Mennonite Metis On A Harley

Andrea Dan on her Harley

When Andrea Dan pulled into the gathering of cousins in Kelowna, the low growl of her Harley attracted my attention. I knew of her but we had never talked. Her chaotic lifestyle had permitted only limited contact with family. The motorcycle and her demeanor suggested an independent spirit.

The occasion was an annual event hosted by my Aunt Nettie, her effort to keep the family together. I don’t recall Andrea ever attending previously. During a brief conversation, she agreed to meet with Linda and me in Abbotsford a few days hence.

Andrea was the offspring of a man of French descent and an indigenous woman. She was placed in foster care at 6 months. In her fourth year, Social Services placed her and 2 sisters temporarily with my Uncle Peter and Aunt Nettie, who already had 4 sons and a daughter. Ten days later at the court hearing, the mother didn’t show up. The girls were left with my uncle and aunt, who attended a Mennonite church and practised a simple, conservative lifestyle.

I was a rebel from an early age,” Andrea admitted. “I didn’t like the family rules and I refused to obey them. There were turbulent scenes.”

Although she brought almost continuous havoc into the home, she came to think of her foster parents as mom and dad. “It got really out of hand when I stole Mom’s engagement ring. She was deeply hurt and told me I’d have to live elsewhere until I was ready to respect the home.”

For 3 years she lived with foster parents in 100 Mile House, then returned home, pregnant and in need of support. “Mom and Dad loved me and helped me through that time,” she said. “I wasn’t ready to settle down though. I was still a rebel. I still wanted freedom from rules.”

There were 5 marriages. I walked away from the first 3. My third husband tried to kill me in an automobile accident. I spent months in a trauma unit. Mom and Dad urged me to come home. They nursed me back to health. They saved my life.”

Although she returned to her chaotic lifestyle after each disaster, she stayed in touch with the family.

My fourth husband walked out on me. That was painful. The fifth marriage lasted 15 years, but only because I was too scared to leave. My husband was completely controlling. He told me when I could work and when I couldn’t. It was always a huge fight when I wanted to visit family. I wasn’t allowed to go out. I had no friends. Drugs and alcohol became my escape.” Her desperate desire for freedom had brought her almost complete bondage.

She didn’t want to be a mother. Even so, she had 3 children. “My sister Jean was more of a mother to them those years,” she said.

Andrea’s expression became serious. “Dad was my hero. When he became ill I managed to get away to see him in the hospital at the very end. He was already unresponsive, but when I greeted him he opened his eyes and recognized me. He gave me a big smile. The next day he died.” She could not quite control the tears.

Eight years ago Andrea bought the Harley and rode across Canada with her husband. On the bike she felt free. A few months ago she found the courage to leave the controlling husband. “I waited for good weather. When it came, I jumped on the bike and rode from Vanderhoof to my sister Jean’s home at the Coast.”

Now liberated to ride as she chooses, she told us “I prefer to ride alone, and very fast. Other bikes don’t pass me.”

She rides a Harley, but she’s also a lady.

Reflecting on her life Andrea said, “I made bad choices. I don’t blame anyone. Now my strength comes from my family. They kept me alive. They prayed for me and helped me see there was hope. Mom became my best friend when I had my third child. My sisters are very important too. I love my children and grandchildren. Since leaving my marriage, the drugs and alcohol have dropped away. When people ask who I am, I tell them I’m a Mennonite Metis.”

Before mounting the Harley to leave she said, “I’m not bitter. My choices brought the trouble. Now I just want to live a good life.” The Harley growled and she was gone, free at last.

Aunt Mary’s Commitment Shaped Lives

Aunt Mary celebrating her 90th birthday.

I wasn’t really surprised there was no mention in the national, or even the local Manitoba media, of the recent passing of my 98 year old Aunt Mary. She had not battled for social justice like Supreme Court Judge Bertha Wilson. Nor did she have Emily Carr’s remarkable ability to create inspiring scenes on canvas. What she did have was an understanding of the importance of commitment. Especially a commitment to living in a manner that positively impacts the thinking and actions of the next generation. In my opinion, she lived in a way that is as beneficial to our country as the lives of more well known citizens.

