Suzy Snapper
Friday, December 29, 2006
The Walls Have Stories
If there is one thing I've learned, it is that everything and everybody has a story. All you have to do is listen.

Tonight, my brother told a story of a friend of his. While growing up in Ontario, Don's neighbour would always come help the kids set up their hockey nets in the street. The neighbour didn't have any children of his own, and seemed not to want to talk too much but was there for the kids. He was a surrogate father to many on that street and they knew him as Mr. D. Many years later, when Don went back to his hometown for Mr. D's funeral, his widow handed him a box. 'He'd have wanted you to have this, Don', she said. Inside were a variety of medals that Mr. D had earned during WWII. One of those medals was the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth's highest honour. He never even realized that Mr. D had served. Don couldn't accept that gift but he did ensure they found their way to a war memorial museum so all could appreciate Mr. D's quiet sacrifice.

I work in an old building. When I first arrived at my new job, I was a little taken aback by the sparse setting and the aging office equipment. My file cabinet has wooden handles and notations of company account numbers that have long ceased business.

On the site, we have a very ancient factory that has had many incarnations over the last several decades. In a town where nothing is over a century, our 75 year old factory raises an eyebrow. But times are changing and the building has been cleared out for eventual demolition.

Last week, I received a call from the owner of the company. I was flattered to be asked to do a photographic session to capture the essence of the building before it's eventual tear-down.

It was a unique gift, and one that is continuing to inspire me.

These old-growth beams are no longer used. They are 12" x 12" cedar, and will be salvaged. Likely for use in upscale 'rustic' homes that are becoming fashionable of late. As I walked through the site with the foreman, we talked of the days that this was a booming industry.

This building once housed the fabrication shop that helped build the warships in both World Wars. In World War II, the company had the distinction of being one of the first to hire women machinists. Rosie The Riveter worked here.

Ghosts? As we walked through, I could feel an essence. Be it a spirit, or just many years of sweat and hard work, there was a pronounced feeling about the place. If these walls could talk, they'd tell you of the men and women who toiled here. They would tell you about the boss who pushed a little too hard, the product that never came out exactly as it could and the pride when something did go right. They would tell you of the quiet gratification of seeing a large project leave the premises after many months of hard labour.

How many hands have touched this spout in the last 75 years? I aim to find out. In doing this shoot, I was inspired by something deeper. I want to tell the stories of this place.

When I returned to my office after doing my walkthrough, I was humbled by the number of people who came by my desk to tell me a story about their time down in 'the shop'. This is such a small handful of the people who worked there, and while the day to day grind may get one down, it is the big picture that is proving to be the story here. I will be proposing to management to create a booklet of memories and photographs that will tell take the oral out of the history and make it permanent.

What a fitting end to a building that has held so many memories for so many people.

And most just think I work in an old, decrepit building. Scratching the surface is often worth the effort.

Vancouver, British Columbia
A patriotic Canadian full of visions of a better Canada, random thoughts and a lot of hot air. Who am I? A struggling writer and photographer trapped in a corporate buyer's body. Steel shopping by day, and freeflowing prose by night. One day I hope to have the nights become my days, but am intimidated by the sheer amount of people who share my dream. So I read. A lot. I learn. A lot. I push myself. A lot. The world is a small place, and getting smaller every day. I'm proud to have friends in every corner of the earth, and abide by the old adage that there are no strangers, only friends we haven't met yet.
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