Down The Mountain On A Broom

IMGI have come to have a great deal of respect for the hardiness and ingenuity of the men who worked in the Mascot and Nickel Plate mines in the first half of the last century. The mines were high above Hedley and for those who had a wife and children in town, transportation was a constant challenge. According to historian Doug Cox, miners were allowed to ride in the skips used to transport ore down to the Stamp Mill. Permits were required, though,  and they were limited. Tough and determined, the miners resorted to innovation.

Cox says “some men got around the pass system by hiding near the upper ore bin until the skip had started down. Then they jumped on. The hitch hikers jumped off the skip before it reached the bottom ore bin and kept out of sight of the supervising staff. They skirted around the bluff, then down to the Hedley town site.”

In my opinion, it is the “broom riders” who were the most inventive and enterprising. In a letter to The Western in the June 20, 1990 edition, miner Bob MacRae (now deceased) wrote about placing a broom on one of the ore car rails and riding on it down the mountain. “This ‘broom affair’” he says, “consisted of a piece of rubber belting and a piece of tin channelled to fit the rail. It was nailed to an old house broom.” He wore old rubber boots for brakes and found that if he cut the handle off the broom, he could double his speed.

His record for a trip down the mountain was four and one half P0359minutes, including walking several flat stretches. On one occasion a worker had wiped grease on the rail and Bob’s rubber boot brakes became useless. His speed increased considerably. “I think I probably broke my record,” he says in his letter.

Bob’s sister Effie, a Hedley high school graduate, told me he had a good reason to rush down the mountain after work each day. “Bob had a new English bride from Manchester.” When I asked her if her brother had been a dare devil type, she said, “oh no, he was very cautious.” Possibly there were things about Bob that Effie didn’t know.

In time, others joined Bob in broom riding. Not all copied his more advanced innovation. Some just borrowed a broom and rode down.

Ken Jones, a former miner now living on Old Hedley Road, tried it once, “just for the fun. I couldn’t get the balance or the speed,” he told me. “It wasn’t for me.”

In time, company officials banned broom riding, but this left them short of more than 20 miners due to lack of transportation. To make up the deficiency they brought in a bus, and Bob MacRae was one of 2 drivers assigned to driving duties.

Bob’s description of this assignment suggests the bus ride may have been more dangerous than riding the broom. “Snow, ice, rocks, cows, horses and deer on the road with numerous blind corners made it treacherous driving,” he said. “There was times I wished I was riding carefree down the mountain on my broom.”

I wonder what present day union bosses and the WCB would have to say about this practise. Unfortunately, I have seen no photos of these ingenious, hardy men racing down the mountain on their brooms.

Matsqui Citizens Advisory Committee

In my volunteer role with M2 I had frequent meetings with inmates and also staff at Matsqui Institution. Very likely someone in a high position noticed that I was there on a fairly regular basis and decided I should be invited to join the Citizens Advisory Committee.

These committees were being developed in Canada’s federal prisons at that time, in response to public concerns about prison policies. Certainly the Temporary Absence Program was a concern in the Fraser Valley.

At the first meeting I found myself sitting around a large

Citizens Advisory Committee, Art Martens front row, 2nd from far right
Citizens Advisory Committee, Art Martens front row, 2nd from far right

boardroom table in a conference room. When introductions were made, I realized the others were all successful in business or a profession. Among the members was the owner of a real estate agency, a well known radio talk show host, a newspaper columnist, a parole officer and the executive director of MSA Community services. I was a truck driver and cat operator with a BA in sociology and political science. Unlike the others, I had no claim to fame. Also, other than being on the board of M2/W2, I felt I had little experience to compare with these elite members of the Abbotsford community.

When the head of the inmate liaison committee resigned after several months, the chairman surprised me by asking if I would take on that role. Very likely he reasoned that my prison experience would enable me to facilitate dialogue between inmates and the committee.

Eventually the chairman himself also resigned, due to business pressures. Even now I don’t understand why he decided to throw the mantel of leadership on my shoulders. My leadership track record was brief and unimpressive. It occurred to me much later he may have asked other, more capable committee members to take on the role, before approaching me. If others were asked, they may have said they had too much on their plate already.

