LITERARY LOCATION: Sylvia Hotel, 1154 Gilford Street, on English Bay near Stanley Park, Vancouver

Probably the consistently best-known haunt for literary types in Vancouver since the 1960s has been the ivy-clad Sylvia Hotel where literati (including Malcolm Lowry, Earle Birney and legendary M&S publisher Jack McClelland) have chosen to imbibe and stay. Built in 1911, "The Sylvia" is one of the places that Fetherling, who has lived nearby in Vancouver's West End since 2000, can frequently be found in earnest conversation. In 2010 he published The Sylvia Hotel Poems.

George Fetherling writes:

"The Sylvia Hotel is a cherished eight-storey Vancouver landmark that might, in general terms, be compared to the Chelsea in New York or the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. That is to say, writers, visual artists and musicians, both local and visiting, and indeed many other people working in various cultural trades, have long done their drinking there, or their sleeping, or both. It is located in the West End, which is sometimes called Canada's most densely populated neighbourhood, and is bounded by Gilford Street (where the main entrance is), Pendrell Street and Beach Avenue. The last of these takes its name from English Bay Beach, which is directly opposite the hotel. The beach can be viewed from the big windows in the Sylvia's storied bar, which in 1954 became the first American-style cocktail lounge in Vancouver and which some patrons treat as though it were their office or house of worship.

"Like so many of the city's most comfortable buildings, the hotel was built in 1911, the year that the great Vancouver real estate bubble was about to burst, as British capital was redirected to other opportunities. Originally it was a bloc of flats called the Sylvia Court Apartments, named for the owner's young daughter, Sylvia Goldstein, who lived until 2002, aged 102 (whereupon the flag on the roof was flown at half staff). In 1936, during the Depression, it was made into an apartment-hotel. Only during the Second World War, when it was a haunt of merchant seamen, was it carved up into more or less standard hotel rooms. There are 120 of them in all, including a few that are actually small suites and the two so-called coffin rooms, which are tiny spaces left over when the floor space was reapportioned. It is an independent family-owned hotel and most certainly not a subscriber to any chain aesthetic. The property has been husbanded carefully. It is, however, proudly old-fashioned, resolutely more economical than most hotels that are larger, and indescribably cozy, in a bohemian sort of way. Its policy of accepting dogs as guests probably helps account for the patronage of numerous middle-class English couples of mature years. They coexist uneasily with the artists and journalists who cause them to wander about looking slightly perplexed.

"The bar was one of the last spots visited in the life of Errol Flynn, who died in a West End apartment in 1959."

Nobody has ever attempted a literary life balanced between Toronto and Vancouver so assiduously and exhaustively as George Fetherling, as evidenced by his engaging and enlightening journal of meetings, dreams and observations in The Writing Life: Journals 1975-2005 (McGill-Queen's 2013). The sheer survivalism of The Artist Formerly Known As Doug Fetherling deserves some kind of medal. His literary model George Woodcock figures prominently throughout, dead or alive. It appears from this journal there isn't anyone in the Canadian writing game that Fetherling hasn't met. His shrewd assessments are as frequently generous as they are prickly, but there is an overall patina of civilized restraint that makes this collection pleasing.

Born on January 1, 1949, erudite and prolific George Fetherling is one of Canada's foremost men of letters. He has also always been something of a odd duck, as he freely admits in his frank memoirs. "Sometimes I joke that I'm an Elizabethan who's had the misfortune to be alive during the reign of the wrong Elizabeth," he has said. Fetherling has nonetheless thrived or survived in Canadian literary circles since his arrival in Canada from the U.S. in the 1960s.

In 1967 he became the first employee of House of Anansi Press after he moved to Toronto from New York in 1966. His thrice-published memoir of the Sixties, Travels by Night, recalls the birth of modern Canadian publishing during a rising tide of nationalism as well as characters from that era such as Margaret Atwood, Allen Ginsberg and Marshall McLuhan, to name only a few.

Variously described as "brilliant and eccentric" and "an urban legend," Fetherling has written and edited more than 50 books in a wide variety of genres including travel, poetry, fiction, film, politics, memoir, history and criticism. Also a visual artist, he was literary editor of the Kingston Whig-Standard (1988-1992) and has been associated with a variety of other publications including the Toronto Star, Quill & Quire, Saturday Night and Canadian Art. He has been writer-in-residence at Queen's University, the University of New Brunswick and other institutions. At one time he taught journalism and urban planning at Ryerson University.

Widely travelled and mostly self-educated, he published as "Douglas Fetherling" until 1999 when he began using his middle name instead, explaining that he had reached the age his father, George, was when he died and felt the need to make "a little tribute to him." He later wrote a long poem memorializing his father: Singer, An Elegy (2004).

In 2000. Fetherling moved to British Columbia to work as a book page columnist for The Vancouver Sun. An energetic freelancer for countless publications, he served as president of the Federation of B.C. Writers, donating a rustic cabin in the Interior, near Horsefly, for use by Federation members, but the initiative was short-lived. In 2005, Fetherling was writer-in-residence at Massey College in Toronto as well as a fellow of the Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership. He continues to operate his own independent publishing imprint, Subway Books, from Vancouver.

