Pubdate: Thu, 29 Aug 2002
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2002 The Georgia Straight
Author: Tom Thompson


On a late Friday night, August 23, I received a phone call from colleague 
Glen Andersen. He opened with a curt "Do you know about Ian?" I misheard 
yin for Ian and replied jokingly, "No, but I know about yang." Then he told 
me he'd heard Ian Hunter (born 1961) had died in a boating accident near 
Nelson but he had no details. We speculated briefly, in vain, hoping it was 
a mistake. Would I look on the Web?

A search on Google produced three entries with the words tragedy, boating, 
and pot activist. There was no mistake. From a firsthand account on Marc 
Emery's PotTV Web site, I learned that on August 14 Ian had taken a small 
motorboat onto Kootenay Lake. NORML's U.S.-based site had posted a partial 
reprint of a short report in the August 20 Times-Colonist: "Pot Activist 
Dies in Boat Accident". For a community-minded public figure whose news 
clippings could paper a rec room, it was meagre fare.

Ian and I first met in early 1988 near Victory Square, an area we would 
later dub Crosstown or X-town. We were studio neighbours on the third floor 
at 152 West Hastings, home to an initiative by Artists for Creative 
Environments that lobbied to change the zoning bylaws to allow affordable, 
live-in studios. An assortment of artists and arts organizations were 
invited to rent space from ACE to help kick-start the process: Kootenay 
School of Writing, Giles Runeckles Design, Glen Alteen and Co., Theatre at 
Large, myself, and later, Ian, who shared a desk with ACE. Ian came into my 
studio one day, introducing himself as a writer. Affable, energetic, he was 
like an irrepressible fast-talking salesman. He had a computer and would be 
happy to instruct, collaborate, do an exchange.

152 West Hastings was the genesis of a Vancouver arts revival that 
eventually saw a gritty, forlorn neighbourhood turn into a magnetic milieu. 
It lasted only six years, but anybody who was anybody in the arts then had 
a connection there. And most every-body, from the local merchants to the 
druggies, knew Ian.

At some point I parted with ACE, moving into the Dominion Building across 
the road. Ian followed (1990-92), renting a huge office space opposite me. 
Our lives crossed almost daily. We partnered up and in January 1993 
launched X-town, a proposal to declare the district an "arts zone" and to 
preserve its heritage aspects. It resulted in a yearlong tour de force of 
community activism, city hall-lobbying, performance art, happenings, 
parties (block-long lineups), exhibitions, media events, and general 
mischief, culminating in the burial of the X-town time capsule in Victory 
Square. It was a time of great confluence, promise, and hope.

That Ian should be wholly identified with marijuana activism would please 
him. It was the cause of his life. The Times-Colonist headline ("Pot 
Activist...") might have irked him a bit, though. I once visited him at his 
Sacred Herb store in Victoria; he admonished me not to call it pot because 
of the derogatory connotation. He was trying to move the cause into a 
higher realm of spiritualism with his Church of the Universe. Yet his fight 
to have marijuana legalized obscured other passions: for local histories, 
heritage buildings, grassroots politics, and just about anything 
alt-radical and progressive. If he had a favourite word, it must have been 

Ian was a born communicator. He talked incessantly; his gift arose from a 
fertile, bright mind. He had a childlike sense of wonder and play, a trust 
and acceptance of almost everyone he met, and a candour so great it 
endeared him to many but disquieted others. He was such an innate social 
creature, it's hard to imagine him without entourage (usually 
impressionable teenagers) or leading some rally, rave, or reading or 
pamphleteering on the street.

Ian lived in the moment. He cared little for fame (though he loved the 
limelight), glory, money, possessions, middle-class comforts, or conceits. 
I caught a glimpse of him one day while passing him on a downtown bus. He 
had left a rally on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery and was striding 
down an empty office-tower canyon: daypack, slightly dishevelled suit, 
loose tie, and his emblematic narrow-brimmed felt fedora, vaguely 
reminiscent of an intrepid reporter from a '50s film. An utterly solitary 
figure, self-composed, grinning, impishly content, and detached.

A little-known fact about the X-town time capsule (to be opened in 2043) is 
that Ian placed into it a jar of hemp seeds: one of the countless symbolic 
acts and living metaphors comprising the essence of our work. This was well 
before he cofounded Hemp BC with Marc Emery and passed on the torch. Today 
the Canadian government is growing medical marijuana. Editorials across the 
land have reached a crescendo in favour of legalization.

Farewell, friend. The seeds of your deeds will sprout on.
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MAP posted-by: Alex