Alumni Profile: Pierre Coupey '59

Artist, Poet and Editor

Over the years, Pierre Coupey’s many contributions to the Canadian literary and artistic landscapes have been significant. His career path was shaped at McGill University, where he was privileged to have studied with some of the most influential Canadian literary figures, including Louis Dudek and Hugh MacLennan, a former LCC teacher. Dudek, a pioneer of Modernism in Canadian poetry, published Pierre’s Bring Forth the Cowards as part of the McGill Poetry Series. During a public reading from that work at McGill, Pierre was grateful for the encouragement from several audience members: Canadian greats Earle Birney, Irving Layton and Leonard Cohen.

Upon graduation from McGill, Pierre received an Arts Grant for Poetry from Le Conseil des Arts du Québec, which enabled him to study in Paris for a year and shift his focus to drawing and printmaking. In the late 1960s, having moved to Vancouver and dropped out from graduate school, Pierre wrote a manifesto calling for an independent and free press. Out of this grew The Georgia Straight, which he co-founded. Conceived initially as an anti-establishment free press, The Georgia Straight is now Canada’s largest urban weekly.

It would not be the only publication that Pierre would give to Canada. After returning to the University of British Columbia to complete a master’s degree in English and Creative Writing, Pierre was invited to teach at Capilano College (University) where, in 1972, he founded The Capilano Review, an award-winning Canadian literary magazine that now publishes independently. “That was the highlight of my 44-year teaching career,” he says. “We were among the first to publish innovative writers like bp Nichol, Michael Ondaatje, George Bowering, Daphne Marlatt and Robin Blaser among others. It was a major accomplishment for me and my colleagues.”

While teaching, Pierre was also painting and printmaking – every week, in between classes, and every summer. He exhibited in private galleries and public institutions, with high points being his solo exhibition at the Canadian Embassy Gallery in Tokyo (1998) and a career survey show at the West Vancouver Museum (2012). Currently represented by galleries in Vancouver and Toronto, Pierre now focuses exclusively on painting and, most recently, was commissioned to produce a major work for a downtown Vancouver building. In 2013, the Fund for the Arts on the North Shore Society recognized Pierre with its Distinguished Artist Award (Visual & Literary Arts).

Pierre acknowledges the pervasive influence that LCC has had on his life and career. In particular he recognizes former Headmaster Dr. Stephen Penton, a man he revered. “Over the course of two summers, Dr. Penton allowed me to use the art room where I would paint to my heart’s content,” he says. “I was lucky to have such encouragement.” He is also grateful to his English teacher Austin Caverhill who gave him carte blanche to write whatever he wanted, and to his formidable gym teacher Captain Howard Gibb who encouraged him to do things he never thought he could do, and got him to succeed.

Mostly, it is the LCC motto, Non Nobis Solum, which has stayed with Pierre. “The idea that you’re here in the world to make a contribution, to do something for other people, is very powerful. It became an important part of my teaching and something I emphasized with my students.” He hopes that LCC students are just as inspired by this philosophy and, as they continue their journey, remain open to the world. “It is important to cultivate your curiosity,” he says. “We’re not here just to make a living, we’re here to learn something and find out what it means to be a human being.”