LITERARY LOCATION: The site of Calhoun Farm, on Calhoun Road near Tappen on Shuswap Lake.

The Calhoun Farm was first recorded in print as a chapter in artist and heritage expert Michael Kluckner's non-fiction book Vanishing British Columbia (UBC Press, 2005) describing the wartime experiences of a group of Japanese-Canadian families who exiled themselves there, leaving behind homes in Vancouver and on Mayne Island, during the internment years that began in 1942. The Calhoun Farm is also the setting for the early chapters of Kluckner's graphic novel Toshiko (Midtown Press, 2015), which recasts the true story into a Romeo & Juliet saga involving a local farm boy nicknamed Cowboy and a teenage Japanese-Canadian girl, Toshiko. When their romance becomes a scandal and he is thrown out of his house by his racist father, he escapes with her on a freight train bound for Vancouver.


Involved for decades in the preservation of Canada's old buildings and historic places, Kluckner was the founding president of Heritage Vancouver in 1991. He served as president of the Langley Heritage Society from 1993 to 1998. From 1996 until 2001, he was the British Columbia member of the board of governors of the Heritage Canada Foundation, and served as chair from 1998-2000. He also sat on the board of the Heritage Society of British Columbia during that period. He chaired the Vancouver Heritage Foundation in 2002-3. He received the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 for the contributions made, through books and volunteer efforts, to increasing awareness of Canada's heritage and culture.

Following several years in Australia, Kluckner returned to live in Vancouver in 2010 and two years later published Vanishing Vancouver: The Last 25 Years (Whitecap Books, 2012), an update on his 1990 book, Vanishing Vancouver (Whitecap Books, 1990).

Kluckner lived until 2006 on a nine-acre sheep farm in rural Langley where he raised sheep and chickens and helped his wife, Christine Allen, also a writer, maintain her large cottage garden. He wrote for various Canadian magazines and exhibited original artwork at a Vancouver gallery. The move to Langley in 1993 signaled a change in his painting and writing. "There's a time to fish and there's a time to mend nets," he said. "This is net mending time for me."

Inspired by his travels around the province, Kluckner published British Columbia in Watercolour. "These paintings are done for pleasure rather than politics," he said. "My last book, Paving Paradise, was probably too much of a rant. I realized I don't have to paint big diggers clawing at old houses to carry on my work."

Having travelled for several decades to compile the impressions for Vanishing British Columbia (UBC Press, 2005), Michael Kluckner distilled the multi-faceted province into 12 essential colours: cerulean blue, manganese blue, ultramarine light, Payne's grey, cadmium yellow deep, yellow ochre, olive green, viridian, burnt sienna, burnt umber, sepia and India red. His 160 blue/green paintings of heritage buildings, usually nestled amongst trees and hills, are unmistakably Kluckner.

Inspired by Delacroix and by Japanese sumi-e sketches as a young man, Kluckner has developed a coherent style, using washed-out hues, to match his preservationist aesthetic. Vanishing British Columbia doesn't rescue the past; it invests the ever-ephemeral present with mystique. Unlike some of Kluckner's earlier work, Vanishing British Columbia doesn't feel commercial, and perhaps that's the result of more tasteful packaging, increased maturity or else more remote subject matter.

After a string of 'Vanishing' books in the 1980s, the heritage activist refined his peculiar historical bent that merges academic precision with folksy reportage. The end result is at once charming and useful--a rarity for an art book. Engaging Mark Forsythe's BC Almanac program to serve as his intermediary to the public, Kluckner attracted oldtimers and history buffs to his website. These people supplied background tidbits - 'local colour'- to complement his watercolours, archival photos and Union Steamships memorabilia.

Kluckner's paintings of humble sites such as 'the Brilliant bridge', 'the Dunster store,' 'Wong's Market,' 'the Rolla Pub' or 'the Union Bay Station' were all started out-of-doors, on location, and completed in his studio. Kluckner's subjects are devoid of drama, dignified, at rest, almost invisible unless we are stationary with them. Humans are eerily absent.

