Thursday, July 14, 2011

Stratford International, London Athletes’ Village and the Open Championship

The Stratford International train station has been built to serve those coming to the 2012 London Olympics. The London Olympic Athletes’ Village, (which will be the subject of a future post) is now under construction immediately adjacent to the station and visible from its gleaming and relatively vacant lobby.

They call it Stratford International Train Station. But according to those who work there, there’s nothing international about it at all….indeed, the Eurostar Chunnel Train that goes to the continent runs through the station, but does not even stop!

Apparently a German company is exploring the feasibility of offering a service from the station to Germany, but so far, nothing has been decided. According to one South Eastern Railway employee with whom I spoke, this will ultimately be an international station, but not in the immediate future.

I had the opportunity to use the new station last week when I took a high-speed train to Deal, Kent to visit Keith Tapping, a former CMHC colleague who is now retired in England. Many in Vancouver will remember Tapping as a brilliant and benevolent man who as Assistant Regional Director to King Ganong, and subsequently BC Regional Director, oversaw the redevelopment of Granville Island, False Creek, and the approval of thousands of housing units around the province. Tapping had a particular interest in the creation of social housing, especially for the homeless and those living in the Downtown Eastside.

Those who worked closely with Tapping, including Michael Audain, Mike Harcourt and Shirley Chan, have many stories about him. My favourite relates to a time after I left the corporation and he had returned to Vancouver from Toronto to be the Regional Director, considered by many to be the top job within CMHC. Keith had invited me to lunch at O’Douls, one of his favourite haunts at the time. After many stories and glasses of Johnny Walker Black Label, around four o’clock I suggested to Keith that perhaps it was time for him to return to the office. “What if the President calls and you’re not there….you could be fired” I suggested.

Tapping turned to me and said the President would never fire him regardless of whether he was in the office or not, adding “He’s promised my job to too many people!”

Visiting Keith is always a highlight of my trips to England. While we tend to repeat the same stories to each other every time we get together, it doesn’t matter. However, it is always a bit sad to reflect on just how vital CMHC was during the decade Keith and I both worked at the Corporation, relative to its fairly minimal role in housing across Canada today.

This year, Keith picked me up at the station and knowing that I enjoyed golf, immediately drove over to Sandwich, a nearby town where the Royal St. Georges Golf Course is located. This is the location for the 2011 Open Championship which begins today.

We took a quick tour of the course as they were setting up the stands, tents, signage and other paraphernalia. (At one point, Keith took a wrong turn and we seemed to be driving down one of the fairways!) To see the course with few people around on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, it looked very unimposing, and it was difficult to believe that a week later it would be the centre of the golfing world.

So as I sat and watched the first round (with a 20 year old amateur tied for the lead), it was quite special, having been there just a week ago.

And all being well, I’ll see Keith next year, although whether I go during the Olympics, when the train station will be packed (and Royal St. Georges will be back to normal) remains to be seen.


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