi-loving dad to see the second last space shuttle launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

In a personal article on social media, Cain wrote, “I hate to sound trite, but I’m a living example that you can succeed if you follow your dreams. You know that stuff you loved as a kid, but then decided to grow up and get a real job? That can turn into a real job, if you’re willing to believe in yourself and put in the work.”

 

Down East fiddler Ashley MacIssac performs at The Filberg

Down East fiddler Ashley MacIssac performs at The Filberg

Ashley MacIssac, the Juno award-winning fiddler from Cape Breton Island, performed for a sold-out audience at Live! At Filberg Park Aug. 24. Known for some outlandish behavior in the past, there was nothing controversial about his Filberg performance, except that he did seem distracted with his phone at first by trying to stream the event live on Facebook. Interesting fact: he plays a right-handed fiddle left-handed.

 

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