Forget dolls that spit up or robot birds that hatch. One of the hottest asks on this year’s Christmas lists could be a Canuck the crow T-shirt.
Part of the draw of owning a T-shirt with a drawing of East Vancouver’s beloved bird is it has to be bought the old-fashioned way.
They can only be bought directly from the East Vancouver crow’s best human friend, Shawn Bergman, at certain times and places. So far it’s been at a Canuck the crow gallery show at ROAM two weeks ago and then last Saturday on a strip of grass behind the McDonald’s at Hastings and Cassiar streets. Yes, the same McDonald’s where Canuck stole a knife from a crime scene in the parking lot last year — a story that the Courier broke and then was picked up by news outlets around the world.
Bergman made it clear he’s only doing in-person sales for now; he doesn’t have the time to set up an online shop and manage it. And managing it would take some work if his “Canuck and I” fan page on Facebook is any indication — some of the 96,000 fans who live as far away as Germany said they were keen to purchase a shirt.
Of course the biggest draw of owning a Canuck the crow T-shirt is owning a Canuck the crow T-shirt. A dozen people milled around the grassy hill at 10 a.m. Saturday with cash in hand to buy one, two, or three shirts. When somebody left, another took their place so there was a constant crowd of people who often looked to the sky hoping for a visit from everybody’s favourite wild bird. Bergman carried shirt samples in his duffle bag and disappeared and reappeared in and out of the day’s persistent fog to his house to fetch and deliver the goods.
Australian Drew Chislett arrived with his son Jubb to pick up two shirts.
“We didn’t come all the way here to see Canuck. I like to tell everyone we did but I might be lying a little,” Chislett said. “We’re here for Christmas, visiting my sister-in-law and her family. We actually came down on our first morning here and found Canuck.”
Chislett heard about Canuck’s antics of knife-stealing, key-thieving and other mischief back home; his father-in-law told him about how a crow nicked a tool while he was working on his house a few streets away on East Georgia. Chislett saw the news stories and became interested, especially as crows in his hometown of Victoria, Australia are much larger and are better known for harassing sheep. They also sound different, he added. “They have a caaaaaaaawwwww that goes on — they sound like they’re dying midair.”
With every T-shirt purchase, Bergman was asked about Canuck’s whereabouts. Those who were at “the Block” — Bergman’s name for the grassy area behind the restaurant — right at 10 a.m. were lucky. Canuck and his mate Cassiar made an appearance atop a street sign, then on one of the park boulders where fans gave him grapes and sunflower seeds. Matthew Paugh, familiar with Canuck’s thieving ways, brought along a set of unused keys and made a show of pretending to drop them. Canuck didn’t bite, once again proving that crows are indeed intelligent.
Canuck became difficult to spot from that point; a huge gang of his kind soon joined the party. Still, Bergman could usually spot him — even if the red zip tie on his leg was impossible to see from a distance.
“I know it’s him because I hang out with him on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s sorta like if you heard your best friend yell your name out in a crowd. You’d know who it was. I recognize his caw — I know that voice. When he caws, it’s like he’s yelling, ‘Hey!’”
The T-shirt is the second design made by artist Madison Tuff. The first featured Canuck with a knife in his mouth, but Berman said he wanted to make the latest edition more “family friendly.” Tuff captured Canuck’s mischievous personality, but it wasn’t without some controversy.
Some fans on Bergman’s Facebook page sniffed that the drawing made Canuck look “too cartoonish,” too much like a “Disney” crow or that it “missed Canuck’s sweetness.”
“When Shawn first announced the design, I chose to stay away from the comments because he had mentioned they’d been a little rough,” said Tuff. “It can be difficult reading harsh words about a passion project we crafted out of our mutual love for an amazing bird. That being said, the good far outweighed the bad and the community really stood up in a show of support. Reading the words of happy fans made it all worth it.”
Tuff, who recently moved from Vancouver to San Francisco, met Canuck in his pre-fame days. She had heard of the bird through friends at Leeside skatepark who posted a photo of Canuck being lifted from the ground, dangling from a shoelace he’d chomped on to. She tracked down Bergman and asked to meet Canuck.
“We met at Empire Fields and walked several laps with Canuck following us. He occasionally landed on my shoulder to check me out. It was very soon after this encounter that I decided to draw some art for Shawn. It was so kind of him to meet me and I really respect the bond he has with Canuck. Animals are great judges of character.”
Check the Canuck and I Facebook page for updates on upcoming T-shirt sales. Five per cent of the $30 price tag goes to Night Owl Bird Hospital, which treated Canuck last March after someone at a soccer game in East Vancouver hit the bird on the head with a flagpole. Canuck made a full recovery.