Celebration Of Aboriginal Day Of Wellness

Oly Bent sang a Welcome Song as he played his hand drum at the Aboriginal Day of Wellness Celebration.
Oly Bent sang a Welcome Song as he played his hand drum at the Aboriginal Day of Wellness Celebration.

Joining with people of other cultures and traditions can be a delightful, soul enriching experience. When the Upper Similkameen Indian Band recently posted an invitation to its celebration of Aboriginal Day of Wellness, Linda and I knew immediately we wanted to be there. We thought it would be a low key affair, with the possibility of getting to know some band members. It was a pleasant surprise to learn there would be a formal program and a sumptuous sit down meal.

We didn’t anticipate the congenial, up beat, fun atmosphere. Plenty of smiles made it clear these people had come to have a good time. Even more important to us, a number of band members gave us a warm welcome.

The event took place last Wednesday at the USIB’s Centre on Snaza’ist Street on the periphery of Hedley. Fifty two enthusiastic guests attended, including a number of children and youths, plus at least half a dozen individuals from the Hedley community. We were impressed by the way the evening’s activities were ably coordinated by Shauna Fox, head of the band’s Home and Health Care program.

Shauna Fox, organizer of the event.
Shauna Fox, organizer of the event.

Prior to the meal, band member Oly Bent offered a reverential, heartfelt prayer of gratitude to the Creator. He followed this with a traditional welcome song, accompanying himself on a hand drum.

Oly Bent with his hand drum.
Oly Bent with his hand drum.

In a lively, well received talk, Clint Holmes explained how he had dug a pit, lined it with rocks and cooked the moose and elk that were on the menu. He said he had assisted with pit cooking twice in the past, but this was his first time doing it alone.

Clint Holmes described the pit cooking process.
Clint Holmes described the pit cooking process.

Guests were invited to select from an elaborate array of dishes, consisting of traditional Indigenous cuisine, laid out on a large table. Along with other elders, the small Hedley contingent was served by 2 congenial young men, Kelly and Kennedy Fox-Zacharias. Respectful and competent, these clean cut young men introduced themselves and made us feel honoured. They would almost certainly be coveted by any high class, big city restaurant.

Shauna Fox explained later it is an aboriginal custom to serve elders first. The young servers delivered to each guest a platter laden generously with Aboriginal style chili, topped with chopped lettuce and tomatoes, sour cream and salsa, all on a slice of delicious, mouth watering fried bread. The bread had been prepared by much loved and respected local elder, Carrie Allison, wife of departed Chief Slim Allison. The frying, which required 6 hours of intensive labour in a hot kitchen, was done by Mary Allison under Carrie’s guidance.

Of particular fascination for Linda and me, and the other Hedley attendees seated at our table, was the soap berry ice cream (sxuxm), also made by Carrie. We learned from her that the main ingredient is soap berries, which can be picked, usually at higher altitudes, in the Similkameen Valley. Water and sugar are added and this concoction is whipped into a delightful, crowd pleasing dessert. A couple of Hedley citizens were observed enjoying a second, rather generous helping of the ice cream at the close of the event.

One lucky guest, Brenda Wagner, was pleased to win a 19 inch television in a draw. We were surprised when Linda’s name was drawn for a high quality barbeque. We’ve never had much luck in draws. Linda has decided she will donate the barbeque back to the band for its own use or as a fund raiser. Several children also won prizes.

As people were leaving, a happy buzz suggested they felt they had participated in a significant, joyous event. Certainly that was the sentiment of the Hedley people. We had been graciously and respectfully received.

I have come to think of celebrating a special day with another culture as a privilege and an education. In this case it was an opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of who our neighbours are and what they value. I respect their fervent desire to pass on their traditions, customs, values, history and wisdom to future generations. In society generally, there often isn’t this understanding that it’s important to retain what has been learned and taught by elders.

With continued effort, good will and willingness, events like Aboriginal Day of Wellness could further strengthen the relationship between the band and the Hedley community. As we celebrate 150 years of nationhood, it’s a good time to become better acquainted with our neighbours.

