I’m always delighted and intrigued when I encounter someone doing the unusual. Last Thursday Linda and I were sitting in our car on the parking lot at Skaha Lake, drinking coffee and eating sandwiches. A cool breeze was blowing off the lake and except for an occasional warmly bundled walker, no one else was at the beach. When an SUV pulled up near us I became curious.
Two boys got out of the vehicle and opened the rear door. They were actually in the middle years, but I call them boys because I quickly learned they were there to have fun.
They pulled an electric trike out and the bigger one mounted it and began racing around on the parking lot. He was obviously enjoying the ride. When he handed the trike to his friend, I went over and asked him about it. I learned that his name is Jon and he is age 50. His friend Craig is 45. Usually it’s only young children who ignore the cold and play anyway.
Jon was the owner of the trike and he was happy to talk about it. “It cost me $1600 U.S.” he said. “The charge takes 3 hours and then it will go about 30-45 minutes. Top speed is probably 20-25.” I didn’t ask if that was kilometres or miles but watching, I think it may be the latter.
“The first time I rode ,” Jon said, “I tipped it and scraped quite a strip of skin off my buttocks. My wife considered that pretty hilarious.” In retrospect he seemed fine with this. Maybe not so much at the time.
As we chatted, Craig braked hard, turned the front wheel sharply and instantly reversed direction. I wonder if he scraped any skin off his behind the first time he tried that fancy little maneuver. While Craig continued to press the limits with the trike, Jon told me a little about himself.
He had just returned from Rio. When I asked if he’d been on a holiday he said, “No, I have a 3-4 year contract there to drill impossible wells. I recently completed a 3 year contract in Malaysia. I mostly do consulting now, telling the operators how to do it.”
Turning my attention back to the trike, I asked Jon if he ever rides on the street. “Only late at night when there’s no one else out there,” he said. That’s wise. The trike is so low a driver might think it was a shadow streaking along.
He has two sons, ages 3 and 6. The older boy is eager to ride, but at this time he still has to settle for a spin sitting on Dad’s lap.
I clicked a few photos and Jon handed me a helmet. “Want to have some fun?” he asked. I didn’t attempt Craig’s quick turn around trick, but for a few minutes on that awesome electric trike I experienced the sense of adventure I often felt when I was a boy. Thanks Jon and Craig, for reminding me of what it was like to be young.
When Richard Lubiak of Hedley was born in 1937, his Ukrainian homeland was already in crises. He and his mother were among the fortunate ones who escaped the escalating danger.
Richard called recently and said, “I have a story you might be interested in. Come for coffee”. Over a cup of delicious brew in his home near the Similkameen River he told his story. It’s a story of war, turmoil, and love for Ukrainian culture and people.
Richard began with a brief outline of a chaotic period in Ukrainian history. The Russians had a stranglehold on much of the country. They imposed collectivization of farms, imprisoned and killed millions, and engineered a devastating famine. Ukrainian men joined various militias to fight occupying powers.
“In the midst of all the turmoil and violence,” Richard said, “two soldiers in the Ukrainian Army became friends. They were fighting the Bolsheviks. One was my future step-father. The friend was Mr. Nesterenko, an artillery gunner. They fought against the Bolsheviks for the Czar, then against Russia and Poland.
The Ukrainians’ plight deepened with the advent of WWII. In June, 1941, Hitler began his drive toward Moscow by invading Ukraine. Initially many saw the Wehrmacht as liberators. Some joined Nazi units.
“The region where my family lived was under Polish rule and here the Germans were good to us,” Richard said. “It didn’t take long though, for people in other areas to decide they were only slightly better than the Russians.” The Germans forced Ukrainian men to work very hard. They pulled children off the streets and sent them to Germany to work.
Approximately 10 million Ukrainians were killed.
“When the Russians started pushing the Nazis back,” Richard said, “the retreating army destroyed everything the communists had left when they were driven out.” Fearing Stalin’s troops, about 2 million Ukrainians fled with the Wehrmacht.
Richard was 6 when he, his mother and other relatives, hid in a root cellar behind German trenches. He was lying on his grandmother’s lap when a Russian bullet hit her in the abdomen, killing her.
At this time, Richard’s father was in one of the militias, fighting Russians and Poles. Because his mother was a nurse, the Wehrmacht took them along.
