Author Tags: Fiction, Fishing, Poetry, Publishing
Born in Vancouver on September 27, 1948, Allan Safarik was raised in a commercial fishing family in Vancouver Heights in North Burnaby from where he spent much of his childhood exploring the waterfront. When the Second Narrows Bridge collapsed in 1958, he was outside playing baseball. There was a tremor, like a small earthquake. He and his older brother rushed to the scene of the tragedy and were among the the first to witness the death and devastation.
At age eighteen, Safarik met the poet and activist Dorothy Livesay. As a student at Simon Fraser University, Safarik was introduced to fellow student Brian Brett by Tom Wheeler. Brett and Safarik were both aspiring writers. The pair began to print and publish five issues of their own literary magazine from 1971 to 1973. Blackfish Press soon evolved into a book publishing operation located at the rear of a print shop in White Rock, on Johnson Road, from where they began to produce titles by the likes of Patrick Lane, Dorothy Livesay, Milton Acorn, Earle Birney and John Newlove. Originally they made limited edition broadside folios in runs of 150 to 200, each one signed and numbered. The earliest works were For the West Coast by Brian Brett, Face by Seymour Mayne, Disasters of the Sun by Dorothy Livesay and The Age of the Bird by Pat Lowther. While Brett mostly handled the considerable mechanical challenges of printing and binding, Safarik chiefly handled administration.
Significant Blackfish titles included North Book (1975) by Jim Green, winner of the Canadian Author's Association gold medal for poetry, Poems of French Canada (1977) translated from French by F.R. Scott, and Venus in Furs (1977) translated from the German by John Glassco. Safarik's partnership with Brett gradually dissolved and no Blackfish Press titles appeared after 1982. From the outset of the press, Safarik was a close observer of the circumstances that led to the horrific murder of his friend, Pat Lowther, by her second husband. Safarik knew Pat Lowther from 1970 until her death in 1975.
Allan Safarik's memoirs in Notes from the Outside: Episodes from an Unconventional Life (Hagios 2006) recall his literary relations with Dorothy Livesay, Milton Acorn, Anne Szumigalski, Joe Rosenblatt, Patrick Friesen and William Hoffer. Most significantly, Safarik concludes the volume with his recollections of Pat Lowther, as well as his central role in the documentary film Watermarks, directed by Anne Henderson, in which the filmmaker focuses on the family story of how the daughters of the murdered poet [See Pat Lowther entry] gradually overcame the loss of their mother and their father who died in prison.
Around 2000, Safarik had decided to no longer make himself available for queries about Lowther. "The body of rumours and misinformation that had taken over left appalled and depressed by the way history was being constructed like bad plumbing that leaked all over the place," he wrote. [See a portion of Allan Safarik's memoir BELOW]
Allan Safarik has a B.A. in English from Simon Fraser University. He has also edited Vancouver Poetry (Polestar Press, 1986) to mark the Vancouver Centennial. He and Dolores Reimer co-compiled Quotations From Chairman Cherry (Arsenal Pulp, 1992) and Quotations on the Great One: The Little Book of Wayne Gretzky (Arsenal Pulp, 1992). Safarik was the National Book Festival organizer for B.C. until the program was disbanded in 1993. In 1998 Safarik edited Bill Macdonald's The True Intrepid: William Stephenson and the Unknown Agents (Timberholme, 1998). He also edited Marie Annharte Baker's Being On The Moon (Polestar Press, 1990) and WHT Olive's The Olive Diary (Timberholme, 1997), a tale of adventures in the Klondike of 1898.
Allan Safarik lived above the pier in White Rock for 15 years prior to moving to Dundurn, Saskatchewan, and settling into the 100-year-old Jacoby house there. In Saskatchewan, where he befriended publisher Paul Wilson of Hagios Press, he won the 2003 John V. Hicks Manuscript Award for Literary Non-Fiction and the 2005 Anne Szumigalski Poetry Award at the Saskatchewan Book Awards for When Light Falls from the Sun.
More recently, Safarik has co-written Bluebacks and Silver Brights: A Lifetime in the B.C. Fisheries from Bounty to Plunder (ECW 2012) with his father, Norman Safarik, who worked in the fishing industry for six decades and "knew every fisherman and wholesaler in British Columbia, and along the west coast of the United States." At 93, he had spent over sixty-five years running Vancouver Shellfish & Fish Company at Campbell Avenue Fisherman’s Wharf in Vancouver. His memoir doubles as an ecological warning, describing an ecosystem forever transformed by the folly of over-fishing and mismanagement.