Larry McIntosh Influenced Hedley Fire Department

Some members of the Hedley Fire Department at practise (Larry McIntosh not on this photo).
Some members of the Hedley Fire Department at practise (Larry McIntosh not on this photo).

In 1976, on my first visit to Hedley, I watched with fascination as firefighters, clad in jeans and t-shirts, ran to put out a chimney fire. They were pulling a 2 wheeled cart laden with a firehose. They had plenty of grit, but scant equipment or training.

Some years later, Linda and I moved to Hedley and I was able to observe the development of the Fire Department. The community made a bold move into the 20th century in 1984 when it acquired a 1973 Ford firetruck. Because house fires were scarce, the truck was used mainly to douse occasional chimney fires and for practise. Its mileage remained almost static and we had little thought of upgrading. Why pay higher taxes for a new truck we didn’t need?

Our complacent thinking received a rude shock when the insurance underwriters informed us our well preserved truck must be replaced, or our premiums would rise sharply. Many in the community felt we should look for a suitable used truck. The fire department argued for a new one. In two referendums we turned down the purchase of a new truck. Then, when we went to renew our home insurance, we experienced premium sticker shock. In a third referendum we meekly bowed to the will of the all powerful underwriters and voted to buy a new fire truck. This marked the beginning of a remarkable transformation in the department.

After talking recently with Derek Lilly, a former Fire Chief, current Assistant Chief Doug Nimchuk, and retired Fire Department Manager, Graham Gore, I’ve concluded that one individual provided the primary impetus for the high standard now evident in the Hedley Fire Department.

Larry McIntosh settled in Hedley in about 2002. He had earlier been employed by the Delta Ambulance Service, when it was still combined with the Fire Department. He had also been Unit Chief of the Princeton Ambulance Service. He was currently working for the Forestry Wild Fire Service in summers, in charge of Logistics. His experience and skill level were impressive, and he was named Hedley’s Assistant Fire Chief. Using his wide range of training and expertise, he began making significant changes.

Larry laid the base for what we have today,” Doug Nimchuk told me. Graham agreed. “He had been involved in combating pretty much every major fire in B.C. Larry brought a high level of professionalism. He built training records and operational records. He instituted truck inspections and standardized turnout gear.”

Larry trained our First Medical Responders,” Doug said. “He raised the service to a high level. I accompanied him on a number of calls. He was confident and competent.”

Larry could be thoroughly practical. At one house fire there was a need for ventilation. He threw bricks and stones through the windows. He was known to say, “just give me water! Surround and drown!” At one fire only 26 inches separated the burning home from the adjacent building. Following Larry’s teaching, firefighters maintained a constant stream of water in the narrow space and the second structure was saved.

By the time Larry’s employment no longer permitted him to give much attention locally, he had trained others and established sound procedures. He apparently understood clearly he would be most effective, not by attracting more followers, but by developing more leaders. “He taught me almost everything I know,” Graham said. “Without his teaching and personal attention, I could not have been manager of the department.”

Larry didn’t seek recognition. He wanted to teach, raise standards and hand over responsibilities to the next generation. Graham, in his time as department manager, has sought to maintain Larry’s systems and his high standard of fire fighting and First Responder excellence.

End view of our house after fire burned the house next door
End view of our house after fire burned the house next door

Seven years ago the home next to ours burned to the ground on New Years Eve. It was a cold night and there was plenty of ice. Under the Command of Larry McIntosh, the Hedley Firefighters, with assistance from Keremeos, saved our home and the home on the other side. The new truck and the skill, training and discipline of the firefighters prevented what could have been a disastrous fire all along our block.

Before passing away unexpectedly on June 3rd of this year, Larry McIntosh played a key role in raising the Hedley Fire Department to a much higher level. Thanks to him, Graham, Doug and all the dedicated firefighters, our little community has a fire department we can be proud of.