Working with young offenders in Hedley, I saw repeatedly the unfortunate results of careless, self-indulgent, neglectful parenting. Almost without exception, the youths sent to us came from shattered, dysfunctional families. The parents seemed to not understand that their values and attitudes were exacting a toll on the future of their children. Apparently it did not occur to them that without constructive examples to observe and learn from, their offspring would be ill-equipped to participate productively in the life of our nation.

When Aunt Mary’s husband, David, lost a battle with cancer, she could have become immersed in self pity. David had been a strong man, physically, mentally and emotionally. He had brought order and stability, as well as a sense of humour. At age 46, with 2 young sons still at home, she now needed to be the one who was strong for them.

For many years I had not had much contact with Aunt Mary. To learn more of her life, I called each of her 3 older offspring, all living in Manitoba. Sara, the youngest of the 3 said “mom loved to be with people and to serve them. She was very thankful, and she knew how to laugh. She lived on the 6th floor in a residence for seniors. When a group came to provide music, she always went down to the entrance to open the door for the guests and welcome them. She would often say ‘we should be thankful for people who come to sing.’” Sara also said, “I did everything I could for her. I’m so grateful for that.” She had been inspired by her mother’s example of service to others.

Elsie, the eldest, said their mom walked a lot until she was 95. “If it’s not raining,” she would say, “I’m walking.”

As long as she could walk,” Elsie said, “she volunteered in a care home for the elderly. Often she pushed people in their wheelchairs. When there was a potluck in her residence, if someone wasn’t well enough to attend, she would bring them a tray laden with food.”

Ed said, “Mom often wanted to visit relatives in Barkfield and Gruenthal. These relationships were important to her, so I would take her there. Sometimes there were functions in her church that involved a meal. When she finished eating, she’d get up and help with clearing tables.”

In the Fernwood residence where she lived, people place a yellow card on the outside of their entry door before retiring at night. In the morning, by 10 am, they take it back in. “For many years Mom would walk the halls on all the floors, checking for cards,” Ed said. “If there was a card after 10 am, she would knock on the door and inquire if there was a problem. She was still doing this in her nineties.”

Aunt Mary did all she could to foster strong relationships in her family. “Toward the end of her days,” Ed told me, “she encouraged us to always love one another.”

Having received only a rudimentary education in a remote one room rural school, Aunt Mary never achieved the renown of Canadian icons like Bertha Wilson and Emily Carr. After listening to members of her family and others though, I decided her commitment to service had positively shaped thinking and actions in her limited sphere of influence. She encouraged people with her smile, a cheery greeting, sometimes by noticing they had a need. Aunt Mary demonstrated that if we are alert and willing, there are many little actions that can bring a ray of sunlight and a reminder someone cares. Fortunately she isn’t the only one doing this. Our country needs many more.

Which Political Leader Can We Trust?

Christy Clark, John Horgan, Andrew Weaver. photo by bc.ctvnews.ca

I’m certainly not the first to observe that politics can be a fickle, mischievous mistress. This is especially the case when politicians lose the trust of the people. In Searching For Certainty, Bricker and Greenspon suggest “trust is no longer given, but earned.”

I respected and enjoyed Christy Clark’s vibrant style as a popular Vancouver radio talk show host prior to returning to politics. My trust in her and the Liberals took a body blow though when she refused to order a Site C evaluation by the BC Utilities Commission. Like many B.C. citizens I feel such a massive project, estimated to cost $9 billion, should receive serious scrutiny by experienced experts. Some knowledgeable individuals not beholden to the government are saying the power isn’t needed and will have to be sold at fire sale prices. I’m wondering if the Liberals have set us on a course that will put our children and grandchildren on an unnecessary financial hook for many decades.

My trust was further eroded by Clark’s brazen inclusion of a number of NDP promises in her recent ill-fated budget. This seems at least a tad tacky when we consider the way she had earlier scoffed at the NDP program, claiming much of it was not affordable.

