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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 9, Number 2, June 2015

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Garry Eaton
Port Moody, British Columbia, Canada


Squatters

As I park my car in the large lot at Cates Park and walk through the big cedars down to the beach where the single, small sign says he used to live; even today it's not difficult to imagine someone being happy here. There is an isolation and peace about it, hidden as it is behind big trees in the corner of a major Canadian city, with mostly sky, rock, sand, saltwater and semi-distant forest and mountain scenery to fill the eye. To the left, beyond the quaint town of Deep Cove hidden on a treed slope, lie the deep waters and steep shores of Indian Arm, twenty miles of almost uninhabited wilderness and good sailing. Straight out, on the opposite shore two miles away, the most visible artifacts of civilization are the oil terminals and refineries puffing out smoke and continually serviced since his day by the tankers you will usually see lying there at anchor. Treed bluffs behind lead to thriving towns above, all but invisible from here. To the left of there, four or five miles of narrow inlet lead over to Port Moody, the town where I now live, likewise unseen behind the screens of blue and green and blue. Down the beach to the right, around the corner and past a mile of industrial shoreline is a large bridge connecting the shores of Burrard Inlet. The gap beneath its wide span leads the eye toward the spiked urban skyline of Vancouver, glittering in the sunlight several miles away to the west, across wide, busy water. But here all is quiet, breezy, bright on this perfect weekday in September. Only a few cars are parked in the large, asphalt lots scattered among the trees and grass, now that the kids are back in school and the tourist season is drawing to a close. I dawdle on the long, concrete and wood fishing pier the city has constructed, feeling safe, at ease and unchallenged, watching a young couple disembark their kayak, all of which makes it difficult to imagine the type of community he lived in here sixty or so years ago.

a hermit crab
between shells slips sideways
out of sight

Dollarton in those days was described by a competent witness, his friend, the poet Earl Birney, as a haphazard collection of squalid and ramshackle cottages, cabins and shacks along this stony beach, then several miles from the nearest town. Probably begun by hardy survivors as a temporary settlement during the Depression, it was inhabited by drifters, Indians, rummies, social malcontents and a few down-and-out artists. People scratched out a living any way they could fishing, lumbering and doing temporary work in nearby towns, with no doubt a certain amount of bootlegging, stealing and whoring to help fill in the material deficiencies. There were also a certain number of contented, resourceful loafers who cadged a living off their neighbors to whom he, with his small but regular stipend coming in from England, was known as a perennially soft touch. The odd community was tolerated by nearby town fathers, but despite urban growth and the improving economic picture after the war, it saw little improvement between its beginnings and the time he came to live here in the fifties, and there were rumblings and indignant fulminations by preachers and small town editors advocating its demise.

When he and his wife Marjorie moved in to their waterfront shack, it would have had no indoor plumbing to speak of, or other conveniences, like electricity to light your night, or keep you warm, or cool your food. Only an occasional intercity bus or taxi venturing by on the one nearby road a mile away serviced it, so if a member of this isolated community of determined people wanted to go somewhere, he walked or rowed or stayed home. I recall reading an account of one time he and a visiting writer got thirsty, so they got into the rowboat and he rowed the five miles there in daylight and the five miles back in the dark, to drink beer in the Port Arms Hotel. One would think a Cambridge-educated refugee from a stultifying upbringing as a son of a wealthy, moralistic Scots industrialist who expected great things from his children would have had trouble fitting in here. Oddly, though, it was everywhere else he had trouble fitting in and only here that he was ever really content and productive. It seems to have been a perfect environment for the disordered imagination of this great English writer, who once nervously kayoed with one punch a cart horse that startled him on a street in London, because here it was that cramped, cold, sometimes underfed and often dead drunk, he fished, swam, rowed, lived, loved and wrote Under the Volcano.

Living temporarily in England, after the novel's publication to brilliant reviews, he and Marjorie wept to hear that their beloved shack, once burnt down and lovingly rebuilt with their own hands, plus all those of their friends around it had been bulldozed to make room for this public park and, of course, to get rid of those awful squatters, who paid no taxes, owned no property and didn't conform. He later claimed this was the only place in the world where he had ever been truly happy, so I look around me for some unique, tangible reminder of his presence.

driftwood and a sail
the beach where Malcolm Lowry
used to live

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