OTTAWA'S SECOND CANVENTION
(Based on a fanhistory of the Canadian SF & Fantasy Awards, published in
Opuntia and circulated by e-mail among the Timebinders.)
Pinekone I (1988), an alternative Ottawa convention started by one Paul
Valcour, was reported as a "successful first try", although its
financial loss was later reckoned variously at $3,500 or $4,000+. It developed
that Paul Valcour absorbed this loss.
Pinekone II surfaced as a bid for the 1989 Canvention even before Pinekone
I was held, and became the Canvention winner. As several out-of-towners
heard about it, the Pinekone bid won on the strength of Paul Valcour's
at Keycon. Jean-Louis Trudel wrote later (in Xenofile 1:6) that in
the bid papers were partly, if not entirely, the work of Joseph
Casey, Andrew Farmer, and Sian Reid. As a member of the CASPER Awards
I can state that I was first approached by Joseph Casey. The bid papers
themselves included the names of the subcommittee members: Marjorie McKenna,
Madona Skaff, and myself.
This con committee compiled a very extensive list of eligible works for
the CSFFA nomination ballot.
Pinekone II/Canvention 9 took place Oct. 13-15, 1989 at the Skyline Hotel.
Paul Valcour wrote of Pinekone II in Con News (a Denver-based fan newszine):
The Canadian National SF Convention portion of the con was perhaps
the best ever seen in its history. The con established an all time record
for Casper Awards nominations (68 valid ballots received) and vote (98 valid
ballots received). By comparison, the previous year's national convention
in Winnipeg, Manitoba had approximately 15 nominations and 40 voting ballots
received (admittedly low by Canadian standards). the Casper Awards ceremony
was held during a banquet at the top of the Skyline Hotel, Saturday evening,
October 14th. It was very smoothly and professionally pulled off. The
was local fan artist, Larry `The Doctor' Stewart and the awards were ably
presented by the 1989 Casper Awards subcommittee members: Marjorie McKenna
(chairman), Jean-Louis Trudel and Madona Skaff ...
I might as well admit it. I won one of the bloody awards. (You asked me
for news!) last year was the first year Canvention expanded the awards to
nine categories. It had three prior to 1989. Canvention's programming, though
not spectacular, was notably more focused on Canadian SF writing, history
and fanzines. It also accommodated the second meeting of the newly formed
Canadian professional SF writers group, called SWAC: the Speculative Writers'
Association of Canada ...
Robert Runte wrote of Pinekone II/Canvention 9:
Somewhat to my surprise, Easterners actually attend the opening
ceremonies at their conventions. There were easily 60 people listening to
speeches by the Guests of Honour explaining how glad they were to be there.
This all seemed rather redundant ... When eventually called upon to speak
myself, however, I provided a brief explanation of the function of CUFF.
To whit (sic): that I was the one fan Westerners were most anxious to ship
east, presumably because they had not understood that it was intended as
a round trip. This seemed to be well received, and I sat down again ...
... The artshow was quite good, and while there were a number of familiar
prints and the usual assortment of dragons and spaceships, at least most
of the artists were new to me. I think a number of eastern artists could
do quite well at conventions in the West and vice versa, simply because
they would be reaching new audiences. David Cherry's work also helped to
raise the tone of the artshow ...
The dealers' room, while small, had some interesting displays. There was
one of the best tables of Lovecraft, Weird Tales and so on that I've ever
seen, though I'm not into such things myself. The second dealers' room was
for fan stuff, where I picked up a subscription to the Ottawa Statement
and various back issues.
Somewhat to my surprise, I was invited to the banquet and seated next to
Michael Skeet at the head table. I thought the food rather better than typical
for such functions, and enjoyed the usual upbeat, congratulatory banquet
speeches. ... Realizing somewhat belatedly that I would probably be called
upon to speak, I wrote a few notes on the general theme of `Fandom Is a
Family' and awaited my turn. I was somewhat dismayed to hear Michael give
his speech on the theme `Fandom Is a Family' a couple of minutes ahead of
me, and so switched to a few brief comments on `The Purpose of CUFF.' I
was therefore definitely dismayed to hear the MC explaining `The Purpose
of CUFF' as he introduced me. I ended up extemporizing something on the
`Ecology of Fandom' theme.
(I'm Not Boring You Am I? #7, fall 1989)
Rush to Judgment
It developed after Pinekone II that the 1989 Canvention had taken a four-figure
loss, like Pinekone I, and as before it was absorbed by Paul Valcour (the
treasurer). MLR and other sources reported at that time that other
Eastern conventions felt unready to shoulder Canvention.
The down side to Pinekone II/Canvention was the local portion
of the con. The organizing committee had broken down in chaos; attendance
was disastrously lower than expected (despite the excellent guests of Greg
Bear, Raymond E. Feist, David A. Cherry and Judith Merril); internal con
com bickering dampened the atmosphere of the con's festivities; and Pinekone
lost a lot of money. The con is officially dead now. It is noteworthy that
creditors have been paid.
It is gratifying to see the fundraising activities across the country to
help alleviate the financial burden (of debt). Fan organizations in Vancouver,
Calgary, Waterloo and Montreal have been (or are) organizing auctions. Two
Toronto cons have generously given monetary concessions in my dealings with
(Paul Valcour, Con News, Jul/Aug 90)
The general impression, spurred by editorial pieces in Robert Runte's trip
report, in MLR and in Xenofile, was that Pinekone had twice
gotten into financial trouble and Paul Valcour was left holding the bag.
