O Canada, We Stand On Guard For Thee

Canadian flag, blowing in the wind
Canadian flag, blowing in the wind

This week, when we sing “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee,” will it be with a comprehension that at times we must defend our system of government against those we have elected? I fear we have become overly complacent about our democracy, at every level of government.

We seem not to consider that early reformers worked unstintingly to attain what we have today. And we give little thought to the possibility it can be eroded by insidious forces if we become too preoccupied to observe what is happening. If my perspective seems negative at a time when we celebrate our nation, I suggest we take a careful look at what I believe is a too cozy relationship between the BC government and the giant pharmaceutical companies.

The provincial government’s arbitrary firing of 8 Ministry of Health researchers is strikingly similar to the manner in which this land was ruled before it became a nation. At that time the Governor and his appointed Council determined who received land and timber rights. Usually it was the wealthy friends of the oligarchy. The Governor and Council made all financial decisions, without permission from the people. Even after the Constitutional Act of 1791, any laws passed by the Elected Assembly could be vetoed.

When Canada was granted a Senate in 1867, its original purpose was to allow Canada’s wealthy elite to veto any legislation passed by the politicians representing the common people. Almost without exception, those in power at every level want to retain the privileges of power for their inner group. This enables them to reward those who help them hold on to their positions of influence.

The provincial government’s decisions concerning research in the pharmaceutical industry are reminiscent of a time when significant favours went to wealthy, influential speculators.

In 2012, when the government fired the researchers, it apparently didn’t occur to anyone that Roderick MacIsaac, one of the eight, would commit suicide and bring huge media scrutiny. With pointed questions, reporters began dredging up embarrassing, highly disconcerting facts concerning the possible motivation behind this decision.

In thetyee.ca, Andrew MacLeod revealed that “the researcher who committed suicide was developing a way to evaluate a project that was one of Premier Christy Clark’s pet initiatives.” It entailed the utilization of Champix, a smoking cessation drug. The Tyee reported that both Health Canada and the American FDA had issued warnings about Champix. Also, according to Colleen Fuller, Chair of PharmaWatch, other countries were removing Champix from the market at the time the B.C. government decided to list it under PharmaCare.

The Vancouver Sun learned through a Freedom of Information request that “police were never given evidence by the government to investigate the wrongdoing which was used to justify the firings, despite the government telling the public an investigation was ongoing.” The police actually closed the file due to lack of information.

Just as in the early years of our nation when the Governor and Council favoured wealthy friends, the provincial government appears to be favouring large corporations, from which they have received huge infusions of cash. Media reports indicate major pharmaceutical companies have given the Liberals tens of thousands of dollars in recent years.

The fired researchers had been delving into areas that were troubling for the pharmaceutical companies. Were the ill conceived firings the government’s manner of appeasing the multinational pharmaceuticals and thanking them for their substantial campaign contributions?

And what was the motivation behind the government’s 2012 suspension of funding for UBC’s Therapeutics Initiative research contracts? TI provides practical, evidence based prescription drug information to physicians and pharmacists. The program has saved Canada hundreds of millions and prevented many deaths from inappropriate prescriptions.

Only a massive media storm and public outcry persuaded the government to restore fifty per cent of the funding. Was our government so desperate to endear itself to the drug companies that it was willing to penalize its own citizens?

In “The March of Folly”, Barbara Tuchman suggests “the problem may not be so much a matter of educating officials of government, as educating the electorate to recognize and reward integrity of character.”

Retaining power has become a primary motivation of some in government. This makes them susceptible to the allurements of large corporate contributions.

“O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.”

Watch For This Awesome Coupe

My neighbour Dwight (better known locally as Whitey) has recently finished rebuilding a 1928 Chrysler coupe. When Linda and I first saw the vehicle in Leroy’s shop, it was still very much in the early phase of its restoration. Leroy is a friend of Dwight and a gifted builder of hot rods. (Some time ago I wrote about him and posted a photo of his 1936 Ford pickup. You can find the post under People.) The body of the Chrysler was pulled out of the Vancouver Dump. Leroy bought it and found a frame for it in the bush, somewhere along a side road.

Leroy and the vehicle in its early stage
Leroy and the vehicle in its early stage

Dwight has done much of the work on the coupe himself, but he credits Leroy with the creativity, meticulous attention to detail and high skill level that has helped him restore this former derelict and make it a trophy car. The 1979 Chev motor is a 350. In a small, very light car, that’s a lot of power.

