I Enter Full-Time Prison Work

During my time at Community Services, I continued in my

Ready to fly to Akron, Pennsylvania with my family
Ready to fly to Akron, Pennsylvania with my family

volunteer role with M2/W2 at the Matsqui prison. I also remained on the M2/W2 Board.

At about the same time the government pulled the Community Services contract enabling me to work with seniors, Cal Chambers , chairman of the M2/W2 Board made an unexpected announcement. “Ray Coles, our Executive Director and Al, his assistant, have both given notice of their resignation. Both men had come from the Salvation Army and were friends. It was not entirely surprising they had decided to leave at the same time.

This development came as a shock to Board members. Who would replace them? The path ahead suddenly seemed uncertain, and the faces of the men around the table became sombre and troubled. We were not given a reason for their departure, but we knew the organization’s income was meagre. Possibly there had not been sufficient funds for their needs. The work needed to carry on, but who would take on their responsibilities? Most qualified individuals would expect more than the organization could pay.

Within the past year Ray Coles, with the approval of the Board, had applied for funding to create 4 new positions. I had been interested in working for M2/W2. The organization’s approach to re-claiming the lives of prisoners appealed to me. However, Ray Coles had not considered me for any of the proposed positions. He had promised them to individuals who were close to him. When the application for funding was turned down, the whole idea came to nothing.

I wondered now if the resignations might provide an opportunity to come on board as a staff member. I felt drawn to a role that would enable me to have more personal contact with inmates and prison workers. It seemed to me that my degree in sociology, the time at Community Services, being on the Board of M2/W2, and guiding our program at Matsqui Institution had prepared me at least somewhat for this. While the disheartened discussion went on around me, I arrived at a decision.

A pause in the dialogue provided me with an opportunity to speak of my interest. “I have thought for some time that if the opportunity ever came,” I said, “I’d be interested in having a full-time role with M2/W2.”

I didn’t attempt to sell them on the idea. They already had a sense of my character and they were aware of the work I was doing at Matsqui, running our program there. The decision should be based on their evaluation of me and whatever abilities they saw in me.

Vern Reimer, Executive Director for the Mennonite Central Committee in B.C. spoke first. “MCC could take you on under our Voluntary Service program,” he said. “We would pay all your living expenses and there would be something for extras. It wouldn‘t be great pay but you would always be able to count on it.” With Linda not working anymore, I knew this would make for a somewhat lean family economy. Still, I felt it was an idea we should consider. The example of our parents had taught us to be prudent in the realm of finances.

Les Pritchert, a pastor and very capable Board member said, “If Art agrees to take a full-time position, I’d be willing to assume the role of Executive Director on a part-time basis, until we find a permanent replacement.”

I knew Les only as a Board member. He had an incisive mind and a determined “let’s get things done” approach. He was experienced, focused, tenacious and driven. I was intimidated by the thought of working with him. The challenge intrigued and enticed me, though. After a discussion with Linda, I agreed to the arrangement.

Within a short time, Linda, 9 month old Vivian and I were on a plane to Akron, Pennsylvania for the MCC orientation. Here we met volunteers going to various places around the globe, mostly to developing countries in desperate need of skills in trades, medicine and teaching. I recall particularly a bus trip to Washington, D.C. where we met MCC personnel who sought to positively influence government policy. By the end of the orientation, Linda and I felt great respect for what this fairly small but effective organization was accomplishing. We were pleased to be sponsored by MCC.

At that time the M2/W2 office was at 533 Clarkson Street in New Westminster. Most days I drove in from our little 5 acre farm in what was then Matsqui Municipality, near the Canada-U.S. border. In addition to Oakalla and Matsqui Insitituion, the organization had made contact with the BC Penitentiary and also Mountain Prison near Agassiz.

Fortunately, I learned that Les had a wonderfully congenial side. Although he was extremely immersed in other roles, he found the time to fully support and encourage me. Maybe he sensed that he would not live into deep old age and that he must not allow himself to be diverted from the objectives he considered most important. Although our time together was too brief, I was blessed to have him as a role model.

For me it was the beginning of an exciting, challenging chapter of my work life. My responsibilities would take me into virtually every prison on the Lower Mainland and in the Fraser Valley. I would interact with wardens, parole and probation officers, counsellors and security officers. I would deal with men doing time for murder, robbery, trafficking in heroin and cocaine, etc. And I would see citizen sponsors bring a ray of light into lives that had been darkened by crime, substance abuse, dysfunctional relationships and unfortunate choices. It would be an opportunity to work with sponsors to make a significant difference in the lives of men who had long ago lost their way.


