Relationships Are Worth Nourishing

Relationships by petralukacsi.com

Although I am in regular contact with Brian, I have never met him and almost certainly never will. He’s serving a lengthy sentence in the Idaho Maximum Security Institution, a commercially operated prison. A trouble maker in the prison until quite recently, he was “bequeathed” to Linda and me by our friend Arnet Hales, who passed away last year.

With Arnet gone, we are Brian’s only connection to the world outside the high metal fence that surrounds the prison. From him and other inmates, I’ve learned something about how important it is to nourish relationships.

Maintaining outside relationships while in prison is particularly challenging. Prisons tend to have a plethora of regulations that discourage substantive interactions, even with family. U.S. prisons are especially harsh. Except for one telephone conversation, our communication with Brian has been by letter. In that single phone call from him, he said very forlornly, “I’ve done too much time. My family and friends have given up on me. I don’t know where they are anymore. I don’t blame them.” Possibly he didn’t make the effort and they didn’t either.

Having lived many years without letters or visits before Arnet’s time, Brian has become aware of the value of friendships. He invariably expresses fervent appreciation when we write.

In my work life I interviewed many inmates, many of whom, like Brian had lost all outside connections. On one occasion at the B.C. Penitentiary (since then shut down and demolished) I was required to speak with a man through a small metal mesh in a plexiglass window. Slight, with thinning brown hair and a wan, expressionless visage, everything about him suggested a deep inner desolation.

Dressed in grey prison garb, he observed me vacantly, seemingly incapable of believing any good would come from this conversation. 18 years in prison had apparently taken away all zest for life. Even so, he wanted a friend and had applied to our organization for a citizen sponsor.

I’ve come to understand that prison walls and regulations are not the only obstacles to communication. Most of us at times erect relationship barriers, intentionally or through neglect. Pressures at work, disagreements at home, discouragement, or complacency can distract us from what is really significant. I know one individual who will not accept a telephone call when her favorite tv program is on. In-depth conversations become more difficult when people continuously send and receive text messages.

Linda and I have been guilty of permitting relationships to languish. When we first moved to Hedley in the late 1970’s, we were too preoccupied with work and family to maintain important friendships we had left behind in the Fraser Valley. Due to lack of attention, they withered.

Dr. Mensa Otabil
ghanacelebrities.com

Reflecting back on that time, we realize that Dr. Mensa Otabil was right when he wrote in Pathways To Success, “90% of the people in your life today will not be there in 10 years.”

Fortunately, when an employment change took us back to Abbotsford for some 25 years, we were able to restore many of the relationships we had neglected. When we returned to Hedley 5 years ago, we decided we would not repeat past negligence. In the hope of retaining and adding to our connections, we began writing an email letter to family and friends every 2 months.

Mostly they talk about life in this rustic, somewhat remote community. If Linda is baking brown bread or chocolate chip cookies, we write about the aroma and anticipation. When we still had 3 chickens, they received respectful, occasionally disgruntled mention. We have written about the popular monthly $5 pancake breakfasts at the Seniors’ Centre, the Museum’s Stamp Mill Day celebrating Hedley’s gold boom past, and the Community Club’s summer street dance.

The content of these letters is never sensational. Writing about small town life in a manner that interests our more sophisticated city friends can be daunting. Their responses at times do cause us to ponder. Some provide a sketch of daily routines, challenges, adventures. Many write only a few lines but want to stay in touch. Others never respond but when we meet them, they express appreciation for the letters. “We’re not good communicators,” they say, “but we like reading about your lives in Hedley. Keep the letters coming.”

Staying in touch need not be arduous. A phone call, card, email or visit lets people know we value their friendship. Relationships are worth nourishing.

Recent Arrivals A Benefit To Hedley

Our new neighbours in Hedley, Dian & Tap.

At the beginning of 2017 a number of homes in Hedley were for sale. Linda and I hoped for an influx of quality people willing to commit to our community. By the end of the year almost every for sale sign had come down and it appears our wish has been granted.

Among the new people are our next door neighbours, Tap Nevalainen and Dian McKusick, who moved from Maple Ridge in August. They have very quickly acquired a deep appreciation for the simplicity and peacefulness of rural life. “We lived near railway tracks,” Dian told us. “There were train whistles all night. I had difficulty sleeping.”

Both had experienced a failed relationship when they met in a bar 6 years ago. “I had decided I’d never do that again,” Di told us. Tap wasn’t looking either, but admits he was smitten quickly. “It was pretty close to love at first sight.” Di nodded and said, “It was the same for me.”

Like most of the new emigres to our community, Tap and Di have been matured and tempered by life experiences. Until they made their move to Hedley, Tap worked in construction, building high rise apartment buildings, at times 40 to 50 stories. “I was foreman overseeing the construction of the foundations,” he said. “All the concrete work. On the last building, we dug down 6 levels. On these projects there is always water to deal with.”

