Photographer Bruce Stewart talked to the North Shore News about his Dollarton Pleasure Faire exhibit at Presentation House Gallery:
North Shore News: How did you become involved with the Dollarton Pleasure Faire?
Bruce Stewart: One of the reasons I was attracted to photographing the Faire was because I’d photographed the Renaissance Faires in Los Angeles on the old Paramount Ranch, just north of Malibu and I had quite a collection of photos. I thought this should be interesting moving back to Vancouver in 1970 to followup on these local faires just to see how different or similar they were to the other Renaissance faires in southern California. I found them to be much more interesting because they relied heavily on recycled material and old boat fragments that had washed up on the foreshore in Dollarton.The old houses were well-tended by the carpenters who lived in them and it became a very pleasant and idyllic place to live.
North Shore News: Where did you go to school in Los Angeles?
Bruce Stewart: The Art Center College of Design. It’s a school in Pasadena now but when I was there it was just moving to Pasadena, it was right in the middle of Los Angeles.
North Shore News: Have your photographs from L.A. been shown anywhere?
Bruce Stewart: A few of them were shown in a show I had at Errol Bakol’s Gallery on Lonsdale in ’73. I had about a dozen samples from the L.A. Pleasure Faire including some anonymous women who were doing belly dancing and later on I discovered that one of the women was very famous she turned out to be Diane Weber who was Peter Gowland’s favourite model and Peter was there shooting as well, very interesting times. But most of the pictures were from Mission of which I shot more than the Dollarton series. I have about 50 pictures in the gallery for this show and we culled them from around 135 Class A prints and narrowed them down to 50. I shot a total of over 700 pictures during the course of the faire at Dollarton.
North Shore News: The Faire was in ’72 — it seems like it was late not only for the Mudflats but for the scene itself.
Bruce Stewart: We came to the end of that summer and the so-called super mayor Tom Campbell was still in power. He was well-known as a hippie-hating mayor and incited all kinds of angst and precipitated the Gastown riot I believe. Two weeks after the Faire closed W.A.C. Bennett was voted out of office. It was kind of a reaction to the times at the end of times. The whole hippie scene had peaked ’68, ’69, ’70 and there were still a few hangers on but I think the people that were there were more serious about gearing themselves to a lifestyle that could be sustained. Some of them drifted back to the cities I’m sure and some of them lived in communal houses in Kitsilano in fact I used to live in Kits myself. I used to run into a lot of the people that I saw at the Flats who lived together in these very low-rent houses on West 6th and West 7th just off Vine.
North Shore News: Are the people we see in the photographs people who lived on the Mudflats or people who went there for the Faire?
Bruce Stewart: There was a mixture. Most of them did come, for instance, there was a group from Malcolm Island, Sointula, with a teepee, I know they were down for the Faire. I know a number of other people were from the suburbs and they hung out. Another group had a bus and they travelled everywhere in this little bus.
North Shore News: In one of the photos there is a woman who is looking across the inlet to the Shell Oil Refinery. It almost looks posed but I imagine it wasn’t.
Bruce Stewart: No, it wasn’t. In fact she was part of a group of three people and she appears in another picture just next to that with a spear fisherman and another fellow looking on and she’s walking around with the spear guy. They, I think, were a couple and I had just seen this from a distance and I ran like crazy to get the picture because I knew what I wanted. I saw the refinery as almost totem poles and she looking over at what I thought was the abandoned site at Haida Gwaii the Ninstints totem site. It really occurred to me the irony of the picture: you’re looking on paradise here but it’s really not it’s a mechanized industrial brutalist society and they turn out not to be totem poles at all.
North Shore News: Do you know where they were from?
Bruce Stewart: No, I saw them around town. You usually saw them at Be-ins or around Fourth Avenue. I can’t be certain whether they were from the Fourth Avenue area or from up island or from the Kootenays. I think most of the people were from the Lower Mainland.
North Shore News: Another shot has people in sleeping bags in front of a house which looks like it has a pirate ship’s crow’s nest built over the roof.