IMG_1356

I asked Dwight about taking a picture of him and the car. He said, “can Kilo be on the picture?” A young pitbull, Kilo is a recent addition to his collection of friends and toys. I agreed willingly and suggested he bring a chair and a cup of coffee. The coffee idea didn’t resonate with him. “I’ll bring a can of beer,” he countered.

IMG_1361

Well, here he and Kilo are, at the intersection of two streets in Hedley. We agreed that one day we’ll do this on Scott Avenue, Hedley’s main street, in the heart of the commercial section. The commercial section of Hedley consists largely of the Hedley Country Market, The Hitching Post restaurant, the Post Office and the Hedley Inn & Hostel.

Watch for this little coupe on the highway this summer, but don’t make the mistake of trying to keep up with it.

MLA Linda Larson “Off Stage”

 

IMG_1309

My purpose in meeting with MLA Linda Larson was to get a glimpse of who she is off the “political stage.” Having a slice of my wife’s home made brown bread with cheese, she appeared relaxed as she spoke about her early years and present political life.

“In my childhood, mom struggled to put food on the table,” she said. “She baked bread. We had butter every 2 to 3 months. Other kids at school wore store bought clothes. My mom made mine.” She now values this experience, believing it gives her greater understanding in her role as Parliamentary Secretary for Accessibility. “You have to have struggled to understand people who are struggling.”

Linda met her husband when he came into the store in Powell River where she was a sales clerk. After marriage in 1970 they lived in several locations, then moved to Oliver in 1989. Commenting on their daughters, Marnie, Lynnet and Donna. she said, “In their teens, the girls were a handful,” she recalled with just the trace of a smile. “Sometimes I didn’t think I would live. But they’re all doing well. They’ve given me four grandchildren.”

For 6 years she was a stay at home mom and her husband, a Mountie, initially earned only $350 per month. Finances were tight. Their first home was a mobile, bought for $7000. Her grandfather gave them $1000 to make this possible. In spite of present success, Linda has not forgotten what it’s like to raise a family on a meagre income.

She became an Airline Attendant with Pacific Airlines, working out of Vancouver. She also managed a large territory for Avon. “For nearly 6 months my husband was very ill. It was important for me to have an income.”

In time she and her husband acquired a small business, Eastside Grocery, in Oliver. “It was long hours, seven days a week.” When she became aware of unsettling decisions and practices at City Hall, she decided to let her name stand for Council in 1996. Before the election she was persuaded to run instead for the position of Mayor. “I didn’t have a clue about being mayor,” she admits, smiling. “I was totally amazed when I was elected.” Now she enjoys the memory of “the fabulous people I met. I got to attend 100 year birthday celebrations.” Another smile. Her 9 years in the Mayor’s chair evidently convinced a lot of people she would represent them well in the provincial legislature.

She values the various earlier roles because they gave her experience with people. Looking back reflectively, she paused, then said, “everything I did prepared me for what I’m doing now.”

In the realm of politics, she is pleased with the number of women her party has attracted. “We’ve made huge strides in that. I’d like to see us find more effective ways of also encouraging young people to participate in politics.”

When I asked what is satisfying, she replied, “I enjoy meeting with small groups, like the coffee time at the Hedley Seniors’ Centre this morning.” She had arrived there at 7 a.m.

The annual prayer breakfast is also a positive for her and she appreciates the encouraging notes that follow. “Meeting people is one of the nicest things I do.” The small wins that help individuals and communities provide a sense of accomplishment. The installation of a sidewalk in Kaleden is an example.

Experience has convinced Linda most people are positive and constructive. However, a note of regret crept into her voice. “Unfortunately, the negative ones are noisy. Some attack me personally. It’s harder to stay on track then. I don’t respond to them. It only perpetuates their destructiveness.”

Linda spends about 6 months in Victoria, coming home Thursday evening and returning Sunday night. She says her husband makes her schedule possible. “My mom has lived with us 12 years. She is 94 and is falling more,” she said. “When I’m away he takes her to appointments and prepares her evening meal. Tonight I’ll take her out for dinner. I couldn’t do what I’m doing without my husband’s help.”

In this “off stage” conversation, I found Linda Larson to be surprisingly candid and compassionate. I hope the often harsh world of politics will permit her to speak and vote according to the sound values I believe she exemplifies.

A Relationship Adventure With Dad

My Dad grew up on a remote, infertile Manitoba farm. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, his father had difficulty feeding and clothing a wife and 9 children. Their soul wrenching poverty didn’t encourage expressing thoughts such as “I love you.” When Dad fell at age 89 and broke a hip, he required the assistance available only in a longterm care facility. It was the beginning of a relationship adventure for him and me.

