BRIAN FAWCETT (May 13, 1944 -- February, 27, 2022)


In the early 1970s, Brian Fawcett first notably wrote about his hometown of Prince George and its environs in Cottonwood Canyon (Caledonia Writing Series), a nine-page piece described as a speech "meant to be given to the Prince George Chamber of Commerce." The Caledonia Writing series was a Prince George-based imprint managed by poet Barry McKinnon in the days when New Caledonia College was the forerunner of the University of Northern B.C. Although Fawcett left Prince George to attend Simon Fraser University in Vancouver with his high school sweetheart and and gifted poet Sharon Thesen, and he then relocated to Toronto where he married Leanna Crouch, the environs of his hometown remained a central focus for his Virtual Clearcut: or, The Way Things Are in My Home Town (Thomas Allen 2003) for which received the $15,000 Pearson Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize in 2004, as well as his novel, The Last of the Lumbermen (Cormorant 2013), about hockey in small towns like Prince George.


Born in Prince George, B.C. on May 13, 1944, Brian Fawcett grew up in Prince George and left at age 22 to attend Simon Fraser University where he was influenced by R. Murray Schafer and Robin Blaser, among others. He received his B.A. in 1969 and remained as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow in 1969-1970. An avid hockey and softball player, he has also taught in prisons and operated a small SFU-based publication called NMFG, meaning No Money From Government.

Having been at the forefront of another literary magazine called Iron during his time at Simon Fraser University, editing most of the issues, Fawcett rejected the process of publishing his own poetry in the early 1980s. He worked as a community organizer, as an urban planner in Greater Vancouver (until 1985) and an English instructor within the Matsqui prison. Ever feisty, Fawcett became prominent in literary politics within the Writers Union of Canada and as an editor for Books in Canada.

Since moving to Toronto, Fawcett published his intentionally provocative opinions in a Globe & Mail columm and within his internet zine Dooney's Cafe, a named based on a real cafe where he often wrote in Toronto. The electronic publication also featured the opinions of Stan Persky who remained an intellectual colleague of Fawcett's ever since Persky produced the Georgia Straight Writing Supplements in Vancouver. The title of Fawcett's compendium of essays from Dooney's Cafe, dedicated to Robin Blaser and introduced by Stan Persky, was originally advertised as Local Matters: What I've Been Thinking about for the Last Ten Years.

Fawcett's work has been much admired and also subjected to shrewd criticism, as if his insights are not worthy of trust due to some faults in his personality. "...when Fawcett wants to be snotty," once wrote reviewer Maggie Helwig, "he can be really snotty." Helwig suggested that whereas Cambodia: A Book for People Who Find Television Too Slow was a scary, important book, it's follow-up, for a larger publishing house in Ontario, Public Eye, was an imitative work that had less to say. Fawcett, it seems, wasn't allowed to get too big for his britches being, after all, only a British Columbian.

Brian Fawcett moved to Toronto where he married Leanna Crouch, a former producer of the TV-Ontario program Imprint, and where esteemed pundit John Ralston Saul compared him to Socrates. In this more heady intellectual milieau, Fawcett received the $15,000 Pearson Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize in 2004 for Virtual Clearcut: or, The Way Things Are in My Home Town (Thomas Allen 2003), in which he examined how the logging industry had ruined both PG and the hinterland. Globalization was not the only theme; Fawcett makes a prodigal return in the book to speak and rub shoulders with the locals. In Virtual Clearcut he describes going to a coffee shop with Prince George Citizen reporter Paul Strickland. Fawcett recalls the gist of his explanation to Strickland as to why he has been fascinated with explorer Alexander Mackenzie and why he's on his own exploratory, intellectual mission in a chapter called Alexander Mackenzie's Supermaket.

"I want to make people angry," says Fawcett, "but the danger is that I'll only get them pissed off at me--some outsider coming around to tell them what's wrong with their lives... The only reserve of anger left in Prince George that hasn't been diluted with business propaganda and fear-mongering about lost incomes and jobs is over the remoteness of the corporations. They just don't give a shit, and people sense it...

"What I want to tell people is that this corporate remoteness isn't new. It's been with us since Mackenzie's time. He was a partner in the North West Company, so he was a corporate explorer; a shareholder interested in profits rather than places. His curiosity was shaped by his commercial ambition, despite the force of character and the will he backed it up with.

"I'm going to argue that he's a contemporary guy, and that we ought to be seeing his behaviour as a precursor to the corporate behaviours that have gutted the resource here... Mackenzie was a man who wanted to trade goods, and to trade means to want to have the advantage in whatever transaction is occurring. If we cut out all the noble explorer crap, Mackenzie wanted to make a large profit so he could go back to Great Britain and live like a gentleman. Sort of like Conrad Black."