Dave Cursons, Not Ready To Slow Down

Dave Cursons of Dumplingdale Organic Farm, Cawston, BC
Dave Cursons of Dumplingdale Organic Farm, Cawston, BC

An initial encounter with Dave Cursons of Cawston might lead to an assumption he’s a university prof, deeply immersed in lecturing and ivory tower research. His white beard and quiet, unassuming demeanor could point us in that direction. It would be a hugely incorrect conclusion, however. For many years he’s been a powerhouse in issues important to the Similkameen Valley, sometimes taking the lead, at other times working behind the scenes. Now 70, he still gladly rolls up his sleeves and gets his hands dirty, so to speak.

Born in New Westminster in 1947, he experienced most of the years of the Cold War, which threatened to erupt on a number of occasions into an atomic cataclysm. “In school,” he recalls, “we were told that if we saw a flash, we should dive into a ditch. As a child and a youth, it frightened me. I didn’t expect to live past 25.”

For many years he has been active in the Peace Movement and for 34 years has participated in the Mother’s Day March to the Canada-U.S. border. “My views on war were probably shaped by Ben Ankrum, an elderly WWI veteran who during the 1930’s spoke on Armistice Day at my mother’s school. He was a family friend and when I was 8 or 10 made quite an impression.”

One thing Mr. Ankrum said remains indelibly etched in his memory. “He told us as long as there is an arms buildup, there will be war. He was outspoken on militarism and he was right. Mr. Ankrum always wore a beret.” Dave paused for a moment, then said, “It just occurred to me that I often do too. An influence for sure.”

Dave Cursons often wears a beret.
Dave Cursons often wears a beret.

As a youth Dave became a Boy Scout and also joined the National Survival Program. “I was a marksman and I enjoyed martial music,” he said. “We did a lot of marching.” A mischievous smile briefly touched his face. “I wasn’t in step though and the Sergeant said I looked like a pregnant water buffalo.”

In 1995 he met Gabriele, his wife, across the table at a forestry seminar. “We were both outspoken,” he said. “Our views differed but that didn’t matter. She was from Germany and had become a farmer in Cawston. We bought an acreage and named it the Dumplingdale Organic Farm. We grow produce for the farmers market in Penticton. Gabriele is the farmer. I’m an occasional field hand.”

Dave’s interests are wide ranging. He talked about the history of trails and roads in what is now The Crowsnest Route. “The grade couldn’t be more than 12 per cent or it was too steep for a horse drawn wagon.”

In high school Dave’s favourite subject was social studies. The Crusades and the Riel Rebellion especially intrigued him. In grade 11, in a Bible history course, he became aware of the Jewish Pentateuch. “It provides information about some of the issues we are grappling with today. An example is the notion that we are not of this earth and the earth isn’t that friendly.”

His first year at UVic didn’t go well. “I enrolled in Latin because it seemed to me a base for history, a key to understanding who we are. Academically I was a flop. I failed the Latin course. I took a year off and worked on a railway crew, building bridges and snow sheds.”

Dave later graduated as an English literature major from UBC. He subsequently worked many years as a probation officer and then as a family court counselor. “When I retired, it was to our little farm in Cawston,” he said.

Retirement for Dave is fulfilling. He provided leadership in the development of the Cawston Players and is still active with them. He also works a few hours a week counseling youth. “In counseling one needs to gain trust,” he said. “It’s very encouraging for me to spend time with children. I think that from them we get a clearer view of the world.”

Dave joined the B.C. Green Party when it was formed in 1983 and has been a candidate 3 times in the 80’s and 90’s. In the recent provincial campaign he served as campaign manager for the local Green candidate.

How would he like to finish the race? “I’d like to grow wise,” he answered, “but I’m not sure I know how.” Dave Cursons, you may be closer than you realize.

Redemption Of Two Abused Boys

Shayne & Jennifer with Curtis & Dallas, April 2006.
Shayne & Jennifer with Curtis & Dallas, April 2006.

Having observed first hand the way abused children often turn out as adults, I’ve come to consider their redemption as virtually miraculous. This was certainly my conclusion after Jennifer told Linda and me the story of Dallas and Kurtis, the young sons of Shayne, her second husband. I feel her account might be of interest and benefit to others.

