1312 A writers’ tribute to Ron Hatch

A writers’ tribute to Ron Hatch

by Richard Mackie and Ronsdale authors

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Ron Hatch. Photo courtesy Chris Hatch

Editor’s note: a courteous elderly gentleman used to stop by my office at UBC when I was book reviews editor at BC Studies between 2011 and 2016. This was Ron Hatch, a retired professor of English at UBC and publisher of Ronsdale Press. At BC Studies we had an elaborate system for ordering copies of books we wanted to review, but Ron sensibly circumvented the process and made my job easier by simply delivering Ronsdale’s most recent offerings. This way, he thought, I could browse the books and choose the ones we might like to review.

We didn’t review all the books he dropped off, but I was especially pleased when Nicholas Bradley of the University of Victoria agreed to review Ronsdale’s reprints of Jack Hodgins’ first four books, first published between 1976 and 1981: Spit Delaney’s Island, The Invention of the World, The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne, and The Barclay Family Theatre. This was published as “Seaspawn and Seawrack: Jack Hodgins’s First Books: A Review Essay,” in BC Studies in 2014, and is available here.

Professor Ron Hatch, 1996. He had founded Ronsdale Press eight years earlier, in 1988. Photo by Gavin Wilson courtesy UBC Archives Photograph Collection

My professional relationship with Ron Hatch continued when Alan Twigg and I started The Ormsby Review in 2016. In 2018 we invited Ron to be on the board of the Ormsby Literary Society. He offered his comfortable house in Dunbar as a venue, and we held working meetings there twice in 2019, powered by strong black tea and cookies. We met his wife Veronica (Lonsdale), the other half of Ronsdale Press, and their Publishing Assistant, Meagan Dyer. (It turned out that Veronica’s father had taught at my uncles’ school, the Vernon Preparatory School, in the late 1940s.) Ron also came over to the Prado Café on Commercial Drive on his motorbike to chat about books, writing, and to discuss BC history and writing topics, which interested him greatly.

Ron Hatch at a book fair in Texas, 2012. Courtesy Ronsdale Press

Ron missed our board Zoom meetings in 2020 due to his ill health and we were all saddened to hear of his death from cancer on November 25, 2021. We hardly need another obituary – tributes have recently appeared in The Ubyssey, BC BookLook, and the website of the Association of Book Publishers of BC. We join them in extending our condolences to Veronica and her family, and I will include the thoughts and sympathy of the Board of the Ormsby Literary Society and the Advisory Board of The Ormsby Review.

Instead of attempting a formal obituary, I asked ten Ronsdale authors to send me their memories of working with Ron. These follow below. By and large they agree with the gist of the Ubyssey obituary by Ron’s grandson, Forrest Berman-Hatch, who writes that at UBC, “he was feared as a hard-marker and stringent advocate of proper grammar. But students grudgingly admitted that he was fair and imparted a genuine love for literature.”

And now I will let Ron’s authors speak for themselves – Richard Mackie on behalf of The Ormsby Review

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The Defiant Mind (2016), reviewed by Mark Forsythe in The Ormsby Review

Ron Smith: My wife, Pat, and I first met Ron Hatch and family in the summer of 1970. Both of us had booked a cheap flight on a fledgling airline, British Midland, in the back streets of London, a flight presumably destined for New York. If I remember correctly, the flight was supposed to be a charter flight for a General Electric Athletic Club. One look at the cast of passengers put the lie to that claim. Unfortunately, our British Midland’s plane was delayed somewhere over the Indian Ocean and our flight out of Stansted to New York was further delayed. The plane lost landing privileges in New York and was re-routed to Bangor, Maine. I’ve never forgotten the constant rain that fell inside the plane. The condensation was so severe we felt like we were caught in a tropical storm.

We were then picked up by Eastern Airlines and transported to our destination, arriving in New York fifty-two hours after we had been picked up by a bus at two in the morning, two days earlier, somewhere in central London. I mention all this because Ron was travelling with his family and could have been annoyed, but as I recall he accepted his fate with exceedingly good humour. The episode suggests Ron’s easy going nature, his wonderfully balanced response to the world around him. For him it was an adventure!

Ron Smith published Oolichan Books for 36 years

I don’t know what Ron and Veronica made of the dance and seaside visit the airlines arranged for us as we waited on the plane’s arrival, but I know he laughed heartily with all the other passengers when it was announced over the PA system in Bangor that a Catholic priest had been arrested in New York trying to smuggle a sizeable quantity of hash through U.S. customs. The G.E. Athletic Club members on our flight were amused, cheered, and our air, post-customs, was alive with the scent of celebration.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Ron was returning to Vancouver to take up a new posting in the English Department at UBC, while I was returning to the university to begin my PhD and assume my role as a TA. To our surprise, Ron was assigned to be my supervisor. He was a modest and informed mentor, always wanting to explore new ways of discussing a text with students, habits he would bring to his role of publisher many years later. We immediately agreed to visit each other’s classrooms and discuss what we could do to enrich the students’ experience. That was always Ron’s primary concern. Appreciate and love the text.