Safarik has since turned to writing novels. Described by Safarik as "a rogue western," Swede’s Ferry (Coteau Books 2013) was a bestseller in the prairies, where it is set. It was a story written for his ailing wife, the poet and editor Dolores Reimer, who simply said to him. “Tell me a story.”
Specifically, she asked for a story about the prairies. Dolores Reimer subsequently died of cancer. [See two reviews BELOW]
As of 2015, Allan Safarik still owned his house in White Rock, chiefly occupied by his son.
Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Bluebacks and Silver Brights: A Lifetime in the BC Fisheries From Bounty to Plunder
Okira (Blackfish, 1975)
Green Lights Stones and Trees (Cold Turkey Press, 1977)
The Heart is Altered (1979)
The Naked Machine Rides On (Blackfish Press, 1980)
God Loves Us Like Earthworms Love Wood (Porcupine’s Quill, 1983)
Vancouver Poetry (1986). Editor.
Advertisements for Paradise (Oolichan, 1986)
On the Way to Ethiopia (Polestar, 1992)
All Night Highway (Black Moss, 1997)
How I Know the Sky Is a River: Selected and New Poems (Regina: Hagios Press, 1999)
Bird Writers Handbook (2003)
Blood of Angels (2004)
When Light Falls From the Sun (Hagios Press, 2005). With artworks by Terry Fenton.
Notes from the Outside: Episodes from an Unconventional Life (Hagios Press, 2006).
Yellowgrass (Hagios Press 2008)
The Day is a Cold Grey Stone (Hagios Press, 2009)
Bluebacks and Silver Brights: A Lifetime in the B.C. Fisheries from Bounty to Plunder (ECW Press 2012). $22.95 978-1-77090-182-7
Swede’s Ferry (Coteau Books 2013) $19.95 Novel.
[BCBW 2015] "Poetry" "Publishing"
Notes from the Outside: Episodes from an Unconventional Life (Hagios $19.95)
In “Watermarks,” the final chapter of his Notes from the Outside: Episodes from an Unconventional Life, publisher Allan Safarik recounts his friendship with poet Pat Lowther and his difficulties coming to terms with her murder.
On October 15, 1975, Pat Lowther’s body was discovered five kilometres south of Britannia Beach at Furry Creek, badly decomposed. Police concluded several months later that Lowther was bludgeoned to death with a hammer wielded by her jealous husband; a would-be poet.
As a student at Simon Fraser University, Allan Safarik first met Lowther in 1970 and later published several of her poems in his Blackfish magazine, as well as an obscure collection of poetry, The Age of the Bird. As Pat Lowther’s reputation as a poet began to eclipse her husband’s reputation as a would-be author, Safarik sometimes visited the Lowthers’ hostile home environment. Separated by about ten years, Pat and Roy Lowther were sleeping at, and occupied, opposite ends of the house, remaining under the same roof for their children, while constrained financially.
“Pat stood up and dropped a section of the newspaper on top of my working area and held her finger to her lips to warn me to stop what I was doing,” writes Safarik. “It soon became obvious that we weren’t alone. “Roy, quiet as their cat, Tinker, had snuck up the stairs and manoeuvred himself into a position behind a tall book shelf so he could listen and observe us before we could detect his presence. When finally he came out from his hiding spot he gave me the creeps. Soon he went back down into the basement again and Pat heaved a sigh of relief.”
Safarik refers to Roy Lowther as demented, abusive, diabolical and a madman. “He wrote doggerel,” Safarik claims, “and was completely convinced that he was a misunderstood genius. It burned his ass to think that people saw more in Pat’s work than they saw in his feeble output.” Safarik is convinced that the final straw that led to Lowther’s murder was her invitation to a poetry reading at the Ironworkers Hall on Columbia Street, along with headliners Patrick Lane, David Day and Peter Trower. Already perturbed by his wife’s dabbling in an extra-marital relationship with a poet in eastern Canada, Roy Lowther was furious not to be allowed onto the stage to read. Four days before the event, Pat Lowther was dead by the hands of her hammer-wielding husband, who had been diagnosed prior to their marriage as paranoid schizophrenic. According to BC BookWorld reviewer Joan Givner, “The acquisition of a briefcase became in his eyes the hated symbol of her growing professionalism. He confessed that after he disposed of the body, he flung the briefcase as far as he could into the bushes.
“It is a sad irony that the brief-case seems to have been the one private repository of her working papers for a writer who had no office, room or desk of her own.”
