It was a hole in the wall. Now it’s a hole in the ground. Best gym EVER. No tanning beds. No classes. No hot tub. Lots of black iron. Pictures of 70s bodybuilding stars on the walls. more black iron. A couple of squat racks, a rack of dumbbells, a Universal machine, a row of benches, a couple of stationary bikes. Nothin’ fancy. and all ya need.I remember this one guy who worked there, an older fella, I think his name was Roy or something. He was kind of pudgy, with thinning hair and thick glasses, one eye that kept up with the north end of things, the other one tracking what’s ahead. He showed me a picture of himself as a young man, a bodybuilder in the 60s or something–“Wow. That’s you?” He seemed just a little miffed by my surprise. But proud of his former beauty just the same.
“Yep. Pretty good hey? I won the regional that year.” He was a nice guy. Gave me some dessicated liver tablets the day before my first powerlifting meet in BC. Told me to take cod liver oil.
And he took the most beautiful photographs, he had an eye for beauty, that guy. Wonder if it was the wandering one?
Western Gym at the time, 1988 or so, was the oldest gym in Western Canada. That was the claim. Probably smelled like it. Lucky for me, i don’t have a highly attuned sniffer. It was fair close to my house, and I found it as soon as I moved in to the city. I looked in the phone book. I called each gym to find out their rates, and I’d go and work out there, too. Most places then as now, will let you work out for free the first time.
’bout a month after I moved into the house on East 12th, i got a call from an old college friend. Hadn’t seen each other in about 7 years or so, long time. She was by that time a famous singer. Becoming more famous. She wanted to know if i was still working out, if she could get me to train her in preparation for her next tour, coming up in four months. she’d buy me a gym membership, she said, if i’d show her what to do.
She had been an athlete in high school, but she wasn’t that motivated, seemed to me, by the gym. I was too starry-eyed about her fame to push her much, though. We had been tentative friends in college–we coulda been better buddies, had I come out already. I didn’t, though, not till four years after we were in the same readers’ theatre classes, going to the same parties, auditioning for the same plays. We both wanted to become famous. She was much more ambitious. Plus, she had (has) the voice of an angel. An angel constantly in trouble, or about to get into trouble, but nevertheless…She knew. She always knew.
Anyhow. by the time she looked me up in Vancouver, she was famous. Roy recognized her right away. He said, “you know, you look a lot like [famous name here].”
“you don’t say,” she said, “I’ve heard that before. Funny.”
he went to get the owner, Jeanette–who looked kinda like a drag queen (but I think all women, straight ones anyhow, looked like drag queens in the eighties. All that hair. my word). They returned, breathless and big-eyed, to the office. We stood looking back at them, waiting to pay our fees and sign the papers. It was funny, I didn’t think much about that until later. “oh, he went to get her because a FAMOUS person was joining their gym”.
I am still grateful to her for that gym membership. Got me back into training regular. I competed in a couple of powerlifing meets, met some cool people, loved that gym. that sweaty, dark basement. loved it.
Sometimes we skipped the gym. Once we went to Lighthouse Park. That was beautiful, scrambling around on the rocks by the shore, turning ’em over after the tide had receded, watching the little crabs scuttle out of the light. “Can ya eat ’em?” I asked…I’d never seen these before. I forgot she was a vegetarian.
“No!” she gasped, horrified. I shrugged and put the rock back.
Another time, after the gym, we went to a steam bath downtown. That was fun too. She said, “I love this place. You get clean towels, eucalyptus oil if you want, and you can listen to Karen Carpenter.” and we did.
But the gym. I shoulda pushed her a little harder. She was strong. She would’ve liked it more if I’d made it more of a challenge.
I think I went some other place after that first year. A bigger, shinier gym opened about a mile west of Western. I shoulda stayed with Western. But not long after, Jeanette sold it to Don, one of the guys that worked there. He moved the gym to a new location, above ground. Bought a bunch of new equipment…
and went out of business in a few months. now he works for a moving and storage company. I see him from time to time. Hired him for my last move, in fact.
the gym became a boxing gym. then jiu-jitsu, I think. Only open in the evenigns. A couple of hours on Saturdays.
On Christmas day the building burned away. the excavators are there now. they’ve removed all the char and ash and wreckage of the building. You can see what’s left of the concrete walls. That was the locker room. There was where I skipped rope to warm up…over there that’s where i think the squat rack was. If I squint, I can see how it was.
That was a long time ago now. Canada’s oldest gym.