Dad on front-end loader - Copy

In my early years, Dad worked as a logger in the steep mountainous terrain back of Hope. Strong, skilled and rugged, he was away 2 weeks at a time and I didn’t get to know him well. Eventually he brought his big bulldozer back to the Fraser Valley. Then, in summer he took me along to his jobs and taught me to operate the dozer, front end loader and backhoe, use a chain saw and blow huge stumps out of the ground with dynamite. Although this wasn’t what I wanted for a career, it provided an opportunity to know and respect Dad.

He enjoyed music and played the violin. I was about 8 when he bought a 12 bass accordion for me, then later upgraded it to a 120 bass. He hoped I would make music with him. I didn’t share his enthusiasm for music though and when I moved out of the family home, I left the accordion and the music behind.

In mid-life, Dad bought a bass fiddle and joined a seniors’ orchestra. Years later, just prior to his life altering fall, he bought a cello and taught himself to play it.

When he fell, his head struck the floor hard and erased his memory of music. For two years my white haired Dad spent many hours, hunched over in his wheelchair, awkwardly grasping the instrument in a futile attempt to revive his skill. When I engaged a cello instructor to teach him, Dad devoted hours to practising. In his many sleepless nights, he mentally rehearsed musical scales.

Making music with his children was what Dad had dreamed of from the beginning. Now he needed someone to play with so I sat down at the piano in the common area and began to apply what I’d learned on the accordion. It wasn’t pretty, but I learned a few tunes. Each time I came in he’d say, “let’s go to the piano.”

arts dad (1)

We learned old time songs like “You’re Cheatin’ Heart,” “You are my Sunshine,” and “The Tennessee Waltz.” He had a deep faith in God, as did some of the residents, so we included such numbers as “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Amazing Grace.” Some residents drew close to us in their wheelchairs. Others quietly sang or tapped fingers on a table. At the end they applauded with their frail aged hands.

We learned old time songs like “You’re Cheatin’ Heart,” “You are my Sunshine,” and “The Tennessee Waltz.” He had a deep faith in God, as did some of the residents, so we included such numbers as “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Amazing Grace.” Some residents drew close to us in their wheelchairs. Others quietly sang or tapped fingers on a table. At the end they applauded with their frail aged hands.

In time, holding the cello became difficult and Dad wearied more rapidly. His strong, rugged face could no longer hide the pain. Even when he grew too weak to hold the cello, he continued to say, “let’s go to the piano.”

Several nurses counselled me to tell Dad it’s ok to die. I did tell him if he chose to let go, the family would be ok. He fixed his clear blue eyes on me and said, “I still like to live.”

This reminded me of a time when I watched him on the big bulldozer, cutting in a road along the side of a steep ravine. A mistake would have sent him and his machine hurtling down. Now, white haired and no longer able to even get in or out of bed without assistance, this was just another difficult challenge. As long as he had music and his faith in God, his life had meaning.

When he was no longer strong enough to sit in his chair, I stood beside his bed, holding his hand. Sometimes, when the pain in his beleaguered body caused him to twitch and groan, I turned away, knowing my tears would trouble him.

One day, overcome by his helplessness and discomfort, I took his big hand and said, “I love you Dad.” He fixed those blue eyes on me and quietly said, “I love you too.”

One night, in his 95th year, the phone rang at 5:05 a.m. A nurse said, “your father has just passed away.” I was deeply saddened, but comforted by the thought that we had learned to say “I love you.”

Hedley Heritage Ladies Promote Past

IMG_1333

The Hedley Heritage Ladies are re-enacting a common scene from the community’s gold mining past. They are having tea in front of one of the historic log structures at the Hedley Museum. On Sunday, June 21, 2015 (9:00 am to 1:00 pm) they will be at the Hedley Farmers’ Market and Sunday Fair, located across from the main Museum building near Highway 3. They will visit other events in the Similkameen Valley in the coming months.

It is their desire to create interest in Hedley’s colourful characters and rich gold strikes during the boom town years. They also hope to draw attention to the often unrecognized roles of women in the past. From left to right they are Peggy Terry, Lydia Sawicki, Ruth Woodin and Lynn Wells.

