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The right fool for the job: new book details story of Vancouver's original town fool

Last Updated Apr 11, 2021 at 12:06 pm PDT

Fool’s Gold cover (Courtesy: Anvil Press)

This week, local historian Jesse Donaldson returns to 1130 Bookshelf to talk about his latest book

Fool's Gold is the story of the man who was Vancouver's first, and so far only, official town fool

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Vancouver has an official flag, an official motto and, for a brief time in the late 1960s, even an official town fool. It’s all in the new book, Fool’s Gold: The Life and Legacy of Vancouver’s Official Town Fool, the latest from writer and historian Jesse Donaldson.

LISTEN: Fool’s Gold

It’s centered around Joachim Foikis, who, up to that point, was a career student and a father of two.

“He had a number of university degrees and he was working on his third by the time he decided to take this descent into folly. One day, he just decided that rather than become a librarian, which was his plan at the time, he was going to put on a cap and bells and he was going to wander the streets of Vancouver, quoting Socrates, Shakespeare, and Mother Goose, walking up to people and asking, ‘Do you know what the difference is between a person and a fool,'” Donaldson explains.

Foikis found way to get paid for it too; a princely $3,500 a year.

“The thing that cemented this whole story for me is that he got a grant,” Donaldson admits. “There was a period of time where the Canada Council for the Arts had an adjudicating body that thought, ‘You know what? This is a pretty good idea.’”

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Only in Vancouver would village idiot be a paid position. But not everyone was amused, certainly not Tom Campbell, the Mayor of Vancouver at the time.

“There was no better figurehead for the city that took itself too seriously than [him]. He had your grandfather’s politics, let’s put it that way,” says Donaldson. “He was a guy who really was vehemently against this stuff and so he was a perfect foil for the counterculture at the time who just delighted in poking fun at people like him.”

However, to Foikis, the job wasn’t about fun and games. He took his role very seriously.

“He saw the fool less as a clown and more as a street philosopher where the fool essentially acted as a funhouse mirror to society,” Donaldson says. “If there is one thing we can take from this book it’s that it’s always worth taking a look at ourselves and always worth taking a look at the absurdity in ourselves.”

However, the tale doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending. “Yeah, this is a mission that he undertook but it ended up costing him quite a lot. It ended up costing him his wife and his kids.”

Look for Fool’s Gold: The Life and Legacy of Vancouver’s Official Town Fool from Anvil Press.