His image of Maquinna Avenue in Zeballos shows the Zeballos Hotel, built in 1938, and an adjoining two-storey building that housed one of the town's brothels. The static street scene, complete with parked cars, is non-descript, and yet Kluckner has validated this forgettable scene as a link to a soon-forgotten era. In this way, ghosts are redeemed and we are not trapped in Anywheresville, USA.

Amid architectural details, thumbnail biographies and historical summaries, Kluckner includes human punctuation marks. While discussing two paintings of residential schools since converted to Aboriginal centres (St. Michael's at Alert Bay and St. Eugene's north of Cranbrook), Kluckner recalls a local woman saying to him, "This is where they tried to take my culture away, so it is fitting that it will now help me to get my culture back."

How many people today can remember Siska Lodge in the Fraser Canyon, managed by Fred and Florence Lindsay in the 1950s? After incorporating excerpts from a Barry Broadfoot column, Kluckner quotes a Quesnel obituary that notes Fred Lindsay was a self-published author of gold rush tales who had "a few enemies and a hell of a lot of friends." Perhaps this is what they mean by magic realism. Poof. Fred Lindsay had vanished, but Kluckner, as an artist/magician/historian, has succeeded in plucking him out of a huge hat called history.

Vanishing British Columbia won 2nd Prize for the BC Historical Federation Book Writing Competition. Vancouver Remembered received the 2007 City of Vancouver Book Award.

Kluckner turned a new page for his first graphic novel, Toshiko (Midtown $19.95). Set during World War II, it recalls how Toshiko Yesaki and her cousin were sent to BC's interior from 'Japtown' in Vancouver due to the internment of Japanese Canadians. They go to school and also work on Calhoun Farm near an unfriendly town [Salmon Arm] where most residents view them as enemies. But one of Toshiko's classmates is curious and sympathetic about the exile of Japanese-Canadians, and romance develops.

"Remember Romeo and Juliet in the first term?" she says, during one of their secret meetings. "That's us."

The scandal of this relationship between Toshiko and a local boy, nicknamed Cowboy, who doubles as the novel's narrator, pushes the couple out of BC's interior and back to Vancouver when his racist father objects. The two, love-struck teenage runaways know they will be forced to face the racial, moral and social realities of wartime Canada but they head to the coast anyway.

The Calhoun Farm, on Carlin Road, in the Tappen Valley, near Shuswap Lake, is where Henry and Hilda Calhoun welcomed Japanese Canadian families during the internment. Most were the extended family of Kumazo Nagata of Mayne Island. Kluckner's teenage characters are fictional, but Cowboy's side of the story is partly inspired by an acquaintance, born in 1934, who had worked on the Calhoun Farm in 1952.

The only extant photograph of the Calhoun family, who took in the Japanese Canadians in the middle of the bitter winter of 1942-3, found its way to an antique store in Clearwater, B.C., following the death of Harold Calhoun, the son of farmer Henry Calhoun. Michael Kluckner found the photograph there in the summer of 2003, shortly before the store was razed in a forest fire.

"For the myriad talks I have given about Vanishing British Columbia," Michael Kluckner recalls, "I always ended with the story of the Calhoun Farm and the long route taken by those families, including from a house on Mayne Island and a grocery store on Main Street in Vancouver. And the Calhouns themselves were quite heroic, demonstrating such tolerance and humanity in the midst of a hostile province. The opportunity to revisit that period in a fiction format was a bonus."

As Tom Jones might have said, go big or go home. As a follow-up to his first graphic novel Toshiko set during World War II, Michael Kluckner has hit the fast forward button and created 2050: A Post-Apocalyptic Murder Mystery (Midtown Press / Sandhill 2016). Evoking a futuristic West Coast in the wake of a Patriotic War and a pandemic, Kluckner's dystopian wasteland features Detective Sara Fidelia on the trail of a murderer in a ruined landscape. Sort of like Walking Dead Lite meets Raymond Chandler meets cautionary environmentalism. You can't say it ain't original. The genesis, according to Kluckner, was a trip to Cuba in 2012 mixed with the onslaught of news stories about humans wrecking the planet. Impressed by Cuban propaganda, Kluckner created a charismatic Great Helmsman along the lines of Castro or Mao, only his dictator is a Sensei, whose strict environmental laws, including population control, dominate the planet in the wake of global chaos, circa, 2028-30. "Visually," he writes on his blog, "the setting looks like Vancouver, but the only text reference is in a couple of signs; I couldn't resist adding the 'nuclear weapons free zone' sign to one drawing."