Tap was 13 when he moved with his parents from Finland to Canada. Having a pragmatic bent, he knew at a young age he wanted to be a carpenter. “I quit school after grade 10. That was enough to get me into an apprentice program when I turned 19. I didn’t see a need for more education.”

At age 12, Di learned from a sister she was a foster child, not the biological daughter of her parents. “It was a huge shock. She also told me my birth mother had just been found murdered. I first met my biological father and siblings at a Catholic prayer time for my mother.”

Deeply troubled by the unexpected revelations, her life spiraled downward and she ran away. “I was mixed up and didn’t understand. I was unhappy with school and myself.” Unable to cope with Di’s erratic behaviours, her mother enrolled her in the school at Convent of the Sacred Heart, hoping this would settle her. It proved to be an ineffective solution. Di was then placed in a group home where she lived until age 18.

She didn’t become bitter toward the family. “I consider myself lucky, ” she said, “I didn’t get moved around like a lot of foster kids. They are my family and I have a lot of contact with them.”

Di attended school only to grade 7. At age 16 she began working weekends in a rest home, preparing breakfast and dinner for residents, giving medications and doing other tasks. Her husband’s business took her to Quebec for 25 years. When the relationship collapsed she returned to B.C. “I was determined to prove I could make it on my own. I cleaned houses and high rises. On weekends I cleaned at Canada Place.”

Meanwhile, for about 30 years, Tap was a foreman on high rise construction. Getting the foundation exactly right was crucial. He needed to develop the thinking to deal with complex challenges, some of them people related. “It’s nasty out there in big construction,” he said. “The people can make your life miserable. I’m very happy to be out of there.”

Tap, holding one of his rustic birdhouses.

Now in Hedley Tap is again in construction, building dwellings for birds. With Di’s deft decorating skills, each house becomes an intricate work of art, with an alluring rustic aura. It’s a great common ground for them.

Di decorates Tap’s creations.

Until I met Tap, I didn’t think I’d ever be happy again,” Di said. “Moving to Hedley and doing the birdhouses together has been good for us. I’m very happy.”

Like most of those who migrated here in 2017, Tap and Di show up at community functions, including the early morning coffee time at the Seniors’ Centre. They intend to volunteer their time and talents to assist local organizations. Very likely other rural centres are benefiting from a similar influx of solid contributing citizens. Many come with experience, ideas, and skills that will make communities more attractive, and enrich us all.

The Grahams of Hedley

Maggie Graham Pitkethly (photo taken in 1970)

Over the years I’ve heard plenty of speculation by Hedley oldtimers as to how Bill and Maggie Graham found the means to purchase the Colonial Inn after the mine closed. Maggie had worked as a housekeeper for the mine. Bill had operated an ore crusher in the Stamp Mill at the base of the mountain. It was generally known they had not come with money. Since none of the speculations could be verified, I decided they were a rural version of urban myth.

When I learned recently the Grahams’ daughter Maureen and her husband Campbell Dirksen live in Keremeos, I immediately called them and asked if they would talk with Linda and me.

In their comfortable home with a spectacular view of the valley and mountains, we enjoyed Maureen’s rich blend of coffee and delightful blueberry scones. We would learn she and Campbell have an impressive grasp of details from the past.

My dad, Bill Graham came from Scotland,” Maureen told us at the outset. “Mom was born in Hedley in 1909, in the house that still stands at the corner of Daly and Irene. Her father, Anton Winkler, owned several hotels, including the Grand Union, one of 6 in town. Over the years all burned down. My parents were married in 1935.”

The Inn was purchased first by Dr. Moore, a dentist who used it for his practice. When the mine shut down operations in 1955, the miners mostly moved on. Having few clients in town, Dr. Moore sold the Inn to the Grahams about a year and a half later.

Where did they get that amount of money?” I asked, hoping they could shed light on this local mystery.

Dad asked the Kelowna Exploration Company for permission to clean up the dust left behind from the mining operation,” Maureen said. “He was the only one who thought there must be gold in that dust. They gave him a profit sharing contract.”

Campbell picked up the story. “With a broom and wheel barrow, he swept up the dust in the Stamp Mill. He removed the floor boards and swept under them. All told, he collected enough dust to fill 8 tram line cars. He had it sent by train from Princeton to Everett, Washington. It took 3 years.”

It turned out there was a lot of gold in all that dust,” Maureen recalled. “Even after the mine got its share, my parents were able to buy the Inn and also send me and my brother to college in Vancouver.”

Bill and Maggie ran the Inn as a lodge and restaurant. Maureen has warm memories of working in the kitchen with her red headed, vivacious Mom. “She taught me everything I know. I baked 12 loaves of bread every day. People wanted to buy them but we needed them all. Our blueberry pies were very popular. We received letters from all over the world from satisfied guests.”