“They put us in a Displaced Persons camp” he said. “Our people kept the camp clean and organized. They set up schools.” He still feels pride at the way Ukrainian people responded to difficult circumstances.
For 11 years his mother looked for his father. Eventually the Polish Red Cross informed her he had been executed by the Russians.
“In this camp mother met my step father. They were married and in 1949 we emigrated to Toronto. There was a substantial Ukrainian community and an Orthodox Church.”
In the upheaval of the war, Richard’s step-father had lost contact with his friend, Mr. Nesterenko. The man had emigrated some years earlier. It was a moment of great joy when they met again in the Orthodox Church.
“Our families spent a lot of time together,” Richard recalls, “the Nesterenkos had two children. Often we went to their cottage at the lake.”
When Mr. Nesterenko died, the families drifted apart. “I didn’t see them again. In 1958 I married Margaret, a Ukrainian girl, and in 1979 we began a new life in BC.
Richard sold cleaning products and Margaret ran their janitorial business. For 9 years they also operated a B&B in Princeton. In 2007 they moved to an idyllic setting just east of Hedley. Sadly, after a heroic battle with cancer, Margaret passed away this summer.
An avid reader, Richard continued their practise of visiting the Hedley library each Thursday. On a white board showing whose book requests had come in, he was astonished to see the name Nesterenko. Remembering his step-father’s friend, he made inquiries and learned that Natalie, the daughter of the friend, was a resident of Hedley.
They met the next day and for both it was a moment of profound joy. The Ukrainian culture is deeply rooted in them and they will have much to talk about in coming days.
The 2 Ukrainian soldiers could not have known that some 60 years later their friendship would bring about another friendship, in possibly the most unlikely of places.
Probably due to the mountains surrounding our little community, summer nights sometimes remain quite warm. According to Linda’s online research, hens don’t have sweat glands. Not wanting “the girls” to suffer from the Hedley heat, in spring I removed the insulation from their little home. We appreciate their golden brown eggs and I do whatever I can to accommodate their needs and desires.
The girls are terrific troopers and this summer, when people were moaning about being hot, they took it in stride. They didn’t complain even when the mercury rose to 40 degrees C above.
Now that the mercury has reversed itself and plummeted
downward, I have needed to again respond to the seasonal change. Just before the current cold weather (-15 some nights), I put the insulation back into their home. I’ve heard of chickens losing their feet in very cold temperatures.
I had laid up a stock of fresh grass for this season. A few weeks ago I began spreading some on the floor of an apple box. The box was in their house all last winter and they laid in it faithfully. In spring though, they simultaneously began boycotting the box.
When they deviate from an established pattern, they invariably catch me off guard. I attribute such changes to boredom and an understandable need for stimulation. Not having anyone willing to share Frequent Flyer points, they can’t go to Mexico or Spain. Laying in a different location seems to alleviate the boredom. I think they derive great pleasure from watching as I search for eggs. Sometimes I need a few days to find them.
With the onset of cold weather I hoped they would exercise some common hen sense and resume laying in the box. Fortunately they did. Of course their incessant scratching quickly sends the grass flying and I need to replenish it almost daily. I keep in mind that scratching is in their DNA and try to exercise patience.
When frigid air from the north invaded our valley, the girls decided
to take a sabbatical from laying. At least I assumed that was behind the sudden dearth of eggs.
Until now they had never all agreed on a “work to rule” campaign at the same time, so I was a tad suspicious. One day I searched their domain with the thoroughness of a prison guard looking for drugs. I checked the outdoor laying box they used in good weather. I looked behind the ever bearing raspberry shoots and the lilac bushes against the neighbor’s 6 foot high fence.
Concealed in a secret place under the lilacs, they had laid up a store of 11 eggs, tightly bunched together. It has been colder outside than in our fridge, so the eggs were in perfect condition. Unfortunately, the girls now seem disgruntled at losing their impressive stash. Maybe they were planning a lavish breakfast for themselves. Anyway, whatever their reasoning, it’s back to one egg a day.
I give the girls full credit for being hardy. Much like children, even on the coldest days, they prefer to be outdoors. One thing has changed though and I doubt that they understand. In warmer weather, just about every time we looked out the rear windows, we saw the girls scratching the earth as determinedly as diamond miners drilling into rock. Now the ground in their compound is frozen solid. I can’t push a shovel into it and the girls can’t scratch beneath the surface. This has cut them off from one of their favourite culinary delights. For the insects it’s a blessing.