A Small Town Memory

I was feeling some impatience as I hand watered my under-achieving pumpkin plant at about 8:30 this morning. The plant has plenty of vines, leaves and blossoms, but as yet has not produced a single pumpkin. I have been lavish with chicken droppings. In an act of desperation I have even used Miracle Gro, in spite of my commitment to organic growth. The plants anaemic performance is making me more than a tad testy.

In the midst of my intolerant thoughts toward the pumpkin plant, a gentle voice calls to me from across the street.

“Good morning Art.”

It’s Ben, my neighbour from a few houses down the street. He is steadying himself with his cane while tending to Angelique’s chickens. He gladly assumes the role of guardian, feeder and friend of the birds when she is away.

I cross the street to chat with him, but he now seems oblivious to my presence. Noting his intense concentration, I remain standing somewhat apart, silently observing. I sense he is savouring a precious moment in his morning.

A mother hen and two chicks are waiting. Their colour is a pleasing light brown with dark circles around their necks. Very pretty. Leaning toward them, he grasps his cane firmly with one hand and scatters feed on the floor of their small compound with the other. The sense of kinship is palpable and I am reminded of the morning, many years ago, when my aged grandfather in rural Manitoba led me by the hand to his garden where we carefully selected the ripest watermelon.

The mother hen and her two young ones peck eagerly at the grain, clucking contentedly. He is speaking to them in soothing, almost reverential tones that carry a hint of music. These girls, as he refers to them, are cherished friends.

To me, this seems like a scene from another place and another era. His calm quiet demeanour and perceptible Swiss accent suggest he might just have wandered out of a small, remote 19th century village high in the Swiss Alps. Certainly he has much experience in Switzerland’s mountains, having been trained there in avalanche control. I know also that his Swiss father passed on to him a good deal of mountain lore.

Now though, with his beard and hair revealing several pleasant shades of grey, plus the ever present cane and his unhurried, deliberate movements, I can see that the robust strength and energy of earlier years have diminished considerably. Observing his interactions with these birds, it is easy to conclude that the loss of vigour has been compensated for by the gaining of a generous measure of understanding and patience.

Ben Serenading "The Girls"
Ben Serenading “The Girls”

He knows I am here, but his attention is still on the girls as he pulls a miniature harmonica from the pocket of his pants and briefly serenades them with a few perky notes. A Stellar Jay swoops down within a few metres of us, probably hoping to snatch a few grains, but possibly wanting to enjoy the music. Ben returns the harmonica to his pocket and closes the door to the pen. Then, smiling, he turns to me.

Although only as an observer, I realize I have participated in a memory creating small town experience that was not available to me when I lived in a condo in Abbotsford.

T.C. Knowles, War Hero and Citizen

In the game of life, Thomas (T.C.) Knowles of Hedley was not a bystander. After the death of his father, he emigrated to Canada in 1910 with his sister and brother-in-law from Glasgow, Scotland. Three years later, at the age of 20, he accompanied them to Hedley and worked in the Power House at the Daly Reduction Plant (gold mining company).

In 1915 a recruiter for the Canadian Army deeply stirred his patriotism. He and a number of young Hedley men eagerly enlisted. T.C. was assigned to the 54th Battalion.

According to Hedley researchers, Andy English and Jennifer Douglass, citizens of the town enthusiastically raised the equivalent of $75,000 in today’s currency to support the men in their war effort. Most of the funds were designated for machine guns and the local recruits became known as “the Hedley Machine Gun Boys.”

Lieut. T.C. Knowles (photo from Knowles family collection)
Lieut. T.C. Knowles
(photo from Knowles family collection)

T.C. was quickly promoted to Corporal and then Sergeant. His war diary, kept in a small notebook he carried throughout the war, reveals that he participated in major battles of WWI. On August 26, 1916 he wrote, “went into action at St. Eloi, Ypres.” Then on Oct. 11, “went into action at Corcelette (Somme).” March 1, 1917, he wrote, “regiment on large raid at Vimy Ridge. Very unsuccessful.” His daughter Anne Lloyd of Kamloops still has his diary and flying log.

T.C. proved to be a courageous soldier. On May 11, 1917 the London Gazette reported “his majesty the king has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Military Medal for bravery in the field to Sergeant TC Knowles.” In 1917 he was seconded to the RAF where he trained as a pilot and patrolled the English Channel.