Pat and Ron Smith

As a teaching and publishing colleague for many years, I noticed he was always interested in what those around him had to say. He listened, an extremely valuable asset as a teacher and publisher. He always put book and author first, before any personal concerns or attention.

I was delighted and grateful in 2015 when he accepted my stroke memoir, The Defiant Mind: Living Inside a Stroke, for publication by Ronsdale. He understood that it was much more than simply an “affliction” book, which is how so many others characterized it. He saw its value for both stroke survivors and caregivers. I’m indebted to both Ron and Veronica for all they did for my book, the trip to Seattle and to the parliament buildings for example, and I thank them both for their kindness and generosity. I will miss Ron, for his gentle way, his passion for the “word,” and his unique sense of humour. My condolences to Veronica and family.

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Jack Hodgins. Photo by Don Denton
Damage done by the Storm (2019), reviewed by Ginny Ratsoy and Alexandra Horsman for The Ormsby Review

Jack Hodgins: I appreciate and admire what Ron Hatch has done for writers, especially for British Columbia writers, and for so many readers of Canadian literature. For each of my own books, I have been pleased with the appropriate and handsome appearance he gave their Ronsdale editions.

I am grateful, too, that Ron Hatch has given so many Canadian books a much longer life than they might otherwise have had. Like many readers in this country, I am happy that Ron has not only kept our books “in print,” but has kept them in very attractive full-sized paperback editions.

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Beautiful Communions (2018), reviewed by Cherie Thiessen for The Ormsby Review

Des Kennedy: I’ve long been convinced that whatever excellences the writing life provides are experienced primarily in the writing itself, those perhaps infrequent but glorious interludes during which hours can evaporate in the rhapsody of words and ideas. After which, all too often, comes the drudgery. ­The tedium of reupholstering your moments of genius to accommodate the dreary practicalities of departments involved with production, distribution, marketing and all the rest of it.

But producing a novel with Ron Hatch was something else entirely. “Wonderful writing!” he enthused over my first tentative query. Veronica was delighted too, and that seemed to seal the deal. We soon launched into a graceful interaction in which ideas, suggestions and options fluttered back and forth between us. Ron sought my suggestions for a cover, gently asked how I felt about his innumerable small but impeccable copy edits and other details that he might have proceeded with on his own. Not a single sour note throughout. Never a smidgen of impatience. No sticky egoism. This was a collaborative pleasure different from, but every bit equal to, the finest delights of solitary creation.

“A superb novel,” he appraised our efforts finally, and graced the cover of the Ronsdale catalogue with the book’s handsome cover.

Unhappily, I only got to do that one book with him. I’d sent him a new novel last spring that he received enthusiastically “with a view to publication.” But illness beset him before we could renew that enlivening co-creative process. Like so many other authors, I’m enormously sorry that he’s left us, but ever so grateful to have shared that one marvellous collaboration.

Des Kennedy in his garden on Denman Island

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Worry Stones (2018) reviewed by Jenna Butler for The Ormsby Review

Joanna Lilley:  I will forever be deeply grateful to Ron for publishing my novel, Worry Stones, and making a lifelong dream come true. I don’t say that glibly. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write a novel and after years and years of rejections was losing faith that it was something I would ever be capable of. It was the kindness and encouragement in Ron’s original rejection letter that inspired me to break the rules and re-submit my manuscript to him after three years or so of rewriting and restructuring. The astonishing moment that Ron slid an envelope containing a contract across a cafe table to me will stay with me always. Ron took my novel seriously, asking me questions that meant I had to think even more deeply about my characters and their stories than I had so far. At times I didn’t know if I had the skills to make the edits Ron was recommending but I pretended I had as much confidence in the manuscript as he did and kept at it. Ron made sure my manuscript was the best it could be – from extirpating my lazy overuse of ‘”got” to making sure my resolute protagonist, Jenny, made sense on the page. I was blessed to work with Ron and the Ronsdale team. I knew it then and I know it now.

