by Bruce Bingham
ON MAY 20, 2009, we lost a great friend with the passing of Arthur Erickson. He will be missed not only in Vancouver, but also throughout the rest of Canada and the world village where he sailed on the high seas of life’s creative flow to bring back gifts of time, space, form and humanity. This incredible man saw always that we are never separate from nature, but that we are part of nature herself.
Always the gracious diplomat with a ready laugh, wide grin and sparkle in his eye, he saw the best in each of us and when it displeased him to see the ignorant actions of those less disposed to grace, he stood his ground without concession. At all times, he was a hard, hard worker and he would never compromise his standards of excellence. He knew all was possible. He knew you could do it. He always admonished others to just try, take the next step, reach for what you know and see beyond expected limits. He knew that everyone had the same potential and with generous humility, he gave his full support to others to dream, to become and to realize their highest aspirations.
The foundation for his immense success was his family and the many dear friends he made along the way. His father was a war hero who lost both legs at the battle of Amiens, but survived WW1 to be decorated by King George V at Buckingham Palace. He returned to Canada where he married Arthur’s beloved mother Moppy. The family, including Arthur’s brother who is a writer, lived on Vancouver’s West Side.
Poppy Erickson’s strength of character, fierce determination, self sufficiency and love instilled in Arthur and Don a marked self-reliance, confidence and highly developed social conscience that set them apart. From a young age, they both possessed a sense of self-awareness. Their beloved mother recognized she had two beautiful and exceptional kids and nurtured their aesthetic virtuosity and self-confidence. The boys grew up knowing they could reach for the best and achieve their dreams, held tightly by values of family, community and the sacredness of life.
Even in today’s changing social landscape, the Ericksons’ deep family bond extends across three living generations. They still share Sunday dinner together and Arthur was always present unless the busy pace of his work designing extraordinarily beautiful buildings – for people to live, work and grow in – and extensive travels prohibited him. When he returned home to Vancouver, however, he always remembered to bring back gifts for his beloved niece, nephews and their parents – gifts from afar that were fun, exotic and beautiful.
As they grew up, Arthur was a constant inspiration to the little ones in his family. He loved their individual natures and helped direct them to seek their own rewarding and fulfilling lives. He taught them to ski, to draw, observe and to play. He was a joy to them and they to him. They too went on to become creative professionals in architecture, interior design and writing.
The other foundation for Arthur’s genius was rooted in the way he saw the world in all its glory and beauty, inspired by nature’s spirit and grand design. He was gifted as a painter with an instinctive sense of form, colour, texture and nature. Undeniably, the natural beauty of Vancouver keyed him to an appreciation of the mountains, forests and seas and he was encouraged by personal friends who were cultural lions, including Lawren Harris, Jack Shadbolt, Gordon Smith and Bill Reid.
Arthur had the innate ability to connect directly to the voice and forms of Spirit’s intelligence. He saw the connections, the momentary signs, glints and signals that connected all the dots and made the landscape of the world whole, visceral and inspired. Nature reached out to him in special and intimate ways and he never failed to grasp its climate and terrain.
His cottage home on Vancouver’s West Side, with its secluded gardens is the quintessence of Arthur. Even a pair of wild Mallards – there are three generations of them now – felt his love and appreciation of life and nature’s genius and have returned annually to his cottage in the urban wilderness of Vancouver adding, along with the frogs, to the natural and harmonious surroundings.
Arthur loved life and its natural beauty immensely and inspired by that beauty, he shared his joy and happiness with others. He lifted up his friends. He brought out their individual greatness and inspired them to know and express much more of their own intelligence. He embraced happiness and extended it to others of all ranks and stations of life without prejudice, whether it was lifelong friends, new and younger friends or prime ministers, kings and princesses. They all received his honesty and respect equally, dispensed with humility, good humour and wisdom. He was a gentleman.
Arthur was a great Canadian light to the world. He represents the best of us as a nation and as a people. He encompassed our great country’s values of social conscience, dignity for all and wide and visceral love of nature’s grandeur, imbued with sophisticated, cultural acumen. Those who know, say he is the greatest Canadian architect of the 20th century. He stood firmly against the worst of humanity’s inclinations. Ever ready to put his name and reputation to a worthy cause, he spoke candidly. He saw hypocrisy and deplored its fine garments. He worked to preserve our neighbourhoods and aesthetic values. His call to do what is right is a trait he shares with his family members.
Arthur’s inspired architecture brought forth a new understanding of how we and our dwelling places must be one with our surroundings. His design genius, including roof gardens, works to preserve nature. He created and established the design concepts for dwelling places that are the physical stage from which the young going forward into the world today can draw connectedness, inspiration and understanding from our bond with nature, rather than imagining we are separate from it.
This singular, brilliant insight – how we all reside in form and nature – will serve to save us.
The Great Spirit did a grand job of creating Arthur; we thank you Arthur for your love and your gifts.
Bruce Bingham is a friend of the Erickson family. He has worked at the leading edge of new industries in BC for many years and has made significant contributions to the protection of the environment, justice and human rights.