There may have been another reason to turn down the position though. Prisons, even relatively modern ones like Matsqui, have an intimidating, oppressive presence. The high steel fence around the grounds and buildings immediately informs the visitor that security is taken seriously here. At each corner of the fence a tower with armed guards overlooks the prison and surrounding area. The visitor’s first close encounter with the prison’s intimidating presence is at an electronically controlled gate in the high perimeter steel fence. If the officer in the Guard House is preoccupied, the visitor may stand at the gate for a minute or two, wondering if the door will open. Next is the Guard House itself, where a uniformed officer pushes a sign-in book through a slot at the bottom of a sheet of glass. There may be invasive questions.

This was the routine at that time. I had grown accustomed to it but I could never totally relax. Sometimes a new officer, or an older grumpy officer was overly security conscious. I was always aware that bad judgment on my part in any way could result in being black listed by Security.
The members of our committee had agreed to an advisory role. They had no reason to seek significant involvement with the tightly regulated systems that functioned machine-like behind that high steel fence. Accepting the position of council chairman could entail greater involvement.

I was prepared to interact somewhat intimately with the rigid forces inside the fence because I knew some of the men living there. One of these was Roy. He had a step mother who didn’t want him to come around and a father who showed little interest in him. Albert, now in his sixties, had one sister, but she didn’t visit. Steve, who had killed two prostitutes, had no close friends in or out of prison. Robin had died recently of a knife attack in prison, but his own mother had refused to claim the body.

I felt a deep responsibility to the men behind the fence at Matsqui. Their faces were scarred by years of despair and apathy that comes from a drought of hope and meaning. They knew that when they were released, they would return to their former criminal haunts. The addicts would go to “the corner” to buy drugs for a fix. The entire time they would be looking back over their shoulder, wondering if they had been seen by a cop or a nark.

I accepted the responsibility of chairing the committee because I knew the men and their plight, and I wanted the community to be more informed and involved. Chairing the committee would give me greater access to the Warden’s office. I probably hoped this role would also give me increased credibility with other prison staff.

I didn’t have the skills or experience to chair the Citizens Advisory Committee, but the members and also the Warden and senior staff were gracious. By working together, we made a difference, and I learned a few lessons about leadership.


On The Board By Default

As coordinator of the M2 program at Matsqui Institution, I was more able to see what was happening at the Board and Executive Director level. The Board members were all individuals with demanding careers. Some had little or no time to sponsor an images (1)inmate. Like the Executive Director, they had been appointed by Richard Simmons, the American originator of the M2/W2 concept. A high energy visionary, Simmons had begun the program in Seattle, Washington. Charismatic and in a hurry to get things done, he had contacted several individuals in B.C. and with their help had managed to establish the program here.

We, the sponsors, respected the individuals on the Board, but some of us felt our views, ideas and front-line experience needed to be represented at the organization’s policy setting level. At times we weren’t entirely comfortable with decisions coming out of the fledgling office. M2/W2 was experiencing the growing pains common to a startup in any realm.

Wanting to maintain an amicable relationship with Board members and yet have an impact, we suggested two Board members be nominated and elected by sponsors. After considerable dialogue and some prodding on our part, they agreed this would be a positive move.

I had been in frequent conversation on this matter with fellow sponsor and friend, Hugh Wiebe. He was young, vigorous, and a force in his family’s agriculture related business. I felt he had the experience to represent sponsor views. He agreed to let me nominate him. It was with the understanding, however, that I would take his place on the Board for about three months so he could deal with a number of current business issues. I very much wanted him on the Board and I agreed to occupy his chair temporarily. The Board accepted this arrangement and at the next meeting of the organization, Hugh was one of 2 sponsors elected.

In the ensuing months I began to realize that Hugh’s responsibilities in the family company were increasing and I was concerned his considerable management experience might not become available to M2/W2. He wanted to take on the role and assured me the time would come. Unfortunately, business pressures never allowed him time to take his seat on the Board. I served his entire one year term and then let my name stand and was elected for another term. My leadership experience was limited but sponsors apparently felt I was committed to representing their views and desires.