Famous people like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Governor Generals, and former Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas came by for a meal and sometimes stayed overnight.

One time Bing Crosby said we should have a juke box. Mom teased him, saying she wouldn’t have any Bing Crosby records in it anyway. She was good with people. Very friendly and she always remembered names of guests when they returned. She often picked up hitch hikers and brought them to the restaurant and gave them a meal. Sometimes she put them up overnight.”

Eight years after buying the Inn, the Grahams also acquired the Coach House, located at the rear of the property, near the Stamp Mill. “People were removing doors and windows and other items,” Campbell said. “It required a lot of repairs.” Unfortunately in 1971, Kelowna Exploration Co. had the iconic stamp mill burned due to liability concerns.

Bill died of cancer in 1968. About 5 years later Maggie married David Pitkethly, a wealthy businessman who stopped regularly for a meal at the Colonial Inn.

In July, 1975 Maggie and Maureen were collecting rocks on a mountainside. Without warning, a large boulder broke loose above them and came hurtling down toward the two women. Without thought for her own safety, Maggie pushed Maureen out of its path. She didn’t have time to get out of the way herself and was killed instantly.

At the end of our conversation with the Dirksens, Linda and I were convinced Bill and Maggie Graham played a significant role in Similkameen history. Their story is authentic, not an urban or rural myth.

On The Threshold Of 2018

www.mun.ca

I was sitting at the computer in my home office, contemplating the fact that we’re on the threshold of 2018. Several scenes from my past stirred restlessly within me, reminding me to not enter the new year with a sense of complacency.

In the first scene it was spring, and I was seated cross legged on a rock at the edge of the Similkameen River. Because this was a year of unusually heavy run-off, the icy water rushed by me with immense force. Alongside the turbulence, in a small sheltered eddy I noticed two chunks of driftwood, bumping repeatedly against the rocks, going nowhere. These pieces of driftwood reminded me of an earlier time in my life.

A number of round faced men in drab grey garb were sitting on hard wooden benches against a long metal hut. Desolate and unfocused, they sat unmoving, as purposeless as discarded mannequins. Sometimes they waited hours in the bright warm sun for the most significant event in their day, the next meal. These men were federal prisoners in a medium security penitentiary.

Like the chunks of driftwood, the unstirring grey figures with their vacant unsmiling visages had long ago sought the safety of quiet waters. Perpetually anxious, they were unsettled by the questions, decisions and rigours of life they would need to deal with upon release. Although loath to acknowledge it, the only place they felt somewhat secure was inside the high chain link metal fence surrounding them.

Still observing the two chunks of driftwood floating aimlessly in the secluded eddy at the edge of the river, it occurred to me that quiet water holds no excitement, no challenge, and no fulfillment. In its apparent safety, nothing grows except smelly, green stagnation.

Bending over, I reached for one of the chunks of driftwood and hurled it with all my strength into the midst of the rushing river. It was suddenly seized and energized by the might of the current. I watched with a sense of wonder as it sailed triumphantly around the next bend and out of sight.

That liberated piece of driftwood brought to my consciousness yet another scene that has for many years intrigued me. This scene came from a Bowron Lakes canoe expedition in the wilderness near Barkerville some years ago. We were 12 in number, 3 leaders and 9 adolescent boys.

As we emerged that Thursday morning from the fast flowing, potentially treacherous waters of the Bowron River onto Lanezie Lake, a powerful headwind was already whipping up the waves, stinging our faces with cold spray. In spite of strenuous paddling, our 6 yellow frontiersman canoes bobbed like corks on the unruly water, scarcely moving. Hemmed in by mountains that descended to the very edge of the lake, we could not hope for refuge there.

Our usually boisterous boys grew eerily quiet. Concerned they might panic, I looked for a means of bolstering their spirits and overcoming my own anxiety.

Some might deem it nonsensical, but I started to sing, “row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.” I’ve never been nominated for any singing award, but in this situation it didn’t matter. At first the boys seemed puzzled, then two joined in. Their voices weren’t much better than mine, but in the blowing wind, who cared. “Row, row, row your boat.” Soon we were all singing, whooping, and paddling like mad voyageurs from another time. We became lusty and strong, free of fear.

“Shooting the Rapids”, painting by Francis Ann Hopkins (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/02774f)

I looked at the 2 straining, sweating boys in the canoe closest to me. Both were grinning. They were having too much fun to be scared.

Three hours later we were in the safety of our rustic camp, tents set up, fire burning brightly and warm food in our bellies. Surrounded by the deep darkness of the wilderness, the boys were sitting around the fire talking quietly. I sensed today’s experience had made them more aware of the strength, resilience and courage residing within them, waiting to be called upon. They had contended with danger, and had learned they could overcome.

