Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Maclean's AD to Ken Dallison: “Beware of the bears. They’re out there.”

In this fourth abridged excerpt from my interview with Ken Dallison we learn about Ken's first major editorial assignment, a multi-part series for Maclean's magazine he completed in 1957. Will Davies (the subject of our previous book) met Ken when both men worked at TDF in Toronto in 1955. Recently Will said to me, "Ken asked me if I would show him how to draw people. It didn't take him very long to learn!" Consider that as you view today's images. They are the work of an artist who progressed this far in the space of just two years! There are less than two days left in our Kickstarter campaign. Please visit the page to pledge any amount.

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LP: OK, Ken, let me understand: so in 1957 Gene Alliman called you in and then flew you to Vancouver Island on Macleans’ dime. And you were out there for a couple of days I imagine.

KD: Oh more than that, yeah. I was there probably five days or so. I had to go from Vancouver to meet the writer and then go over to Vancouver Island, and then make my way from Ucluelet out to the island and when I got there I said, “How do I get there?” and they said, “I don’t know… we have a boat going out about once a week…” I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ They said “The only other way is a float plane.” So I said, “Ok… how much?” So I flew out there and of course the turbulence at that altitude - less than a thousand feet - was… [Ken gestures with his arms] “brum, brum, bum, bah! Brum, brum, bum, bah!” And we get down and we come landing in there… and there was a big Indian community there, so it was interesting. I wasn’t up to my sketching abilities in those days to have sat down… I don’t think I had a lot of time to even do that. But I got in with the fishing community in the little village, getting photos of the town from earlier on…

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KD: At Maclean’s they’d said to me, “When you go there Ken, there’s a village that was built in 1890 with sidewalks that are made of wood.” And that was because the man in Vancouver that convinced people to buy land there was a shyster and sold them swampland. So they got there from England and thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ So they built a stilt village with wooden pathways connecting everything up. And the ghost of this town was still there. They told me that when I got there I’d have to walk about two miles down to the beach. They said, “Beware of the bears. They’re out there.” So I brought my Swiss Army knife. [we chuckle]


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KD: So I went to see the village, and the only way I could get there was by getting on a school bus. There was no transportation between those towns. I said “How am I going to get there?” and the people said, “Well… nothing goes there… you might ask the school bus driver to drop you off.” So I asked the school bus driver, “Can you drop me off there?” “Yeah.” So when I got there with my little pen knife and my sketching pad there was this old logging, hunting cabin. I looked in the door and there was a great hole in the floor with a tunnel going down into the ground. And all I could think was, 'Oh my God, that’s gotta be a bear’s home in there!' So I shot out of there! [we all laugh]

KD: So I went down to the beach… have you been to the beach on Vancouver Island?

LP: No.

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KD: They had these giant undersea vines that were as thick as telephone cables. They were spread all across the beach! I was obviously the only person there for about twenty miles around. The beach there is black, and amongst the black you can see a little glimmer of gold. There’s a river that washed down onto the beach and deposits these tiny flecks of gold. Nobody’s ever been able to find the source. You could make a daily wage, they say, but you’d have to dig, you know, four tons of sand to get it. So the old equipment’s there, half buried in the sand. And there was a cabin there! I opened the door and somebody uses it. It was hospitable in some way, and I drew the cabin. That was the only thing I drew on that trip.

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KD: But that was the story. It was in Maclean’s in something like six parts. Some of the other drawings didn’t turn out so well, in fact I burned some of them when we moved from New York. I threw them on the fire.

LP: Oh no…

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KD: It was stupid but at the time I was so embarrassed at the quality of them. The only one which I might have kept, because it was my favourite one, was the first one in the story, which was this one.

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(Above: the first spread of the Florencia Bay series and the only one which Ken kept)

LP: So can you recall how much Maclean’s paid you?

KD: Well it would have been astronomical for me at that time! I bet it was close to four thousand, five thousand dollars. Plus expenses.

LP: Wow. In 1957. By my calculation, that would be the equivalent of approximately forty thousand dollars in today's dollars!

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KD: Yeah. I’d only been in Canada for three years then… and it was just lovely of Gene Alliman to give me that assignment. He gave me a cover to do one time, but I bombed out on that.

(Below: an article that appeared in the same issue of Maclean's in which Ken's Florencia Bay series premiered.)

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Continued tomorrow.

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