Shayne was a trucker,” she began. “He wasn’t home enough to look after the boys and their 2 half- sisters, so they were living with their mother Cassia. There was a lot of alcohol in the home and Cassia’s boyfriend was abusive to her.”

Jennifer’s face grew serious as she continued. “Cassia moved her family into a house with 16 people. Then she moved out on her own again, accompanied by the boyfriend. The boys’ family life was chaotic and we suspected they were being abused. We thought the boyfriend might be a crack addict. I decided we couldn’t just stand by and watch their lives being destroyed.”

There was conviction in her voice and I sensed her keenly honed understanding of right and wrong. “We got permission to take the boys to our home for 3 weeks. This became a pattern for some time. Their bodies were usually bruised when they came. We always took them to be examined by a doctor when they arrived and before we returned them. The boys feared repercussions if they talked about their home life so they kept quiet about that.”

During one visit, Shayne became troubled by something Cassia was planning for the boys. He threatened to not return them. A few days later, Cassia and a friend arrived from Prince George with a court order for their return. They waited down the street while the police went to enforce the order. The boys cried. Kurtis sat on the step and said, “I’m not going back!” “It was a terrible day for the boys and for us. We were powerless to prevent it.”

When the boys were 5 and 6, Cassia agreed to let them live with Jennifer and Shayne for one year. Three weeks after arriving, they began to divulge the mental, emotional and physical abuse they had endured. “Things were bad with Dallas,” Jennifer recalls, “he was diagnosed with FAS and ADHD. Being older, he had seen and experienced more.”

Both boys were enrolled in counselling, with a good deal of play therapy. In their own way, each arrived at a unique understanding. One day the counsellor invited Jennifer into the play room and pointed to a play house. Opening the doors to the little house, she said, “Kurtis removed all the furniture and people. He even tore out the carpets.” The counsellor explained that when he had completed gutting the house he shut the doors and said, “I’m moving out. I’m done.” He was leaving his old life and memories behind.

About 7 months after the boys moved in with Jennifer and Shayne, Dallas asked them and also Jenae, Jennifer’s daughter, to sit in the living room. Then he quite formally addressed them all. “Cassia isn’t our Mom anymore,” he pronounced. From now on we’ll call her Cassia. Jennifer is our Mom.”

After the agreed upon year, Cassia didn’t show up in court to contest an application to give Shayne full custody and Jennifer guardianship over the boys. Since then Dallas has many times asked to see these papers, wanting assurance he and Kurtis would not be returned.

Cassia has never even asked about them in our occasional telephone conversations,” Jennifer said. “Recently she did request to speak with them. Dallas absolutely refused. Kurtis reluctantly agreed, but only by phone.” As the day for Cassia’s call approached, he wanted Jennifer to tell her he had changed his mind. Wanting him to grow strong, Jennifer told him, “I can’t protect you anymore. You’ll have to tell her yourself.” Cassia didn’t call.

Shayne, Dallas, Jennifer & Curtis in 2016
Shayne, Dallas, Jennifer & Curtis in 2016

Dallas is now 18 and has completed his first year in a construction electrical program. He is apprenticing with an electrical contractor. Kurtis is 17 and enrolled in an architectural drafting course.

Dallas summed up their experience recently. “If you hadn’t rescued us, we’d have lived in foster homes and on the streets. I’d be in jail.”

The redemption of Dallas and Kurtis came only with Jennifer and Shayne’s love, patience, and unwavering commitment. It is indeed a miracle.

Living To Be Remembered

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Tramping through the high brown grass of the Hedley cemetery with Linda last week, I wondered how the people interred there are being remembered. Did they do something to positively benefit their family and community, even their country? Or did they live only for their own selfish purposes?

In “The Walk”, Paul Evans suggests that “in each of us is something that, for better or worse, wants the world to know we existed.” We have a longing not to be forgotten. We want our life to have meant something, to leave an indelible mark.

It was while working with young offenders in Hedley that I became aware of what I feel is a universal desire. I asked a number of these often intransigent youths if they wanted to do something important with their life. Almost invariably they weighed the question thoughtfully for a long moment. With only one exception, they all said “Yes, I do.”