Between 2004 and 2015, more than 10,000 demolition permits were issued for residential buildings in the city of Vancouver. As of 2015, an average of three houses a day were being torn down, many of them original homes built for the middle and working class in the 1920s, '30s and '40s. Very few are deemed significant enough to merit heritage protection, but Caroline Adderson and other Vancouver writers believed the demoliton of these dwellings amounted to an architectural loss. She therefore spearheaded Vancouver Vanishes: Narratives of Demolition and Revival (Anvil 2015), co-authored with John Atkin, Kerry Gold, Evelyn Lau, Eve Lazarus, John Mackie, Elise & Stephen Partridge and Bren Simmers. The introduction is by heritage artist and activist Michael Kluckner--who has published a book called Vanishing Vancouver--and photographs are by Tracey Ayton and Adderson.

The Rooming House: The West Coast in the Seventies
by Michael Kluckner (Midtown Press/Sandhill $19.95)

Review by John Moore (BCBW 2022)

In almost painfully authentic evocation of a brief few years in Vancouver’s history, The Rooming House, a graphic novel by Michael Kluckner, covers the early 1970s when young wannabe members of what was then called the ‘Now Generation’ formed the city’s hip community centred around a few blocks of West Fourth Avenue. They lived in nearby communal houses and crash pads in Kitsilano’s many large old homes that had been converted into rooming houses for revenue because taxes were low and the properties weren’t worth developing. This may be hard to imagine for anyone born after 1980, but if you’re of an age to remember those times, The Rooming House is an excellent book to give to children (or grandchildren) who ask, “What was Vancouver like when you were my age?”

This is how it was. Vancouver was a haven for young Americans dodging conscription to fight an immoral war in Vietnam as the richest and most powerful nation on Earth expressed its frustration at being unable to defeat one of the smallest and poorest in a conflict that made no sense to anyone but ideologues. Anti-establishment activists held protests against the war, and free events called ‘Be-Ins’ and ‘Love-Ins’ where peace, love and ecological well-being were promoted. The Georgia Straight, founded in 1967 as an underground newspaper collective, advocated for environmental issues and legalization of drugs and against the bullying right-wing regime of Mayor ‘Tom Terrific’ Campbell, a real estate developer on the make who described the Straight as “filth, peddled to school children.” New York’s Greenwich Village, San Francisco’s Haight-Asbury district and Toronto’s Yorkville were counter-culture meccas to which young hippies made pilgrimages, hitchhiking or driving old vans painted like “gypsy” wagons, criss-crossing North America in the steps of legendary 50s Beat Generation rebel writers Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Ken Kesey.

In economical compressed prose in the form of diary entries that are paired on each page with his illustrations, Kluckner zooms in on the adventures of four earnest young people, two men and two women, who typify the callow idealism of the time. He tracks the emotional consequences of their quests to find a meaningful alternative to becoming conformist ‘drones in the hive.’ They drift from Kitsilano communes to crappy jobs in small towns and back to Fourth Avenue to reconnect. There is drama—attending a peaceful ‘smoke-in’ in Gastown ends in beatings by riot police; tenants of the rooming house have to search for a dope stash left by a former dealer; and one rooming house resident has to be cool when encountering a naked housemate who has obviously spent the night with a guy she thought was her lover. And so it goes, very much as it did at the time.

