Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Goodbye Joe

It was mid January, 1922, and Vancouver's favourite citizen, Seraphim, "Joe", Fortes was being taken to Vancouver General Hospital with a severe case of pneumonia. He stopped the attendants on the way to the ambulance because he had to give the on duty constable instructions on how to care for 'his' bay.

Word spread and the city was in shock. This was old Joe, a fixture on the beach, the saver of many lives, and a teacher for the children - an indestructible force. The hospital telephones range constantly and his room was filled with flowers. Vancouver loved Joe Fortes.

On February 4, 1922, Seraphim "Joe" Fortes died in his adopted homeland, far from the sunny isle where he was born.

They took him to the cathedral where he had worshipped every Sunday morning. The church was filled with the rich and the poor, the labourer and the merchant, loggers and miners, housewives and socialites, policemen and pickpockets. From the toddlers to the elders, all came out to say their final goodbyes to this great man. And many of these people felt ill at ease because it was unfamiliar to them, not somewhere they would regularly go. But for Joe they went.

The priests fell silent, having finished the requiem for "Our Joe" and the bearers lifted the coffin to begin the slow, quiet, inevitable procession to the doors. It wasn't all sad though. For probably the first and last time on so solemn an occasion in such a sacred place, the deep pipes of the church organ rumbled into the swinging strains of "Old Black Joe".

Then the great crowd filled the aisle - men and women with tears streaming down their faces - joined the rest of Vancouver to followed Seraphim Fortes of Barbados to his last home.

In that little park where he lived and served for so long, there is a simple granite monument - a drinking fountain, which is low enough for the smallest child to reach. Over it is a modest bronze plaque with the head and shoulders of a heavy-set man and three little youngsters below. On the granite it says:
Little children loved him.

But it wasn't only the children who loved Joe. He was the heart of a Vancouver that lived and grew and worked and built and loved and played quietly and decently and honestly amid the frenetic excitement that superficially characterized the Roaring Twenties. 

The inscription says: 'This fountain erected by the citizens and children, co-operating with the Kiwanis Club of Vancouver, commemorates the life and deeds of 'Joe' Fortes. For many years guardian of this beach.
-Little Children Loved Him-
A.D. 1927
Thanks to Alan Morley and his book Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill

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