Joanna Lilley. Photo by Meagan Deuling, Yukon News

I really think Ron was the consummate editor, which is such a privilege for writers. You might be interested to know that Ronsdale author Maia Caron wrote a blog post on Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s site about the thoroughness of the editing experience and a couple of years or so later Gail invited me to write a post for her site as well, so I focused on the lessons I’d learnt from my long and winding publication journey, which would never had reached a destination if it weren’t for Ron’s insights, guidance and patience – an invaluable legacy I hope I’m bringing to the novel I’m currently working on.

The legacy of Ron’s teaching is in the background to these subsequent efforts.

Thanks again for this invitation. Ron’s death is such a sad loss to the literary world and to so many of us authors, I really appreciate the opportunity to reflect as we process this news.

Joanna Lilley. Photo by Lori Garrison

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Claiming the Land (2018), reviewed by Mark Forsythe for The Ormsby Review

Daniel Marshall: I well remember the first time I had the pleasure of meeting Ron Hatch, in Lytton, BC. It was the Summer of 2018 and I was associated with a project to commemorate Chief Spintlum (Cexpe’nthlEm), the famous war chief and peacemaker of the Fraser Canyon War of 1858. It was a remarkable day, a day that included the meeting of descendants of both Spintlum and Captain Henry Snyder who had led militia forces up the canyon that year to make peace with the Nlaka’pamux people (we flew Snyder’s descendant in from Missouri). Ronsdale Press under Ron’s expert guidance had just published my new book Claiming the Land: British Columbia and the Making of a New El Dorado, and so I thought why not invite him to this extraordinary event. Ron agreed without hesitation and travelled from Vancouver with his wife Veronica.

Daniel Marshall. Photo by R.B. Fairburn

What an adventurous spirit he was, travelling to associated events that weekend in the Stein Valley, observing the ceremony at the Spintlum Memorial (still standing after the tragic wildfire inferno that consumed Lytton this last Summer), and also taking our raft expedition down the mighty Fraser through Hell’s Gate! This was a publisher who not only excelled in fine book crafting — the attention to editorial detail was more than exhaustive — but a gentleman who clearly loved both British Columbia history and a bit of adventure. Ron made it his cause to bring so many historical works to the larger general public.

This was exactly what I had been looking for — I was delighted the day he contacted me back in 2016 to enquire of my unpublished manuscript. Once he read my draft of the history of the Fraser River gold rush he acted quickly, informed me that he loved the work, and shared with me his vision of the finished book that subsequently he moved to fulfil with a quiet determination and efficiency.

Cabin on the Fraser, B.C., “The Bacon is Cooked,” by William Hind, circa 1862. Courtesy McCord Museum, Montreal

Claiming the Land went on to win three major book awards: the Canadian Historical Association’s 2019 CLIO PRIZE for best book on B.C.; the 2019 Basil-Stuart-Stubbs Prize for outstanding scholarly book on British Columbia, administered by UBC Library; and the 2019 New York-based Independent Publishers’ Book Award (Gold Medal for Western Canada).

I will always be grateful to Ron for seeing the potential of Claiming the Land, and it gives me great pleasure to contribute this short recollection to The Ormsby Review’s tribute to this remarkable figure in BC publishing. Our province is immeasurably enriched by his outstanding work. His passing is a great loss indeed, but he leaves a marvellous legacy of so many fine books that will continue to inform the larger public in ways yet unseen — now that’s an achievement worth honouring. Thank you, Ron Hatch, assiduous publisher and great adventurer. I am so deeply appreciative. My sincere condolences to Veronica and family.

Ceremony at the memorial to Chief Spintlum (Cexpe’nthlEm) at Lytton, summer 2018. Ron Hatch is standing 3rd to left of the cross, Daniel Marshall standing 6th to left of cross. Photo courtesy of Lytton First Nation

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Philip Resnick
Passageways (2018), reviewed by Andrew Parkin for The Ormsby Review

Philip Resnick: I had the good fortune to have Ron Hatch as my publisher for three poetry collections as well as a memoir. He was a wonderful person to work with, an editor with a sharp eye for grammatical and stylistic infelicities that easily find their way into a manuscript. He and his wife Veronica were supportive of their authors in a way that few larger publishers can be.

The publishing community in British Columbia will be much the poorer for his passing. Here’s hoping that Ronsdale Press will be able to continue into the future publishing books by both new and established Canadian authors.