Yesterday I observed Miss Lonely Hearts for a long minute, unmoving as a statue. It’s just the beginning of at least 3 months of uselessly standing around, wondering why this circumstance is being inflicted on them.
For the sake of their mental equilibrium, I may have to invest in a 60 inch smart tv. I’ll set it up in the house though, and they can enjoy their favorite programs through the window.
Elections have an uncanny and inconvenient capacity to expose
community fault lines. This once again became evident prior to last week’s municipal vote. Especially in larger centres like Vancouver, Surrey, Abbotsford and Kelowna, the vitriol at times flowed as freely as beer at a bartenders convention. Ambitious politicians flayed at each other with verbal clubs in media ads, a plethora of letters and brochures in our mail boxes, public meetings etc. There was the usual frenzied competition to persuade us by putting up enough signs to construct a few homes. Even in Princeton, Keremeos and usually quiet, peaceful Hedley, cracks were revealed in the political and social fabric.
We have come to accept that politicians will heatedly espouse opposing views as to what is most beneficial for our community. When the skirmishing between leaders becomes personal and continues after the election, we have reason to be concerned. Leaders at war with each other are not able to focus on creating a safer, healthier, more vibrant community.
We cannot do anything about fault lines that exist below the earth’s surface. By examining our motivation and changing our thinking, we can do something about fault lines in the fabric of our communities. For the sake of the people, it is essential that leaders develop the maturity, wisdom and will to work productively with those who hold differing views. We grow stronger as a community when we do not permit diversity of outlook and ideas to divide us.
Wise leaders, whether in politics, business, a profession, etc., consider the ramifications of their attitudes, words and actions. They choose to work constructively with others, sometimes even with those who have radically different ideas.
This will almost certainly mean overlooking slights, harsh words, possibly even physical injury. It may also require forgiving. Josh Billings has said, “There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.”
Politicians could benefit from studying carefully the inspiring example of Nelson Mandela. For much of the 26 years of his imprisonment, he was held in the infamous Robben Island Prison. He was compelled to do hard labour in a lime quarry and was permitted only rare visits from his wife Winnie and their 2 daughters. He longed to be at home with his family and to continue his struggle against the government’s policy of strict dehumanizing racial segregation. It grieved him when he received reports of his people being shot while demonstrating against Apartheid.
When the government realized it could no longer cling to power, Nelson Mandela was released. Elected to the position of President, it was expected he would wreak vengeance on the minority white population. South Africa was in danger of degenerating into a bloody civil war. Mandela’s thinking, decisions and actions would determine its future.
While in prison he had made a conscious decision to not become
bitter. He chose to rise above the pain and loneliness of his lost years. The understanding and philosophy he developed during the difficult years of confinement enabled him to forego punishing those who had kept his people in virtual slavery. He understood that for the good of all citizens, black and white, he must rise above anger and bitterness. He needed to enlist the skills, experience, and cooperation of the former masters. To this end, he appointed F.W. de Klerk, the former president, as his first Deputy President.
The politicians elected in the Similkameen communities last Saturday don’t need to deal with issues that could destroy their community and bring death to many. But there are important matters to grapple with. Many of these were raised in the race to win. Will the winners shut out the losers now or will they respect them and listen to them? Will the losers adopt a fifth column role, always seeking to undermine and sabotage those in power?
Whether there is animosity or a spirit of cooperation will to a great extent be determined by the level of maturity and good will demonstrated by our leaders, both winners and losers. Societal and political fault lines do not have to divide our communities.
Parkas, toques and gloves abounded as approximately 100 Similkameen Valley citizens gathered around the Cenotaph in
Hedley for the Remembrance Day ceremony. Light flakes of snow were falling as a bag piper led a procession that included Constable Anthony Pankratz, MP Alex Atamanenko and local flag bearers. Pastor Graham Gore prayed for the fallen in conflicts ranging from WWI to Afghanistan. A moving talk by local war historian Andy English captured the full attention of the crowd. In spite of the cold, caps and toques came off during the minute of silence to remember and honour the fallen warriors.
Later, it was a sombre scene as 6 committed citizens of Hedley met
at the cemetery to lay wreaths on the graves of Hedley boys who had given their lives to preserve our freedom. Local Postmaster Ruth Woodin laid wreaths on several graves in the Masonic section. One was placed on the grave of TC Knowles, recipient of the Military Medal for Bravery in the Field in WWI. It was fitting that Woodin placed this wreath since Knowles was an earlier Hedley Postmaster, serving from 1937 until his passing in 1959.