Brian Fawcett's The Secret Journal of Alexander Mackenzie and Other Stories (Talonbooks, 1985) had first examined in fiction the exploitation of B.C.'s hinterlands and identified the 'global village' invasion in psychological and economic terms. When Prince George held public events in 1993 to mark the 200th anniversary of Alexander Mackenzie’s arrival in the region, he returned to his hometown to cast a critical eye on the proceedings.

The Secret Journal was quickly followed by arguably his most provocative and original non-fiction book, Cambodia: A book for people who find television too slow (Talonbooks 1986), in which he not only provided an alarming account of the so-called Killing Field atrocities in Khmer Rouge Cambodia in the late 1970s; he also offered an ahead-of-its-time analysis of how modern media was increasingly trivializing political news and dumbing-down political analysis.

This was perhaps Fawcett's forte--to provoke critical thinking--as he also attempted to do with a lesser-known work, also from the West Coast, Unusual Circumstances, Interesting Times and Other Impolite Interventions (New Star Books, 1991), concerning what he called "excessive professionalization" in the work place and the sorry state of late twentieth-century architecture.

In 2011, Fawcett again took the route of fellow B.C.-born writers Brian Brett and Patrick Lane to revisit his roots for a memoir, Human Happiness (Thomas Allen $24.95). "Like most people in North America during and just after the Second World War, I grew up without the faintest curiosity about the people who'd brought me into the world, and even less about the ancestors who had gotten them to our staging grounds. Toward the end of my parents' lives I began to understand that this lack of curiosity was a serious mistake, and in part, this book is my attempt at restitution: this is about them, but it also for them."

His long-time associate Paul Strickland produced the first, full-length obituary for and about Fawcett in the Prince George Citizen. In it, Strickland describes Fawcett as a poet, forester, teacher, urban planner, national newspaper columnist, fiction writer, and architecture critic. Strickland quotes long-time College of New Caledonia English professor and poet/friend John Harris: “Prince George and environs is more than just a setting of his stories; it is a character in them, its personality changing through a lifetime, from the days of Alexander Mackenzie to the days of Hartley Fawcett [Brian's father]. As Brian grew more popular, moving from Vancouver publishers to publishers in Toronto and New York, a lot of people got to know our town. And we got to know it better.”

Strickland adds: "Brian Fawcett's combative, critical smarts will be much-missed in the increasingly constrained and cautious world of Canadian letters. He was the son of Rita Surry and Harley Fawcett, a soft-drink salesman who started his own ice-cream factory, Roses Ice Cream until he was forced to sell out and the family re-located, in 1967, to Skaha Lake in the Okanagan. As described in Human Happiness, his three children are named Jesse, Max and Hartlea."

Brian Fawcett died February 27, 2022 from a condition called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which he was diagnosed with in 2018.


Friends (Georgia Straight. Writing Supplement, Vancouver Series #4 / New Star, 1971).
The Opening (New Star, 1974)
Permanent Relationships (Coach House Press, 1975) - poetry
Creatures of State (Talonbooks, 1977) - poetry
Aggressive Transport: Two Narrative Revisions, 1975-1982 (Talonbooks, 1982)
My Career with the Leafs and Other Stories (Talonbooks, 1982)
Capital Tales (Talonbooks, 1984)
The Secret Journal of Alexander Mackenzie (Talonbooks, 1985)
Cambodia: A Book for People Who Find Television Too Slow (Talonbooks, 1986)
Public Eye: An Investigation into the Disappearance of the World (Harpercollins, 1990)
Unusual Circumstances, Interesting Times: And Other Impolite Interventions (New Star, 1991)
The Compact Garden: Discovering the Pleasures of Planting in a Small Space (Camden House, 1992)
Gender Wars: A Novel and Some Conversation About Sex and Gender
(Somerville, 1994)
The Disbeliever's Dictionary: A Completely Disrespectful Lexicon of Canada Today (Somerville, 1997)
Virtual Clearcut: or The Way Things Are in My Hometown (Thomas Allen, 2003)
Local Matters: A Defence of Dooney's Cafe and other Non-Globalized Places, People, and Ideas (New Star, 2003)
Human Happiness (Thomas Allen, 2011) $24.95) 978-0-88762-808-5
The Last of the Lumbermen (Cormorant, 2013) $21.95 978-1-77086-287-6
Let's Keep Doing This: A Sounding in Honour of Stan Persky - edited with Thomas Marquard (Cormorant, 2014) $24.95 978-1-77086-361-3

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2022] "Fiction" "Gardening" "Interview"