Viggo Kanstrup's Wonderful World

About two years ago, the doctors told Viggo Kanstrup he had inoperable liver cancer, and had a few months to live, tops.
Viggo took it in stride.
He'd been ill for a while, felled by a stroke, and then pneumonia while living in B.C. He was eeking out his days in a hotel, like some sort of Steinbeck character, playing a few jazz gigs, and spending his days in the library.
Viggo had no expectation of forgiveness from his family. He had been involved in a couple of scandals over the years, and simply expected to "fade away," as he told me later.
But the trajectory of his senior life changed, suddenly, when his son Erik arrived to scoop him up and bring him back to Ottawa.
All had been forgiven, and he was welcomed home by his kids and second wife, Francoise, who adopted him like a stray pup.
Like a lot of musicians I've known, Viggo took the "papa was a rolling stone" lyrics to heart. But now in his sunset, he was planted, and loving it.
Viggo was rarely alone over the past two years. Frankie and her kids, and his older children from his first marriage, kept him programmed. They got him into a hospice group that listened to jazz, his favorite, and they prepped him to walk his daughter Jess down the aisle.
In his off hours, Viggo connected with old friends, like me, Jean-Marc Carisse, the Liberal Caucus's Official Photographer, and Othmar Stein who was the Liberal Party Broadcast Director. We used to visit Viggo at the Liberal Party back when it was situated in a nearly condemned building at 102 Bank Street. This was back in the early eighties when Justin was still in short pants and his dad ruled the Hill.
We had more fun than monkeys. It was the time of Keith Davey, when politics were mirthful. More often than not, we'd spend afternoons at the press club playing shuffleboard and drinking ale. Our evenings were filled with the spirits of Wonderful Wednesdays, after which we endured long Terrible Thursdays.
We worked together only a couple of years, but our friendships were cemented. We were Liberals through and through, and were soon to get the shock of our lives. Ottawa was never the same in the months following PET's walk in the snow. For many of us, the scarlet L had left us less Liberal, feeling more like Losers.
A lot of us simply got out of Dodge.
Not Viggo. He stayed in Ottawa, and founded Print 2000, a successful quick print business. He continued to play music in various jazz bands about town until he up and left for B.C. in a move that stunned everyone, including his family and the jazz community.
Sometimes Viggo was hard to love and suffered his own demons. But he still had a big loving heart, an infectious smile, a low talking thick Danish accent, and a rapier wit. He had the charm of an ageing swashbuckling Errol Flynn.
And a lot of the same character. Which made him hard to resist.

Like most musicians, Viggo had a romantic and whimsical side. He met Frankie when she was just a beautiful young lass, and he was a middle aged printer with grown kids. He followed her down to L.A. and convinced her to return north to be with him.
I spoke at their wedding which was attended by Ottawa Liberal glitterati, and Buddy Guy.
"Everyone here is asking the same question," I said. "What is this beautiful girl doing with this old man?"
Nobody spoke to me for the rest of the evening, except the bride and the groom, who found my speech amusing. Viggo reminded me of that speech several times.
Unfortunately, the marriage lasted only a few years, but it produced three beautiful children: Erik, Jessica and Sonja.
As Frankie told me at the time, she was fond of Viggo, but the spark had died.
Viggo forged on, reinventing himself once again.

After returning to the family fold, Viggo called me up, and we met a few times with Frankie and Othmar to listen to fossilized jazz played by his old buddies.
Viggo and Frankie remarried not that long ago, and the old man did, indeed, walk young Jess down the aisle. It was the performance of his life.
This week, the family gathered to say goodbye to Viggo who finally succumbed to his disease.
He lived his life on his own terms, but he left this world surrounded by the love he brought into it.
He was a lucky man, and he knew it.
His was a wonderful world.


  1. A good read, a touching story anchored in love, friendship and times past. Thanks Rose.


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