Although these scenes are from my distant past, they are indelibly imprinted on my subconscious mind. They remind me that even though I no longer have the vibrant strength and energy of those years, and the challenges have changed, if I want significance and excitement in 2018, I still must avoid life’s quiet waters.

Only A Child, Only At Christmas

Taegert, B.C. 1979. It was Christmas Eve in Taegert, a small remote former gold mining community in northern B.C. Snow had begun IMG_0742falling steadily the previous night and the mountains surrounding our little town were now bedecked with a soft white mantel. Through the still falling snow,  plumes of grey wood smoke streamed upward from chimneys into the dark sky.

My wife and I leaned forward, pressing into the chill north wind flinging snow into our cold faces. Not far ahead snow laden figures loomed out of the whiteness of the night. We were all hurrying, adults and children, to get a good seat at the Christmas Eve celebration in the community hall.

We arrived to find the hall already packed with a boisterous crowd. The only place was along the back wall with other stragglers. Outside, cold snow hurled itself at the hall, but inside it was toasty. The ancient pot bellied wood stove was working its magic. In one corner an enormous fir tree, with lights, ornaments and tinsel encouraged a holiday spirit.

The program MC, Marty Dyke, slipped from behind a curtain at the left end of the stage. She was a robust woman, something her loose, bright red dress could not hide. With a hearty laugh and booming voice, she said, “ Welcome to our community’s 38th Christmas concert.” Then she turned to the side of the stage where she had entered. “ Without further adieu, let’s put our hands together and bring on the famous Jones family!” There was clapping, hollering and stamping of feet.

The Jones clan came hustling on stage with guitars, fiddles, harmonicas and a banjo. Grandpa Jones began belting out the tunes and his whole lusty clan backed him up like they were on stage at Nashville, Tennessee. Pretty quick folks were smiling and singing along. A few pretty young girls in bright dresses danced in the aisles. It was a Christmas hootenanny. Marty always introduced them first because they knew how to stir up the crowd’s Christmas spirit.

Everyone settled down when 11 year old Susie Thomas began telling about the baby Jesus born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger. “It happened in a stable,” she said, “and there were probably sheep and donkeys watching. And shepherds came from taking care of their flocks in the fields.” She seemed awed by the event. Susie was followed by Mrs. Brown reading her latest Christmas poem.

Everyone was having a grand time. Everyone except me, that is. Just before the program started, Marty Dyke had whispered to me, “I’ve asked your friend J.K. Barnabas to bring his guitar and sing two or three tunes at the end. Be a fine way to wrap up the evening, don’t you think?” It was too late to change things, so I remained silent.

I was concerned because J.K.’s a black man. A big old white haired blues singer who used to perform in bars in cities like Winnipeg, Vancouver and Seattle. Not that anyone in Taegert would object to him singing blues, or to him being black. No one that is, except Gerhardt Gruber. And, in a way, old Gruber had a pretty good reason for not liking black men. He had nothing against black women.

In the big war back in the forties, he and his son were in the same company in the German Wehrmacht. In close combat, a black Yankee soldier shot the son dead right in front of Gruber. He’s been bitter against black men since that day.

That’s why I was troubled about J.K. Barnabas getting in front of this crowd. Gruber might have a flashback. What if he did something crazy? J.K. isn’t a well man. He doesn’t need that.

While my mind was thinking about these things, the evening was flying by. Now Marty called on J.K. He walked to the front slowly and sat down on a hard wooden bench. After taking a moment to adjust the guitar strings, he grinned at the children in the front row and launched into a frisky rendition of Frosty the Snowman. Next he pleased the crowd with Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer. Everyone cheered when he was done, but not Gruber.

Then the raucous, buoyant mood was gone and he seemed to forget we were there. He drifted into a tune I was sure he had written himself.

“I woke up this mornin’ and the sun, it didn’t shine,
Was sittin’ in my room all alone, didn’t have one friend I could say was mine.
Too many nights in the bars, too many days on the road, now this body’s gettin’ old.
Snow’s fallin’ and I’m feelin’ mighty low, oh yes, I’m feelin’ mighty low.
My little baby’s gone.
She’s grown up big, don’t come to her daddy no more to play.
Sure has broke this old man’s heart.
Oh Yeah, sure has broke this old man’s heart.”

Then he was quiet, still sitting on the bench, a lonely old blues man. A single tear rolled slowly down one cheek.

A hush fell over the hall, and no one cheered or moved. It seemed everyone was expecting something to happen.

I heard the rustle of a dress and I looked to my left where old Gruber was sitting, arms crossed over his chest and face hard as the barrel of a German army rifle. Before he could stop her, his pretty little granddaughter had slipped off his lap and was running to where the white haired J.K. Barnabas was sitting.

