Jim Green memorial to feature story of Canadian Seamen's Union

The fourth annual Jim Green Memorial event Friday night will feature the late Vancouver city councillor’s work documenting the dramatic downfall of the Canadian Seamen’s Union of the mid-1900s.

Charlie Demers adapted Green's work for the stage and says it runs contrary to the typical Canadian narrative

The Canadian Seamen's Union disbanded in 1951. (Colin Askey/Vimeo)

The fourth annual Jim Green Memorial event Friday night will feature the late Vancouver city councillor's work documenting the dramatic downfall of the Canadian Seamen's Union of the mid 1900s.

Local icon Jim Green was an activist, a professo, and the author of the 1986 book, Against the Tide.

Vancouver writer and comedian Charlie Demers adapted the book for the stage and will present it Friday at SFU Woodwards. He says the dramatic story runs contrary to the stereotypical Canadian narrative.

"We all have this idea of Canadian history as being this kind of polite, always very slowly moving in the right direction," he said.

"And this is the story of gangsters having shot gun fights on the waterfront with communists. This is not what people think of as Canadian history."

A country-wide journey

Demers says Green got the idea to write the book after working as a casual longshoremen on the Vancouver waterfront.

"He's essentially cajoled by these waterfront workers into writing the history of the Canadian Seamen's Union," said Demers.

That starts a country-wide journey for Green, who slept on couches and floors across the country in order to talk to former members of the union.

"He really does find himself through this mission of getting the story of the CSU down on paper, making sure it's not lost to the ages."

Green arrives back in Vancouver and tries to present his work to UBC as a thesis, but it rejects his proposal.

Then, Green gets a helping hand.  

"Eventually, it's put out by the Communist Party's press in 1986, and it was essentially edited by current Vancouver city councillor, Geoff Meggs," said Demers.

Jim Green

Demers says he adapted Jim Green's book for the memorial event because he admired the man, even though they first met sitting at opposing sides of the political table.

"We were on opposite sides of the Vision-COPE split," said Demers.

"He was someone for whom I had no great affection."

But when Demers was tapped to be a ghost writer for Green's biography, he saw how important of a figure Green was in Vancouver's community.

"[I saw] people coming into his office … people, not polished middle class people — people off the streets of the Downtown Eastside, coming to Jim for opera tickets and him knowing their names, knowing their stories, seeing them as his people," he said.

"I did develop a great affection for Jim."


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