I was willing to serve on the Board because it enabled me to influence our work in prisons. We hired Mel Cox, a balding, middle aged ex-con. Mel had embraced the Christian faith and came to us through the recommendation of his pastor. Having done time himself, he had a pretty comprehensive understanding of prison systems and of prisoners. His sense of humour and quick wit appealed to sponsors and also inmates. He provided us with a better understanding of inmate thinking and how to avoid being conned. Most of us had little experience with individuals whose lifestyle and circumstances made constant scheming a virtual necessity. Mel’s insights enabled us to become at least a little less naïve.

Sitting on the Board provided me with a basic understanding of how organizational decisions are often made, and what it takes to get things accomplished. The experience was of immense benefit in coming years when I became an M2/W2 staff member and also subsequently in other organizations. Whenever possible, I now advise young people to volunteer in an organization that provides solid training and practical leadership experience. My time as coordinator of the program at Matsqui Institution in a volunteer capacity, and also serving on the Board has convinced me that a volunteer investment is likely to pay generous dividends in the future. In my case it laid the foundation for work and life experiences that brought me a substantive sense of purpose, satisfaction and fulfillment.

Down the Tram Line to Party

The following account was told to Ruth Woodin of Hedley, by her father-in-law Barry Woodin. He was battling cancer and near the end of his life. He evidently never lost his sense of humour. She says he was more of a father to her than her own father ever was.

Barry and Jean Woodin were in their early twenties and just married, ready to contend with any challenge life would present to them. Barry applied for a job at the Nickel Plate Mine near the peak of Nickel Plate Mountain. He was hired and they moved into one of the homes on the mine site, about 6,000 feet above sea level.

It was a delight to them when they learned that each Saturday night the mine provided a tram down the mountain to the Hedley town site. Workers and spouses could catch a ride in empty ore

Ore cars on exhibit at Hedley Museum
Ore cars on exhibit at Hedley Museum

cars. The ore cars were small, not equipped with seats, and not comfortable. It was simply a means of rapidly descending the steep mountain to enjoy an evening of partying in a more civilized setting. The ride down the mountain in what was essentially an open metal box was not for the faint of heart.

Former Tram Line on Nickel Plate Mountain
Former Tram Line on Nickel Plate Mountain

On their first Saturday at the mine, Barry burst through the door of their home after work and said, “hurry Jean, I don’t want to miss the tram!” Jean was doing her hair and pampering her face. “Leave me alone Barry,” she said. “I’ll be ready when I’m ready.”

After working in the mine all week, Barry was eager to get away and have some fun. “The tram won’t wait for us,” he told her. “If you aren’t done with your prettyin’ in time, I’m going on my own.”

Maybe she didn’t believe he’d go without her. Or maybe it was a young bride’s way of asserting herself. We can only guess at her reasoning but she wasn’t ready when it was time to leave. Barry had not been bluffing. “Good bye Sweetheart,” he said. See you later.”

He found a party and danced well into the night. Then, in the early hours of the morning, the tram rattled noisily back up the steep grade of Nickel Plate mountain, returning the weary but satisfied partyers. When Barry arrived at his front door, he fumbled with the latch. The door seemed stuck. Had he had one drink too many? After fiddling determinedly with the latch, leaning against the door, speaking to it in terms I won’t repeat here, he paused to consider.

After a moment of reflection he understood the problem. Fortunately, even with the cold mountain air nipping at his face and bare hands, he saw the humour in this. “She’s locked me out,” he said with a chuckle. “Well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

He went to the mine workshop and found an axe. Returning to the house, he began chopping at the rear door, which was also locked, until there was a hole large enough for him to squeeze through. Before going to bed he hung a blanket to cover the opening. It would remain in place until he was able to find another door.

In spite of this incident, and probably at least a few more, Barry and Jean remained happily married until his passing at age 52.

When Barry finished telling Ruth this little story he said with a wink, “she was never late again.” According to Ruth, Jean never disputed any of the details of Barry’s story.


Two Senior Boys On Motorcycles

When Linda and I pulled into the parking lot at Manning Park this past Monday morning, my attention was immediately drawn to a couple of motorcycles. The riders were chatting with a third individual, obviously also a bike enthusiast.

The two bikes interested me in part because they gleamed, as though they had just been taken out of a showroom. Of greater interest was that one had two wheels in front, something I don’t

3 Wheel Harley
3 Wheel Harley

recall seeing previously. The other was a Harley with two wheels in the rear.

