Breathing Life Into a Defunct Camaro



This 1981 Camaro has been thoroughly neglected for 15 years. Hasn’t been driven. Hasn’t even been started. For much of this time it has been parked on Mike’s yard, the next door neighbour of our daughter Vivian and her family. No one demonstrated any interest in the car, except for one person.

For about 2 years our grandson Brandon has periodically said to Mike, “When are you going to give me the Camaro?” He was 14 when he began asking the question. Mike is about 40, a big guy with a big voice. He just laughed.

Maybe he was waiting for Brandon to be old enough to drive. Approximately 3 months ago he said to him, “O.K. you can move the Camaro onto your yard now. It’s yours.” Brandon will turn 16 at the end of June.

It’s a Z28, with a 350 cubic inch motor, the biggest one available in this top of the line model. This is a lot of power for a driver at any age, especially a young man of 16. It has Granny a tad concerned but we know Brandon has demonstrated an ability to make wise choices. Even so, Granny will say some extra prayers once the car is road worthy.

Having stood idle so long, the car needs more than just some tender loving care. Fortunately Brandon’s Dad, our son in law Troy, has plenty of experience with breathing life into classic vehicles. His restoration of a red 1970 Cuda convertible still produces a sense of awe in me. One of the Dukes of Hazard bought another car he had restored. He sets a high standard and gives meticulous attention to detail.

Brandon admiring some of the changes that have been made.
Brandon admiring some of the changes that have been made.

Most of Troy’s working life has been in automotive parts outlets. Fora number of years he has been with Mopac Auto Supplies (“where power is everything“). He knows cars and is the brains behind the restoration of the Camaro. He gives the directions and Brandon does most of the work. They can be found in the shop long after dark.

In the photo at the top they are discussing the best means of removing the gas tank. Troy has an automotive scope camera that allows him a peek at the inside. “There is a lot of gunk in there,” he said. The problem at this point is that someone put a hitch on the car years ago and it won’t permit the tank to come down. It’s hard to believe anyone would put a hitch on a Camaro.

It’s actually somewhat amazing to see Troy working on a Camaro. From the beginning, he’s been a loyal Chrysler Corp. fan. I’m certain he hasn’t worked on a General Motors Co. product previously. It’s good to see that his loyalty to Chrysler is outweighed by loyalty to his son.

There will be a cost to bringing this old lady to life. Fortunately Troy can buy at wholesale and he also knows people who have used parts. In a few instances, some individuals have taken an interest in Brandon’s project and have donated parts.

Some years ago Chev General Manager Pete Estes said, “the name Camaro suggests the comradeship of good friends, as a personal car should be to its owner.”

This Camaro is also deepening the comradeship between father and son.

Chopaka Rodeo Offers Excitement & Risks

When Nancy Allison, lead organizer for the Chopaka Rodeo, sat down with Linda and me at our kitchen table last week, her smile and

Chopaka Rodeo photo permission by Nancy Allison
Chopaka Rodeo
photo permission by Nancy Allison

sparkling eyes quickly convinced me she’s a zealot. “I’ve been at this for 50 years,” was her response to my first question. “I was 9 at the time of the first rodeo. My Dad, Barney Allison, was one of the organizers. It began on his ranch, and although he is gone now, it is still there. First everyone went to church. After church some people began doing calf roping for fun. From that small beginning it developed into a very successful rodeo.”

It has become a popular event on the amateur rodeo circuit and

Chopaka Rodeo, photo permission by Nancy Allison
Chopaka Rodeo, photo permission by Nancy Allison

attracts contestants and spectators from the Coast, Williams Lake, Washington State and elsewhere. Events include bullriding, bareback, saddlebronc, team roping, ladies, junior and Pee Wee barrels, and more. “Wild Cow Milking is a crowd pleaser,” Nancy said.

The Kids Calf Scramble requires contestants to chase and snatch ribbons from the ears of calves. According to Nancy, the rodeo is a good place for young contestants to practise their techniques. In addition to an added purse of at least $500, winners of major events will receive a coveted silver buckle crafted by Montana Silversmith.

“In the early years the cowboys went out and caught wild horses for the rodeo,” Nancy said. “Now all contest animals are supplied by contractors. Each time an animal (rough stock) supplied by a contractor exits the chute it costs $150.”