I still like Christy Clark’s enthusiastic gung-ho style. Having been disappointed too often by charisma unaccompanied by substance and wisdom though, I’m experiencing anxiety as to her motivation. She appears focused on toppling the in-coming government and forcing an election. According to several big city pundits, the Liberals have already amassed a considerable campaign war chest. Large donations are mostly from corporations, which is troubling in itself. Campaign contributions generally come with expectations of favours. Ordinary citizens are rarely in line for such favours.

I realize the Liberals are not going to accept any advice from me. Possibly not from anyone else either. They seem to be thinking about how best to again grasp the reins of power. If they were willing to listen, I’d suggest before they trigger another campaign they consider the 1944 Saskatchewan election outcome.

Premier William Patterson and his Liberal party thought they could convince voters the CCF (now NDP) candidates were dangerous communists. According to Charlotte Gray in The Promise of Canada, “corporations contributed dollops of cash for fear mongering.” Evidently the Liberals didn’t believe Tommy Douglas and his small contingent of MLA’s would be taken seriously. They didn’t understand the trust factor.

On the campaign trail, Douglas made promises that would benefit ordinary people, not big companies. Although the CCF had won only a total of 11 seats in 1938, including one in a by-election, and had never been in power, voters liked and trusted Douglas. In the 1944 election, CCF won a surprising 47 of 52 seats.

In subsequent years, Tommy Douglas delivered on his promises and went on to win 5 consecutive elections. Among other measures of benefit to citizens, he introduced public auto insurance, the first in Canada. People quickly saw that they were saving money.

During his time in office the government renovated or built 33 hospitals. By 1954, Saskatchewan had gone from having the fewest hospital beds in Canada to having the most. The government also began paying for hospital care. Charlotte Gray says one major secret of Tommy Douglas’ continued success is that he was bringing in polices and programs that made peoples’ lives easier. They came to trust him.

Although it was expected then, as now, that the socialist-democratic government would pile up debt, provincial treasurer Clarence Fines was tight fisted. Over the years he brought in 16 balanced budgets. He also began paying down government debt. New services were provided only as they became affordable.

Undoubtedly we can expect high drama in the B.C. Legislature in coming days and weeks. Will Christy Clark be a constructive leader of the Opposition, or will she be in campaign mode? Will John Horgan and Andrew Weaver maintain a positive working relationship, foster a productive atmosphere in the legislature and not drive B.C.’s bank account deep into the red? For all 3 leaders it will provide an opportunity to prove we can trust them to do what is right, not primarily for themselves, corporations, or unions, but for the citizens who pay their salaries. Along with the rest of us, the fickle, mischievous mistress of politics is observing.

Hedley’s Canada Day 150 Celebration

Corporal Chad Parsons led the parade.
Corporal Chad Parsons led the parade.

Hedley’s Canada Day 150 celebration got off to a rousing start Saturday morning, in large part due to a creative advertising strategy by Peggy Terry. She placed notices of the Seniors’ Centre’s $5.00 breakfast on the doors of outhouses at local camp grounds. A near record 142 hungry customers showed up, many of them tourists camping in the area.

Breakfast was followed by a parade, one of Hedley’s best in recent years. It was led by Corporal Chad Parsons of the Princeton RCMP. Following him were 3 horseback riders from the Sterling Creek Ranch. Nicely groomed and well behaved, the horses were a reminder of Hedley’s swashbuckling past. Also in the parade was a float carrying 6 local ladies wearing apparel representative of Hedley’s early years.

Canada 150 museum 062

There were a number of vintage vehicles, each in some way representing the character and personality of their owner. Bill Day was at the wheel of “Nellie”, a 1930 Ford Model A. Dan Twizzle’s 1929 Dodge, Leroy Fague’s 1936 Ford pickup, and Gary Zroback’s 1953 stock coral red Mercury pickup also drew a lot of attention. Certainly the noisiest entry was Al Skramstad’s 1982 Malibu wagon. Sporting a 500 horse power motor, it was radically modified specifically for racing. Two vehicles that may have been unique to this parade were Pete Pillipow’s 1950 Studebaker and Cecil Holmes’ 1994 Cadillac hearse.