While I was looking with great fascination and admiration at the first one, the owner came over and we talked a few minutes.

Bob told me the bike was made by Bombardier, with some custom

Art With Bob & His Bombardier
Art With Bob & His Bombardier

items. “The Bombardier suspension system gives it great stability,” he said, “I like the three wheel design. My left hip doesn’t have the strength anymore to support a two wheel bike.” He obviously felt pride in the machine’s performance capacity, but he gave no indication of wanting to boast.

“It’s obviously in great shape,” I observed. “Is it be pretty new?”

“I bought it three months ago,” he answered.

I have no inner compulsion to own such a bike but I did have a need to know what an impressive machine like this would cost. “About $30,000” he said with just the slightest reticence. Maybe a few people have expressed surprise he paid that much for a bike. A decent car can be bought for that kind of money. I wasn’t surprised though. It is a very special bike.

I was now permitting my curiosity free reign. “Does this fall into the category of what we call a mid-life crises?” I asked.

He smiled a little and said, “It’s probably more of a senior mid-life crises.” I had noticed that his neatly trimmed beard did appear to be greying somewhat.

They were from Chilliwack on their way to Princeton on a day ride. Just two senior boys who apparently had been financially prudent when they were younger. They’d had the smarts to set aside something so that now they were able to afford this expensive item on their bucket list. It’s pretty awesome that they have the health and also the chutzpah to do what a lot of us just dream about.

Bob, for me seeing those two intriguing motorcycles and talking with you certainly made it a memorable encounter. In retrospect, I realize now I should have asked a few more questions. But maybe there is enough here so the example of you and your friend will inspire some of us to risk more and live our dreams.

A Hot Summer Day In Hedley

July 12. It’s 11:05 in sunny downtown Hedley. 31 degrees on the front walkway, which is in the shade.

At about 8 a.m. Linda and I picked Saskatoons for breakfast. The air was still pleasantly cool when we sat on the side deck having Cheerios topped with slices of banana and Saskatoons. Usually breakfast consists of oatmeal with fruit, but now we choose not to warm the house with cooking.

We feel fortunate in being able to harvest the berries. Angelique bought this lot, which is directly across the street from her home, several years ago. The historic St. John’s church is on this site. Being interested in history, she commissioned our local historian, Jennifer Douglass, to research its past. Much of the lot is used for gardening and I have a pumpkin plant and about 12 potato plants growing on her huglebeet. Last year my pumpkin growing experiment there produced plenty of vines but only 2 pumpkins.

In spite of the Hedley heat, the two Cleopoatras and Miss Lonely Hearts enter the laying box faithfully virtually every morning. I stay away from their little domain until about 9:30 am. If they hear me while they are in the box, they abandon the laying because they think I’m there to give them their treat of dry oatmeal.

The girls are as seriously addicted to the oatmeal as an addict to heroin. The Cleopatras lay first, and while they are in the box, Lonely Hearts stands inside the gate of their fence, insistently calling for me to bring the treat. Then she goes into the box and the Cleopatras begin the vociferous pleading. Because Lonely Hearts is a slow layer, they become quite impatient. Although they have only small mouths, their volume is incredible. If we want to hear the computer, we have to close the rear windows.

Our small garden is doing well. We’ve finished eating the row of radishes. Lately it’s been bokchoy cabbage, spinach, beet leaves, arugula, kale, etc. Linda uses the produce in salads. I frequently snatch a leaf while working on an outdoor project. Marauding cabbage moths are a minor plague this year. Our neighbour Kim said moths and their dog Dixie have destroyed about 80% of their

Art Pursuing A Cabbage Moth
Art Pursuing A Cabbage Moth

garden. Last year I found a butterfly net with a long handle at the Princeton Dollar Store to snare the moths. My technique is improving and in spite of their clever evasive tactics, I’m averaging about a dozen kills per day. Of course, within 10 minutes of clearing the garden of them, another squadron swoops over the fence on either side and the destruction of plants continues almost without pause. Linda finds considerable humour in my wild leaping around and waving of the net. Fortunately as yet there is no “Moth Rights Society” here.

Due to the heat, Linda and I have been leaving for our walk at about 9pm. By this time the No See’ims are on the prowl. They must fast all day because they are ravenous. Currently we are experimenting with brown Listerine, rubbed on all exposed parts of the body. It does make a difference for about an hour. If we plan to stay out longer, we’ll have to carry the bottle with us.