One of the contestants, Chad Eneaus, began riding saddle broncs at age 14, and bulls when he was 16. He won the Canadian High School Bronc Riding Championship. He is a member of the Western Indian Rodeo Association and won the Saddle Bronc Championship in 2010. He has won prize money in a number of rodeos and I felt fortunate in tracking him down. He told me, “in the beginning it was kind of a saving grace. It gave me an opportunity to challenge myself emotionally, mentally and spiritually.”

When I asked Chad about the dangers, he replied, “in one rodeo a bull threw me and then planted its rear hoofs on my chest. Both my lungs collapsed and my liver was lacerated.” He paused a moment and then said, “you have to know when to get a new hold, and when to let go. You don’t have a second to think. It has to be automatic. You have to figure out how to work with the animal. The ground is the best teacher. It hurts when you land.”

Hay rancher Linnea Cappos has been part of the rodeo since 1979. “I rodeoed hard for 40 years in the barrel event,” she told me in a phone conversation. “I competed in the Barrel Racing event. Now I just help the girls make it happen. I’m involved with the paperwork and I also prepare the ground for the Barrel Racing. It’s a timed event and the footing needs to be secure for the horses so they don’t get hurt. The rodeo has given me a lot of satisfaction,” she said. “Now I just want to give something back.”

Linnea loves the family atmosphere. “When I get there, I head first to where they make the Fried Bread. People sit on blankets or lawn chairs, There are no bleachers. Some sit on the tailgates of pickups. It’s pretty informal.” She has gotten her 4 year old grand daughter Sophie involved in Barrel Racing. She does it because I do it,” she said. “Like me, she loves horses.”

I asked Nancy about the level of danger for contestants. “The saddle events are probably more dangerous than the bareback ones,” she

Chopaka Rodeo, photo by permission of Nancy Allison
Chopaka Rodeo, photo by permission of Nancy Allison

replied. “A rider can get hooked on the saddle horn and be dragged along by the horse. One year a rider caught a hoof in his chest. I had to drive him and the first aid attendants to the clinic. On the way they shouted at me to stop because they had lost him. They pounded on his chest and he came back. After a few days in the hospital he was fine.”

“This year we’ll probably get at least 1000 spectators, if the weather’s good. I tell people to bring their coolers, bikinis, mackinaws and lawn chairs. The entrance fee is only $10.00 and free for kids 10 and under. On Sunday, April 5, 2015 the show begins at 10 am.”

After listening to Chad and Nancy, I’m quite content to let others do the bronco and bull riding at the Chopaka Rodeo. The fried bread sounds pretty good though.

Abbotsford Sundown Toastmasters

When Linda and I were still members of Abbotsford Sundown Toastmasters, I often said to visitors, “Other than obtaining a university degree, joining a Toastmasters club is the best career move you can make. For some people, it’s even better.”

Last Thursday evening Sundown celebrated 30 years as a club, and

Abbotsford Sundown Toastmasters Celebrates 30 Years
Abbotsford Sundown Toastmasters Celebrates 30 Years

we drove to the Coast for this. It was an opportunity to renew friendships and also marvel at the growth of members we have known for many years. Jack Sweeten, who joined during our time, is now Area Governor. Lois Boughton, another recruit during these years is Division Governor.

Sgt. At Arms, Phyllis Kotyk and President Dr. Caroline Cesar
Sgt. At Arms, Phyllis Kotyk and President Dr. Caroline Cesar

Phyllis Kotyk opened the meeting as Sergeant-at-Arms. She joined the club at about the same time as Linda and I. Her confident, welcoming voice and demeanour gave us a surge of joy. This wasn’t the timid Phyllis we knew in the early years. Caroline Cesar surprised us with vitality, wonderful vocal variety and an abundance of confidence. As President, she chaired the meeting.

David Hobson, my personal mentor for a number of years,

David Hobson, a Distinguished Toastmaster
David Hobson, a Distinguished Toastmaster

delivered the keynote address. He is a professional presenter, trainer and coach. Also the most committed Toastmaster I have known. He has given considerable thought to the subject of Evaluations, key to improving speaking skills. David shared specific, helpful insights to enable T.M.’s to provide substantive evaluations.

