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Chuck Davis

Chuck Davis 2010

Chuck DavisChuck Davis is the 17th recipient of the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding contributions to literature in British Columbia in 2010.

Once upon a time, there was a crusty, cranky, Welsh-born, New Zealand–raised amateur historian in Kitsilano named Major James Skitt Matthews who, having fought at Ypres in WWI, insisted he should be empowered to serve the City of Vancouver, both officially and unofficially, as its chief historian for almost 40 years. Matthews interviewed pioneers, including the namesake of his neighborhood, August Jack Khahtsahlano, and remained fiercely protective of his work until his retirement at age 91 in 1969. He died a year later.

In terms of omnivorous knowledge about Vancouver, trivia-buff and master gatherer Chuck Davis was the obvious successor to Matthews, surpassing Matthews’ level of knowledge a thousand-fold. As a congenial radio host, reporter, CBC newsreader, quizmaster, newspaper columnist and author, Chuck Davis devoted his life to being the expert on the city’s history and its environs. He was easily the most knowledgeable person about Vancouver.

His landmark volume, The Vancouver Book (1976), for which he was listed as general editor, could be deemed his foremost accomplishment, even though it was eclipsed in size by his 882-page omnibus, The Greater Vancouver Book (1997), co-produced with business partner John Cochlin.

Self-published under his Linkman Press imprint, this enterprise proved disastrous on a financial level. “Memo to self,” Davis wrote, “never publish, only write.” An unstoppable public servant, Davis then proceeded to predict his next project, The History of Metropolitan Vancouver, will be “the Mother of all Histories of Greater Vancouver.”

Born in Winnipeg on November 17, 1935, Chuck Davis was in broadcasting for more than 30 years, beginning with the Canadian Army radio station, in Werl, West Germany, in 1956. He returned to live in B.C., a place he first visited at age nine.

His eagerness to spread lively information about Vancouver, while gaining precious little compensation for his indefatigable services, made him worthy of a civic stipend, but unfortunately he never received any ongoing support. “I don’t think there’s anyone more passionate about the city,” said former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan.

In October of 2010, Chuck Davis was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Plans were quickly made to ensure his exhaustive, year-by-year omnibus, The History of Metropolitan Vancouver, would appear posthumously. An agreement was signed by Davis to ensure Harbour Publishing was contracted to publish his monumental final work, and also manage the website Davis had built in conjunction with the project.

Mayors Gregor Robertson and his predecessor Sam Sullivan were both in attendance when Davis received the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an outstanding British Columbia literary career on October 14, 2010, at the Fletcher Challenge Theatre at Simon Fraser University’s Harbour Centre campus.

It was Davis’ last public appearance and marked the first time the Woodcock was presented twice in the same year. This quickly-prepared gathering was coordinated by B.C. BookWorld in conjunction with the release of Alan Twigg’s book, The Essentials: 150 Great B.C. Books and Authors.