Remembering Charles Lillard
August 07th, 2012
Charles Lillard, buy one of BC’s most knowledgeable bibliophiles and prolific authors, died on March 26. A memorial service was held at the home of Robin and Sylvia Skelton on April 12. Born in Long Beach, California in 1944, Charles “Red” Lillard was raised and educated in Alaska. After travels in Canada and Europe in 1965, he worked at several forestry jobs, attended and lectured at UBC, drove a truck at Ocean Falls and published his first poetry collection, Cultus Coulee, in 1971. Other books include Seven Shillings a Year, his history of Vancouver Island which received the Lieutenant-Governor’s Medal, Circling North, which won the first Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and Just East of Sundown, his history of the Queen Charlotte Islands. Other poetry titles included Drunk on Wood, Jabble, Voice, My Shaman, Shadow Weather, and A Coastal Range.
With Michael Gregson he compiled a coffee table book on post-war BC icons, Land of Destiny; with Ron MacIsaac and Don Clarke he co-wrote a study of the 1920s religious cult leader Edward Arthur Wilson, The Brother XII; with J. Ellis he co-wrote a local history, Fernwood Files; and with Robin Skelton and his wife Rhonda Batchelor he coordinated numerous literary events and publications from Victoria. Widely read for many years as a literary columnist in the Times Colonist and as a contributor to B.C> BookWorld, Lillard, who was most closely associated with Sono Nis Press, amassed a deeply-felt knowledge of BC writing and publishing. His enthusiasm for BC Literature resulted in the reprinting of several West Coast “classics” such as Three’s a Crew and he edited many other history titles, edited The Malahat Review and co-founded Reference West.
Charles Lillard’s work-in-progress was a yet-to-be-released study of the Chinook language on the BC coast, A Voice Great Within Us. “Perhaps people in this country think of him mainly as a poet – which he was, of course, a fine poet,” says Marlyn Horsdal, one of Lillard’s publishers, “but he was also an extraordinary repository of information on the literature of the coast and coastal history; he loved collecting it and talking about it… Charles was endlessly interesting, opinionated and entertaining, and a good friend.”
In the early 1990s Charles Lillard was profiled by his closest writing friend, Robin Skelton: “I think of Red (for I still call him Red) in conversation over the whisky, that sudden eager leaning forward, that gargantuan chuckle which is his laughter. I think of that battered black hat, even more curiously shaped than mine, and of the disreputable knapsack he carries to flea-markets. I think of his comfortable presence, easy and undemanding, as he chats to booksellers and flea-market vendors. And I think of that voice on the phone, jovial, teasing, persuasive, telling me of some new project in which I am to be become inescapably involved. And I think, above all, of his enthusiasm; this is my friend, a man in love with life, a man of zest, a man of poetry, a man of honest labour: I wish there were more like him.”
Essay Date: 1997