Hedley Heritage Ladies in front of the historic Hedley Grace Church
Hedley Heritage Ladies in front of the historic Hedley Grace Church

 

Hedley Heritage Ladies draw attention to new Museum sign in the background
Hedley Heritage Ladies draw attention to new Museum sign in the background

Hedley Bottle Drive a Marathon Event

IMG_1312

The recent Hedley Bottle Drive was a marathon event requiring great mental tenacity and physical endurance. Twenty-one volunteers worked tirelessly in the blistering sun at the front of the Fire Hall or battled pitiless, marauding no-see-ums inside. Sponsored by the Hedley Grace Church, bottle drives have been staged for a number of years for the purpose of sending local children and youth to Camp Tulahead, located on Highway 5A. Usually they are held in both spring and fall, but last year the one in fall was cancelled. This was the reason for the intimidating mound of cans and bottles in front of the Fire Hall and for the longer sorting time.

“Some people in the community contribute bottles and cans throughout the year to support what we are doing,” Pastor Graham Gore said. “They consider it a worthy cause.”

Last year the church sent 14 children and teens to camp. The bottle drive doesn’t cover the full cost of $600 per child. “Contributions from people in the church make up the difference,” Pastor Gore said. “ Sometimes parents and others in the community also give money for this. We’ve never denied anyone the opportunity of going to camp.” To this time they have 9 registrations for this summer’s camp.

Pastor Gore expressed appreciation for the help of volunteers, some of whom are not connected to the church. Among those representing community organizations were Doug and TJ Bratt of the Community Club and the Country Market. They showed up with their son Jake and two grand daughters. Doug also brought 2 cases of pop. Beryl Wallace, president of the Seniors’ Centre and an attendee of the church came. Linda Martens, vice president of the Hedley Museum Society was there. Dave Peers, Fire Fighter and a Trustee of the Hedley Improvement District ,volunteered his time and energy. Angelique Wood, currently on leave from the fire department and the local, federal NDP candidate, also helped. Lynn McKay, a member of several organizations, worked tirelessly as in past years. Also Steve, a senior who just wanted to do something for the community. Six teens participated. Julie, who was on duty at the Country Market, paid for apples and bananas to give workers a boost of energy.

Doug Nimchuk, representing the Fire Department and the church, was event organizer. His duties kept him there from before 9 am until 7:00 pm. Peggy Terry, a church attendee, looks after the financial matters.

At the end of the bottle drive there were weary backs and sore feet. The thoughts and emotions though, were positive. One teen summed up what most volunteers were probably thinking when she said, “this is the most satisfying day I’ve had in a long time.” When people work together, good things get done.

Challenged By Rappelling

Rappelling (3)

I had just been hired by the One Way Adventure Foundation to run a program for Young Offenders. At breakfast in the Colonial Lodge the first day, Beth, a Wilderness Skills instructor, came to my table. “I’m taking three girls rappelling this morning,” she said. “It’s their first time. Len wants you to join us.” I didn’t feel at ease around heights and the reality of what I’d signed up for now set in.

Ten minutes later I reluctantly joined Beth and 3 skittish teenage girls, Vicki, Nancy and Sue, all sent here by a judge, and not feeling any joy about it. Clad in faded jeans, well worn runners and tight blouses, they affected indifference to whatever fate awaited them. These were city girls, now far from their usual familiar haunts where they felt at least somewhat in control of their destiny. Their tanned faces testified of much time on the streets and of more bitter experience than most women twice their age.

Hiding behind a tough, street smart façade, they had always managed to fend off attempts by those in authority to get to know them. By depriving them of their familiar terrain and exposing them to wilderness experience, the OWAF hoped to induce the masks to slip.

Beth, in superb physical condition and imbued with a sense of purpose, strode decisively across a field of dry wild grass. The girls chatted idly about cute boys and wild parties. Bringing up the rear, for them I didn’t exist. In a week I’d be working with youths much like these young girls. I wondered if I’d be able to develop the necessary rapport.

We arrived at a large rock and Beth announced, “last smoke girls.” Each hurriedly produced a plastic bag with thin hand rolled smokes. It was all they could afford on their weekly allowance.

“Beth, where is the rappell site?” Sue asked, trying to conceal her anxiety. She inserted a cigarette between her lips, lit it and inhaled deeply, as though this precious moment might be one of her last ever. In spite of being young and petite, she had already proved to be feisty. She was gifted with a face and figure that attracted the attention of men older than herself.

“There it is,” Beth said, pointing to the top of a sheer rock face.

Silently the 3 girls gazed upward, as though in awe of a new, unfamiliar deity. With the cigarette at the corner of her mouth, Sue muttered something incomprehensible, except to the two girls. They glanced at Beth and laughed nervously. It was then that this clever, edgy girl understood I was also apprehensive. “You’re scared too, huh?” she said. They began including me in their distracted chatter.