Gruber's granddaughter offering her baby to Mr. JK
Gruber’s granddaughter offering her baby to Mr. JK

“Here, Mr. J.K.” she said, holding a little blond doll toward him. “Take my baby. She’ll make you happy. I have more babies at home.”

I think everyone stopped breathing and looked at old Gruber. His stiff white Wehrmacht moustache made him look real serious.

And then it happened. Gruber got up. Using his cane, he walked unsteadily to where his granddaughter and JK. were. He sat down on the bench next to J.K. and lifted the little girl onto the black man’s lap. Although he wasn’t a religious man, far as I knew, he began singing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht,” in his native German, his sweet tenor carrying the words throughout the hall. After hesitating a moment, the old blues man joined his deep baritone to Gruber’s tenor.

“Silent night. Holy night. All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon virgin mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace.”

Then everyone was singing, and when the song was done, I saw men and women laughing and crying, shaking hands and embracing. At the front of the room, I saw the old black man and the old German army officer rise and embrace.

Taegert was never quite the same again. There was more of a sense of peace. And that’s why I say, “Only a child could have accomplished what happened in our little town that night. And only at Christmas.”

(first published Dec. 2014)

Foundation Fosters Change

Gerry & Julie Beauchemin, a “Foundation” success story.

There was at one time a small cabal of disgruntled elderly men in Hedley who wanted local people to believe the One Way Adventure Foundation was a cult. I would have been interested in their reaction had they been present when Gerry and Julie Beauchemin told Linda and me about the impact of the “Foundation” on their lives.

I’m surprised I’m alive today,” Gerry began. Sitting beside him on the couch in their Penticton home, Julie nodded and said, “I was mixing drugs and alcohol. I wanted to slowly and surely die. I hoped to escape life.”

The organization was established in Surrey in 1973 by Len and Jean Roberts, who until recently lived in Princeton. Their goal was to engage troubled teens in challenging activities, develop positive relationships and point them to a more productive life. They purchased the Hedley property to provide housing and free the youths from unhealthy city distractions and influences.

For Gerry, as with a lot of youths in care, home was not a sanctuary. “My mom died of cancer when I was 10,” he said. “Dad married a woman who had 2 kids. She didn’t like me. Her kids could do no wrong, I could do no right. Dad was away at work a lot and my life began unraveling. Pretty soon only kids with their own home problems would accept me. We stole cars and did B & E’s.”

Deeming him out of control in the community, his Probation Officer sent Gerry to the House of Concord in Langley, then to Outward Bound, at that time near Keremeos. Things didn’t improve and out of desperation Gerry was sent to the Foundation’s Surrey location. For 8 months he lived in a staff home, which he preferred over his parents’ home. He participated in the program but continued to create havoc with his street friends. “That’s why Len sent me to Hedley,” he said with just the hint of a smile.

For Julie, home was not a sanctuary either. “My dad was a problem for me,” she said. “I didn’t feel safe around him. Mom kept quiet. My brothers and I tried to poison her. I roamed the streets with a knife up my sleeve. Alcohol, and medications I stole from drug stores dulled my inner pain. When I OD’d, the Fire Department saved my life. ”

Julie’s chaotic, unruly street lifestyle prompted her harried PO to send her to Hedley. “We did rappelling, rock climbing and chimneying,” she said, “also a 2 week canoe expedition on the Bowron Lakes.”

When I turned 17,” she continued, “my P.O. put me in the Foundation’s adult program in Surrey. I lived with Len and Jean Roberts. They became like parents to me. I still call Jean mom.”

Now Gerry nodded agreement. “When I came to Surrey for a weekend,” he recalled, “I went to Len and Jean’s place, not to my parents. From them, and from Jim, my worker in Hedley, I learned about unconditional love. They didn’t reject me when I caused trouble. I wanted to earn their trust.”

When a worker with a Black Belt began teaching karate, Gerry joined. He trained rigorously, and eventually achieved his own Black Belt.

Gerry and Julie agreed participating in challenging recreation and work projects developed their confidence. Observing positive interactions between couples and how they dealt with their children enlarged their understanding of family. “Everything really changed in a big way when I let God come into my life,” Gerry said. “It was that way for me too,” Julie added.

As young adults, they applied to enter the Foundation’s Leadership School and were accepted. In time Gerry became a creative and trusted program coordinator, respected by the youths he worked with. Julie was a leader in the girls program.

With growing maturity and an understanding they didn’t need to repeat the errors of their parents, they married in 1980. Today they have 3 daughters and 8 grandchildren, all doing well. Gerry is currently on longterm disability due to an earlier back injury. Julie has worked at Walmart since 2006.

Leaving their past behind and striving to develop into responsible, contributing citizens has been an arduous journey at times, but they have persevered. “We work at our relationship,” Gerry told us. “And we work at who we are,” Julie added. The aforementioned disgruntled cabal of elderly men might be impressed.

