Mavor Moore: made in Canada

 

January 6, 2007: VICTORIA, B.C.: We gathered here today to say goodbye to Mavor Moore, who died just before Christmas. I was privileged to be one of the people he wanted to speak. When his wife Sandra asked me for a title for my little talk, I sent back a note saying: what about “From Thaw to flood: defrosting the soul of a cold country”? She e-mailed back: “Cool.”

That would be Spring Thaw, of course. Could there ever have been a more suitable title for a show that started such a flood—not just of imitators, but of growing national recognition that the words “Made in Canada” matter, dammit, and matter in their own right?

He let Canadian artists and Canadian audiences know that it was all right to explore Canadian themes, sing Canadian songs, perform Canadian plays: and he provided a torrent of works of his own to back him up. He gave Canadian artists the confidence to know they could call themselves professionals, and compete with the best from anywhere.

The first time I met him I was doing an interview: me the young(ish) immigrant arts journalist, Mavor the cultural pundit. And I was struck then, as I was so often as our friendship opened up in the years that followed, by how effortlessly he was able to absorb you into his world.

Not that there was anything ponderous about him, no sense that he was delivering The Word from a great height, no effort to impress you, simply the sense that he was sharing something that he found important, so the chances were that you probably would as well, so come on in and welcome.

He was a polymath, but a gregarious and charming one who wore his wisdom lightly. He could talk about momentous things with an ease of spirit and a brightness of mind. That didn’t mean he couldn’t be serious, and he was certainly enough of a performer to know how to shade his public pronouncements so that, however deceptive his delivery, the dagger of truth always slipped in.

But always, the wit—a delight in wordplay that underlined the impishness of his spirit, and kept him sounding youthful and alert in a way that didn’t change with the years … all of it flavoured with that twinkle of self-deprecation that we like to think of as particularly Canadian.

He was a lovely friend. Susan has particularly fond memories of an evening when we invited Mavor and Sandra to a murder mystery party at our house in Lions Bay. I think Susan had only met Mavor once before, and I suppose she might have expected the kind of awkwardness that sometimes happens when new people come into your home. But not a bit of it. We had issued character descriptions to all the participants in our little bit of amateur theatre, and at the appropriate time Mavor and Sandra swept in, in full costume and in full character: she was playing a diva, which was appropriate enough, given her professional singing history, and he was in an opera cloak, and he didn’t let up on the fun and cleverness until the mystery was over … three courses and several bottles of wine later.

He liked the fun of the theatre, but he never backed away from a fight for the things he believed in, both as an individual artist and as chairman and advisor to federal and provincial arts funding bodies (the Canada Council for the Arts, the BC Arts Council). He fought hard and long against the incessant cultural colonialism that he saw spilling north over our borders—Canadians can’t sing their own song if American commerce calls the tune—and he knew the language and the codes of politics.

He was passionate, and a lot of people are passionate, but he was also convincing: he convinced you because he was a living example of the civilizing and humanizing effect of a life in the arts. With that example, how could you not buy into his consuming passion for a better world, a more humane world, a world where we find reassurance that some important things transcend the daily business of survival?

When Mavor embarked on his remarkable career Canada was an almost unimaginably different place. He was a one-man expeditionary force who went in search of Canada’s soul, and located it right at the centre of our national being: at the place where we tell each other our stories, where we entertain each other, where we share our ideas, where we sing our songs together against the darkness of the night around us.

 

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