For some individuals, the need to be remembered becomes an obsession, driving everything they do. Donald Trump is a prime example. The Trump name is emblazoned on his towers. Maybe the inspiration for this comes from the Biblical Tower of Babel. Its creators also feared they would be forgotten.

There are less expensive, less pretentious means of creating a significant legacy. Mother Teresa didn’t need a tower She inspired millions by simply caring for people who could give nothing in return, except their eternal gratitude. By doing something she considered important, she created a legacy of great value to a global audience.

I am impressed by individuals who give with no expectation or even a possibility of recognition or reward. My friend Simon, a high roller former heroin addict and trafficker, had years of jail time in his past. In the final year of his life, he was reduced to delivering pizzas. Sometimes late in the night there were undelivered pizzas at closing time. Simon asked for these and searched the dark streets and alleys for hungry homeless people. He received no reward except the inner knowledge that finally he was doing something for others.

People create legacies in a variety of ways. Bob and Diane Sterne and other citizens of Coalmont have enriched their community by lovingly restoring the nearby Granite Creek Cemetery. Each year the Princeton Traditional Music Festival, spearheaded by Jon Bartlett and Rika Ruebsaat, brings together the Similkameen community in a joyous celebration of music and dance. Jennifer Douglass and Andy English have devoted many hours to historical research, thereby inspiring support for the restoration of the Hedley cenotaph. The Keremeos Community Church blesses local people by operating a soup kitchen each Monday and Thursday. The soup is both nutritious and delicious. Lee McFadyen of Cawston was the first to establish an organic farm in the Similkameen Valley. She is committed to preserving a healthy environment for future generations.

In “A Leader’s Legacy,” James M Kouzes provides an important clue as to how we can be remembered for doing something important. He says, “when we are gone people will not remember us for what we did for ourselves. They’ll remember us for what we did for them.” He adds that “it’s the quality of our relationships that most determines if our legacy will be ephemeral or long lasting.”

In the mid 1980’s a 14 year old boy of indigenous descent was placed in the care of our organization in Hedley. One day, in the midst of some personal turmoil he was experiencing, I invited him to have coffee with me at the Nickle Plate Restaurant. During our conversation I asked if he wanted to do something important with his life. He was somewhat young to understand but when I explained, he quietly said, “yes.” At the end of his time in Hedley he was put on a Greyhound bus for the return to his home. I went to see him off, expecting we might shake hands. As I walked to the rear of the bus where he was already seated, he rose to his feet. Stepping toward me, he threw his thin arms around me. It was a warm embrace I will always treasure. Possibly I had given him a new understanding of who he was and could become.

Paul M Kouzes believes that “by asking ourselves how we want to be remembered, we plant the seeds for living our lives as if they matter.”

Hedley Museum Celebrates Stamp Mill Day

The entertainers had an attentive audience at Hedley's Stamp Mill Day.
The entertainers had an attentive audience at Hedley’s Stamp Mill Day.

Sitting in the shade of several large trees, guests at the Hedley Stamp Mill Day celebration enjoyed a sumptuous lunch on Saturday. Put on by the Hedley Historical Museum, the meal featured beef on a bun plus a variety of salads and fruit. There was a continuous line up for the 5 cent ice cream cones.

Historical researcher Jennifer Douglass had written an account of the purpose and nature of the Stamp Mill. According to Douglass, the stamps pounded relentlessly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When the Nickel Plate Mine ceased operations in 1954 and shut down the mill, there were reports of people not being able to sleep due to the silence. The account was read by Hedley Postmaster Ruth Woodin.

Harold Tuck, George Huber and Colleen Cox playing Bluegrass music.
Harold Tuck, George Huber and Colleen Cox playing Bluegrass music.

Bluegrass music was provided by the energetic and highly popular duo, George Huber and Colleen Cox of Powell River. They had invited 85 year old Harold Tuck, also of Powell River, to accompany them. Harold’s father worked underground here from 1935 to 1941. Harold was only 3 when the family moved here but still has positive memories of Hedley and returns occasionally. He plays guitar and sings bass, mostly doing country and western music. Local musician Eric Lance played guitar and added his pleasant voice and style to the group.

