Writer - Member, Order of Canada
Inducted July 8, 2011
Comox Valley novelist Jack Hodgins’ name has already achieved immortality in the minds of many readers, but the writer now has his name permanently marked in his own plaque on Courtenay’s Fifth Street. “The award came as a complete surprise,” said Hodgins from his home in Victoria. “The community is definitely my roots. I still strongly associate with the Comox Valley,” He added.
Jack Hodgins is one of Canada’s most noted West Coast writers. Raised in Merville, BC he draws from his childhood memories to create characters that brought to life the hardships and joys of living on Vancouver Island.
One of Jack’s books, “Broken Ground” is about the Great Merville Fire of 1922. His Grandmother (Grace) lived through that fire. They were the only family in the settlement to remain at their home. In 1940 Grace was home alone when the house was destroyed by a lightening strike.
Of his book, “Macken Charm”, Jack said, “My own memories go back to playing as a child in that hotel when it was no longer in use. I knew that my parents began their married life in that hotel. An old uncle who owned it asked them to move in and look after it and them. My mother learnt to cook on a stove big enough for a hotel dining room full of guests! All of this is in the novel, pretty well just as it happened, though the characters are fictitious replacements for the originals. The beach, the trees, the road, the cars of 1956, the store, the funeral parlour, the bridge over the river in Courtenay, the Glacier, they’re all there. The story is fictitious but the place is real.”
After attending Tsolum School he went to UBC where he earned a Bachelor of Education degree and met his wife to be. They would eventually have three children. In 1960 he began teaching school in Nanaimo and sending out short stories, hoping for publication. It wasn’t until 1968 that a returned envelope wasn’t a rejection slip.
During his years at UBC Jack had taken a creative writing course taught by the poet, Earle Birney who had encouraged him to keep writing. Eventually his work would appear in such publication as Descant, The Capilano Review and the Canadian Forum. Ten of his short stories were published in a book, “Spit Delaney’s Island” (1977) which would win the Eaton’s BC Book Award.
His first novel, “The Invention of the World” (1978) about the legendary cult leader, Brother Twelve, was awarded the Gibson’s First Novel Award and shortlisted for the Books in Canada First Novel Award.
Two years later he won the Governor General’s Award for English Language Fiction for the book, “The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne”. “Broken Ground” earned him the 2000 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.
After 18 years teaching in Nanaimo, he was offered a short-term “Writer in Residence” positions at a number of Universities including Simon Fraser and the University of Ottawa. He has lectured in Australia, Germany, Finland, Norway and Spain. In 1983 he returned to Vancouver Island as Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Victoria.
The year before he retired in 2002, his novel, “The Barclay Family Theatre”, was made into an opera by composer Christopher Donnison. The debut performance was in Victoria.
His writing career spans almost a half-century. He has been published in periodicals in Canada, France, Australia and the United States. He has been awarded over two dozen honours including three Honourary Doctorates. He was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2009.
A member of the jury for the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literacy Excellence, Robert Bringhurst, commented, “No writer has done more than he to give British Columbia a place on the literary map of North America.”
A letter from Jack Hodgins in the Comox Valley Record (July 22, 2011), following his induction to the Comox Valley Walk of achievement shows his appreciation for the recognition.
Diane and I left Courtenay for Denman Island soon after the Friday ceremony and returned home to Victoria only yesterday. Though I was teaching a writing workshop during that time, I found myself quite often reliving the Walk of Achievement ceremony and appreciating the honour with a sense of wonder and a good deal of gratitude.
Once we were home and I had access to my computer, I checked the stories in the Comox Valley newspapers, and this reinforced my sense of the exceptional privilege and honour bestowed upon me. As I mentioned in my comments, not every writer feels welcome in his or her home territory!
Not only has the Walk of Achievement honour made me feel welcome, it has reminded me of how, in my work, I am constantly drawing upon my affection for and knowledge of the Comox Valley - its history, its landscape and its people.
I appreciate that perhaps the primary purpose of the plaque, the event, and the acknowledgement is to provide encouragement for young people growing up in the Valley with their own dreams. I recognize the importance of providing this sort of recognition, since I can recall feeling as a youngster that my own hopes were unrealistic and perhaps foolish - knowing of no one else who had grown up in the Comox Valley and written stories about the place or its people.
This might have been discouraging enough to make me abandon my dream if my parents, some of my teachers, and my own fascination with the people and history of this area hadn’t helped to keep the dream alive.
I am especially pleased that the plaque in the sidewalk is associated with the Laughing Oyster Bookstore! And I am grateful to those who came to speak, as well as those who sent e-mails and all those who showed up to witness the ceremony.
If this plaque and the publicity surrounding the Friday event provide hope, justification, and inspiration for future writers and other artists growing up in the district, this will give me a good deal of satisfaction.
Amongst other things, I am grateful that Dianne and our family (including our grandchildren) were present at the ceremony to witness such generosity and support expressed in the place of my growing up years.
Thank you again for your hospitality in Courtenay and this remarkable honour.