"The city of Vancouver is a quite handsome hellhole." -- Dylan Thomas

Dylan and who was married to a fellow alcoholic, liked to say that he came to America to pursue "naked women in wet mackintoshes" but he was no Casanova. Short and sickly, he was nonetheless accorded rock star status upon his first visit in 1950 at age 36. He read poetry first at the UBC auditorium before an audience of 1,300, then he recited more English verse at the Vancouver Hotel's Mayfair Room on Thursday, April 6, 1950. At an after-party in his honour at a house on Davie Street, Dylan Thomas and Malcolm Lowry--who had met one another in England--locked themselves into a room. "They got inside it, with some liquor, and it took quite a while before they were pried out," Earle Birney recalled. "By then, neither of them was very comprehensible. Lowry was inclined to pass out early, and I guess I must have helped to get Dylan back to his hotel." The Lowrys fell asleep in the house and woke up there the next morning, visited Dylan Thomas at the Hotel Vancouver, found him in bed with a female admirer (who Dylan Thomas prompted dismissed) and started drinking again. During his second visit in 1952, Thomas insulted faculty at the UBC Faculty Club and again got rip-roaring drunk. He died one year later in New York, at age 39, after a colossal whiskey binge. In 1996, Langara English instructor Ted Langley generated a Dylan Thomas Society in Vancouver. A Dylan Thomas Festival was held at the Cambrian Hall at 17th & Main, co-organized by Langley, Neville Thomas and Alan Jones.

In a letter to his wife, Caitlin Thomas, dated April 7, 1950, Dylan Thomas wrote: "Vancouver is on the sea, and gigantic mountains doom above it. Behind the mountains lie other mountains, lies an unknown place, 30,000 miles of mountainous wilderness, the lost land of Columbia where cougars live and black bears. But the city of Vancouver is a quite handsome hellhole. It is, of course, being Canadian, more British than Cheltenham. I spoke last night--or read, I never lecture, how could I?--in front of two huge Union Jacks. The pubs--they are called beer-parlours--serve only beer, are not allowed to have whiskey or wine or any spirits at all--and are open only for a few hours a day. There are, in this monstrous hotel, two bars, one for Men, one for Women. They do not mix. Today, Good Friday, nothing is open nor will be open all day long. Everybody is pious and patriotic, apart from a few people in the university & my old friend Malcolm Lowry--do you remember Under the Volcano--who lives in a hut in the mountains & who came down to see me last night... This afternoon I pick up my bag of soiled clothes and take a plane to Seattle. And thank God to be out of British Canada & back in the terrible United States of America."

[photo: Dylan Thomas in Vancouver]
[BCBW 2003]