Opening Notes

Opening Notes

Tanya Davies June 14 1999
Opening Notes

Opening Notes

Tanya Davies June 14 1999

Opening Notes

Vancouver’s Duthie Books is down, but not out

Tanya Davies

Buying a book in Vancouver over the past 42 years often meant a trip to the venerable Duthie Books Ltd. Founded by the late Bill Duthie in 1957 and now run by his 48-year-old daughter, Celia, what has become a 10-store chain is known for supporting local writers and providing intellectual nourishment to British Columbia readers, the most avid bookworms in Canada. But recently, Duthie Books hit hard times, and last week it sought bankruptcy protection, declaring liabilities of $1.7 million. The company cited competition from behemoth Chapters Inc., a sickly B.C. economy, unsympathetic bankers and overly ambitious expansion—it opened seven stores in the 1990s—as reasons for its financial troubles. The loss last year of an annual $1-million contract with the British Columbia Ferry Corp., to stock the ferries’ bookstores, did not help either. “It was a terrible blow,” says Celia Duthie, who took over the company in 1984.

The news of the Duthie dilemma shook Vancouverites who see the chain as an integral part of their community. “It’s like

taking away a piece of the city’s soul,” says Allan MacDougall, president of Raincoast Book Distribution Ltd., one of Duthie’s creditors. (Raincoast is owed approximately $100,000.) Duthie, however, vows that the stores will remain “a presence in Vancouver after this period of restructuring.” She has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection. “There have been calls from authors, publishers—even publishers who are our creditors,” she says. “They say they can’t imagine the book trade without Duthie.”

Last Thursday, Duthie received another token of the city’s esteem. Simon Fraser University awarded her an honorary doctor of laws degree. “It was the silver lining,” she says, “in an otherwise cloudy time.”

Mourning a mauler

They wore business suits instead of flashy costumes, but it was still easy to pick out the professional wresding superstars at Owen Hart’s funeral last week in Calgary. They were the burly mourners with long hair and the accessory of choice for celebrities, sunglasses, even though it was raining. Hollywood (Hulk) Hogan, who arrived in a white stretch limousine, wore a black bandanna on his head. And the Undertaker had to duck to get his large frame through the doorway.

Some of the stars in attendance were from Hart’s own family, a legendary dynasty in the pro

wresding world. His father, Stu, trained a who’s who of wresders, and his older brother is Bret (The Hitman) Hart. But for Owen’s funeral the family wanted to remember the man, not the entertainer. “Kids at school sometimes considered us freaks because of the business,” recalled his sister, Diana Smith. “Rough kids would steal our marbles and Owen would stand up to them, he would never back down.” Owen’s brother Bruce said the hardest thing to accept is the way his brother died, after plunging nine storeys during a grandentry stunt in Kansas City, Mo. “A great athlete such as Owen didn’t need to be coming into the ring on a damn cable, wearing a silly cape,” he said. “It’s so damn frustrating and needless.”

A fast-track life

It has been an intensely frustrating season for Jacques Villeneuve. The Canadian driver, who won North America’s Indycar championship in 1995 and the Formula One crown in 1997, has not been able to finish an FI race this year because of repeated mechanical failures on his new British American Racing car. The car did perform better in the series’ last event, the Spanish Grand Prix, where Villeneuve was able to challenge the top-ranked McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari cars before succumbing to gearbox problems. Villeneuve hopes to turn his fortunes around in Montreal at this week’s Air Canada Grand Prix. “We are fast enough, more than fast enough, in

fact, to be on the podium,” he insists. “We just don’t do enough laps.”

A native Quebecer who now resides in Monaco, Villeneuve faces a media onslaught in Montreal—not to mention an avalanche of requests for tickets from family and friends. “It’s kind of stressful because you can’t bring everybody,” he says. “You’re not having a barbecue.”

Private snoops

From the old-spies-never-die department: the investigative firm Kroll Associates of New York City has hired former head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Reid Morden to run its Canadian operation. Morden joins a list of former Canadian snoops who now work in the business intelli-

gence field, including RCMP commissioner Norman Inkster, with KPMG Investigation and Security Inc., and head of the RCMP’s commercial and economic crime unit Rod Ständer, with Forensic Investigative Associates Inc. “We bring intelligence to clients,” says Morden, who adds that doesn’t include the secrets he gleaned from being in charge of CSIS. “You all say we know the country’s secrets—we don’t.”

