Brief Biography

I was brought up in a rooming house on Howe Street in downtown Vancouver. I am the son of a Residential School Survivor. My single-parent mom raised four kids in a flop-house for derelicts and oddballs. We had one bathroom to serve ten rooms and our family of five. Our front yard was a major rush-hour route out of town. The family backyard was a gravel and mud parking lot surrounded by a steak house, pool hall and bookie joint. On the first day we moved there I was greeted in my new basement bedroom by a big grey rat. The rooming house next door was so close you could touch it though you wouldn’t want to because of the mound of pigeon shit that was on the window sill. The man in the room next to our kitchen gassed himself to death by accident one day. The elementary and high schools that we attended were stark, forbidding places of brick, asphalt, gravel and chain link. Our teachers varied between sadistic behaviour and extreme kindness. I got the strap in both grade two and grade seven. I failed grade four.

I reflect on these things as I try to understand what motivates me and the way that I am in the world. I am sure that the overwhelming greyness of my childhood and adolescence has much to do with the way that I approach my personal life and professional work. The things that I have done that I feel proud of have little to do with conventional academic and professional accomplishments.

On the other hand, I am pleased to have:

  • run a university program out of a church basement to model community involvement for our students
  • led a protest against awarding an honorary degree to the former Head of the Chinese Secret Police
  • coordinated a large scale, award-winning, renovation of the grounds of Lord Roberts, my old elementary school
  • taken part in a protest against apartheid and racist rugby in New Zealand and written about that event
  • initiated children’s gardens on two university campuses and at numerous schools in BC and abroad
  • taken students overseas to several countries to expand their horizons
  • insisted that my university students include a major service ethic in their study program
  • written a 1,000 page biography of a radical educator who is the most courageous man I ever met
  • coordinated the National “Run for Light” Project for the Canadian Blind Sports Association
  • started an outreach program in Australia with my students for African refugee children and youth
  • held play festivals with my university students for upwards of 10,000 children & adults
  • started a peer mentoring project at the university level and taught in native studies programs
  • Collected over 4,000 stories about childhood from people around the world for use in an international data base, heritage website, and books about play."
  • collected a similar number of art works, mainly inexpensive prints, for use in illustrating childhood stories
  • organized an informal, drop-in, inter-generational baseball program for my old school chums and local youth
  • written hundreds of articles for academic, professional, & public journals - the latter being the most important
  • served as a character witness in court for an old school mate who was in prison on a murder charge
  • developed New Arrivals Outreach Program, University of S. Australia, to help meet needs of African refugees
  • chaired the Centennial Celebration for my alma mater, King George Secondary School
  • participated in elite level baseball, basketball, handball, & rugby in Canada, Australia, U.S.A., and Ireland
  • collected hundreds of stories and thousands of photographs to be used in a heritage book and permanent website about growing-up in Vancouver’s West End (West End Memories Project)
  • member of a local committee working to establish the ‘End of the CPR Line’ in the West End as one of Vancouver’s Special Places
  • And, try to live an environmentally sound life with my family on 15 acres of woodland in Roberts Creek, BC
Dr Gary Pennington

Dr Gary Pennington

Associate Professor Emeritus, UBC

Project Chair and Archivist

My music had roots which I'd dug up from my own childhood, musical roots buried in the darkest soil.
Ray Charles