Dianne Watts, A Proven Leader

Dianne Watts

Can Dianne Watts, popular and highly regarded former mayor of Surrey, win leadership of the B.C. Liberal Party? When she announced her candidacy, one front runner in the leadership race quickly labeled her an “outsider.” Outsiders are rarely welcomed by those grasping the levers of power.

In a telephone conversation with Watts last week, I asked if being perceived as an outsider is an asset or a liability. “It’s an asset,” she responded without hesitation. “I don’t have to explain the budget.” She was, of course, referring to the desperate Liberal attempt to stay in office by unabashedly adopting much of the NDP platform in their doomed final budget.

My interest in Watts’ candidacy stems from a concern that the former cabinet ministers, if elected, would almost certainly not represent a positive change from the past. They have said publicly, “we stopped listening to the people.” Steeped in this stultifying culture of political deafness, have they now been given a miraculous desire to listen? Was their initial post-election hand-wringing an indication of repentance, or of sorrow at losing power?

Examining Watts’ personal and political history, I came to understand she definitely wasn’t given a free pass to success. Talking about her early years she told me “I was a classic case of a kid at risk and a runaway.  By age 17 I was on my own. The time came when I knew I’d have to choose which path I wanted to take. Difficult experiences can make us stronger if we choose to move forward. I chose to move forward.”

When she worked on a friend’s political campaign, some well connected individuals urged her to run for Surrey Council. She won a seat in 1996 and in 2005 defeated entrenched mayor, Doug McCallum. Watts needed all her grit, stamina and leadership skills to win over a hostile council.

A former MLA who at times worked closely with Watts said, “She was very good to work with. She knew what she didn’t know and asked questions. She organized a very successful Economic and Social Development conference. Dianne was strong on the anti-gang file. She also did a lot to change Surrey’s reputation as the welfare capital of B.C. She has excellent political instincts.”

A January, 2013 editorial in The Province observed “… in Watts you have a politician who listens to and works for voters, versus a provincial government that does things to voters, while refusing to hear them. Watts name always comes up whenever people talk about who would make a good premier.”

After establishing a solid track record as mayor, she didn’t run in 2014. She subsequently won the South Surrey-White Rock seat in Parliament. “Resigning your seat and running for the leadership seems pretty risky,” I suggested. “Why take that risk?”

Staying in Parliament would have been easier,” she agreed. “It was about my connection to the province. I saw the frustration across the province, the disappointment.”

Looking ahead she said, “when you’re elected, you’re in service to the people. I entered the leadership race to effect change, to change peoples’ lives for the better. To do that we need to rebuild and refresh the party. We need to rebuild the trust. Politics is a mechanism to do the work that needs to be done. If elected, I will work with caucus to develop a viable plan for the entire province.”

What does she believe needs to be done? “Among other things, we need to make housing more affordable. Affordability isn’t just a Lower Mainland issue. We need to give more attention to seniors issues, mental health, addiction, and Alzheimer’s. The time has come to strengthen partnerships between local communities and the province.”

As mayor of Surrey, Watts developed a pretty decent record. She was named 4th best mayor in the world by the UK based City Mayors Foundation. Surrey had the lowest residential and business tax rates in Metro Vancouver. She became known for taking good ideas off the drawing board and turning them into reality.

Watts’ track record suggests she has the leadership skills, understanding of government, and authenticity the B.C. Liberal Party needs to again become a viable option citizens can trust and vote for.

To support her leadership bid requires membership in the BC Liberal party. Deadline to join is December 29, 2017. For further information, google Dianne Watts or phone 604-265-9846.

Jody Woodford, Proud of Tulameen Fire Department

Jody Woodford, Chief of Tulameen Fire Department

Considering Jody Woodford’s chaotic early home life, I would not have guessed she would one day be chief of the Tulameen Fire Department. “We lived in the Yukon for about 10 years,” she told Linda and me. “My father was a heavy equipment operator. We lived in a school bus and every time Dad was sent to a new job, we moved. Sometimes my sister and brother and I went to a school for a week and then we moved. One year we moved 10 times.”

In spite of the family’s lacklustre circumstances, there was a positive thread. “Mom and Dad wanted us to have a better life. They wanted us to be resourceful, resilient and independent. We were a tightly knit family and when our parents had health problems, us kids accepted a lot of responsibility.”

Her Dad was a big man, close to 500 pounds. “He drove fast and was hard on transmissions. When I was 13, my two younger siblings and I changed the transmission on our Chevette. Dad coached us at every step.”

Her father’s health began to fail and in 1983 the family moved to Princeton where she graduated from high school in 1988. “I enrolled in a heavy transport mechanics course,” she said. “I did the practical training and got my papers. By then Dad had terminal cancer and Mom’s health wasn’t great. My parents had bought a small home in Coalmont, their first ever. The foundation consisted of cottonwood stumps. I went there to take care of Dad. It was just something we had learned at home. Dad died in 1993.”

