A man who was a fixture of Squamish for decades has died.
According to a local physician who knew him, Kelsey Webb passed away recently.
Webb worked at the District of Squamish, recording council meetings for well over a decade, tuned pianos throughout the corridor and was often seen hitching rides up and down the highway.
He was also a self-taught photographer, painter and musician.
Mayor Armand Hurford told The Squamish Chief that the District was saddened to learn of the passing of the long-time resident.
"For over 15 years, Kelsey worked as a part-time audio-visual operator at Municipal Hall, bringing a unique and colourful energy to the room," said Hurford.
"Kelsey was a man of the arts. He was a self-taught photographer, painter, musician, piano tuner, former music journalist and past Squamish Arts Council president, who was often seen walking around town or awaiting his next ride," Hurford continued.
"While Kelsey hasn’t been at Municipal Hall in recent years, his presence in the community will genuinely be missed."
Former mayor Patricia Heintzman noted that Webb likely attended more municipal meetings than anyone in the town's history.
She said she met him even before she was on council when she was a reporter for The Squamish Chief, covering local government in the early 1990s.
"The District didn't have the booth with all the technology. Then, it was like this big monster television camera that was parked right in the middle of the room," she recalled.
"He's witnessed more of what goes on in those chambers than probably any other human on the planet."
Heintzman said she often gave him rides when needed.
"I would drive him home after council meetings most days, almost every day when I was a councillor and mayor," she recalled.
Because of her family connection with Heintzman pianos, she and Webb also talked about the instrument.
"We used to chat a lot about the piano stuff because of my family history. And he was a gifted piano tuner," she said, noting he would tell her about the special pianos he had tuned.
She described him as direct, or blunt, saying he would give his opinion on council meetings, telling her if he thought she chaired the meeting well — or if she didn't.
"I always enjoyed Kelsey. He was one of those people who maybe didn't fit the norms of society. And I think, [he may] have been misunderstood. But he was really endearing to me. And he was quirky in a great way," she said.
What follows is an interview with Webb published in The Squamish Chief in 2016.
A Squamish Renaissance man
Q&A with local hitchhiker Kelsey Webb
Travel Highway 99 and you have likely seen him. Squamish’s Kelsey Webb can often be seen hitchhiking home or to work at one of his jobs. In addition to working as an audio-visual operator at municipal hall, Webb is a sought-after piano tuner, musician and artist. The Squamish Chief caught up with Webb for a chat about his hitchhiking, his 21 years in Squamish and his many pursuits.
Q: A lot of people have seen you hitchhiking around town. Why do you hitchhike?
A: I don’t drive and I have had too many unfortunate situations with two-wheeled transportation. And we have lousy bus service still. A lot of people know me as a walker – they always see me walking.
Q: Does any ride stand out as really interesting?
A: You meet all sorts. Americans like to come up and brag: One claimed he was a Navy Seal and there are some nut-cases.
But about 15 years ago, I was hitching to get back to Squamish around Christmas and this little red car completely decorated with Christmas lights stopped. It was this blonde lady with long fingernails, spiked heels and the whole bit. And I thought, I wonder what she does for a living?
So, we talked. She was extremely intelligent and knew a lot of people in the government. She could talk on just about any subject. Finally, we were just about to Squamish and she said, “I work in the sex trade.”
She was heading up to Whistler for Christmas to make a bunch of money. When I got out of the car I felt really bad because she is one of the ones who thought she would just do it for a little while and make a nest-egg. I hope she got out. I never bumped into her again.
Q: You record the council meetings for Shaw and for the District of Squamish. Is there anything that stands out from your many years of watching council?
A: I think one of the funniest council meetings was when we had this guy come in for something to do with a skateboard park. Council had pretty much decided to give him what he was asking for, but this guy gets up – I learned later he was a lawyer – and he was insulting, saying things like council was too stupid to give him his request.
I could see smoke coming out of [former mayor] Ian Sutherland’s ears and he called a recess. I went up to him during the recess and said, “Now how are you going to give this guy what he wants?” Sutherland had a few choice things to say. That was one of the funniest councils.
Q: You tune pianos for one of your other jobs. What role does music play in your life?
A: I was a musician earlier in my youth. Like most musicians I didn’t make a lot of money. I was a music journalist in the 1970s.
That was sort of interesting. I interviewed people I was interested in and somewhere in the back of my head I knew if I kept doing it I would have to interview Madonna, and yeah I got out of it. <
I wrote on rock, Elton John and people like that. There was one paper in England I had a regular weekly column.
Q: Have you gotten to tune any really nice pianos over the years?
A: I tuned an 1877 Steinway Upright. I didn’t even know they made uprights! I went to tune this piano owned by a little old lady. I looked at this thing and I didn’t even want to touch it. I asked her, “Do you even know what you have here?” and she was very blasé about it, “Well, it has been in the family…”
Q: You have seen a lot of change in 21 years in Squamish. What do you think of how it has changed?
A: This is going to insult some people, but I like all the new people moving in. Myself, I don’t think I have ever really been accepted that much in this town with the old guard.
I am finding with the new people that they are like the people I was used to in Vancouver. They are very friendly.
Q: What did you encounter here before?
A: I have always thought of Squamish as a town with a bubble over it. There are a lot of 1950s attitudes about things that I am interested in. With the arts, there are a lot of guys who are afraid of going into an art gallery because [supposedly] everyone knows guys who go into art galleries are funny. That is one of the reasons the town doesn’t move ahead as much as it could as far as the arts and other things because there’s a lot of that attitude still around. Now there are people on council who support the arts.
Q: If you didn’t feel accepted here why did you stay and not move back to Vancouver?
A: I can’t live in Vancouver. I ended up here because the Vancouver now is not the Vancouver I grew up in. You could walk down the street and you didn’t have to constantly look over your shoulder. I couldn’t get used to that. Actually, I got quite badly mugged a couple of times down there. I had friends living in Squamish that I grew up with in Kitsilano and they were aware of these two muggings. The second one was actually quite bad, damaged my eye socket. So they said, “You are moving to Squamish.” I have never seen violence here. I have heard it goes on, but I have never seen it.
Q: Is there anything I didn’t ask you?
A: You didn’t ask me about my painting, but you didn’t know I did that.
I am a member of the Federation of Canadian Artists. A company from Montreal got a hold of me and offered to print up and sell my paintings – it sounds perfect. I have sold some paintings, but I paint so slowly, I always regret seeing them go.
[Learn more about his paintings at artists.ca/webb]