Some of the behind-the-scene operations of eastern conventions
strike me as very bizarre, particularly in the way they are financed. I'm
still a little vague on some of the details, but I take it that wealthy
conventions invest in smaller ones as a sort of corporate diversification
strategy. And I was amazed at the size of the personal financial losses
individuals (called `patrons') were prepared to accept as a routine element
of running a con. I mean, sure, any con can miscalculate and lose money,
and it's great when people chip in to bail them out (as happened with ConText
`89), but it seemed to me that some of the patrons went in knowing they
were going to lose thousands of dollars. This is nuts.
I was shocked, for example, to discover that some attendees still expected
us to receive a slick post-con publication, even though they knew the con
was already in debt and that the $2500+ required would have to come out
of the personal finances of one or more committee members. While I certainly
understand the disappointment of contributors when a publication which has
accepted their submissions fails to materialize, the best laid plans of
mice and fen aft gang astray (sic), and maturity is learning to cope with
these little disappointments. For every zine that fails, there are another
ten to which material can be submitted. Yet I watched several people give
Paul a hard time over the cancellation of this project. I was not
(Robert Runte, I'm Not Boring You Am I? #7, fall 1989)
It took a while for an explanation to appear of the "corporate
and "patron" references: Ad Astra apparently had lent money to
Pinekone, and after some point the treasurer was expected to invest in,
or pay the bills for Pinekone himself. Michael Skeet wrote in the last
After having driven Pinekone II more than six thousand dollars
into the hole, the other members of the concom quit, ran away and hid, leaving
treasurer Paul Valcour holding the bag and fending off angry creditors.
... It would be nice to be able to report that Eastern fandom rallied around
one of its own, the way Western fans did with the ConText concom. It would
be nice, but it would be a flaming lie.
Five months after the Pinekone debacle, the extent of support Paul has been
given by Eastern fandom is: Ad Astra has agreed to waive the usurious interest
rate levied on a loan it made to Pinekone; and the Toronto Trek con has
offered him a free membership and dealer's table this year, so that he can
pay off his debts by selling his book and magazine collection ...
Now, an argument could be made that Paul Valcour is in a sense the author
of his own misfortune, or one of the authors at least. After all, Pinekone
I lot money, too ...
(MLR #14, April 1990)
Like a fool I let myself get sucked into this controversy. I wrote a letter
explaining to the Ottawa SF Society that they had a PR problem to contend
with, like as if they didn't know. I wrote a letter-article on demand to
Xenofile, the Calgary zine which opted to take up where MLR
The Ottawa SF Statement finally, much later, ran some statements
re Pinekone. They maintained rather stiffly that it was Valcour who had
maintained policy measures which ran the cons into the red.
As reported in Xenofile 1:6 (I'm still looking for the May 1990
carrying their original remarks), Sandi McLaughlin, then the president of
OSFS, compared Valcour to another Man with a Dream, and wrote that Valcour
"`shut out' others from the financial burden of Pinekone II";
and although OSFS members raised some money, which was matched by the club,
to support Pinekone I fundraisers and both cons' monetary prizes, she said
little had been organized to help out Valcour. Margaret M. Currie wrote
a letter stating that "conventions that self destruct result from poor
planning, and incompetent and ineffectual financial management", which
is true enough, and claimed that she couldn't respond to Michael Skeet's
remarks (which happened not to be the case, as Xenofile was publishing
fan news at the time). Andre Lieven blamed the financial loss entirely on
Valcour because "... a treasurer's job is to allocate and be responsible
for the money situation." The Xenofile article then went on
to say, "No mention is made of the concom's role in controlling
After the following year I had in Vancouver, I could not discount what the
PineKone II committee veterans were saying.
Paul Valcour wrote in Xenofile, taking some but not all responsibility
for the Pinekone II losses. He wrote at some length about financial items,
talking a good deal about interest rates. He did not explain why Pinekone
remained unincorporated, but worked as either a legal partnership, or sole
proprietorship. He thanked at length various financial contributors, but
withdrew his nomination for the upcoming CSFFAs.
... Michael Skeet's editorial (in MLR) tends to let me
off the hook. ... I knew Pinekone's weaknesses and the direction it was
headed. I could have pulled the plug; yet I stayed with a sinking ship.
Robert Runte is right; I should have sought advice from CSFFA.
... I view the donations and fundraising in Canada as akin to friends helping
me out of a tight spot. I did not deserve the entire debt load.
(Paul Valcour, Xenofile, 1990)
It seemed to be agreed later that one of Pinekone's problems was shared
by other Ottawa cons that year - there were rather many cons, scheduled
rather closely together - with the result that PineKone's attendance again
fell below breakeven.
This argues that there is a rough maximum annual convention attendance to
be expected in a given population centre, modified by factors such as how
much disposable wealth to expect from people that year, or from the age
and interest group to which a con appeals; and that this was why PineKone
II expenses exceeded its revenues.
MLR 14 reported that Boreal 11 (that year's francophone convention)
was also held in Ottawa, the week after Pinekone; about 90 people attended,
and the chair, Jean-Louis Trudel, reported that it still went off without
any hitches. Presumably Boreal 11 budgeted for a low breakeven, or planned
for a net financial loss.
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