Terry Regier has attentive observers for his gold panning instruction.
Terry Regier has attentive observers for his gold panning instruction.

Terry Regier of Hedley offered instruction in gold panning. The sand had been “salted” with real gold flakes. Participants were definitely motivated.

Also as part of Stamp Mill Day the Seniors’ Centre offered its always well received $5.00 pancake breakfast. In addition to pancakes it features 2 eggs and 2 sausages or slices of bacon and coffee.

Sixty three guests attended the event. Judging by comments they all went home well fed and very content. Museum president, the energetic Jean Robinson, expressed great appreciation to the numerous volunteers who made the day successful and memorable.

Tulips Galore!

I’ve long been impressed by Terry Friesen’s gifting with a camera. Below are a couple of photos he took at the Yarrow Tulip Festival. For more of Terry’s photography, you can visit his website at

https://www.flickr.com/photos/131268075@N06/

Up Tulips by Terry Friesen

Storm Clouds by Terry Friesen

Iva McLaren, Everyone’s Granny

Demolition of the McLaren Home
Demolition of the McLaren Home

In 1940 William and Iva Mclaren travelled by train with their 9 children from Saskatchewan to the Lumby/Cherryville area. Hearing there were mining jobs in Hedley, they loaded furniture, children and chickens onto a truck and travelled here, hoping for a new beginning. At that time the community was a bustling gold mining centre. With their large family, William’s job at the Nickle Plate Mine was sorely needed and welcome. Last week the McLaren home, nestled among trees alongside 20 Mile Creek, was taken down. The demolition was a reminder that their simple way of life is gone forever

When Linda and I had a conversation with their granddaughter Marianne McLaren recently, we found she has fond recollections of them, especially of her grandmother. We have been told by long time residents, Derek Lilly and Terry Sawiuk, Iva was everyone’s Granny.

Talking about her grandmother’s early years, Marianne said, “Grandma was 9 and had only a grade 4 education when her parents took her out of school and sent her to a farm to help with the children and do housework. Grandfather was a worker on the same farm, but 20 years older. It took time, but they fell in love and were married.”

Marianne’s family moved to Ontario when she was 5 so she didn’t get to know her grandfather well before he passed away in 1962. She does remember that he was quiet and laid back, and let grandmother make many day to day decisions. “But there was never any doubt that he was the final authority in the home. Grandma rented their first home, the house next to the former ball park, now owned by Dave Peers.”

Marianne thinks of her Grandma as a real go getter. “She joined every group in town and, in partnership with Jean Granger, ran a bingo in the Senior’s Centre. She also opened a cafe in the building on Scott Avenue where Elef Christensen now has a store.”

Iva frequently came to the aid of ill individuals, preparing meals and cleaning their home. One of these left her some money in his will. Another, Bob MacKenzie, sold her a lot with a small house at a very good price. In 1945 the still growing McLaren clan moved into this house. Located on Webster street on the far side of the bridge over 20 mile creek, it’s still an idyllic setting.

The 1948 flood left the house perched precariously on the bank, but the family continued to live in it for a time. This was also the year Iva, now 48, delivered her 12th child. With a large family their options were limited.

When their small home on the creek became too endangered by erosion of the bank, Iva moved the family into 2 small shacks behind her cafe. In 1958-59, a son and a son in law dug a partial basement by hand and built a new house on the family’s property. Much of the lumber was hauled down from the no longer operating Mascot mine. Three years later William passed away, leaving Iva to carry on alone.

Idyllic setting of McLaren house.
Idyllic setting of McLaren house.

When Marianne returned to BC as a young woman, she and Iva sometimes did cooking projects together. One day while pickling cucumbers, Marianne observed that Grandma wasn’t measuring ingredients. Appalled at the large quantity of salt being added, she exclaimed, “Grandma, that’s far too much salt!” Nonplussed, Iva said, “It will work.”