Demobilized on June 13, 1920, he was quite intact physically, emotionally and mentally. For a time he resumed his role as a steam engineer at the gold mining operation in Hedley. He married Thomasina (Ina) Boyd on August 24, 1922 and they raised 5 children in their home at 957 Ellis Ave. in Hedley.

In 1937 he was appointed to the position of Postmaster of Hedley. Here his zest for life and unique sense of humour at times surprised people. One favourite trick was to wear eyeglasses with false eyeballs that popped out and then retracted. Today’s postal regulations might not look kindly on such interactions with patrons.

In “Mines of the Eagle Country”, Doug Cox provides an insight into the nature and character of T.C.. He quotes Mary Smith, who lived with her husband high on the mountain at the Nickel Plate townsite. She said, “there was a wonderful man in Hedley, Tommy Knowles, the Post Master. We would send our cheques down to be cashed by him and ask him to pay our bill at the store. If there was something in the hardware, he would pay these bills and send the remaining money back. It would come up the skip.”

His son-in-law, Gordon Lloyd says, “when we were fishing at a pond in the river, if a fish came to his lure, he’d yank out the lure so the fish would come to mine.” According to Gordon, T.C. told people his success in fishing came from using Scottish worms soaked in whiskey and kept in the fridge overnight.

T.C. understood well that a community will be vibrant only if citizens are active in its organizations. He served as secretary-treasurer of the hospital society, chairman of the Cenotaph committee, and trustee and devoted member of the Grace United Church. He was also an active promoter and developer of the Hedley Golf Course. His wife “Ina” shared his community mindedness. According to daughters Beverly and Anne,  she played the organ at church for 60 years.

T.C. had a wonderful ability to accept and interact with people of other cultures and races. According to Gordon Lloyd, when he passed away in 1959, there were as many people from the local reserve at the funeral as from Hedley. He and Thomasina, and other members of the family are buried in the Hedley Cemetery. To this day, those who remember T.C. and Thomasina Knowles, or know of them, still speak of them with a palpable sense of awe.

Hedley Hotels – Part 3 of 3

Although there were already 4 hotels in Hedley very early in the twentieth century, there was evidently sufficient business to warrant the construction of two more. In the summer of 1905 John Jackson built the New Zealand. For the most part the reasoning behind the names of the other hotels in Hedley can be understood. I have seen no explanation as to why a hotel in Hedley would be named the New Zealand. For the investors it proved to be a short-lived venture. In the early morning hours of November 6, 1911 it burned down.

In the fall of 1905 John Lind and the Peterson brothers leased a building from G.H. Sproule. After considerable reconstruction, they opened it in 1906 as the Great Northern Hotel.

Great Northern Hotel and Armitage Garage, 1940
Great Northern Hotel and Armitage Garage, 1940

(photo from Hedley Museum collection)

Writing in the April, 1948 British Columbia Historical Quarterly, Harry D. Barnes observed that “Hedley now had six hotels, and for a few years there was business for them all. As was common in mining towns of the day, the hotel bars were kept open 24 hours a day and seven days a week.”

The Great Northern was no more fortunate than the other five Hedley hotels. In the winter of 1956-57, it also burned down.

Both the Mascot and Nickle Plate mines had ceased operations by this time, so the town was no longer in need of hotels. Although it seems unusual that three hotels burned down the year after the closing of the Nickle Plate, I have come across no suggestion that the demise of any of the hotels came about by suspicious circumstances. Also, I have come across no reports of injuries or deaths as a result of these fires.

With the closing of the mines and the burning of the hotels, Hedley lost its excitement and swagger, and many of its inhabitants. It became a town that attracted not seekers of wealth, but seekers of a quiet life away from the bustle and noise of city life.

Hedley Hotels – Part 2 of 3

Each time I visit the Hedley Museum (usually at least 2 times per week) I return to the wall where photos of several Hedley hotels are displayed. I recall being amazed when I first learned that there had been 6 hotels of note, as well as several smaller ones, now largely forgotten. Even today it continues to surprise me that our little town, which presently has about 250 inhabitants on a good day, was the hub of so much activity.

