Fool’s Gold: The Life and Legacy of Vancouver’s Official Town Fool by Jesse Donaldson

In describing Vancouver’s self-appointed town fool Joachim “Kim” Foikis, author Jesse Donaldson states, “It was his mission, he said, to create joy and confusion. To upend things. To be a reflection of the folly he saw in the world. But more than that, he wanted to wake people up.”

In Fool's Gold, Donaldson explores the legacy of Joachim Foikis. On April 1, 1968, a tall, bespectacled, 35-year-old former social worker named Joachim Foikis received $3,500 from the Canada Council for the Arts in order to finance a unique, self-imposed mission unseen since Elizabethan England: reinvent the vanished tradition of "Town Fool."
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With that, Donaldson explains what to expect in the pages of this biography. “The result is a book that’s intended to be a reflection of the man — as much a work of nonfiction as it is a work of folly, a book intended to be as joyful as it is confusing. You can certainly read it the traditional way … or you could join Kim and me on a voyage of whimsy, travelling as he did, this way and that, a bouncing ball that moved back and forth between red and blue, heaven and hell, community and isolation, celebrity and poverty, study and frolic, fatherhood and abandonment, life and death.”

And so we join Donaldson and his biographical muse, a fool named Foikis, on a journey to Vancouver’s recent past through the critical, philosophical, and insightful perspective of a well-read, complicated fool. The book starts, aptly enough, on April Fool’s Day, in 1968, when our protagonist gets paid by the federal government to be foolish. At a time when pensioners received $1200 a year, Foikis received a $3500 grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, enabling him to pursue foolishness full-time.

The vocation has a long and surprisingly honourable tradition, considered a means of challenging the government, the only “true” opposition to every political party. Many consider it the original form of philosophy, asking probing questions, finding holes in accepted theory, and poking fun at the establishment. Surprisingly, this age-old practice was often embraced by rulers, viewed as a simple means to give “the people” a voice. And if that voice emanated from a guy (they were always men) dressed as a jester, so be it. Comic delivery can temper the sting of uncomfortable truths.

We’re left to wonder, however, as to this modern-day fool’s motivation. Were his antics driven by ego? Love of the spotlight? A desire to provoke and perform? Or was his calling simply to be a fool? His legacy is as cloudy and circuitous as his quotes, a blend of fairy-tale and philosophy. Jesse Donaldson does an excellent job pulling together the story in Fool’s Gold, as though splicing tattered ribbons from the archives shredder bin, and shares it in an entertaining manner that presents his nonfiction character sincerely and objectively, an intriguing, multifaceted figure from Vancouver’s history. Perhaps in his way, a reflection of all of us here.

Jesse Donaldson is an author and journalist whose work has appeared in VICE, The Tyee, The Calgary Herald, the WestEnder, the Vancouver Courier, and other places. His first book, This Day In Vancouver, was a finalist for the Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award. He currently lives near Mount Pleasant with Abbey, the world’s best dog.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Anvil Press (Dec 10 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 192 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1772141461
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1772141467
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