Pop Movies

1. Star Wars: Ep.1-Phantom Menace (246/3)$6,116,670

2. Notting Hill (207/1)....................................$2,742,400

3. The Mummy (232/4)....................................$1,020,280

4. Entrapment (194/5).......................................$646,190

5. The Thirteenth Floor (128/1).........................$499,090

6. The Matrix (151/10)......................................$364,630

7. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (91/3).............$217,480

8. Never Been Kissed (95/8).............................$ 134,860

9. Black Mask (69/3)........................................$105,140

10. Tea With Mussolini (20/3)...............................$98,350

Top movies in Canada, ranked according to box-office receipts during the seven days that ended on June 3. (In brackets: numbers of screens/weeks showing.)

Copyright Entertainment Data Inc.

The macho military

In an action-packed movie about military coverups, John Travolta plays an army investigator trying to solve the rape and

murder of a young female captain— who just happens to be the general’s daughter, the title of the film. The General’s Daughter has a star-studded cast: Madeleine Stowe, James Cromwell, Timothy Hutton and James Woods. But it is Travoltas show, as a smart aleck warrant officer defying the tenets of military secrecy and loyalty by accusing those in higher ranks of murder.

Taking art outdoors

It’s quirky, but is it art? That is a good question when it comes to the handmade weather vanes, whirligigs, birdhouses and lawn ornaments that Canadians have traditionally decorated their personal space with. Curators at the Canadian Museum of Civilization clearly think such artifacts are worth preserving, having amassed some 28,400 pieces.

Now, the Ottawa-based institution has mounted This Other Eden: Canadian Folk Art Outdoors featuring 150 pieces.

(The show runs until Jan.

9, followed by a sevencity Canadian tour.) Douglas & McIntyre and the museum have co-published a companion book of the same name. Its 52 photographs delightfully illustrate the whimsy, humour and creativity of Canadians everywhere.

Walking V talking

Two-way radios have long provided a critical communications link between central dispatchers and fleets of drivers working for taxi companies, courier services and trucking firms. Now, they are becoming popular with the general

public, in the United States at least. In 1997, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved the use of personal two-way radio, and designated a band on the radio spectrum to avoid conflicts with commercial users. According to Frank Maw, vice-president of the personal commu-

nications division of Motorola Canada, the devices, which have a

range of just over three kilometres, allow family members to maintain contact when apart. They can be useful to people who are canoeing and hiking. “It’s been a major success story in the U.S.,” says Maw. “They've become a whole new retail category called family radio service.”

But the devices, which sell for about $220 apiece, are not yet available in Canada. Industry Canada must approve them, but the department has a problem: there is no radio band available that could be dedicated exclusively to a family radio service. Several dozen Canadian companies already have licences to operate their radios at the same frequency as the U.S. authorities has set aside. This spring, Industry Canada began consulting with the licence holders, as well as manufacturers of the personal radios, to determine how best to accommodate commercial and personal users. Maw said that ideally the Canadian and U.S. systems would be compatible, and consumers could use their radios in both countries. A decision is expected in the fall.

Bus of the future

Bill Coryell makes his living selling steel bus bodies destined for public transit fleets—but he says the future is in plastic. The Los Angeles-based executive, who is vice-president of sales with North American Bus Industries Inc., believes that commuters and other transit users will eventually be riding buses made of high-strength, lightweight and rust-resistant plastic. He says his company is already manufacturing bus bodies made of fibreglass infused with plastic resin for testing purposes and he anticipates commercial production to begin next year. The plastic is strong enough to endure the rigours of the road, he says, because it contains 70per-cent glass fibre and 30-per-cent resin, the reverse of most cheaper, massproduced fiberglass. Coryell notes that tests conducted according to standards set by the U.S. Federal Transit Administration have shown that a one-piece

plastic-bodied bus suffered less damage than its metal counterpart when hit by a 1,800-kg car travelling 40 km/h. “Fiberglass took over boating 20 or 30 years ago and now dominates,” notes Coryell. “I think these composite materials are going to take over many other industries as well.”