Her mother didn’t have the income to make the mortgage payments so Jody and her sister worked and by 1995 the home was paid for. Then a flood destroyed the home. “There was no insurance, so my sister, brother and I began building a new house for Mom,” Jody said. “I studied books to learn how. Our neighbours helped and the building inspector gave us advice. It was a community project and Mom got her first brand new home ever. That was my beginning in carpentry, which is how I now make a living.”

Physically strong and willing to contribute to her community, she was asked in 1998 to join the Tulameen Fire Department. “For the first 17 years the Fire Department paid only for basic training. I took extra courses and paid for them myself. I wanted to have the knowledge to do the job.”

Ten years ago the department needed a new chief, but no one stepped forward. By this time Jody was probably the most qualified member of the department. “It scared me,” she said, “but I accepted the position.” At that time there was no remuneration for going out on calls.

Jody Woodford & the Tulameen Fire Department

It’s a team effort,” she stressed. “I’m very lucky to be working with committed firefighters. The community has been great too. We work together to make things happen. We have year round bottle drives. We put on dances and sell fire wood. The whole valley gets involved in fund raising. In the beginning they used a septic truck to haul water. Now we have 3 trucks. In February we took delivery of a new Freightliner. We turned an impossibility into a possibility.”

Being Chief requires her to be strong in crises. “I’m pretty emotional but there are times when I have to be a rock,” she admitted. “It was extremely hard when a very close friend, a fellow fire fighter was killed in a car accident.”

It became clear to me that Jody has reflected on her life and gleaned insights. “Some people allow themselves to be consumed by their circumstances. At home us kids learned we could make better choices. From my friend who died I learned I should get to know people, and not make assumptions.”

She is proud of the Fire Department and the community that has worked and sacrificed to strengthen and modernize it. She values the opportunity to grow. “It has enabled me to help people in crises situations,” she said. “Sometimes I’m as scared as they, but I have to act in spite of the fear.”

Living in a bus, changing schools repeatedly and not being able to develop lasting early friendships, could have caused Jody to flounder. Instead, she chose to view her life experiences as preparation to take on greater challenges in the future.

Jody & her siblings are still close. This is a gingerbread house she created with her niece and nephew last Christmas.

Corky Evans, Not Jaded Or Bitter

Corky Evans (photo supplied by Corky Evans)

After a 2 hour telephone conversation with former provincial cabinet minister Corky Evans, I concluded that unlike some retired politicians, he has not become disappointed, jaded or bitter. Certainly it could have turned out otherwise. But now living with Helen Sebelius, his partner of 15 years, he retains a wonderful sense of humour and laughs easily.

I was born in California and grew up in Berkley,” he said. “There were angry protests by university students against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war. My wife and I were troubled by the unrest so we took our 2 daughters and moved to Canada. Our son was born shortly after we arrived. I had no money, no college education and I didn’t speak French. But I was willing to work.” Looking back now, he feels his experience as a stevedore, logger and heavy equipment operator later gave him an understanding of people in a variety of circumstances.

.Corky managed to buy 5 acres on the Slocan River and built a house. With a note of pleasure in his voice he said,”for 20 years I got to be a logger.”

“Against the Wind Farm” on the Slocan River.

In 1975 he became a Canadian citizen and joined the NDP. His community activities suggest his motivation in politics was not greed, a thirst for power, or prestige. Seeing the need to control the devastation created by large logging operations and wanting to protect forests and water, he became immersed in the Slocan Valley Forest Management project. It was at this time that Corky began to demonstrate a willingness to speak publicly against corporate disregard for the environment and government inaction. He was becoming one of that all too rare breed that will not remain silent, even when others hesitate.

Realizing an elected position would give him a stronger voice in community issues, he ran for a position on the Central Kootenay Regional District government. He earned a measure of trust and served 3 terms, growing in political awareness, instinct and courage. All attributes he would need at the provincial level.

His willingness to publicly speak on significant local issues was attracting attention. Only in his late 20’s, he was urged to seek the NDP nomination for the Nelson/Creston riding in the 1986 provincial election. “I worked hard and won the nomination,” he said. “I was quite well known locally, but not in Creston.”

A friend suggested he enter a car in the Creston Demolition Derby because it was the big event of the year. “Social Credit was strong in the area so I bought a puppet of Bill Vanderzalm and attached it to the front of an old vehicle. I hoped other contestants wouldn’t smash the radiator. I also attached a puppet of Mike Harcourt on the rear, thinking they would focus on it. I placed third in the derby and won $20.00.” His participation wasn’t enough though, and he lost the election by a narrow margin.