In another cooking project Iva said, “stop using that dirty sugar!” Surprised, Marianne asked what she meant. Iva’s explanation helped her understand that with the advent of white sugar, manufacturers’ advertising had begun referring to brown sugar as “dirty.”

Grandma didn’t buy bread,” Marianne said. “She baked her own. She grew a garden and canned the produce.”

After the children were out of the home, Iva was able to relax more and have fun. “Grandma and several girlfriends began taking the bus to Vegas,” Marianne said. When I asked if they gambled, she replied, “oh yes, they gambled!”

To help Iva, Marianne’s father, Ernest McLaren, bought the property and paid maintenance expenses. When Iva was 86, her son Tommy moved her to the Legion apartments in Princeton. She passed away at age 97.

Marianne and her partner, Mark Woodcock, now own the property and will put up a new home. Undoubtedly William and Iva would be pleased.

Mark Woodcock & Marianne McLaren
Mark Woodcock & Marianne McLaren

After The Political Heavy Lifting

Book Cover photo from Amazon
Book Cover photo from Amazon

Now that we’ve done the heavy lifting, casting our ballot, where will we turn our attention next? For most of us, it likely won’t be to politics. Having pondered about whether the Liberals or the New Democrats will do the most good and the least harm, we’re ready to move on. Anyway, our democratic system encourages electors to get out of the way and permit the government to make all decisions.

There are several insidious black flies in this ointment, however. They hide behind a curtain of tradition and secrecy and bedevil politicians, federal and provincial, and also tax paying citizens. Their chilling influence is experienced by those on the government benches and also those on Opposition benches. Recently some frustrated retired politicians have drawn our attention to a number of disquieting issues in our political system, in the hope there will be change.

One of the key issues is the rigid control exercised by political parties over elected representatives at both the provincial and federal levels. Alison Loat, formerly a fellow and instructor at the University of Toronto, and billionaire businessman Michael MacMillan, have cast a glaring light on Canadian politics at the federal level. In “Tragedy in the Commons” they report on interviews with 80 former MP’s from all parties across Canada. According to Loat and MacMillan, “MP’s rarely speak out against their leader or party, fearing they will be demoted, removed from caucus, unable to fully do their jobs, or will not be considered for cabinet positions or promotions.”

One of those interviewed was Russ Powers, a former Liberal MP (2004-2006). He said, “the party tells us to say we are there to adopt national policies for the betterment of all in the country. Reality though, is we are there to adopt policies that are self-serving and beneficial to the party in order to stay in power and get re-elected. You had to adhere to the policy or endure the wrath of the Whip.”

Graham Steele, Nova Scotia’s former NDP Finance Minister, adds another unsettling thought. In “What I Learned about Politics,” he contends that “the desire to get elected drives everything a politician does.” He adds, “in politics regrettably, the undecorated truth is usually unwelcome.”

In spite of these gloomy observations by former politicians, all may not be lost. Knowing it’s extremely unusual for currently elected politicians to voice concerns regarding our political system, I was surprised to learn that a number of MP’s, representing all parties, have recently expressed their views in a new book just released last week. The title is “Turning Parliament Inside Out: Practical Ideas for Reforming Canada’s Democracy.” In a news release about the book, Samara Canada states “MP’s from all major parties and ridings across the country joined together in a rare display of unity to make change a reality, explaining why reform is so urgently needed and proposing practical, achievable suggestions for making it happen. It has chapters from MP’s Niki Ashton, Michael Chong, Michael Cooper, Nathan Cullen, Elizabeth May, Scott Simms, Kennedy Stewart and Anita Vandenbeld.”

What does this mean to us living comfortably in our beautiful Similkameen Valley? While we may consider it unlikely that we can play a part in cleaning up the political mess in Ottawa or Victoria, this may be an overly complacent, pessimistic conclusion.

We could begin by changing what we expect of politicians. When we ask, “what will you do for us,” are we not implicitly agreeing to be bribed with our own money? Understandably, politicians experience great pressure to outbid the other party. Leaders believe we are more likely to support them if they promise what we demand. To get elected and to be given consideration for committee positions, the lower ranks fall in line, even when at times those at the top make decisions that will adversely impact an unsuspecting electorate.