Itineraries (2020), reviewed by Sheldon Goldfarb for The Ormsby Review

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Alternês and Wainman, Live Souls (2015), reviewed by Larry Hannant for The Ormsby Review

Serge Alternês (John Alexander Wainman): Upon returning from Paris to Vancouver in 2014, I had the great fortune to meet Ronald Hatch. A few months earlier, after a vain search of 40-years, I unearthed a trove of photographs in a London suitcase taken by my father, Alec Wainman, from 1936 to 1939. They portrayed a pivotal moment in modern history that I knew almost nothing about. In Britain I was told that the taboo subject matter, the Spanish Civil War, would imply expectations of disappointment, and self-publishing with art work in low-cost East Asia. Ron had the incredible eye and flair to take a chance on the photography of an unknown artist, and believe in me, a complete neophyte in the world of belles lettres and beaux arts. He had an uncanny understanding of both and produced the IPPY award-winning Live Souls: Citizens and Volunteers of Civil War Spain (Ronsdale, 2015), which has been described as an “essential” book on the subject by Le Monde hors série fine art publication, along with the works of Robert Capa, George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway. Testament to Ron’s judgement, Catalan and Spanish editions followed with Forewords by distinguished art critic Juan Manuel Bonet and historian Sir Paul Preston. To produce the book, Ron, along with his “artistic eye,” Julie Cochrane, pored over the photographs and chose those that would later captivate all forms of media, academia, a very popular landmark BBC Reel film, as well as continuous international travelling exhibits.

Serge Alternês (John Alexander Wainman)

Ron insisted that Friesens print the book with great care for the look and feel of the cover. He was adamant on having French flaps, a hallmark “extra” that he managed to convince me to fund. Ron and his assistant Meagan Dyer helped me craft captions to the photographs that brought them alive to readers. I remember doing countless reiterations of the Afterword, striving to have the forever patient Ron say, “it grabs me.” Regretfully I never managed that level  — but the photographs did, and with them I learned more than ever before about the hearts and minds of those who have had their cultural history robbed from them.

Ron Hatch’s foresight has allowed my father, UBC professor Alec Wainman — a child of the Okanagan, student at the Vernon Preparatory School and Oxford University, and pioneer linguist of the syilx  nuk̕ʷcwilxʷ Syilx Okanagan Nation’s Nsyilxcn language — to emerge more recently as an artist-photographer owing to his unique collection of vintage Kodachrome slide photographs of British Columbia, the Americas, South Asia and Europe (1939-1983). I am eternally grateful to Ron for giving me the chance of a lifetime, a new raison d’être. After my career in France, I feel like a voyageur returning home to discover the Indigeneity, natural wonders, cultures, and fundamental issues of our country! These inhabit all of the publications of Ronsdale Press that Ron and  Veronica have lovingly curated and refined for over three decades.

Republican militia of Barcelona trade unionists, Grañén, 1936. A photograph from Live Souls. Copyright Serge Alternês, The Estate of Alexander Wheeler Wainman, John Alexander Wainman. Courtesy Facebook

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The York Factory Express (2021), reviewed by Walter Volovsek for The Ormsby Review
Nancy Marguerite Anderson

Nancy Marguerite Anderson: I submitted my York Factory Express manuscript to Ronsdale Press on the off-chance, never thinking it would be a good fit for their market. To my surprise, I heard from Ron himself a week after I had mailed my submission off: he had already read half of the manuscript and phoned to say he had some questions for me. A week later he told me he was sending a contract — and in short order that contract was signed and returned to him. So fast!

I found him so easy to work with, and I learned so much from him. He kept me involved with the manuscript and a lot of the work fell to me, perhaps because he was sick (although I did not know that), or perhaps because that is the way he worked. His editing was meticulous: he questioned everything until it was perfect. When the finished product finally arrived I was so proud of the work we had done, and so happy with the book.

I never met Ron Hatch in person. The memorial published in BC BookLook made me aware of what he looked like, but all those qualities that other writers spoke of I had already learned for myself. For me, he was the perfect publisher — one that all writers hope to find and rarely if ever do.

A York Boat under sail at Norway House. HBC Archives, 1987/363-Y-2/56. From Anderson, York Factory Express

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Service on the Skeena (2020), reviewed by Tyler McCreary for The Ormsby Review
Geoff Mynett

Geoff Mynett: Like so many others, I was saddened by the death of Ron Hatch. He will be sorely missed in the BC publishing world. Together with Veronica, at Ronsdale Press he took risks on unknown writers. Many writers in British Columbia owe much to him for giving them their first publishing opportunity. I certainly remember and honour his support in publishing my first book.

I also remember his unrivalled skill as an editor. He was laser-focused on detail. For this reason alone, I can imagine he must have been a source of some trepidation for his students when he was teaching. Indeed even after he stopped teaching, he kept that air of a professor marking a student’s essay, wielding his usually short pencil with quiet precision. He knew the importance of the right word in the right place, the need for attention to paragraphing and he understood the way text should sit on the page. His books are models of clarity.