In addition to the two hotels mentioned in the previous post, a third, The Commercial, was constructed by C.E. Oliver and Associates in the fall of 1902. In 1911, this hotel almost met the same dismal fate as the other two. A front page story in the January 26, 1911 Hedley Gazette reads as follows:

“Hedley nearly came in for a rather serious blaze on Thursday night of last week. Fire started in Critcley’s shoeshop, a small building attached to the Commercial hotel. It is thought that a spark from the stove caught in a gunny sack curtain near by and it was beginning to go in lively shape when noticed by F.M. Gillespie and G. McEachern, who happened to be in the drugstore opposite and were looking in that direction. They rushed over and kicked in the door, where the gunny sack was blazing and the woodwork alongside was in flames. First thing they pulled down the curtain and stamped out the fire. Then, using the partially burned sacking they smothered the remaining flames.”

The hotel survived several other fire related incidents. It did burn down though, in 1956. I have not found a photo of the Commercial, so if anyone has one please contact me on the comment section of the blogsite.

A fourth hotel, The Similkameen, situated at the corner of Scott

Similkameen Hotel, 1904
Similkameen Hotel, 1904

Avenue and 2nd Street, was built in 1904. The cost of $15,000. was a considerable sum at that time, and it was touted by the owners to be “the finest hotel in Hedley”. Writing in the April, 1948 edition of the British Columbia Historical Quarterly,  Harry D. Barnes describes it as “a modern, well-built, and comfortable hotel.” He goes on to say “it soon became a popular stopping-place for travellers.”

On February 2, 1916 a fierce fire engulfed The Similkameen. Due to the intense cold, water pipes were frozen. In a futile attempt to control the blaze, desperate firefighters could do no more than throw buckets of snow on the conflagration. Only a few pieces of china marked “Similkameen Hotel” survived.

Hedley Hotels – Part 1 of 3

When gold was discovered on Nickel Plate Mountain in 1898, it attracted not only prospectors and miners, but also men with a variety of business ideas for cashing in on the bonanza. A few had the foresight to anticipate the coming demand for accommodation.

The first of these hoteliers was the enterprising D.G. Hackney who

Hedley Hotel, 1900
Hedley Hotel, 1900

built the Hedley Hotel in the winter of 1900. Located on HaynesStreet directly across from the present day site of the Hedley Museum, it was constructed of hewn logs. The hotel was licenced as of January, 1901. The business did not prosper indefinitely, possibly due to competition from other hotels which soon sprang up. Changes in liquor laws may also have been a contributing factor. Hedley Museum notes indicate that it was later converted to a garage and then in 1956 unfortunately burned to the ground.

In the summer and fall of 1902, Messrs. McDermott and Marks built

Grand Union Hotel, 1906
Grand Union Hotel, 1906

the Grand Union Hotel. On August 29, 1903 they sold it to Robert Herron and Anton Winkler. A few years later Herron sold out his interest to Winkler. The hotel operated under Winkler’s management until a raging fire destroyed it on December 31, 1918.

All that remains today of these two early hotels is the photos, which are on display at the Hedley Heritage Museum.



Birds, Food & Clown at Hedley Reunion

The Hedley Reunion on August 9 demonstrated again that former

Kerry Lomax & Curtis Armstrong inspecting the meat.
Kerry Lomax & Curtis Armstrong inspecting the meat.

residents have deep roots here. They came from Princeton, Keremeos, the Okanagan Valley, Victoria, and as far away as Alberta and the Maritimes. For some it was an opportunity to connect with former classmates they had not seen since graduating from high school.

Planning for the event began a year ago when Don Armstrong of Hedley and Darryl McDonald of Keremeos started brainstorming about a reunion. They enlisted longtime Hedley resident Judy Turner and made the decision to get serious.

Jan Leake and daughter Cassie delighted children with face painting. In the afternoon the crowd was entertained by Jason Charters of Merritt who bills himself as the “Get Down Rodeo Clown.” He had brought his “assistants”, a couple of wonderfully realistic, long legged and nimble footed marionettes. Attached to him with wires and poles, one danced seductively in front of him and the other behind. Their enthusiasm, energy and sassy demeanour greatly pleased onlookers.

Postmaster Ruth Woodin opened the Beer Garden at 2 pm and toward dinner time appetites were aroused by the enticing aroma of 60 pounds of inside round roast sizzling on the Keremeos Fire Department’s giant barbeque. Head chef was Curtis Armstrong, ably assisted by Kerry Lomax, both of Kelowna.

Removing the meat from the extremely hot rod proved to be a challenge. Don Armstrong needed to run to his home and find several pairs of additional gloves. “We were just a bunch of amateurs doing this for the first time,” he said. A number of salads and desserts were supplied by the ladies of Hedley. With all that good food in their stomachs, guests may have needed a little respite to prepare for the Street Dance.