He subsequently ran in four more elections, and lost only in the 2001 rout of the NDP. Although named to high profile cabinet positions like health, transportation, and agriculture, he found time for local issues and played a key role in developing the Columbia Basin Trust. “Sometimes I think of it as my child,” he said.

He believed MLA’s should be permitted to disagree with the party leader. Even though it was politically dangerous, he spoke publicly in defense of Bob Simpson when party leader Carole James booted Simpson out of caucus for criticizing her. Another time some MLA’S met with James privately to suggest a leadership review. At a caucus meeting she had staff hand out yellow ribbons to MLA’s not involved in this request, thereby singling out the “culprits.” When she castigated them publicly, Corky spoke strongly in their defense. He didn’t hesitate to jeopardize his own position in caucus.

Helen was concerned about Corky’s health because he had already dealt with heart issues and a bout with cancer. Prior to the 2009 election she asked, “Do you want to die in the legislature or do you want to die on your tractor?” This question clarified his thinking and he realized he wanted to die in his community, not with strangers.

Helen grows cut flowers on “Against the Wind Farm”.

Now living on their “Against the Wind Farm” alongside the Slocan River, Corky grows organic blueberries, potatoes and squash, and raises turkeys. Helen grows cut flowers. It’s a wonderful life,” he said.

Corky Evans enjoys working on the “Against the Wind Farm”.

Gerry St. Germain, Making A Difference

Gerry St. Germain at Stirling Creek Ranch, Hedley, BC

Former federal cabinet minister and Canadian Senator, Gerry St. Germain knows the feeling of being underestimated. In a conversation with Linda and me in his home at the Stirling Creek Ranch, not far from Hedley, he said, “many years ago I started dating a young woman. Her parents told her to stay away from me. He’s got Indian blood in him they said, and he won’t amount to anything.” This turned out to be fortuitous. In time he met and married Margaret, who became his lifelong partner in many adventures.

I was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba,” Gerry began. “My parents were renting a small cabin. The night they brought me home it was snowing and windy. The next morning my blanket was covered with snow. We were poor.”

He developed a way of looking at his circumstances that could be a beneficial template for youths today. “I got a lot of encouragement and help from the people in my life,” he said with evident conviction. “My mom and dad, my grandparents, and the whole family were my mentors, my support system. I learned to accept their counsel and to change.”

He also gives credit to the Grey Nuns and the Jesuits who educated him. “In one test,” he recalled, “the passing mark was 50 per cent. I got 65. They wouldn’t let me go home because I had not tried hard. I realized they were right. They were the best teachers.”

Gerry began setting goals early. “I knew I wanted to be a pilot, I knew I wanted to be a policeman. I also wanted to own a cattle ranch one day.”

At age 17 he enlisted in the Canadian Air Force. Not knowing he was being timed, he failed a written test. Even so, he told the officer he wanted to be an air controller. “No,” the officer said. “You will be washing trucks.” When he wrote the test again later, he achieved a high mark and went on to be a jet pilot. “It’s the best life,” he said. “I learned leadership skills that I wish we could impart to kids today.”

He still felt the call to law enforcement and in time joined the Vancouver police force. “I was an undercover cop assigned to the 100 block East Hastings beat. I learned to be tough. That’s what the people there respect.”

In the 1970’s, as real estate developers, he and his partner pre-sold several lots with a handshake for $40,000 each. When the prospectus came out, they were valued at $80,000. “We could have backed out, but I insisted we honour the deal. Word got around and it gave me a lot of credibility.”

His impressive success in business attracted attention and in 1983 he was urged to seek the Progressive Conservative nomination for the Mission-Port Moody riding, an NDP stronghold. At a large political gathering, wearing his signature stetson and not dressed in an expensive business suit like many of those present, he told people he intended to put his name forward and win in the coming by-election. Bob Ransford, later his trusted assistant and lifelong friend, initially dismissed him as a country bumpkin. He drew aside a cabinet minister and asked, “Who is this cowboy and who does he think he is? He doesn’t have a chance of winning.”

Gerry did win and in Ottawa became a friend of Brian Mulroney. The PM liked his fluency in English and French. He was appointed Caucus Chair and became known for his ability to fix sticky situations.

Later in his political career, he was named to the Senate and it was here he became active on behalf of Indigenous people. A Metis himself, he used the prestige of his position and his personal credibility to help bands develop alliances to negotiate more successfully with large corporations.

Now retired from politics, he is active part-time on the ranch and energetically supports Indigenous causes.

Gerry turned 80 last week. Looking back he told us, “It really isn’t about me. Margaret played an integral part in my achievements. People loved her. People took time to help me. Also, I have 3 heroes who inspire me to live with integrity and hope. They are Jesus Christ, Mother Teresa, and Terry Fox.” For more about his numerous contributions to Indigenous people and all Canadians, I suggest reading his excellent biography, I Am A Metis.

A small town perspective on people, community, politics and environment.