One of the great benefits of Toastmasters for virtually everyone who joins a club is a tremendous growth in confidence. This comes from performing a variety of roles in the club. Each role is evaluated, usually with an

James Njeru. A Toastmaster who could be in the movies.
James Njeru. A Toastmaster who could be in the movies.

observation as to what went well, and also a suggestion for improvement. The club provides a safety net for the terrified novice speaker. Even if a performance is considerably less than stellar, it will not be criticized. By being shown how to improve, the Toastmaster gains the courage to speak outside the club. It’s an encouraging environment.

Although there is no club within reasonable driving distance of Hedley, Linda and I continue to benefit from the encouragement and evaluation we received at Sundown. It gave Linda the confidence to accept the position of Vice President of the Hedley Historical Museum Society. As a columnist for two small town newspapers, I approach people virtually every week to request an interview. Whether they agree or not depends a lot on my initial, very brief “pitch.” Toastmasters taught me a well thought through, effectively presented request is more likely to produce a positive reception.

Linda and I are deeply grateful to the members of Sundown Toastmasters for many positive, often wise evaluations. With your help, we have been able to move on and accomplish more. We are delighted with the enthusiasm of the members and the strength of the club. It is definitely built to last.

The Jacobs of Hedley

Michelle & Mike Jacobs of Hedley
Michelle & Mike Jacobs of Hedley

In the poker game we call life, some individuals believe they have been dealt a losing hand. Talking with Mike Jacobs, a Mohawk from Ontario, I quickly gathered that he gives a swift and decisive boot to these kinds of thoughts.

In response to my question concerning the impact of his early years, Mike wouldn’t give me permission to write anything that could be interpreted as “snivelling,” (to use his expression). He said only “When I was young I worked on farms. A couple were good, some weren’t. Sometimes I had to get up at 4:30 to milk cows. Often I had to work until dark. I don’t look back or complain. Those experiences prepared me for challenges later in life. They made me tougher and stronger. Life is what we make of it. I look ahead.”

Mike and wife Marie live just outside Hedley on 8 acres, with a spectacular view of the Similkameen River. Mike’s daughter Michelle lives in Hedley.

He became aware early of an artist’s fascination with wood and for a time developed this interest. Within him lived a powerful drive to succeed financially though, and he turned to work that brought in money. His motivation far exceeded the usual. “From the age of 17 to 57 I always had a job,” he said. “I was a workaholic. Even when I was young, while others were partying, I was putting a roof on someone’s house, or installing doors. I partied when the work was done. Most of the time I had 2 or 3 jobs.”

Mike’s practical abilities enabled him to launch a home renovation business and also a pre-purchase home inspection business. He constantly scanned the horizon for opportunities to acquire new skills. “When I was working for the City of Burnaby,” he said, “I took every course they offered, in case the job with the city didn’t last.”

He declined to list his various trades but did admit to being a journeyman carpenter. After an injury and the arthritis that followed, the city made him Coordinator of Maintenance.

In his youth Mike didn’t learn the Mohawk language or culture. Later though, he looked into his First Nations heritage. “As a kid I never thought of myself as white,” he said. “Our heritage should always mean something to us. But we don’t need to be militant.”

People sometimes tell him he threw away his gifting when he focused on work rather than pursuing his artistic interests. He responds with, “I didn’t throw away my gifting. I passed it on to my daughter Michelle.”

We were sitting at a work table in his shop, with Michelle listening intently. At one point she said, “Dad always had the Mohawk ability to work high above the ground. His sense of balance was off the charts.”

Michelle has certainly inherited Mike’s interest in artwork. While we talked she worked patiently, drawing a man wearing a wolf headdress. She also does beadwork. Although this isn’t where she earns a living, much of what she makes is for sale under the name “Beadwork by Michelle.” Some of her inspiration comes from the legendary Chief Dan George. “He had a modern life style and still taught the older ways,” she said. “I’ve read a lot of his poetry.”

Like her father, Michelle has practical working skills. She’s a certified electrician, working north of Fort McMurray. She gets a thrill, she told me, “when a project is completed and we turn on the lights.” When I asked if working with crews consisting primarily of men was intimidating, she said, “right now there are 4 females and about 180 men on the project. It doesn’t bother me. I’ve worked with Dad a lot. I’m used to being around men on the job.”