Music for the dance was provided by the Blackbirds of Keremeos. “They did our kind of music,” Judy Turner said. “People got up to dance, some of whom I didn’t think would. There were about 150 people all over the street.” The high octane Blackbirds brought an aura of vibrant enthusiasm and excitement. All comments about the band were favourable, including from people who enjoyed the music sitting on their patios at home.

When it was over, each of the organizers gave a lot of credit to the numerous individuals who played a role. And each expressed positive thoughts about the year long experience of making it happen. “It was a success for me,” Darryl McDonald said. “I got to meet a lot of people I had not seen since high school.” Judy Turner summed it up with “I had fun. Maybe we’ll do something else next year.” Don said, “everyone was happy. And if there is money left over, we will donate it to the organizations of Hedley.”

The Reunion brought people together and renewed relationships. Also, it once again demonstrated that the citizens of Hedley have mastered the art of throwing an exciting, class act party.


Meeting the Knowles of Hedley

I was vaguely aware that Thomas Cameron Knowles (T.C.) had

Former home of T.C.  & Thomasina Knowles, & their 5 children
Former home of T.C. & Thomasina Knowles, & their 5 children

played a key role in Hedley’s history. He was the Postmaster for many years and his wife, Thomasina, played the organ at the United Church for 60 years. Several members of the Knowles family are interred in the Hedley Cemetery. Those still living have re-located to other communities. Having become deeply intrigued by the fascinating history of this little former gold mining community and the people who made it their home, I hoped I might one day have a conversation with a member of the family, even if only by telephone.

Recently Linda and I attended a presentation about the “Hedley Boys”, young men who enlisted and saw combat in WW1. Andy English and Jennifer Douglass, two local researchers collaborated in meticulously gathering information about the lives and military contributions of these Hedley men. We learned that T.C. Knowles was one of the young men who served our country, participating in several major, well known campaigns.

We were sitting in the second row, directly behind a man and two women. All three were strangers to us. Leaning forward in their chairs, they were obviously totally focused and absorbed, not wanting to miss a single word spoken by Andy and Jennifer. They seemed utterly mesmerized by what was being said.

After the presentation we understood why they had been in the front row and had listened so carefully. The two women were Beverley and Anne, daughters of T.C. Knowles. The man was Gordon Lloyd, husband of Anne. They live in Kamloops and had driven here in the summer heat for this presentation. Much of the information on T.C. Knowles had come from Gordon.

After the 2 hour presentation we walked to the Museum with them. As we walked, Gordon pointed to the Hedley Fire Department. “The Red and White store used to be there until it burned down,” he said. “And next to it, where that new house is now, was the butcher shop.” Each of them recalled the town as they had known it when they were young. Both Anne and Beverley graduated from the Hedley High School several years prior to its closing in 1951.

We spent an hour with them over lunch at the Museum, and it was like striking Hedley gold. They were quite willing, even eager to share their knowledge and experiences. “We played ball with Jimmy Douglass,” Beverley said, referring to James (Jim) Douglass, author of the best seller, “JFK and the Unspeakable”. Memories from the past continued to pop up, still fresh and vivid in their minds. They had been at the Hedley cemetery the previous day and Anne named each member of the Knowles family laid to rest there.

Several days after our visit with them, Gordon sent an e-mail in which he mentioned Marlene, as though this was a name familiar to us. I wrote back saying, “I don’t know who Marlene is.” That evening I received an e-mail from Marlene, telling me she is a member of the French family. The Frenches, like the Knowles, are names of some renown in Hedley’s history. And both families understand that it is important to share their early memories so they will not be lost to future generations.

There are rich veins of history in this once bustling gold mining centre. We are fortunate that the Knowles and French families are opening the vaults of their memories so we can all benefit.

What’s Eating Us?

“What’s eating us! Is that an ant colony we’re standing on?”

"What's Eating Us?"
“What’s Eating Us?”

This scene was captured by Jean Robinson at the Hedley Museum’s Hawaiian Night celebration. We had enjoyed a lavish meal and now anyone wearing a Hawaiian shirt was called up. The ants, understandably, were miffed at us for invading their turf. These men were the unfortunate victims of their displeasure. Standing on the far left, I was quite oblivious of their bad luck. Was I just “in the right place at the right time?” None of us won the prize for the most attractive shirt. That went to a young lad who had the courage to wear a grass skirt as part of his outfit.