After family members prompted authorities to investigate more closely, police discovered 117 bloodspots on the walls of the couple’s bedroom. Roy Lowther had taken the couple’s mattress to Mayne Island, having washed on both sides, but reddish stains remained. Following the murder trial in 1977, Safarik became a common target of inquiry for journalists and media people and made numerous appearances at literary events to honour Lowther, who became venerated as a tragic, Sylvia Plath figure for Canada. “I was burnt out on the subject and tweaking my memory gave me nightmares,” he says. Rumours and misinformation appalled him, and Safarik resented the way Lowther had been turned into a “celebrity victim” by a sensational trial, so he decided to no longer speak publicly about the Lowthers.
Roy Lowther died in prison in 1985. After many years of silence, and his move to Dundurn, Saskatchewan, Allan Safarik was contacted by Anne Henderson, a documentary film-maker who was working on a project about Pat Lowther’s daughters Beth and Chris. After Safarik reluctantly agreed to participate, his teary-eyed reunion with the daughters was captured on film. “My encounter with Beth and Chris in Jericho Beach Park thanks to Anne Henderson set me free from my feelings of denial. I broke down in tears but I was able to talk freely with Beth and Chris on camera and give them copies of their mother’s publications that they had never seen.”
Relieved to be presented as the main authority on Lowther in “Watermarks,” Safarik has broken his silence to start anew. “In a sense we never had a chance to miss her properly,” he writes, “because we were always talking about her.”
Notes from the Outside: Episodes from an Unconventional Life also includes Safarik’s recollections of Dorothy Livesay, Milton Acorn, Anne Szumigalski, Joe Rosenblatt, Patrick Friesen and William Hoffer, along with other personal essays about growing up in Vancouver and starting Blackfish Press. 0973972742
from Jim Green, freelance
What we got here is a duster wherein the good guy is the bad guy, or mayhap t’other way around; the bad guy is a pretty good guy, who, that’s “Tall Bob” Simpson, whilst on leave from his day job as a North-West Mounted Policeman, holds up the First National Bank in Bismarck, North Dakota, in May 1894, accidentally leaving an angry bullet hole the Bank Manager’s forehead, gallops north to cross the Souris River on Swede’s Ferry, hightails her back across the line to Canada as fast as his fleet chestnut horse with three white stockings and a bullet grazed rump will carry him, stops by to visit his ailing Mom in Brandon, and then dekes back to Regina to hunker down and lay low in Mountie headquarters.
I don’t reckon it makes no never mind that I know Allan Safarik but I thought I’d get “full disclosure” out of the way right off the bat. He’s a friend. He published my first book. I like him. There. And I’ve known him for forty some years and always savoured his poetry but I didn’t know he knew a diddley squat about which end of a horse the fodder goes in. Reckon he does.
James J. Hill, President of the newly empty First National Bank in Bismarck, also owned the Great Northern Railway, whose payroll turns up missing from said bare bank. Hill was pissed off. He calls in head honcho of the Pinkerton (“We Never Sleep”) National Detective Agency, William Pinkerton, and charges him with getting his damn money back, in the near soon if not before. Pinkerton unleashes his sleazy henchman Jiggs Dubois to recover the money and bring in the head of the varmint what took it.
And another thing. I didn’t know Safarik knew beans about guns neither. Well he does. The gun that started it all was Tall Bob’s police issue Enfield Mark II .476 revolver. The rifle that coulda' ended it all the same day it started was an old nine pound Civil War muzzle-loading .58 caliber Springfield musket wielded by a kid who could barely lift the sucker. The gun that fired the last shot and ended it all for certain sure was Bud Quigley’s Remington Double Derringer, Model 95, .41 caliber rim fire.
James Hill, now, he didn't pack a gun at all. He used a hired gun if he felt the need. William Pinkerton relied on his personal body-guard, Edgar Haines, who used a Volcanic leaver-action .41 caliber repeater. Dirty Dub ois packed a brace of Merwin Hulbert .30s in shoulder rigs in each armpit. Pinkerton Detective Balfour Smith favoured a snub-nosed Webley Bulldog, a powerful .455 caliber hand cannon.
But just because there were all those guns in this drama doesn’t mean it’s a shoot’m up bloodbath kinda book. Au contraire. Some folks do get plugged but there are far more horses ventilated than people. But back to the story.
The law dogs in this tale are sure nothing to write home about. Bismarck Sheriff John Humphrey was a nice enough old fart but he had the gout, a bad back and a case of the screaming hemorrhoids so severe he was loathe to lower his ravaged rear end onto the hurricane deck of even the gentlest old plug.
A little farther north, Gerry Whatshisname, head law enforcement officer of the generally peaceful burg of Bottineau, N.D., was a good old boy who didn`t even bother to carry a gun at all. He shuffled about town in his bedroom slippers with a cherub smile on his face; his occupation, or preoccupation, being to spend as much quality time as possible between the Widow Murphy’s comforting sheets.