Mike and Marie arrived in the Hedley area in 2008. Since then they have become deeply integrated into the community. They belong to the Community Club and the Seniors’ Centre. At the latter, along with others, they take turns hosting the morning coffee time. Mike supervised a complete renovation of the Centre and Michelle did the electrical work.

The Jacobs believe in contributing. “When people get involved,” Mike says, “everyone benefits.”

Mike has recently returned to his love of working with wood. On Saturday, March 28th he will display his and Michelle’s creations at the Hedley Seniors’ Centre Annual Craft sale.

A “Chicken Soup for the Soul” Moment

Beryl Wallace probably has more “Chicken Soup for the Soul” moments than most of us. Unlike the two Biblical religious leaders who passed by on the other side of the road when they came upon an injured Samaritan man, Beryl invariably moves in close.

A few days ago she noticed three teens with heavily loaded bikes in front of the Dollar Store on the main street in Princeton. They were obviously on a serious expedition.

Later, on her drive home on the winding and not smooth Old Hedley Road, she came upon them again. One had fallen and his bike was lying in the middle of the road. They appeared to be in a state of uncertainty, not knowing how to deal with this crisis. Beryl had no first aid kit and might have been excused if she had decided she couldn’t be of assistance. That isn’t the way she is wired. She pulled over. “Do you need help?” she asked. She quickly realized the young man had serious abrasions and was in pain. Beryl flagged down a vehicle, hoping the driver had a First Aid kit. She didn’t.

When the next car came, she got lucky. The driver had a First Aid kit and also some experience with situations like this. After causing wincing with a generous dose of iodine, she bandaged the scrapes. Very impressed with the woman’s skill, Beryl asked, “are you a nurse?”

“No,” the lady answered. “I’m a mother.”

Beryl then asked the boys their age and where they were from.

Photos courtesy of mile by
Photos courtesy of mile by

“We are all from Coquitlam” the fallen rider said. “I’m 17 and my friends are the same. We are in grade 11. We have come through the mountains on the Hope-Princeton Highway, on our way to Penticton. This is the farthest away from the city we have ever been.” It’s not surprising they appeared lean and very fit.

Touching one of the bandages, the young man who had suffered the scrapes then asked, “will I be able to have a shower tonight?” Beryl assured him this would be possible. “Just start riding now, and in about 15 minutes you’ll feel better.” She then drove home, picked up more bandages and 3 bananas and found them again.

They expressed their great gratitude to this angel who had unexpectedly come upon them and stopped to help. “Is there anything else I can do for you? she asked. “Yes,” the young man with the scrapes said. “Could I have a hug?”

For Beryl, it’s a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” memory she will always treasure. For many of us, it is an example of how to be a good neighbour even to those we do not know.

Ruth Woodin, Hedley’s Congenial Postmaster

I used to believe happy, successful individuals must have received

Ruth Woodin, Hedley's Congenial Postmaster
Ruth Woodin, Hedley’s Congenial Postmaster

more lucky breaks than the rest of us. Anyone who thinks as I did needs to have a conversation with Ruth Woodin, Hedley’s congenial, upbeat Postmaster.

Most people would not guess that she has experienced traumatic, unnerving moments and days that could have pulled apart the seams of her life. An early tough break came at age 12 when her father unexpectedly walked away from the family, leaving her mother with 5 children to feed and raise. For Ruth the parting was not pleasant and it created memories and emotions that troubled her well into adulthood.

Her dream was to teach elementary school, but when she graduated, there was no money for university.

“My mom pulled out a newspaper and circled several help wanted ads,” she remembers. “There was one for a Time Keeper/Clerk with a forestry company. I told her I didn’t even know what that was.”

“You’re smart,” her mom said. “You can learn.”

Ruth had little confidence, but she applied. After writing the company’s test she was told no one had ever completed it as quickly and accurately.

The company flew her to Pt. Alice on Vancouver Island. “The last lap was in a Beaver with pontoons,” she said. “I was so scared I thought I would die. An elderly Chinese man reached out his hand. I grabbed it and hung on until we landed.” She laughed heartily at the memory.

Initially Ruth didn’t know how to operate any of the office machines. However, she quickly learned to keep time and prepare paycheques for a lot of workers.