Researchers Jennifer Douglass and Andy English placed a wreath on
the grave of Margaret Robertson who died in 1929. They believe the two empty graves fenced in with hers were likely intended for two fallen family members. In the fall of 1916 her brother, William H. Henderson, died of wounds from the accidental explosion of a mortar shell while in training school in France. Her son, Robert W. (Bobby) Robertson, died of wounds suffered in a trench raid at Vimy Ridge in spring of 1917.
Two other Hedley residents, Terry Sawiuk and George Koene, also participated in placing a total of 15 wreaths.
Except for the persistent, meticulous research of Andy English andJennifer Douglass, the intriguing World War I story of the
Hedley “Machine Gun Boys” might have remained lost forever. Fifty-two young men, many of them working in the Nickel Plate Mine, signed up and went to war. Twelve gave their lives to the battle to combat the German Kaiser’s armies. They fought in the Battle of the Somme, at Vimy Ridge, and also Ypres. Many of those who returned had been gassed and wounded. Most suffered from shock. English and Douglass point out that for Hedley, a town of 400, it meant the loss of wonderful human potential.
It was Andy who initiated the research 2 years ago. “The 100 year anniversary of the beginning of the war was coming up,” he said. “It concerned me that some of the names on the Cenotaph were no longer legible.”
He had grown up in a family familiar with war. His grandfather signed up in 1940 and became an Armourer in the RAF. “He put the bombs on the planes. Much of the Battle of Britain took place over Surrey, where my family lived.”
When the German bombers came, the family rushed inside and hid in their “air raid shelter”, a reinforced table. Their home suffered blown out windows and a cracked foundation. “While I was growing up, the family talked about war a lot.”
Jennifer’s background is radically different. Her father, best selling author James Douglass, is a well known antiwar activist. Her grandfather 4 generations ago was in the Confederate cavalry. “I’ve long been interested in Hedley history,” she said. When Andy asked her to help with an exhibit at the Hedley Museum, she agreed and has become a committed research partner.
According to Andy, the online opening of the Attestation and Service Records made their research more productive. They devoted many hours to perusing museum records, studying the defunct Hedley Gazette, contacting family members, and delving into any possible source.
Hedley involvement in the war began when William Liddicoat signed up in the summer of 1914.“After the war,” Andy said, “he again worked in the mine and then started a dairy farm in Keremeos on what is now Liddicoat Drive.”
At least 10 more men signed up before Travers Lucas, an army captain and recruiter came to town in August, 1915. Deeply moved by Lucas’ presentation, another 17 men signed up. One of the men, Alec Jack, a bank clerk walked out of the bank and enlisted. He would later win the Military Cross and become a company commander. Another recruit, Bert Schubert worked at Schubert’s Merchandise. Jack Lorenzetto, the only one born in Hedley, was of Aboriginal/Italian descent and had grown up on the local reserve. He was conscripted in 1918. In a letter home he mentioned he was the second best shooter in his unit.
When the men recruited by Lucas departed for Penticton in 5 banner bedecked cars, the whole town turned out to bid them farewell. “The Stamp Mill whistle blared,” Jennifer said. “They rang the fire bell and also the school bell. The town band played rousing music to send them off.” Later the Hedley Cenotaph was sited on the very spot where they gathered for the departure. Many of the Hedley Boys became part of the 54th Battalion. Probably due to their mining experience, some were assigned to the Canadian Engineers.
The Hedley Boys wrote numerous letters, some to family and friends and others to the Hedley Gazette. “Their letters were wonderfully descriptive,” Andy said. “There was a deep sense of identification with Hedley and the Similkameen Valley. Even those who had come from England referred to each other as Hedleyites. They mentioned Hedley in every letter.”
“A number of the letters expressed appreciation for the socks knitted by the ladies,” Jennifer said. “They were also thankful to the people of Hedley and the Nickel Plate mine for Christmas packages.”
The Hedley contingent developed close relationships. When Ebenezer Vans died of illness in England, his unit put together the funds to buy a headstone for his grave site.