And meanwhile, over to Regina, NWMP Commissioner Lawrence W. Herchmer wasn`t about to tell the American rent-a-cops nuthin. Just damn “Yankee riffraff`` he allowed.
Dubois and his sidekick, Balfour Smith, were dispatched to Mountie headquarters in Regina to get their man. They have an ace in the hole in Regina in the form of two Pinkerton retained spies right in the heart of Mountie headquarters. Two working ladies, Lilly Flett and Bonnie Blondon, ply their ancient trade above a Chinese restaurant in Regina’s warehouse district where, as Bonnie opined - ``There`s no place information flows like in bed."
Caught in the middle of the cross-border cops and robber intrigue is humble horse-trader Bud Quigley, whose spread is only a few miles north of the border in Manitoba. Quigley favours a 12 gauge side-by-side, 18`` barrel, Parker shotgun; generally has a .44 caliber Model 3 Smith & Wesson pistol handy, and a back-up over-and-under .41 caliber derringer in his shirt pocket.
This rollicking romp across the prairies is not just a cool chase book, it’s great historical fiction as well; chock full of detail about life in them days, the folks that lived it, the horses they rode, the guns they used or didn’t use as well as their usually closet confined skeletons.
Hot damn. I enjoyed this book. Thanks Allan. But don’t take my word for it folks. Get the book and find out for your own self. As for me, I can’t hardly wait for the movie.
Jim Green is a self-described storyteller, poet, writer, broadcaster and entertainer who has lived in the Northwest Territories for more than forty years.
Swede’s Ferry by Coteau Books, Regina, 232 pages, 2013, $19.95.
by Julian Ross
Some stories take years of planning and research. Others rise to the surface, unbidden, like a geyser.
Allan Safarik never anticipated Swede’s Ferry (Coteau $19.95).
Having shifted his life from the West Coast to Saskatchewan, Allan Safarik recently co-wrote a book about his father’s sixty years in the fishing industry, Bluebacks and Silver Brights. After seventeen books of poetry and non-fiction since 1975, he never imagined he would suddenly write a “rogue western” with enough bawdy humour, .44 calibre Colts, Appaloosas and pots of cowboy coffee to make you want to saddle up and go for a ride.
Set in 1894, in the porous borderlands between Manitoba and North Dakota, Swede’s Ferry is a cracker of first novel about a bank heist gone wrong—all thanks to four words from his ailing wife, poet and editor Dolores Reimer: “Tell me a story.”
Specifically, she asked for a story about the prairies.
“He came into the country on a stolen horse,” he replied.
“That’s a good start,” she said. “Now go and write me a first chapter.”
As a boy growing up in Burnaby, Safarik had devoured pulp westerns and recently he had edited collections of western stories. It also didn’t hurt that he and Reimer live in an historic house on the Louis Riel Trail in Dundurn. Safarik poured his heart into the new work, sometimes working 12 to 15 hours a day, enjoying the rollicking ride.
“It was such a joyful experience writing this book,” he said.
While the writing has a freshness of a tall tale, Safarik also focuses his poet’s eye on quirky details in his fictional world of travelling preachers who are actually conmen, and prostitutes who double as undercover detectives.
Well-drawn characters include historical figures like financial mogul James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern Railway, and William Pinkerton of the notorious Pinkerton Detective Agency. These are mixed with memorable creations like the horse traders Bud Quigley and Alphonse Pointed Stick, and Les Simpson, the conflicted protagonist who is forced to lead a double life.
Here’s Jiggs Dubois, the sleazy Pinkerton agent, sizing up the horse trader Bud Quigley: “Dubois stroked his chin whiskers and his shark eyes seemed to glow, staring into Bud’s face as if he was trying to empty the old man’s brain of its content.”
It’s all a far cry from Blackfish magazine which Allan Safarik and Brian Brett founded in the 1970s, a thoroughly West Coast mag that evolved into Blackfish Press. Based in White Rock, they published a combination of beautiful, limited-edition books and trade paperbacks in a literary list that included poets Pat Lowther, Al Purdy, and Jim Green.
Safarik’s place in B.C. literature is already assured. Now he has made his mark on the prairies, following in the not-always-wild west fiction path of Guy Vanderhaege. It’s a double life: Safarik’s next novel will be set in the gritty Vancouver of the 1950’s, inside the corrupt police department headed by Walter Mulligan, and he’s also contemplating a sequel to Swede’s Ferry.
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Julian Ross founded Polestar Press and Bluefield Books. He works at Polestar Calendars in Winlaw, B.C.