Book Review: I remember horsebuns, by Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair's 13th book can be classified as an autobiography. It covers his life up to the University of British Columbia Law School. However, after the first 150 pages, the chapters in this book alternate between autobiographical ones and ones on topics that Rafe feels that the readers should know about.

The chapters in the latter category are especially good ones. “You've gotta talk salmon” is a concise explanation of the different species of salmon (and some fish incorrectly identified as salmon) in British Columbia waters and the various dams, built and unbuilt, over the years. “Canadian bombshell: the forgotten case of Igor Gouzenko” documents some shameful actions by Prime Minister Mackenzie King. “Whither the book?” and “The electronic book arrives” are essays on the merits of bookstores, paper books, and Kindles.

Readers of this book who were born in or moved to Vancouver since 1990 will not recognize a lot of the Vancouver that is described, especially if they live outside of the upscale west side. Multiculturalism has existed in Vancouver for a long time, but during Rafe's younger years, Irish were “Micks”, Chinese were “Chinks”, and one day in 1942, the Japanese just disappeared. These minority groups had their distinct neighbourhoods, and they weren't in Rafe's west side.

 Mair's family was one of the first in Vancouver to have a television. The signals it received came from Seattle and Bellingham; CBC didn't have a transmitter in Vancouver until 1958.

We learn from this book that horse racing was once a major sport in the Lower Mainland, with two tracks in Richmond, which was accessible only by ferry. The still-in-business track at Hastings Park was only a half mile at that time.

As in many autobiographies, there are the accounts of sadistic corporal punishment at Saint George's School. There are his early experiences with girls. Rafe was eight years old when World War II started, so there are some interesting recollections of what went on in Vancouver during that period. He classifies himself as a “Churchillian”, and this topic is discussed in a couple of places. Mainly, though, Rafe considers himself fortunate (and justifiably so) to have had a lot of access to the great outdoors in the Vancouver area during his youth.

As I mentioned earlier, this book covers only Rafe's youth. If you're interested in this subject matter, I suggest that you also read Canada: Is Anyone Listening?, which is also autobiographical, and covers his time as cabinet minister and radio talk show host.

Available in paperback here

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