Park Royal mall forked by chess fiasco
Threat to kick out chess group leaves Park Royal in losing public position
“West Vancouver’s Park Royal drops curtain on 50 years of chess games” — April 3 headline in The Sun of Park Royal Mall’s threat to ask police to evict members of a long-standing chess group from its food court.
Opening White’s move, Pawn to E4: In the 1960s, George Ingham, an apprentice electrician, visits West Vancouver’s Park Royal mall and sees in the food court people playing chess. He joins them. The chess is secondary to the camaraderie. The number of players eventually grows to more than a dozen.
Black’s move, Pawn to E5: In the 1980s, management, looking to capitalize on chess as a motif, installs in the concourse a 12-by-12foot chessboard with oversized chess pieces. A half-dozen tables are placed around the large chess board for the players to use. Management asks the group to stage a chess tournament and arranges for players from Washington state to come up and play. The mall publicizes the tournament.
White’s move, Bishop to C4: Over the years, the chess group establishes itself as a community fixture. It offers lessons. During the holidays, participants move to the side of the concourse to make way for the mall Christmas tree and Santa’s workshop, which are set up in the area where they usually play. With children coming to see Santa, a new generation is introduced to the game.
Black’s move, Bishop to C5: The chess tables supplied by the mall show their age and are removed. Management informs the chess group it would not be supplying new ones. It will allow, however, new tables if the chess group raises enough money to manufacture tables of “mall quality.” Cost: $6,500.
White’s move, Queen to H5: Ingham raises $500 from the group, and he and another player donate $3,000 each. The tables are built; play resumes. In 1987, Ingham, then 51, finds himself playing against a young man named Bryan. During play, Bryan’s mother, Kathy, whom Ingham does not know, approaches the table and asks her son if he’ll go have coffee with her. No, Bryan says, he’s playing. She leaves, comes back several minutes later and asks again. Again, Bryan says no. Ingham, seeing his opening, asks Kathy if Bryan won’t go for coffee with her, can he? Five years later, they marry.
Black’s move, Knight to F6: Management eventually removes the large chess board in the concourse and replaces the chess group’s tables with new ones. They are placed in the middle of the food court and the area is designated for chess-playing. But last November the food court is demolished and a new one is built on the second floor. During the renovation, management moves the chess tables across the street to Park Royal’s north mall. The chess groups follows. During the holiday season, though, the group discovers the tables have been locked away. Players move back across the street to the new food court, now renamed Picnic! However, one of its members receives a letter from Karen Donald, mall general manager (described as “fierce and fearless” on the Park Royal Facebook page), informing the group the mall “cannot continue to have seats monopolized by large groups such as yours.” A cost-benefit analysis, the group hears, recommends its eviction. In the letter, Donald offers the group $500 to relocate to several other sites she suggests, and then informs it that, because of the mall’s new no-loitering policy, if it does not cease its renegade chess playing by March 31, the mall will have “no alternative to reach out to the West Vancouver police department.” Management forwards a copy of the letter to the police.
White’s move, Queen to F7, takes Pawn: The image of cops rousting a group of mostly 70- and 80-year-old chess players — which includes among them a billionaire donor to Lions Gate Hospital, a founder of Simon Fraser University and a member of the Order of Canada — is too much for media to resist, and chess gets more coverage since Bobby Fischer went AWOL. Social media thrums with indignation. There is talk of a petition. Angry shoppers vow never again to frequent Park Royal. West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith, musing (and I paraphrase) about what in hell could Park Royal have been smoking, promises to talk to mall management. Ingham, flooded with messages of support and offers of help, visits the new food court Sunday at lunchtime. He finds it more than two-thirds empty. “So much for taking up room,” he says. “We’re talking about a 50-plus-year community tradition that’s part of the social fabric here, part of what makes West Vancouver a civilized place to live. That’s why we’re so fighting mad.”
Endgame: Having established a public image of a mean-spirited bully, Park Royal goes to ground. Mall representatives decline to comment. Check and mate.