On Receiving the Freedom of the City
August 07th, 2012
On the occasion of receiving the Freedom of the City of Vancouver, price the highest award given by the city, vialis 40mg George Woodcock delivered the following speech about his relationship with Vancouver and the honour he felt at receiving the distinguished award. Woodcock regards the occasion of his celebration as symbolic of the city’s evolution from a locale with few local writers and fewer publishers, to a Canadian literary centre.
George Woodcock died on January 28, 1995, less than one year after receiving the Freedom of the City.
“In the early 1950s when my wife and I were living in frustrated isolation in a small Vancouver Island village, Jack and Doris Shadbolt suggested we should come to live in Vancouver. At that time Capitol Hill, where Jack and Doris lived, was mainly bush, and Jack suggested that he might get us the loan of a cabin there, which he did, and our life on the mainland began in a stretch of woodland, now long vanished, where the pheasants still called and the tanagers still nested.
“A couple of year later we moved into the city proper, and my wife and I have now lived here for more than 40 years. Vancouver has become the foundation of our lives. We have travelled far and often, but through it all Vancouver has remained the magic and magnetic centre of our world. We love the city and its setting, the mountains and the sea and the trees and flowers, we have found our place in its special way of life, and in Vancouver I have done most of my life’s work of writing.
“That surely is debt enough for me to declare. But now, with the Freedom of the City and the Freedom Medal, I am being incorporated into the community in a special and intimate way, and I am grateful.
“But beyond my own personal satisfaction, I see a special, broader, implicit meaning in my having been the first writer to be named a Freeman of the City of Vancouver. I see it as a tribute also to our flourishing literary community, in the same was as granting Freedom to Jack Shadbolt a few years before was a recognition of the visual arts as well as of Jack himself.
“When I first came to Vancouver in the early 1950s it was a lonely place with few fellow writers, with no publishers, and with one slender poetry magazine, Alan Crawley’s Contemporary Verse. Now Vancouver is the centre of a province inhabited by hundreds of professional writers, with scores of publishing houses large and small, and many literary magazines, some of them with national and even international reputations. It poses a growing rivalry to the older literary centres of Eastern Canada. This is a matter for rejoicing, and I am glad, ladies and gentlemen, that you have recognized it through honouring me.
“I have still something on my mind. Freedom! It is a word worth repeating, for what I have been given is by definition a Freedom medal, and the great role of cities in the development of our ideals and practice of freedom has not always been recognized, or fully understood. The very words, civil rights, civil behaviour, and civilization itself, derive from one Latin root, civitas—which the scholars call kivitas—meaning the city. Even before the Romans, two-and-a half-millennia ago, our concepts of democratic life were being sketched out and tested in the free cities of ancient Greece.
“But the honour you have given be belong to a later period and shows how consistently, over the ages, cities have cared for freedom. In the Middle Ages the merchants and artisans of Europe created their own free cities on the seacoasts and river banks of the feudal world. People who lived outside the cities were mostly vassals and serfs of Lords or Kings. People in the cities carried on their trade and their industries, and practiced their arts in free co-operation and defended themselves through their guilds and fraternities. And when a serf fleeing from a tyrannical landlord found his way through the city gate and was accepted, he became a free man in name and practice.
“I see this association of the city and mental and physical freedom as an important, valuable tradition, not to be lost.
“I see myself as the symbolic descendant of that fleeing serf, and that is why I feel such pleasure at becoming a Freeman of my own city of Vancouver.”
Essay Date: 1994