We need to view governance as a shared responsibility. This means we don’t ask for more than we can afford. It also means we remind our leaders that what we really value is integrity, honesty, truth, prudent decisions, etc. By shifting our focus from the material realm to a values realm, we may be able to begin a dialogue with our representatives about what is really important to us and our nation.

Graham Steele suggests that “the only person who can change our policies is the engaged citizen.”

Allan Gill, Not A Conventional Thinker

Allan Gill
Allan Gill

When former Similkameen Valley veterinarian Allan Gill expressed enthusiasm for the beauty of slugs, I thought I had misunderstood him. “You didn’t say slugs, did you?” I asked. He assured me he had. For me that was a novel concept. In the course of our conversation I was to learn he is not a conventional thinker.

Allan was 4 when his family moved to Princeton in 1943. His father, formerly a member of an elite unit in the police force, had been appointed as the local game warden. He is still fondly recalled by area seniors.

Standing at 6 feet, 4 inches, Allan has the height and robust physique of a big league quarterback. “My brother Carl and I are identical twins,” he said. “Most people can’t tell us apart.” It occurred to me that seeing 2 very tall men of identical appearance might result in a sensation of double vision.

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At UBC, Allan became interested in comparative physiology, but along with 8 others taking a first year biology course, he failed. Fortunately, he had several mentors. “The registrar, CB Wood, kind of tucked us under his wing,” he said. “Sometimes he took us to his home. I stayed in touch with him after graduating.”

Allan obtained a doctorate in veterinarian medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. Then, in the mid-eighties, he didn’t hesitate when he had an opportunity to take over a 2 day a week small animal practice in Princeton. “My base was in Kelowna where I had a full service animal hospital. I had a plane. That made it possible to serve people in a number of British Columbia communities. I also flew to the Yukon 2 times a year and went from town to town treating animals. Sometimes, especially in rural areas, people asked for advice concerning their own medical issues. Often people in out of the way places were lonely and just wanted to talk. Getting to know these people gave me a lot of joy.”

He wasn’t a small thinker. A 1-800 line enabled him to practise animal medicine across Canada. In one case a hunter deep in the bush asked about removing porky pine quills from his dog. “He knew he had to get the quills out,” Allan said, “but he hadn’t thought of checking inside his mouth and ears.”

As he talked, it became evident Allan continues to have a special place in his heart for people in the Similkameen Valley. ” I visit as often as possible. I stay in contact with about 15 people here, most of whom became friends when they brought their pets to the clinic.”

It’s probably fortuitous they enjoy visiting this area regularly. Recently Allan became aware of a rumour making the rounds in Princeton that he has Alzheimer’s. Another rumour suggested he had died. Apparently he’s one of those larger than life individuals people like to speculate about.

Animals, like people, are drawn to him. Bill Day, a part-time resident of Hedley said, “one day I took Tobi (a small black Terrier Cross he shares with partner Lynn) on a walk with Allan. When we returned, Tobi was so enamoured with Allan he wanted to go with him, not me.”

In time, Allan became intrigued by the faces of his elderly clients. “I began asking if I could photograph them,” he said. “Then I started inviting people I spotted in town.”

Among those he has photographed is Joe Bell, a sniper in the U.S. army in Vietnam. He also photographed Rollo Ceccon, a local contractor who many times moved the Princeton caboose. Last year he featured 16 of his portraits at a showing in Princeton.

Now in retirement, Allan’s curious mind continues to embrace new opportunities. One of these is x-ray floral photography. With technical assistance from collaborators who have expertise in radiology and photo manipulation, he is able to create exquisite images.

At this point he shared one of the secrets of his success in life. “I’ve had lots of help,” he said. “Over the years I’ve learned that to accomplish things, I need to find people with skills I don’t have.”

At the end of our conversation Allan Gill said, “I’m surprised that at my age I’m still fascinated by things that interested me as a 12 year old. I’m grateful I can still do things I love. I feel very, very lucky.”


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