I just looked at the thermometer. 37 degrees. A hot day in Hedley. It’s a good time to go to 20 Mile Creek and dangle our feet in the water.

Developing Skills And Credibility

My first year of coordinating the M2/W2 (Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman) program at Matsqui Institution was in a volunteer capacity. It never occurred to me to think that not being paid for this work was unfair. Although I didn’t realize it then, this year was providing me with experience and skills I would require in various challenging circumstances throughout my life. Particularly important was a growing understanding that in any setting, especially a prison but also in my personal life, it was essential I develop credibility.

Two Men In Conversation
Two Men In Conversation

Credibility came in part out of many conversations with counsellors, living unit officers, psychologists and other staff. It came also from scrupulously observing the numerous prison rules and regulations, although at times I did give expression to my disagreement with a particular policy.

It was this credibility on my part, and on the part of our sponsors, that enabled us to have a Christmas party away from the institution that first year. Most of the inmates in our program were given a temporary absence pass for the evening. Individual temporary absences for outings with sponsors were also granted to some men who had not been trusted with a pass previously. The men were aware that if they went A.W.O.L. while on a pass with their sponsor, it would bring disrepute to the entire program and possibly prevent other inmates from going out with their sponsor.

As part of the orientation of sponsors at each institution, they were specifically advised to not carry out anything unless it had been cleared by the prison censor. Some years later I heard of a sponsor, a woman of excellent integrity at a female unit elsewhere, who agreed to let an inmate mail a letter while on a temporary absence. The prison authorities learned of this and called her in for a serious grilling. She was deeply embarrassed.

I felt the temporary absence program was an important tool for easing inmates back into the community and frequently made the case for an inmate to receive a TA. However, if the man was a serious escape risk, or if he had repeatedly demonstrated bad judgment within the institution, I would not lend such support.

Steve, a large burly man who had killed a prostitute on two separate occasions, was such a case. He seemingly could not control his emotions or make sound decisions when under the influence of alcohol. When he asked me for a letter of support for day parole, I declined. In the time I had known him, I had seen little indication of serious inner change or growth and I was concerned that another woman might lose her life. He had been granted a temporary absence recently and, contrary to the conditions of the TA, he had gone to a prostitute with a bottle of vodka.

I was certain the Parole Board would question my judgment if I supported Steve with a letter. Also, prison staff participated in parole hearings and I felt my credibility with them would be tainted if I advocated for an inmate with his record both inside and outside the prison. To be taken seriously when I supported an inmate’s application for a TA or for parole, my judgment should not be in question.

The Matsqui Institution experience taught me that whether I am dealing with prison officials, a parole officer, a news reporter, or my wife, children or grand children, my personal credibility must be intact.



Hedley Celebrates Canada Day

Art Martens with Constable Pankratz
Art Martens with Constable Pankratz

“Meet your Mountie” was definitely a crowd pleaser at the Hedley Canada Day celebration. The event, which took place at the

Hedley Museum, featured gold panning, face painting and a treasure hunt for the children. There was also music that might be described as a combination of old time, folk and blue grass. A hamburger and hot dog barbeque made it a complete day.

When Constable Anthony Pankratz of the Princeton RCMP Detachment agreed to pose for photos with celebration attendees, the response was enthusiastic. At 6 feet, 8 inches, he towered above those standing next to him for a picture. One enraptured lady looked up into his face and exclaimed, “oh, he’s cute!”

Later, in an interview with the festivities MC, he regaled the crowd with his impressions of life as a Mountie in the Similkameen Valley. He said “the biggest challenge that comes with being a police officer in a small town is that I know a lot of the people I have a responsibility to deal with.”

Just before the singing of “O Canada” at noon, Bill Day, a former Citizenship Judge, addressed the audience. The essence of his message was that, “ Canada has done many things right, but we have been very wrong in the way we have dealt with First Nations people.”

The musicians, Colleen Cox and George Huber are popular entertainers on the Blue Grass circuit. From 11 am to 2 pm, with a couple of intermissions, they sang and played such favourites as “You are my Sunshine” and “Country Roads.” George and Colleen’s passion for music and love of people, plus their engaging personalities held the attention of the crowd to the end. For the last few tunes they were joined on stage by talented local musician Eric Lance. Ben Murbach provided a delightful impromptu flute solo during one intermission.