An ensemble cast allows Kluckner to cover a lot of issues from different points of view at the risk of reducing the reader’s emotional investment in a particular protagonist, but that’s obviously the point. Long-running ensemble TV shows provide ‘drama without catharsis’ and in their nouveau roman novels of the 1950s, French authors Nathalie Sarraute, Michel Butor and Alain Robbe-Grillet deliberately discarded fictive conventions of deep characterization, suspense and dramatic resolution. Most of their meticulously plotless novels aren’t nearly as readable as The Rooming House, which owes more to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, The Subterraneans and British writer Colin Wilson’s Adrift in Soho.

Michael Kluckner’s success as an artist has tended to overshadow his parallel career as a journalist and writer-at-large. In the 1980s, his books of paintings and illustrations, Vancouver The Way It Was, Victoria The Way It Was, Vanishing Vancouver, etc., were on everyone’s brass-and-glass coffee tables in living rooms where Kluckner prints shared the walls with Peter Margraf’s west coast serigraphs. Unlike most historical photographs, Kluckner’s paintings captured and celebrated the scruffy ambiance of Vancouver’s old houses and buildings, conveying the warmth of long human use the way an ancient cracked leather jacket or weather-battered hat comforts the soul.

His interest in Vancouver’s fragile neighbourhood architecture could hardly have been more timely. When he began publishing his books, Vancouver was entering the infamous Decade of Greed—city governments were pursing mega-projects and money-pit extravaganzas like Expo 86 at the expense of the modest human skyline Kluckner was trying to record and preserve. In 1991, Kluckner became the first president of Heritage Vancouver, the beginning of a long public career as an advocate for the preservation of historic structures.

The sign of a real artist in any medium is that they’re always evolving, so it’s no surprise that in his 60s Michael Kluckner began combining his literary and illustrative skills in a series of graphic novels: Toshiko, Julia, 2050: A Post Apocalyptic Murder Mystery and now The Rooming House. At 71, he’s far from done. 9781988242460

John Moore drove a taxi in the early ’70s. His forthcoming book, The Last Reel, will be published by Ekstasis Editions.

CITY/TOWN: Langley

DATE OF BIRTH: April 4, 1951




Hallmark Society of Merit Award, 1992 (Paving Paradise)
Bill Duthie Booksellers Choice Award, 1991 (Vanishing Vancouver)
City of Vancouver Book Award, 1991 (Vanishing Vancouver)
Toronto Book Prize (short list)
Heritage Canada Medal of Achievement


The Rooming House: The West Coast in the Seventies (Midtown Press / Sandhill, 2022) $19.95 9781988242460
Here & Gone (Midtown / Sandhill, 2020) $19.95 978-1-988242-38-5
2050: A Post-Apocalyptic Murder Mystery (Midtown Press / Sandhill, 2016) $19.95 9781988242187
Toshiko (Midtown Press, 2015) Price: $19.95 978-0-9881101-7-5
A Year at Killara Farm (Harbour, 2012) Illustrations. (see Christine Allen for full entry) $29.95 978-1-55017-571-4
Vanishing Vancouver (Whitecap, 2012).
Vancouver Remembered (Whitecap, 2006). 1-55285-811-1
Vanishing British Columbia (UBC Press, 2005). 0-7748-1125-0
Vancouver Walks (John Atkin, co-author) 2003
Wise Acres: Free Range Reflections on the Rural Route (Raincoast, 2000)
Canada A Journey of Discovery (Raincoast, 1998)
The Pullet Surprise (Raincoast, 1997)
Michael Kluckner's Vancouver (Raincoast, 1996)
British Columbia in Watercolour (Self-published, 1993)
Heritage Walks Around Vancouver (Whitecap, 1992)
Paving Paradise (Whitecap, 1991)
Vanishing Vancouver (Whitecap, 1990)
Toronto The Way It Was (Whitecap, 1988)
M.I. Rogers, 1869-1965 (privately printed, 1987)
Victoria The Way It Was (Whitecap, 1986)
Vancouver The Way It Was (Whitecap, 1984)

[Caricature: Kluckner, self-portrait]

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2022] "Art" "Architecture"

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Vanishing British Columbia