On an excursion to Penticton she met Dwayne and fell in love. They got married in 1972 and in time adopted 2 children. When they moved to Hedley for employment reasons, Ruth considered the community small and isolated. The marriage ended unexpectedly in 1991. She had not seen the end coming, and was still bearing the scars from her father’s desertion. The experience threatened to unravel her emotionally.

“My life descended into chaos,” she said. “I was divorced. My daughter and I moved. During that time my mother committed suicide. Also, I still missed my mother-in-law who had recently died.”

Ruth considers it fortunate she was working for the One Way Adventure Foundation. “Jean Roberts (co-founder with husband Len) held my hand through this time. We cried together and prayed. I didn’t pray but she did. The people in the Foundation were wonderful. They sent me encouraging notes.” With the undergirding of her 2 children, friends and co-workers, she experienced inner healing. When the Foundation began downsizing, she found part-time work with the Post Office.

One day a call came from Canada Post. “You are now Hedley’s Acting Postmaster,” she was told. This was the beginning of a new adventure that delights her to this day. “I love my job,” she said, smiling broadly. “People talk to me, sometimes about their heartaches.”

One day a young man told her she was fortunate to have a wonderful family. He felt unworthy because he and his wife were unable to have children. “My children are adopted,” Ruth told him. “You can adopt too. Just do something.” He and his wife now have 3 children.

I’ve had my share of hard knocks,” she said, growing serious. “This helps me understand when people are feeling down. I’ve received a lot of love from people in Hedley. I want to give something to others. Love comes back.”

Over the years Ruth has given generously of her time and energy. She belongs to the Community Club, the Seniors’ Centre, is a Director at the Hedley Museum and is a Trustee of the Hedley Improvement District.

Recently Ruth’s financial advisor told her he’d like to help her retire early. “I’m not ready,” she said. “I love my job.” She let it slip that if she stays another 4 years, she will exceed the longevity record of war hero and iconic Postmaster, TC Knowles (1937- 1959).

Often when people come in to access their mail box, Ruth can be heard singing on the other side of the wall. She has a pleasing voice and a positive spirit. In most places going to the Post Office isn’t an uplifting experience. In Hedley, it often is.

“The Girls” Represent A Simple Life

Like myself, the “girls” appear to be experiencing some emotional, psychological and physiological changes. Being new to this business IMG_0975of egg ranching, I’ve been observing them and assessing their health constantly. Their laying has fallen off markedly this winter. This has helped me understand, to my considerable chagrin, that my interest is not prompted entirely by compassion, altruism or emotional attachment. With great reluctance I have needed to admit to myself that their egg production is more important to me than I had realized.

Last winter, inspite of -20 degree C. temperatures at times, their laying barely faltered. I came to have great respect for their hardiness and unswerving sense of purpose. As the mercury slithered downward late in 2014 though, it became evident the girls were not able to maintain their earlier torrid laying pace. Lonely Hearts had from the beginning been a less consistent layer. Actually, I always felt she was doing her best. Sometimes she sat for nearly an hour, vainly struggling to produce an egg.

Initially the production fell from 3 eggs most days to 2 eggs. Then at times only one. A few weeks ago none of the girls laid. I actually searched their compound in the hope they were again hiding eggs. Nothing.

I’ve begun to speculate about the possibility that chickens suffer from Seasonally Adjusted Disorder. Last week Lonely Hearts pretty much stopped eating. She’d leave the Hen House with the Cleopatras and then sit quietly at the entrance to the yard. Even treats didn’t interest her. While the other two pecked furiously and raced around seeking the bits of dry oatmeal, she sat still.

When she didn’t return to the Hen House even after dark one evening, I discovered her in the usual place at the entrance. She didn’t squawk or squirm when I picked her up and carried her into their abode. Same routine the next evening. She felt light and I feared she might die overnight. The next morning though, she was still alive and began eating again. Did she just need a little attention to lift her sagging spirits? It does cause me to wonder how elderly individuals living alone fare during the dark dreary days of winter. Undoubtedly there are some who sit alone, day after day, without anything to stir their interest in life.