Relaunching the space race

There is a new space race, although with the end of the Cold War this one is being fought by amateurs building their own rockets. They are chasing a $370,000 prize, created in October, 1997, by the Los Angeles-based Space Frontier Foundation, for the first team to fire an object, weighing at least two kilograms, 200 km into space. “There are credible teams taking a shot,” says Rick Tumlinson, president of the foundation, which was set up in 1989 and is supported by a $30-million endowment from an anonymous billionaire. “If a miracle happens, we may have a winner this fall.”

On May 23, a Sacramento, Calif.based group launched a tube-shaped rocket—it was 2.4-m long and 7.6-cm wide—to an altitude of 22 km from a site in northwestern Nevada. Several other groups are expected to try this year, including an eight-member team, led by San Jose, Calif., home builder Tom Rouse, 43, which hopes to use a government-owned rocket-launching facility in Churchill, Man. Rouses group hopes to win with a nine-metre tall, two-stage rocket capable of travelling 1,200-m feet per second. “My wife says I’m nuts,” says Rouse, who has put $88,000 into the project over the past 18 months. “But we’re going to make history.”

Farewell to film

According to some in the entertainment industry, the whirl of the film projector may soon be a sound of the past. It will be replaced by digitally recorded movies shipped to movie theatres on discs, carried over cables or downloaded from satellites. Starting on June 18, moviegoers at four U.S. theatres—two in Los Angeles and two in Secaucus,

N.J.—will see a digital version of George Lucas’s The Phantom Menace as part of a month-long market test of a digital projector developed by Dallas-based Texas Instruments. The heart of the new projection technology is three digital micro-

mirror devices, each containing 1.3 million mirrors on a computer chip that is five square centimetres. “This change is coming,” says Bob Greenberg, director of marketing and communications with Texas Instruments. “It’s just a matter of getting everybody comfortable with it.”

D’Arcy Jenish

The unlucky, but lucrative, Leafs

There was misery in Hogtown when the Toronto Maple Leafs fell out of Stanley Cup contention last week. The blue boys lost their best-of-seven semifinal series to the tough and tenacious Buffalo Sabres in only five games. For millions of diehard fans, it was a sad end to a thrilling and unexpected playoff run.

After failing to make the playoffs the previous two seasons, the Leafs became competitive this year under coach Pat Quinn and with Curtis Joseph in net, and knocked off Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in earlier playoff rounds.

The fans weren’t the only ones with long faces after Toronto lost. Consider the people trying to balance the books at the budget-challenged CBC.

Per-game ratings of their No. 1 program, Hockey Night in Canada, soared by 49 per cent above last year’s viewership during the same playoff period, largely because of the Leafs.

More than two million & fans tuned into each of J the five games against the

Sabres. That enabled the network to charge $27,000 for its 30-second commercial spots aired during the Leafs-Sabres series, generating between $800,000 and $1 million for each game. Had the Leafs advanced to this week’s Stanley Cup final, the network planned to charge more than $40,000 per 30-second spot. Instead, HNIC will have to settle for a little less: $38,000 per spot to sponsor the clash between the Sabres and the Dallas Stars. The network consoled itself by announcing plans to hike next year’s playoff advertising rates by 10 per cent across the board.

The biggest losers, however, may have been team chairman Steve Stavro, Larry Tanenbaum, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund and the other shareholders in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment,

who were enjoying a stunning windfall. The company is privately held and does not disclose figures, but sources estimate it took in as much as $25 million during nine sellout home playoff dates. The Leafs’ surprise run was timely for the bottom line: in February, the team moved from spartan,

Leaf Kris King consoles Joseph after losing Game 5 against the Sabres: long faces

15,642-seat Maple Leaf Gardens to the lavish 18,800-seat Air Canada Centre. As well, teams do not pay players in the postseason. The players, whose contracts only cover the regular season, get a share of a league-funded bonus pool according to how many rounds their teams win.

For the Leafs, however, the really big bucks were still to come. The top price of a seat at the Air Canada Centre—$145 during the regular season—had already leapt to $230 in the Buffalo series and was slated to go up an extra $20 in the final. If nothing else, the Leafs’ loss saved ticket-buyers a large chunk of change.

James Deacon