Prior to the formal program, local historian Jennifer Douglass conducted a guided tour of Hedley. She has published articles on the area and provided little known insights into Hedley’s past.

The barbeque grill was ably tended by veteran hotel chef and camp cook, Jim Gray. With his stetson and massive greying beard, Jim could be mistaken for a cowboy philosopher. He is currently providing meals at the museum from 10 am to 4 pm. every day except Tuesday. Salads, pickles, tomatoes, watermelon slices and Canada Day cupcakes were provided by town ladies. Five cent ice cream cones were again a popular item.

Comments at the end suggested that everyone went home well fed and happy.

Church Men Go To Prison

In the first year after receiving my Bachelor of Arts degree from matsqui2SFU, I didn’t earn a single dollar using this hard won education. I was not troubled by that. My volunteer activity at Matsqui Institution was, in essence, an unpaid apprenticeship in corrections. I was experiencing challenge and fulfillment, and there were plenty of opportunities for learning, exploring and growing. The experience I was gaining would prove to be of immense benefit once I became serious about launching a career. My working arrangement with Dad in his landscaping business allowed me considerable flexibility to attend to my M2 prison responsibilities.

Our program rapidly became known within the prison and the flow of applications increased at a rate that alarmed me. As yet we had none of the sponsors I had promised.

Persuading men to become the friend of an inmate proved to be more challenging than finding inmates who wanted to participate. Fortunately at some churches there were groups of men who invited me to come and present the opportunity to make a significant difference in someone’s life. Sometimes I was able to arrange for an inmate to accompany me to these sessions. I had found an exceptionally strong, patient sponsor for Roy, and he soon lost his stern expression and unfolded his massive arms. He was one of the men I took along at times. Although he remained silent during the meetings, he became quite willing to answer questions afterward.

On one occasion I arranged for several inmates to join me in a church group discussion about the corrections system and what was helpful for rehabilitation. One of the inmates I brought to this meeting was Albert, a man of about 60 with a lengthy prison record, much of it for drug possession and trafficking in heroin. In a group setting, Albert was relaxed and congenial, and he expressed himself coherently. Wearing a grey suit and striped tie, his appearance, bearing and speech were entirely distinguished.

One of the church men arrived late. After the meeting he said to me, “I’m really impressed that the warden came.” I was puzzled at this. The warden had not been there. From his description, I realized he thought Albert was the warden. Certainly Albert’s appearance and demeanour could have caused anyone to conclude he was a highly placed official at Matsqui. As a prisoner, he was responsible and his capabilities were exceptional. Unfortunately, out of prison this gifted man had always reverted quickly to his street mentality. On the street he saw himself only as a user and seller of heroin.

I knew a lot of men would be intimidated by the thought of developing a relationship with a man doing prison time. How would they possibly find anything to talk about with someone who had long been confined behind a high perimeter fence? Some were also concerned about their own safety and that of their family.

To counter the various anxieties, I began inviting individual men to go with me to visit an inmate who wanted a sponsor. I phoned a man I had gone to school with but hadn’t talked with in years. I also approached a successful businessman who had previously been with CBC television. Another was a tradesman I didn’t know well but respected highly. I was pleasantly surprised when each agreed to go to the prison with me And, like many others, each decided to sponsor the man they visited. Once they met the individual and talked with him, they realized that this man had many of the same desires, concerns and needs they had. It became an effective strategy and it meant I could select men I believed had sound judgment and would be dependable.

In time, the decision makers at Matsqui came to believe that our sponsors were of good character and would not assist inmates in anything contrary to prison regulations. This gave us considerable credibility and sponsors were able to take inmates out on day passes when they became eligible. Often they took them to their homes for a meal and to meet their family.

Almost without exception, inmates were grateful for these excursions beyond the high, confining prison fences and did not take advantage of their sponsor. The relationship gave them an opportunity to view life in mainstream society. The experience challenged their thinking and in some cases persuaded them this was a life they too could have. Although they would find that straightening out their badly bent lives was difficult, they had someone willing to walk along this path at their side, possibly for the first time.