They were called the Hedley Machine Gun Boys because a number
were assigned to a machine gun unit. Most were accustomed to hard work in the mines. They were strong and fit, able to carry the heavy guns. It was a dangerous assignment, due to the enemy’s determined efforts to silence these effective weapons. Because it was so hazardous, toward the end the machine gunners were called “the Suicide Club.”
Private Sid Edwards, a machine gunner, was the first Hedley boy
killed. After his death the people of Hedley raised money to buyLewis machine guns. The initial campaign raised $3,500, sufficient to buy 3 guns. In all, 11 Hedley Boys were killed in action, a very high ratio compared to other units.
By the end of my conversation with Andy and Jennifer, I had a sense of their tremendous passion for the subjects of their research. “We feel like we have gotten to know them,” Jennifer said. “We’re continuing with the research,” Andy added. “We want the Hedley Machine Gun Boys to be remembered. ”
Because the lettering on the Hedley Cenotaph is becoming difficult to decipher, on Remembrance Day they will begin raising funds to remedy this. They want to refurbish the Cenotaph and possibly attach brass plaques with the names engraved. Anyone wanting to support this worthy endeavour can leave a message at the Hedley Heritage Museum (250-292-8787) or contact them directly.
In an earlier post I stated that if auto maker Henry Ford could see what Leroy Fague is doing to his cars, he’d likely want to come back and join in the fun. Leroy’s cars are practical, go fast, and charm the senses. He works alone in his garage on Old Hedley Road, relying on ingenuity and using parts he has harvested from retired vehicles.
When Leroy parked his 1936 Ford in front of my neighbour’s home recently, I couldn’t resist the urge to get up close.
“It was originally a one ton fire truck stationed at the Bellingham Airport,” he told me. “Front and rear suspension come from a Mustang. The engine is a chev 327 small block. I built the box myself. The seat is from a Dodge minivan.” His recitation included a dizzying array of parts from other vehicles. I gathered that this pretty pickup is a Ford mostly in name and appearance.
Before he drove away he said, “come over sometime and I’ll show you what I do. I’ll give you and your wife both a ride.”
Linda and I accepted the offer this week and found that entering his single car garage was somewhat akin to stepping back into an earlier era. A 1928 Chrysler coupe, partially finished, invited our attention.
“It was built without a roof originally,” Leroy explained. “They didn’t have the technology to stamp a roof then. Someone put this roof on it later, but it’s flawed.” He pointed to rippling in front and along the sides. He’ll fix that.
As he talked it became apparent that Leroy is meticulous and passionate, much like a Nobel Prize winning scientist. He’s an artist, a creative genius.
Pointing at the head lights on the Chrysler he said, “It took some fiddling to get the lights mounted at the height where they look best. I built the fenders, chassis and frame. You can see it has a rake (slant). That’s to make it look like it can go fast.”
“When I have a car at a certain stage,” he said, “I push it out and eye ball it from about 50 paces. If it doesn’t look right, I push it back in, take it apart and do it again.”
When I asked where he learned to build cars, he said, “I had zero training, just a desire to do it. When I started building my first car, a 1923 Ford Model T, I got a shop to create a windshield frame for it. They did a poor quality job but charged a lot. After that I read and studied and learned to make parts like this myself.”
He remembers that 1923 Model T as a fun car. “It weighed 1920 pounds and had 300 horse power. It was very fast.”
“That was about 40 years ago,” he said. “One day I raced a Porsche from Whistler to Vancouver. It couldn’t keep up. My wife was pretty unhappy with me. That’s something I don’t do anymore.”
The Model T drew enough police attention to make him uncomfortable. “They pulled me over for noise, for no fenders, and sometimes out of curiosity. One officer told me he didn’t like my car. He kept me waiting more than an hour in a hot sun, in a car without a roof. After that I put an ad in the paper and sold the car.”
Leroy has obviously matured a good deal in the intervening years. He is excited about his creations, but not boastful. His approach to car building is pragmatic. “I build practical cars that can be driven anywhere, anytime. I’ve driven the 1936 Ford pickup 18 years. It’s never let me down. I expect my vehicles to be mechanically sound.”
I asked my last question and then reminded him of the promised ride in the pickup. He took Linda first. When it was my turn, he found a quiet road and stepped on the accelerator. The ride remained smooth and comfortable. “We’re doing 70 mph now,” he said. “Should I do 100?”.
Appraised at $36,500, this pretty truck is well beyond my budget. Anyway, Leroy says it’s not for sale. I can understand why.