I think many would agree that he knew his own mind. One does hear of publishers sitting on books for months or longer before even replying, either to reject or accept. Ron seemed to make up his mind right away. He replied swiftly and courteously. In what must be a real gift in a publisher, he saw the potential in a text and was courageous enough to act on his instincts.

Dr. Horace Wrinch, ca. 1905, a physician on his rounds. From Mynett, Service on the Skeena

After sending in a manuscript to him of my first book, I was naturally surprised and thrilled a few days later to find him standing on my doorstep with a contract in his hands. This almost too-good-to-be-true story for a first author did happen, but perhaps it could only have happened with Ron. As a historian myself, I very much value his dedication to the history of British Columbia and the need for our stories to be told. I was lucky in that I lived not too far away and many a time I walked to his house to review the latest draft, the schedule of photographs or the typeset version. In a home filled with books — and who can not love a home filled with books? — he and Veronica ran the Ronsdale Press with quiet determination and adventurous vigour.

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Trevor Marc Hughes
Trevor Hughes (editor), Riding the Continent (2019), reviewed by Steve Koerner for The Ormsby Review

Trevor Marc Hughes: Back in October 2019, before the pandemic, I accompanied Ron Hatch and his wife Veronica by train from Vancouver to Portland, Oregon to attend the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association’s fall trade show. There we hauled boxes of Ronsdale Press titles to designated tables and set up the offerings. I was there to promote Riding the Continent, a book I edited of motorcycle-naturalist Hamilton Mack Laing’s account of his 1915 two-wheeled travels across the US. I was impressed at Ron’s dedication, not only in the physical lifting to set up the Ronsdale table, but also the focus he had. We were flanked by other BC publishers’ tables and he knew everyone. He made a point of reconnecting with the other faces, who were new to me.

Ron had put up Riding the Continent as a Buzzbook, which meant it was in competition with seven other titles to be the buzz of the show. This meant I spent much time pitching the book to visitors, who then moved on to the next table to hear the next pitch from a registered title. I was impressed with Ron’s ability to leap right in and compete with others. I remember on the final day that with all the pitching going on, I went right past lunch, and there were no more edibles around when I finally stopped talking to visitors. Ron took it upon himself to find me a lunch and brought it to me, just before it was time to leave for the train for home.

Trevor Hughes

During the process of working on Riding the Continent, I had many questions for Ron, and he gladly answered them. He was thorough, meticulous and asked me many questions when it came to my choices. He challenged me, which at the time seemed a bit daunting, what with his over three decades as a publisher, but I’ve realized with time that he was making me better, passing on to me his experience, which I am now applying to the next project. I won’t forget his generosity of spirit, our talks about motorcycles, and taking me under his wing for my first go at a published title.

Thank you, Ron. You will certainly be missed.

Mission accomplished: Ron and Veronica at their Amtrak train in Portland,  October 6, 2019. Photo by Trevor Hughes

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The Ormsby Review. More Books. More Reviews. More Often.

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of BC books and authors in all fields and genres. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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6 comments on “1312 A writers’ tribute to Ron Hatch

  1. One of the many good things Ron Hatch did was to support Brock House Society’s programming, especially the Esther Birney Literary Arts Series over the last 8 years. Many of his authors have given excellent lectures for the EB series. As convenor of the series I can say that Ron was wonderful to work with always suggesting most interesting authors with immediacy and a most pleasing manner. My sense is that he was in the truest sense of the words a gentleman and a scholar who had a mindset of helping others. He will be missed very much. He has left an impressive legacy!

  2. This is indeed a lovely portrait and an important contribution to the history of publishing in BC. He has left an impressive legacy.

  3. I come from a local family who established Randle’s Landing (1945 – 1968) now Westport Marina @ the head of Tsehum Harbour in North Saanich. Randle & Brenda Mathews were my parents. I value all the stories of our local history & have many to tell from my own family background. Professor Ron Hatch sounds like he was a great English professor & a publisher with incredible insight & vision. A tremendous loss for BC leaving behind a wonderful legacy. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Merridy, good to hear from you! Yes, Ron gave many new writers a leg up, and he also supported established writers, but I get the sense from the memories collected above that he got most pleasure from helping rookie writers. I remember your mother, Brenda, and your dad was still talked about on Curteis Point when I was growing up. The Spalding family on S. Pender Island also mentioned Randal Mathews when I lived there in the late 1980s. Thanks for the message, Richard

  4. Yes indeed, Richard. I agree with Loys. Ron was a lovely man, and touched the lives of a lot of people from many different spheres, through his gentle, supportive demeanour and his wonderful work with Ronsdale Press. I was very sad indeed to learn of his passing, but the many good things he did live on.

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