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Man of letters pens West Vancouver book

"THIS is the book I'm most proud of," says author Francis Mansbridge.

"THIS is the book I'm most proud of," says author Francis Mansbridge.

He's talking about Cottages to Community: The Story of West Vancouver's Neighbourhoods, commissioned by the West Vancouver Historical Society to commemorate the community's centennial in 2012.

"People brought varied talents (to the book), and they were the right ones," explains Mansbridge. "It was always collaborative. We raised the bar for each other and we got the book we wanted."

An English professor, turned archivist turned writer, Mansbridge has quietly built a reputation as a chronicler of North Shore history.

His writing career began early and continued to surface over the years. The Mansbridges emigrated from England in 1946, when he was three years old. On the First Nations reserve in northeastern Saskatchewan where they settled, harsh winters frequently rendered the family snowbound. His father, an Anglican minister who believed the devil finds work for idle hands, encouraged his son to write stories.

"It was not that long ago," says Mansbridge, "in the 1940s and 1950s, but it was primitive."

Young Francis wrote at the kitchen table by the light of kerosene lamps and the glow of the wood stove.

Mansbridge went east to school in Ontario, completing his studies with a doctorate in English literature. As a professor at the College of the Rockies in Cranbrook, he hosted such writers as Earle Birney, Michael Ondaatje and Irving Layton. Mansbridge edited Layton's letters and wrote a biography of the poet entitled Irving Layton: God's Recording Angel.

Mansbridge is a man of letters with an athletic side, proud of establishing the EK 10K (East Kootenay 10kilometre Run). He played table tennis at school and returned to the sport several years ago, competing in tournaments throughout the Pacific Northwest.

In 1992, Mansbridge changed his life, leaving both Cranbrook and his profession behind. "I like to experience new things," he says, "and I wanted to live in an urban centre. Vancouver has everything I could want."

Including romance. Three years ago, Mansbridge was married for the second time to Suphisara Junnop. It was some years before that happy day, however, that Mansbridge - organized, detail-oriented and accustomed to finding his way around a library - became an archivist.

He worked at the North Vancouver Museum and Archives for 12 years, retiring in 2006.

Archival projects sparked Mansbridge's interest in local history and led to his career as an author. In 1999, he wrote an introduction and conducted interviews for the re-issue of John Draycott's Early Days in North Vancouver.

The records of the Burrard Dry Dock Company inspired Mansbridge's next book.

"There were 1,000 boxes of material," he remembers, "and stacks of photographs. I could see there was a story in there that went beyond the shores of North Vancouver."

Launching History: The Saga of Burrard Dry Dock was nominated for the Roderick HaigBrown Regional Prize and received the Lieutenant-Governor's Award for Historical Writing.

Mansbridge's next book, Hollyburn: The Mountain and the City, for the Hollyburn Heritage Society, brought him to the attention of the West Vancouver Historical Society.

"Francis has a good reputation on historical and archival issues and he proved to be absolutely right for the job," says Jim Carter, chairman of the society's book committee.

The society wanted to commemorate the community's first century with a book - one with plenty of photographs and a narrative that could be read in short takes.

West Vancouver's neighbourhoods, which developed at the mouths of mountain creeks, fit this format as Mansbridge points out in his introduction. Now, continuous within the larger community, they've retained their original individual characters like beads on a necklace.

Mansbridge interviewed residents of each neighbourhood, corroborating their stories wherever possible.

He became a fixture in the West Vancouver Archives and Memorial Library, reading all he could find about the community, from municipal records and newspapers, to published works and unpublished memoirs.

The result is a compelling blend of historic record and personal recollection of a time that is still within living memory. "Contributors - there would be no book without them," says Mansbridge. "We're lucky we caught some of the older, older people. They are gone but their memories live on in Cottages to Community."

The two-part Cottages to Community series will continue next Sunday with a story on John Moir, who contributed contemporary colour photographs to the book.

Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. Contact her at 778-279-2275 or email her at [email protected].