The Art of Success

Love ones,

It was a golden moment in Canada’s Pacific Northwest; clear blue sky, calm waters and a temperature that warmed the rocks hot enough to fry bacon. I was in heaven. Literally – winging my way to one of my favorite destinations on this beleaguered planet; Canada’s Gulf Islands. The float plane dipped down into a bay surrounded by craggy inlets and speckled with dwellings where our friends were waiting in their boat to scoop us up and take us to their island retreat. We hung out with them for four glorious days of perfect company, perfect fun and even perfect weather, the region living up to its cunningly optimistic name, The Sunshine Coast.


We hauled up baskets of prawns, caught a 15lb salmon, hiked, swam in a balmy lake and jolted ourselves out of pleasure induced torpors by skinny-dipping in the freezing waters of the Jervis Strait. But most of all we marveled at the amazing acumen of our hosts who have, with relatively modest means, created a magical life for themselves, their family and lucky friends like us.

Vincent (or Binty to friends and family) is a potter, ( and hails from a distinguished family of acclaimed architects, filmmakers, artists, actors and even a Governor-General. His beautiful wife Cheryl is a craftsman in her own right, creating magnificent baskets out of kelp that she scours from B.C’s beaches and rushes that she gathers by canoe from local lakes.

vincentmassey.jpgThe first Vincent Massey was Binty’s great-uncle Charles Vincent Massey, the 18th Governor General of Canada, Massey-Ferguson heir and patron of one of the greatest collections of Canadian Art through the Massey Foundation. His brother and Binty’s grand-father was the actor Raymond Massey.

Their website says it all. Art and Life are synonymous for this couple. Art is not something you buy to adorn walls but is an integral part of the way they live. Who needs purchasing power when you have imagination, creativity and skill at your disposal?  First up they have managed, from what I can figure, to snafu the best piece of property on the Island; 2 1/2 acres, with an expanse of gently sloping rocky shorefront; a comfortable perch to watch the eagles soar and the last sanguine rays of sunlight disappear behind the neighboring islands.



Next up they built a house – from scratch – by hand – or hands, mostly their own. They began with plans hand drawn one afternoon by Binty’s architect father, a long-time partner of Arthur Erikson and then culled lumber from Cheryl’s family’s property which was cut to specs at the local mill. The 16 massive log supports, each about 14′ long were salvaged from the strait and 5 sets of double-paned French doors were hauled out of a reno at Whistler. Even the brand new fir and black granite kitchen was bought for a song – not even a song, more like a whistle – from an insurance sale, the whole structure built to resemble a Haida longhouse, the only “splurge”, the purchase, (poor babies) of a  16′ by 7′ cathedral skylight.

Outside piles of driftwood slabs lie bleaching in the sun, acquiring the requisite silver glow before being “massified” into deck chairs, tables, benches or whatever the hell else they feel like whipping up. If I’m starting to sound a little bitter it’s just that anyone who tuned in a few weeks ago will be well acquainted with my love of power tools. I spent part of the weekend watching enviously as Bint transformed scraps of crap into the Taj Mahal of benches, elegantly curved to follow the natural formation of the rock. (pics will follow I promise you). There was more than a moment when I felt stiffed by the gene pool lottery we call life but it’s hard to be envious of people who are so generous in the sharing of their bounty.

canadabcfirefightermedalofbravery.jpgTo top it off, earlier this year VM was awarded the Canadian Medal of Bravery by the current Governor General, Michaelle Jean, for his role in a daring helicopter rescue where they plucked a man from a frozen lake. Sitting round the campfire he regaled us with stories of some of the other recipients. There was the expected smattering of brave policemen and fireman who put themselves in harms way in the line of duty as well as ordinary citizens who saved neighbors from burning homes and tractors, rescued people from mudslides, blizzards, drownings and suicides including a diminutive Inuit woman who wrestled with a Polar Bear in order to save her son. The most amazing story however was of a 16 year old girl who saved her father from a rampaging bull. She literally punched the enraged animal several times on the snout to divert his attention from her seriously injured father, ducking behind trees when the beast turned on her. She continued to punch and duck long enough for her father to crawl away, the bull pacing back and forth menacingly before finally backing down. “Shit, all I did was pluck a guy from a lake” said VM.

As I lounged in the sun like a lizard, the sound of a float plane buzzing in the distance I casually picked up the latest issue of Vogue magazine. Flicking through I came across an article by a glamorous traveler on the agonies of “over-packing”. “The further I go, the more I pack” she bitched. In desperation she had hired a “stylist” recommended by a friend. Someone who does “closet overhauls” (whatever they are) “seasonal purchases” and “event dressing”, making customized “look-books” for each of her clients, 2 photographs per page, laying out “complete looks” including “accessory options”. She had parlayed these unique accomplishments into hiring herself out as a “packing professional” beginning with a “location-inspired” color palette. I thought to myself. “Poor woman, she could be HERE!” “Here” being as far away from screwed up values as you can get, a world of privilege, born not of money but of imagination.

In a quiet moment together, Big Daddy and I discussed the situation. We both concurred, that of all the successful people we know, no-one has a life like V and CM. Ardent adventurers, they earn as much as they need to provide well for themselves and their family and spend the rest of the time “Givin It”, driving hard on the slopes, skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, snow mobiling, windsurfing, or just hanging out. VM has also been “givin it” back, having spent 15 years as a volunteer with Whistler’s busy search and rescue team.

Described in the book “Whistler – against all odds” as a “renaissance man, in a Mister Fix-It/ Walter Mittyish /survivalist 21st century kind of way” he and his wife seem to have it all. OOPS, my bad! I don’t think they had a “packing professional” choose the “location inspired” color palette of their Island destination wardrobe. To be honest they looked a little haphazard in their selections. I’ll have to speak to them about that!

For those too young to know, Walter Mitty is the fictional character in a selection of short stories entitled “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” first published in 1939. The hero is a mild man with a vivid fantasy life (!) imagining himself in all sorts of heroic exploits and performing feats of derring-do.

The amazing $2500 kitchen!


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