Garth Spencer

(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 presentation at Keycon. Jean-Louis Trudel wrote later (in Xenofile 1:6) that in fact,
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 subcommittee, 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 Toastmaster 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 them ...

(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 impressed.

(Robert Runte, I'm Not Boring You Am I? #7, fall 1989)

It took a while for an explanation to appear of the "corporate diversification" 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 MLR:
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 left off.

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 Statement 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 expenses."

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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