George Fetherling has published fiction that includes The File on Arthur Moss (1994), a Kafkaesque first novel about a journalist covering the Vietnam War, and a second novel, Jericho (2005), mainly set in Vancouver's Downtown, Strathcona and Downtown Eastside neighbourhoods, with flashbacks to one character's past in the seedy parts of Windsor/Detroit, plus escapades in the B.C. Interior. [See review below]. Among his many noteworthy titles are The Book of Assassins (2001) and the first and only biography of George Woodcock entitled The Gentle Anarchist (1998), since re-issued by his own imprint.

Editor A.F. Moritz has favoured the political/public poems of George Fetherling to his therapeutic/restorative poems for Plans Deranged by Time: The Poetry of George Fetherling (Wilfrid Laurier 2012), a representative selection from twelve books since the late 1960s. After referencing Kenneth Rexroth and George Woodcock as inspirational outsiders, Fetherling concludes in an afterword, "At some point in this process, it seems to me, I ceased writing to myself, or speaking to others through a thin veil, and started to address the reader more directly in a different tongue and in a spirit of fellowship, born of the realization that we're all in this joyous mess together."

In 2016 George Fetherling became the Head of the the Writers Union of Canada, the leading organization that works on behalf of the country's authors.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
The Gentle Anarchist: A Life of George Woodcock


The Carpenter from Montreal (Linda Leith Publishing, 2017) is a cinematic noir-like novel set in Montreal. The protagonist is a large and mysterious figure called the Carpenter.

The Writing Life: Journals 1975-2005 (McGill-Queen's UP, 2013) $37.95 978-0-7735-4114-6
Indochina Now and Then (Dundurn, 2012) $24.99 978-1554884254
Plans Deranged by Time: The Poetry of George Fetherling (Wilfrid Laurier, 2012) edited by A.F. Moritz. $16.95 978-1-55458-631-8
Walt Whitman's Secret (Knopf, 2010). Novel. $32 978-0-679-31223-9
The Sylvia Hotel Poems (Thornhill, Ontario: Quattro Books, 2010). Poetry. $14.95 978-0-9810186-9-0
River of Gold: The Fraser & Cariboo Gold Rushes (Heritage House, 2008). $19.95
Jericho (Random House, 2005) $32.95, 0-679-31222-6
Singer, An Elegy (Anvil Press, 2004)
One Russia, Two Chinas (Beach Holme, 2004)
Three Pagodas Pass: A Roundabout Journey to Burma (Subway, 2002)
The Vintage Book of Canadian Memoirs (Vintage Canada, 2001). Editor.
The Book of Assassins (Random House, 2001; Vintage Canada, 2005)
Madagascar: Poems and Translations (Black Moss Press, 2000)
Jive Talk: George Fetherling in Interviews and Documents (Broken Jaw Press, 2000), edited by Joe Blades.
Running Away to Sea: Round the World on a Tramp Freighter (McClelland & Stewart, 1998)
The Gentle Anarchist: A Life of George Woodcock (Douglas & McIntyre, 1998; Subway Books, 2005)
Way Down Deep in the Belly of the Beast: A Memoir of the Seventies (Lester, 1996)
The Other China: Journeys Around Taiwan (Arsenal Pulp, 1995)
The Rise of the Canadian Newspaper (Oxford University Press, 1995)
The File on Arthur Moss (Lester, 1994; Subway Books, 2005)
Travels By Night: A Memoir of the Sixties (Lester, 1994; McArthur, 2000; Quattro, 2014)
Selected Poems (Arsenal Pulp, 1994)
Year of the Horse: A Journey Through Russia and China (Stoddart, 1991)
The Dreams of Ancient Peoples (ECW Press, 1991)
The Broadview Book of Canadian Anecdotes (Broadview, 1990). Editor.
Rites of Alienation (Quarry, 1989)
The Gold Crusades: A Social History of the Gold Rushes, 1849-1929 (Macmillan, 1988; revised, University of Toronto Press, 1997)
The Crowded Darkness (Quarry, 1988)
Documents in Canadian Film (Broadview, 1988). Editor.
Documents in Canadian Art (Broadview, 1987) Editor.
Moving Towards the Vertical Horizon (Toronto: Subway, 1986)
The Blue Notebook: Reports on Canadian Culture (Mosaic, 1985)
Variorum: New Poems and Old 1965-1985 (Hounslow, 1985)
A George Woodcock Reader (Deneau, 1980). Editor
Gold Diggers of 1929 (Macmillan, 1979, John Wiley, 2004)
The Five Lives of Ben Hecht (Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1977)


George Fetherling and his Work (Toronto: Tightrope, 2005). Essays and selections edited by Linda Rogers


Mayor's Literary Arts Award, Vancouver, 2012
D.Litt honoris causa, St. Mary's University, Halifax, 1997.
Harbourfront Festival Prize "for substantial contribution to Canadian literature", 1995.
Shortlisted for Trillium Award for Travels By Night, 1994.
Asia-Pacific Foundation Fellow in China, 1990.

[BCBW 2016] "Travel" "Literary Criticism" "Fiction" "Poetry" "Journalism" "Downtown Eastside" "Gold" "Classic"