Bruce Stewart: It was interesting going in early in the morning looking at the fog coming up over Burrard Inlet and the kids were all sort of nestled in their sleeping bags. The pirate ship in the back was a construct from an old abandoned hulk of a boat that was kind of slung over a log, the thing had just kind of settled over a log many, many years ago and the fellas just decided to construct a full pirate ship over it by putting a canvas and erecting a mast. All of this was recycled material largely taken I think from homes in the West End that were being demolished. Posts, old fireplace enclosures and whatnot were being recycled and rejigged into staircases and god knows what else. I think a lot of this came from the whole business of recycling from old houses and incorporating them into newer places.
North Shore News: Would this have been from Clemens’ business —they did renovations so they would have taken materials from other sites to this site?
Bruce Stewart: That’s correct. The old pickup truck style. I have some photographs that are not in the show showing them picking the bones of an old boat and getting useable curved planks which they could then use to build infrastructures with a little canteen kiosk and whatnot.
North Shore News: A third photograph has a woman and kids walking along the wooden plank sidewalks. It gives you the sense of the water surrounding them.
Bruce Stewart: It was indeed and the tide would come in and the whole area would be flooded. I have photos that are not in this show of me walking knee deep in the mud photographing the tide as it was overwhelming me and all the shacks that were scattered along the foreshore in the distance with the sun going down. It’s a real pretty shot. And then there were days when the tide was low and all the tall grasses were in evidence. You could walk out to the dock that was used by L&K Lumber Company which was just on the foreshore and they used it as a booming ground. I have a picture of one of the ladies hanging up her wash along that dock.
North Shore News: You mentioned there was quite a bit of nudity — did anybody care?
Bruce Stewart: It didn’t seem to be a problem. I wasn’t hassled by anybody. They evolved into it — they weren’t doing it to make a statement, they were doing it because it was hot, because they could do it and it was such a natural setting and very conducive to cooling off that way. There didn’t appear to be any overt sexuality displayed during the daytime. Now of course at night everybody got into their teepees and that was perhaps a different story. There was no problem for me nobody said, 'Why are you taking these pictures?' That is something they asked time and again over the next forty years. Often times Fred (Herzog) and I have been out photographing together and people have asked us, 'A) Are you working for the real estate company? or B) Are you the police? Why are you taking the pictures that you’re taking?' 'Well, there interesting pictures, it’s an interesting place you have.' 'Well, come to the front of the house we’ve got flowers out there. It’s much more beautiful.’ But we were in the backyard really tearing up the place enjoying the detritus of how people really live without the sham.
North Shore News: Was there a police presence there at all?
Bruce Stewart: Yes, there was. Only on one occasion did I see police there and they came from the boats. They came up to what looked like a round. It could have been a cement bollard. It would have been about 12 feet in diameter and a fella had put a teepee up there and that’s one of the images in the show. They instructed him to get out of there because he was on federal property. That’s the last thing they wanted, you know, somebody breaking the law. I had gone home late that evening after shooting all day and I came back the following morning I believe it was when I got the pictures of the kids in the sleeping bags. One fella came up to me and said, ‘You should have been here last night. At midnight they blew up the bollard and they ordered the guy off and he took his teepee away and they drilled holes and dynamited the thing.' Those are the only sour words I heard during the event. No fights, no drunkenness, people were just very mellowed out.
North Shore News: And every photo looks sunny.
It was. Great days. It was a very hot summer and one of those magical times I thought was going to go on forever. It was such a great way to live but of course things change.
North Shore News: Did the Mudflats seem very isolated from civilization with the the highway and the suburbs close by?
Bruce Stewart: No, I think the only isolation was in the summer with the very dense bush between the Dollarton Highway and the crab shack across the way was kind of a mitigating influence between suburbia and the squatters. I haven’t been over there for a long, long time, in fact, I probably haven’t been over there for 40 years. The very last picture I shot was the panorama about two years after the Faire. It was done in the winter and by that time all of the shacks had been raised. All but one on the west side which was the original shack of the so-called mayor of the Mudflats, Mike Bozzer, and that was the last one to go as far as I know. I’ve got photographs not in this show of the skids where the houses were built and all charred to ruins and little bits and pieces of household effects that were part of the houses: an overturned washtub, a refrigerator door, and a couple of Newell posts. That was all that was left — everything was just kind of consumed.
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