The girls share my interest in food, especially treats. They know that in the morning I throw a handful of oatmeal on the ground of their small private yard before I open the little “chicken door”. They usually wait on their roost until I come in. Then they fly down. This morning they had prepared a surprise for me. After taking a day off from laying yesterday, two eggs lay almost hidden in the loose, dry grass on their floor. Remembering that recently one of them had landed on an egg and broken it, I hurriedly bent over to gather them.

Bending over while they are still on the roost is risky, mostly due to their eagerness to come down and the uncertainty of their flight trajectory. Sometimes they shuffle from side to side for up to a minute, seemingly getting up the courage to fly down. They appear to be seeking a safe place to alight. Invariably there is a mad flapping of wings as they descend. This morning Lonely Hearts landed on my back while I was bent over. I expected her to hop to the floor immediately. Instead, she dug her talons into my jacket, evidently pleased with this new perch. She remained there until I slowly straightened my back, then dropped unceremoniously to the grassy floor. I opened their door and “the girls” rushed out, eagerly anticipating the much deserved reward waiting for them.

Watching them exit their little home, I was reminded that in addition to the exceptionally delicious eggs they provide for Linda and me, there is another reason for having them. They give us a sense that ours is a simple existence, not as cluttered by expectations as when we lived in Abbotsford. As I’ve said to them many times, they are good girls.

Community Pastor and Firefighter

When Graham and Myrtle Gore moved to Hedley in 2002, he

Graham Gore
Graham Gore

harboured no vision for involvement in the community, certainly not in church work.

I’ve been a pastor,” he told his neighbour Rick, “but I’m here to retire.” He had been a pastor in Kamloops, a missionary in Nicaragua and an associate in a nation wide evangelistic tent ministry.

Sitting at our kitchen table with him and listening to him talk about his life, I sensed that Graham’s emotional energy had been at a low ebb when they arrived here on September 20 of that year. He was 63 and the years of working with people had exacted a serious toll. Plus their converted Greyhound bus had been smashed the previous month and their daughter had passed away.

Since that time he has regained his passion for life. He is guiding a small flock in the town’s only church and is also manager of the Hedley Fire Department. Many see him as the “community officiant” in rites of passage ceremonies. He dedicates babies, conducts marriages and guides the community through Celebrations of Life. He has become a pillar in the Hedley community.

His spiritual journey began early, but was seriously derailed. “When I was 17,” he said “I was reading the Bible late one night in the Anglican church in Penticton. God very clearly impressed on me that I should enter the ministry.”

He kept God waiting. At age 20 he entered into a difficult marital union. “I didn’t have the maturity to work through the issues. I was 28 when we divorced.”

In 1968 Graham married Myrtle. This matured into a stable and deeply satisfying relationship, an example to the community of a committed life partnership.

Initially however, a dark cloud enveloped them. He was manager of the auto parts department in a dealership. “When we moved to Revelstoke,” he said, “I began drinking too much.” Alcohol became a potent force in his life and nearly destroyed him.

Everything changed in 1974,” he said, “when I found the Lord (became a Christian). I stopped smoking and drinking”. He describes himself as a “delivered” alcoholic. He and Myrtle have developed a good relationship with his ex-wife.

When I asked one parishioner what makes Graham an effective pastor, she said “a good heart,” then added, “and life experiences.” Graham agrees life experiences play a crucial role in his ministry. “Our blended family gives me greater understanding when I’m counselling blended families.”

Having observed him in his roles outside the church walls, I agree with those who say he is pastor to the community. Volunteering with the Fire Department might be viewed as “ministering”. When the community purchased a new fire truck some 5 years ago, Graham joined the Fire Department because it needed members with an air endorsement. Since then he has come to be a mainstay of the department. He has taken courses such as Incident Safety Officer and Incident Command. He attended seminars taught by Larry McIntosh, former Assistant Fire Chief. “Much of my learning has come by sitting down with the books and studying.” Until a year ago he did most of the theory instruction. He still runs fire practises at times.

In the Fire Hall and church Graham is a mentor, encouraging and training future leaders. Concerning the Fire Department, he says, “I want to continue to raise the level of professionalism here.”

His work and influence constantly spill over into the community. In his view, sending children to camp is one of the most important things the church does. “This year we sent 14 children and young people,” he told me. “A number were from homes not associated with the church. We don’t turn anyone away, regardless of whether they can contribute to the camp fees.”

