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Why Rules?

Because the feeling they create, when well-considered, is the opposite of oppression.

It is how we feel when, after a very long day, we first catch sight of the façade of 915 West Hastings. It is how we feel when we climb the steps and pass, often from the rain, through the doors into a world of stylish calm. And it is how we feel when our smiling friends greet us, with both love and decorum, to sit down together for an exquisite meal. This is this feeling that we all share, and it is no accident. In fact, combined with the considerable talents of our staff, this is the outcome of two very specific – and often interacting – architectures.

The first architecture is, of course, the clubhouse itself, whose bones grew from deep tradition. For example, curvatures express the golden ratio found throughout nature. Columns function as compression members while quietly reminding us of trees. Pilasters remind us of columns. In fact, the very scale of the building matches the height of the forest, speaking to something very old and human. All of these more affect how we feel about ourselves. We stand a little taller when we stand beneath high ceilings.

The second architecture is the House Rules, which provide structure to our conduct with one another and with staff, as well as ensuring that the Club meets government regulations. Just like our clubhouse, the core of this architecture comes from deep tradition, from the etiquette in which the same members who approved the clubhouse’s design had been schooled. Furthermore, like the clubhouse, this structure has mildly evolved with our use through time. In his estimable book “The Vancouver Club: First Century 1889-1989”historian Reginald H. Roy notes:

The club’s rules and regulations grew as the years went by, and some were modified.

Other modifications have tracked cultural changes, such as our dress code, through contravention roughly bears the old penalties. And we wear these new styles in rooms glacially changing with our needs and tastes, holding all the while the old dignity. As to Roy’s stated growth of rules, if we look closely enough we can actually see a marking-out of important freedoms by targeting those less important. Herein lies the paradox. One fine example is House Rule #5.1, which frowns darkly upon business documents in the Grill. While this clearly spells the death of a freedom – to look at one’s documents –another, finer freedom comes to life, in that the Member may dine quietly with friends and family without any guilt over not working. After all, it would be against the rules.

Modifications to both architectures have tracked external legislation. As to the clubhouse, liquor lockers arose due to prohibition, and seismic upgrades were made at great expense due to a new understanding of risk. As to House Rules, we’ve witnessed true vigilance over WorkSafeBC regulations by our talented staff throughout the pandemic, while ourselves obeying social distancing protocols and emergent liquor regulations. In this way we ensure the continued existence of our beloved club, and so protect our feelings.

Clearly the technology in our pockets outflanks this lovely reservation of human space and time. Even when all is set to silent mode (House Rule #4.1), we still feel the dampened rumblings of the outside world as vibrations in our pockets. Perhaps our old walls have lost some of their thickness…but maybe one thing reminds us of the other. Some Members (perhaps with some melding of House Rules #5.1 and #4.1 in mind) do turn off their phones on arrival. As to those of us who won’t – or can’t – House Rule #4.2 guides our quick shuffle at an incoming call toward a vacant meeting room or, better yet, one of the old phone booths.

To locate and then value freedoms through the prudent destruction of others requires constant effort, as well as judgement. In our history, Roy goes on to give an amusing anecdote:

Imposing discipline on members bending or breaking the rules required both firmness and tact. One did not want to curb individuality nor suppress mild eccentricity. However, sometimes the rod had to be displayed if not used. In 1916, for example, a complaint was received about a member respecting his “sleeping in various rooms while in a condition derogatory to the dignity of the Club.” The culprit was warned “that should there be a further complaint, the matter would be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.”

No doubt the tannins of his claret were as nicely resolved as the chairs were comfortable, but what do we really see when we envision his drunken form? A man carving out his own freedom at the expense of the dignity (which is the Fundamental Freedom) of others.

What we also see in this quote is our club’s touching reluctance to curb individuality. Such reluctance reveals a tension that still exists today, and it is a wonderful tension. A traditional theory of art has it that the finest work emerges from intense struggle between impulse and constraint, between creativity and the laws of craft. Acknowledging this, the poet Robert Frost once noted that writing in free verse would be like playing tennis without a net.

Life at the Club is about life as a work of art. Just as Frost learned the rules of metre and rhyme in order to fully sing his soul, we will learn the rules of what is important to us.

In the end, what will the work of art be? That we took care of each other. And that we did it beautifully.

We are The Vancouver Club.

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