Pete Pillipow in his 1950 Studebaker
Pete Pillipow in his 1950 Studebaker

At noon people gathered at the Hedley Museum for a formal program. A main feature was a talk delivered by local historical researcher, Jennifer Douglass. Her subject was “Diversity and Inclusion in Canada and the Similkameen Valley.”

Another highlight was a visit by Upper Similkameen Indian Band chief, Rick Holmes. In a conversation with the MC, he spoke briefly about the history of Indigenous peoples, the band’s deep respect for elders, and the very popular Mascot Mine Tours, which are currently on hold. Several rounds of applause indicated a warm reception of his words.

After the program, hamburgers and hotdogs were served by chefs Simon Harris and Terry Sawiuk. A wide range of vegetable salads, plus fruit, were also on the menu. Once again, there was a line up for 5 cent ice cream cones.

IMG_3836

Tomahawk and Friends, a local group headed up by Darryl Brewer, provided a pleasant, well received blend of music. At the end  of the Canada Day 150 celebration there were numerous positive comments about the parade, food, program and music. People went home well fed and happy.

Gophers Attract Children At Manning Park

Hand feeding gophers at Manning Park
Hand feeding gophers at Manning Park

We frequently see children feeding, sometimes running after, the gophers at Manning Park. The little hole diggers make walking on the grassy field hazardous for anyone focused on texting. I’m sure a few ankles have been twisted or broken here. The kids love them though and very likely some tourists stop here by request of their children.

On our most recent turn into the park we observed this young fellow, patiently using blades of grass to entice the little creatures to come to him. The gophers are quite accustomed to such lavish attention from children, of course, and seem to revel in it. At times they passed by very close to him, and occasionally he managed to briefly stroke them. He was obviously in no hurry to move on, and his grandmother, standing nearby, seemed quite content to wait. There appeared to be a nice bond between them. Every kid would benefit from this kind of relationship with at least one grandparent.

Cyclists Mission To End Poverty

Cyclists on a mission to end poverty.
Cyclists on a mission to end poverty.

Traveling the Hope-Princeton Highway spring to autumn, Linda and I usually pass several hardy cyclists laboriously ascending the grueling inclines or controlling their speed coming down the other side. On our return from Langley to Hedley today, there seemed to be a few extra bikers. Then, about 25 kilometers from Sunday Summit, we understood why. About a dozen cyclists had congregated around an impromptu table in front of a small recreational vehicle. Curious, we stopped, hoping to learn what kind of venture this was.

They welcomed us warmly and were pleased we wanted to photograph them.

John (left) & Bill (right)
John (left) & Bill (right)

 

Two of the cyclists, Bill (from Ottawa) and John (from Michigan) told us the group’s name is “Sea to Sea” and its purpose is to fight poverty. It consists of about 140 members from diverse points in North America. One is from Taber, Alberta, where Linda was born.

They are riding from Vancouver to Halifax, raising funds to combat poverty in various locations around the globe. According to Bill and John, about 90 members will participate in at least one stage of this expedition. It is my understanding that some will go the entire distance. They must be in pretty decent condition, planning to be in Halifax on August 28, ten weeks after departing Vancouver.

These cyclists were riding recumbent bikes.
These cyclists were riding recumbent bikes.

Each cyclist is expected to raise $ 12,000 prior to the trip. They are also inviting donations along the way and have raised $1.5 million to this time. Funds will be given to 2 organizations (co-hosts), active in the fight against poverty.

According to the cyclists’ website, one of these organizations is Partners Worldwide, a global Christian network that uses business as a way to end poverty. They partner with local businesses around the world to use 4 methods. These are mentoring, training, access to capital, and advocacy.

The second organization is World Renew. It envisions a world “where people experience and extend Christ’s compassion and live together in hope as God’s community.” It equips people with microloans, community development, and savings groups. The sponsoring body is the Christian Reformed Church, which has Dutch roots. Anyone desiring further information can go to seatosea.org

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.

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