The following foreword, written by Douglas Coupland, is excerpted from “Vancouver in the Seventies: Photos from a Decade That Changed the City,” an historical book by Kate Bird with an introduction by Shelley Fralic. Chronicling the protests, the fashions, and the businesses, the book highlights some of the best 1970s photos taken by the Vancouver Sun’s photojournalists. Reprinted with permission.
Vancouver in the nineteen seventies: hippies, complaining, dirt, environmental degradation, and an attitude to sex that looks surprisingly innocent in hindsight. The images in this book bracket my own life from the ages of eight to seventeen. It feels odd to look at them as I have a personal memory or a connection to almost every photo, and yet it all feels like a million years ago. Is life really that long? Was the city once so innocent and bumpkinish? It’s not like we’ve morphed into Manhattan, but boy, how naïve it all was then. How low-tech.
The way we see ourselves is not necessarily what we really are. While we flatter ourselves that Vancouver is green and perfect, in the seventies, at least, the city was all about grime and unhappiness but at least everyone was trying to come up with new solutions to longstanding problems. Hence all of the protests (which really defined the social texture of that decade).
Bobby Lenarduzzi’s soccer haircut
The Amchitka Blast protests
The civic black hole called Granville Mall that somehow inexplicably continues to exist
The Ambleside oil spill
Night skiing on Grouse
I have this belief that Vancouver becomes a new city every ten years, and since the seventies we’ve been four other different cities in between. No wonder it all feels so far away. I was looking at Expo 86 photos the other day and it looked like the entire thing took place overtop a lazily power-washed parking lot.
There was a kind of freedom that existed in the seventies that’s gone and that’s sad. We used to hitchhike everywhere. There was a magical folk art form called the automotive mural, and teenage boys airbrushed castles and dragons on the side of their vans, lined on the interior with carpet made of fairest shag. Ideas took forever to get from A to B, and in any given year society only used to generate a single meme, like Pet Rocks or streaking. And back then people seemed to puke more, too, but maybe it’s just that there weren’t iPhones to document it all.
In the seventies when you broke a rule, it felt like breaking a rule; society was still monolithic enough to have clearly breakable boundaries, but it was eroding quickly (all that protesting) and by the eighties the world began to take on the feel of the postmodern mess we still currently inhabit.
I’m not nostalgic for the seventies but I miss them. Is that possible? I used to sell souvenirs at the Whitecaps games at Empire Stadium, and after the crowds left, the Ukrainian ladies who ran the concession stands came and dumped leftover ice cubes over the grates, and then they’d pour the leftover hot dog water onto the ice cubes, which made a hissing sound, and then afterwards there were clots of grey hot dog grease all over the ground if you didn’t watch out. That was the spirit of collegial filth that comes to mind when I think of 1977 or 1978 or 1979. The years were grimy and analog and everything took ages to get done but everyone was in it together. That spirit comes across in the photos in this book, and if they don’t evoke memories for you, just remember there was once a land called Vancouver in the seventies, and all of it was true.