Graham is gratified by the help of the community in the bottle drive that provides a portion of the funds for camp. “People bring bottles to my home almost everyday,” he said.

Graham and Myrtle minister to a diverse congregation and a diverse community. It is evident they have a love for Hedley. It is equally evident many in town respect and appreciate their positive leadership and unstinting work in the community.

Bill Robinson at Camp Defiance

I first spotted Bill Robinson’s cabin in 1976 when I began regularly

Bill Robinson's Camp Defiance, still there but in a state of decay, Jan. 2015
Bill Robinson’s Camp Defiance, still there but in a state of decay, Jan. 2015

travelling the winding #3 Highway between Hope and Hedley. Nestled among trees and brush, and separated from the highway by the Sumallo River, the cabin seemed shrouded in an aura of mystery.

It appeared well constructed with a stone fireplace and chimney. Whoever built it must have planned to stay awhile. It’s ravaged, weathered exterior had obviously already been exposed to many years of frigid winter winds and heavy snowfalls.

In addition to the cabin, there were two outbuildings, all apparently empty and equally neglected. I wondered what sort of individual had chosen to live in this remote mountainous valley. Had its inhabitant become dissatisfied with the expectations of civilization? Had he (I assumed it was a man) felt rejected by people? What had driven him to this place where contact with society must have been scant?

In the hope of satisfying my curiosity, I began seeking answers to my myriad questions. Bill Robinson didn’t make my quest easy. He apparently didn’t leave behind any account of his life. Michael Cluckner’s ” Vanishing British Columbia” did provide some useful information, as did comments on his blogsite left by others.

Robinson named his home Camp Defiance, probably because he was defying the wilderness. He was a prospector and the proprietor of Foundation Mines. I came across no record of him having hit pay dirt, but he must have discovered a bonanza in the realm of life experience.

It is believed Robinson was there from the end of World War I. In Vol. 46, 1982 of the Okanagan Historical Society, Joan Greenwood wrote that in August, 1926 a nurse, Mary Warburton set out from Hope by foot to pick fruit in the Okanagan. The #3 Highway did not yet exist so she must have been on the Dewdney Trail, which ran close by Camp Defiance. She knocked on Robinson’s door but he was still in bed. By the time he had got dressed and opened the door, she was disappearing from sight down the trail. She got lost in the mountains and was missing for several weeks. Coming across the cabin owned by “Podunk” Davis, she lit a fire in the stove and accidentally burned the place. This drew the attention of Podunk and she was rescued.

In 1929 Rev. John C Goodfellow was walking from Hope to Princeton. He later wrote “After a while … we came to the first sign of civilization since leaving the Overland (car) at Mile 9 Bridge. This was Camp Defiance. We walked right in and received a royal welcome from a man named Robinson.”

A couple of years later Bruce Hutchinson, a writer for the Province Sunday Magazine also walked the trail. In the August 10, 1931 issue he wrote, “Camp Defiance is almost the farthest thrust of civilization in these mountains. His little garden of strawberries, lettuce, and potatoes, 6 petunias and 8 Sweet Williams, in the narrow gorge between the mountain and the stream, are a welcome sight to those who have just come out of the wilderness. And so are the big firm trout Bill caught at his back door last night, and the pie made from his late ripening strawberries.”

It is evident from the few brief accounts that Robinson was not deranged, a malcontent or a hermit. Rather he was gregarious and hospitable. Many years later Leo McIver worked along the Hope-Princeton Highway. Sometimes he visited Camp Defiance. His son Len wrote “Bill burned wood in his fireplace and coal oil in lamps. He and his cronies told stories, fished, drank and dreamed.”

Sometimes men brought their wives, but I have seen no mention of Robinson having a wife. In this setting it would almost certainly have been mentioned if there had been a woman present. White men frequently had common law relationships with aboriginal women. Bill Robinson apparently did not.

The fact that Leo McIver visited Camp Defiance after the highway was built in 1949 indicates Robinson was there at least until then. In the end though, he slipped into oblivion as quietly as he had come. He left behind no diary so all we have are the minimal memories recorded by others. This winter Linda and I pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway to capture a few photos. Not much left of the cabin. Like Bill Robinson, it will soon be only a memory, still shrouded in mystery.