I Remember When

By Gipp Forster

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For the first seven years of my life, I lived in Greenville, South Carolina; the next 16 years in Ottawa, Ontario; the next five years, I was on the road (drifting); and the next 48-plus in Victoria. I wasn’t born here, but because of longevity, I count Victoria as my “home town.” Compared to some, I am still one of the new kids on the block. But still, I can say in reference to some things: “I remember when.”

For instance, I remember when Pat Paulsen tried to walk from the Inner Harbour to English Bay – on the water! He was better known as “Yogi Paulsen” then and when Ralph Pashley interviewed him on C.K.D.A. and laughed at him, Pat got up and walked off his show. A few of us thought up that publicity stunt while sitting in the Ali Baba Room in what was then called “The Century Inn.”

I was a bell hop there in the day, and ran my coffee house in the basement of the Century Inn at night. My place was called “Jon York’s Music Hall.” Before that it was called “The Secret.” Tony Else owned it then. I remember David Foster along with The Foundry Brass playing jazz in my club a few times, and Valdy singing his first song in Victoria on my stage.

I remember when Victoria closed down on Sundays, and hardly a person could be seen on the streets. I remember when there wasn’t one nightclub in town. There were a few bottle clubs like The Purple Onion and Gippers Underground and a couple of others, but other than that, Victoria seemed to go to sleep when the sun did. I didn’t know it then, but they were the golden years. How does the song go? “Golden years when we were young. Golden Years.”

Victoria, in my mind, was a maiden then. But too many came to woo her, including me, and it didn’t take long for her to lose her innocence and become: “I remember when.” It is sad when innocence becomes a memory and smiles are exchanged for raucous laughter… when the stillness of quiet is shattered by loud and lasting noise. But I remember when it wasn’t so, and that is one of the treasures of the past.

It’s a pity that we are constantly being pushed ahead and never allowed to go back and recapture. Memory offers a pathway, but only the mind can walk it (“I wandered today to the hill Maggie”). Time is a cruel master and has little patience with recollection. “Too many places to go; too many people to see; too many things to do,” says time. But the past whispers back: “Perhaps. But still, I remember when.”

I remember when it cost a passenger $2 to cross the pond and $5 for a car. When a pocketbook (or paperback) cost 25 or 30 cents, and a hamburger 50 cents or less.

Victoria used to have two daily newspapers: The Times (evening) and The Colonist (morning). Pat O’Neil was the entertainment columnist of The Colonist, and there was Bill Thomas and an up-and-coming gossip columnist by the name of Jim Gibson. Jerry Gosley was around then and eccentric Bill Scott and Peter Chipman and Valdy. Most scattered or moved on to another world… but somehow still hover over what was and never can be again.

Locked to wheelchairs or scooters or walkers are many of the participants of a long ago time that only seems like a small accumulation of years. But we remember when we could run and race and dance all night. When we thought we were cool and the world was our oyster… when we were young.

Solomon said: “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.” Perhaps so, but the journey – be it happy or sad, tragic or rewarding – is the singer of the song. And we who survive, listen to it quietly and reserve a smile as we are coaxed back.

Oh indeed, I remember the quiet of old Victoria… of the cop on the beat and a grocery store on the corners of Government and Johnson Streets. But for those who were here long before me, I was the intruder challenging their shores. Almost 50 years ago, I thought: “This is a good place to rest, while I decide on my future.” Little knowing that this was my future…this awakening little city that seemed to be resting in the palm of God.

It’s been a journey. It surely has. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I know what yesterday has given. You may ask: “Wonderful, wonderful, but it’s all past now. Why linger there?” And I answer: “Because I remember when…oh, yes…I remember when.”



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