Finding Common Ground

A journey of 300 editions

by Bruce Mason

Words and pictures of a shared past, present and future, from founders, friends and fellow travellers

Common Ground Magazine 300 issue

To page through the first few issues of Common Ground magazine (beginning in winter, 1982) is to pry open a time capsule and be astonished and awakened by the contents. And to hold – first in your hands, then in your mind, followed by your heart and soul – proof of not only how far we have come, but also a reminder of how far we still have to go. They are the first few footprints in an ongoing journey of a hopeful, engaged community – our community.

The first impressions from initial glances leap from the sepia-toned black and white copies. And we are awed by how much technological change has taken place, how much graphics have evolved and elbowed into the forefront of our consciousness and daily lives, and how sophisticated we and our tools and toys have become in just over 30 years.

Kolin Lymworth, founder of Banyen Books & Sound, recalls the early days when publisher Joseph Roberts was one of the first people to actually work in his store, in the early 70s – “Then a skinny, blonde long-hair with a compelling gleam in his eye – and considerable chops on the piano, by the way. At that time, many communities were growing resource-listing-connection publications, serving awakening humanity in whatever ways they could, kind of like a local Whole Earth Catalog.”

Many of the problems and solutions are there in the first few editions, along with some of the same people, including therapists, psychologists and counsellors, spiritual practitioners, rape crisis centres, small businesses and services, the Kirpal Ashram School, UBC’s Centre for Continuing Education, Greenpeace, the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation, Western Wilderness Committee and the West Coast Environmental Law Association, the Canadian Centre for Nuclear Responsibility. Oxfam, alternative health centres, Coop Radio, Black Swan Records, the Bicycling Association of BC, astrologists, naturopaths, food co-ops, the Canadian Health Food Association and Naam Restaurant.

Arran Stephens, co-founder of Nature’s Path, says, “Common Ground has been my home-grown, BC go-to resource magazine for all things good: preservation of nature and the environment, organic agriculture, social conscience and activism, pro-vegetarian, plant-based articles, questioning of the status quo, natural healing, herbalism, art, defence of endangered species, spirituality, yoga and religion.”

Ask publisher, Joseph Roberts, for his all-time favourite issue and he will answer, “The next publication, the one we’re working on. I’m a very active member of the community we serve and each month is a process that emerges from it, literally, organically. Every four-week period has been a unique, separate adventure in a 33-year journey. The magazine is free, completely independent and 100 percent Canadian, our gift to our community.”

Back in 1982, Roberts and two others (Alana Mascali and Michael Bertrand) sensed a need for a quarterly, Vancouver-based, healing-arts-body-mind resource listing, based on a similar Common Ground in San Francisco. But Roberts had a vision for this Common Ground, a publication that was more than a clearinghouse of information on the burgeoning alternatives to the status quo. “I felt strongly that we needed to take on tough issues, be someone in left field, making a noise, pointing out to people in the bleachers that something was happening and we needed to get to first base, a place for ideas to get out. And I decided to go it alone.”

Alongside information on health and wellness and personal growth were early articles on uranium mining, nukes, fish-farming, GMOs, pesticides, LNG and pipelines. The first issue featured the Vancouver skyline on the cover. The second, a gardener. And the third, a jaw-dropping shot of some of the 65,000 people congregated at Sunset Beach in support of Peace. It also included articles such as famed liberal journalist I.F. Stone’s eerily prophetic, Send in the Machines, an excerpt from Jonathan Schell’s The Fate of the Earth, the seminal description of the consequences of nuclear war, a key document in the disarmament movement, a piece signalling The Information Economy is Here and a letter and eyewitness account by Bruce Cockburn from Central American refugee camps.

There is a wise adage in journalism: “Freedom of the press can only be guaranteed if you buy an ad, once in a while.” And advertiser Chris Shirley has done just that, many times in fact, with a listing for his Pacific Institute of Reflexology in all 300 editions of Common Ground. “I feel good about the magazine and support what it is doing. It’s unique and important, unlike other publications that have a seedy side, that I’m just not comfortable aligning with. Common Ground continues to raise our profile in the community we want to reach, through a local production that is widely distributed and read.”

Advertisers also read each edition. “It’s amazing and relevant, presenting a valid point of view you don’t find at newsstands, or in commercial, mainstream media,” says Michael Pratt, owner of Celtic Traditions.

Vocal coach and teacher Lynn McGown – another long-time supporter – needs no prompting to sing praises of Common Ground. “It’s inclusive, a look at society through a prism of health, politics and justice that includes spirituality and touches much more, rooted in community and melded together in a global vision that raises consciousness and hope for human beings. Joseph is a local boy, actually a local treasure, and I admire him for continuing to tell it like it is.”

Long-time advertiser Lorraine Bennington (creativetransformations.ca) shares her story: “Common Ground has been around for almost as long as I have been in Vancouver, a newly minted Vancouverite fresh from Montreal in 1979. I first met Joseph Roberts long before Common Ground emerged, as he chose one after the other meaningful causes to support. CG became the forum for them all to coalesce into a larger voice, the voice of the alternative thought community.

We didn’t all see the world in the exact same way, but we all shared a “common ground” of wanting organic food and clothes, practising yoga, choosing to respect the earth, and holding a vision of a planet that would endure for our children and their children’s children. We needed a magazine to support a world without corporate greed takeovers of our lifestyle, our medicine and our choices.

I consciously continue to advertise in this magazine, not only because the people who read it share some of my core values, but also because I believe a magazine like this serves a vital part in the keeping and nurturing of sentient community.Common Ground, the Naam, Banyen Books, Amethyst Creations, Lifestream, Folk Fest – and all the original or slightly later arrivals of merchants, yogis, health oriented and creative merchants and other beings ­– birthed and expressed their consciousness on W. 4th Avenue. Then, as real estate prices became more and more unmanageable, some headed east, first to Main and then to the Drive and beyond.

A community needs a voice, and Common Ground has served and continues to serve that significant purpose, and I am glad to be part of that community/family.”

Elizabeth Murphy, a private sector project manager, formerly a property development officer for the Vancouver’s Housing & Properties Department and BC Housing, says, “Common Ground has been the consistent voice of integrity for truth, justice and real democracy. Every month, I have always looked forward to reading it for the issues that matter, with confidence in their open content. And over the last few years, it has been an honour to contribute.”

She adds, “The 300th edition of Joseph Roberts’ Common Ground magazine is a milestone to celebrate. I say thank you for working to make the world a better place and best wishes for another 300 editions.”

Lymworth writes, “Having carried every issue of Common Ground over the decades, we at Banyen are proud to honour and appreciate Joseph and his magazine’s dedication to helping people connect; to fostering healthy ways of living; to highlighting important social and environmental issues. He truly cares about a kinder, gentler, wiser world and continues to offer resources and connections that help that to happen more fully and more enduringly. Long may the good light shine. Congratulations!”

Stephens concludes, “I have great admiration for Joseph, my old friend, who has faithfully churned out 300 (!!!) Common Ground issues over the decades. Bravo! Looking forward to continuing the good so that we can all find Common Ground for peace, unity and love.”

To view sample pages from our early issues from 1982-3, click here.

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