“Time to kill your smokes,” Beth said firmly. We proceeded to the top of the cliff, where Beth placed a helmet over Sue’s black hair and created a rope sling to hold her body. This young, rule-testing girl would be the first to battle fear.

With Sue outfitted, Beth said, “step to the edge of the cliff. Art will pay out the rope as you go down. The rope over your shoulder is your brake. Don’t let go of it.”

Sue stepped closer to the edge and looked down at the valley below. She froze. Her previous cool, challenging façade had dissipated.

“Now I want you to lean back,” Beth said patiently.

“Beth,” she protested, “ I don’t think this rope will hold me. I can’t lean back. I’m too scared”.

Putting a hand on her shoulder, Beth spoke with a soothing voice. “Sue, lots of girls your age have done this. Once you lean back and step down, it will get real easy. This will make you strong.”

Sue leaned back slightly and hesitantly placed a foot over the edge, seeking solid rock. “Lean back,” Beth urged. “The rope will hold you.”

With much encouragement, Sue leaned back and made the descent. When she had climbed back up, she was laughing.

It was my turn next, followed by the other two girls. Each of us fully experienced Sue’s reluctance to lean back. It required every ounce of faith we could muster.

That day, by accepting the challenge of rappelling, we became stronger.  Also, the chasm that had separated us was gone.

MLA Linda Larson Visits Hedley

IMG_1310

Twenty local citizens showed up at the Hedley Seniors’ Center for a 7 am meeting with MLA Linda Larson last Thursday. Larson is Chair of the Select Standing Committee on Health and Parliamentary Secretary for Accessibility. She arranged the gathering to talk about the government’s desire to make it possible for people to stay in their homes longer. “We tend to institutionalize people,” she noted. “That is very expensive. We need to shift our focus to enable people to live in their home and in their community as long as possible. Accessibility and home care will be important in making this happen.”

“If you are in a wheel chair, how many places in this community can you get into?” she asked. She named the Post Office as an example. “The Province is taking the position there is no need for steps. It’s important for a community to identify where there is a need for ramps.”

She believes strongly that it’s not right to strip someone of their independence when they lose their driver’s licence or when they fall. “It’s preferable to have someone come into the home to help with things like house cleaning and bathing. In some cases several disabled individuals could live in one house and be given the assistance they require.”

Larson’s 94 year old mother has lived with her and her husband for 12 years. She said at one time her mother was given medication that pretty much immobilized her. When this was remedied she returned to her normal alert state. The experience with her mother has given Larson an intimate understanding of the needs of frail elderly people.

She said the government will help people on social assistance obtain job training. This will include training as a Care Giver. The program starts in September and will help with transportation and child care. It will be available in Penticton. Monthly assistance cheques will continue during the program.

Margaret Skaar, a very active Hedley senior said, “We need Care Givers who live in our community. It would be helpful to have someone who would do yard work at low cost.” Lynn McKay mentioned that there are lonely people in Hedley. They need someone to visit and talk with them.

Larson had high praise for the Seniors’ Center and the unifying role it has in the community. “You are more likely to hear about someone who hasn’t seen a family member in 2 years, or hasn’t been to the bathroom for 3 days.”

She told the group that if there is an intractable issue, she’ll give it over to Patt Vermiere, who works in her office. “Patt knows the people in the system. She is very good at getting through to them.”

Larson finished by saying, “We are trying desperately to bring about change. There is resistance, but ensuring there are enough Care Givers to enable people to stay in their homes is top of the mind for me.”

Early Hedley Townsite and Stamp Mill

Hedley in the early gold mining days.  The large structure just up from the base of the mountain is the Stamp Mill. A nice view of the Similkameen valley. (photo courtesy of the Hedley Heritage Museum ).

Stamp Mill Complex and Slime Pond, ca. 1910 - P0612
Stamp Mill Complex and Slime Pond, ca. 1910 – P0612 (photo courtesy of the Hedley Heritage Museum).

“The slamming of metal on metal created a din that made the roar of Niagara sound faint as a murmur.” (a mine engineer).

The following is taken from “The Mining and Engineering Record April, 1913” which describes a portion of a complex system.

The mine is at an elevation 6,000 feet above sea level, and the mill is at an elevation of 2,000 feet above sea level.

Ore is delivered from mine to mill by an electric tramway over a mile in length and a gravity tramway about 10,000 feet long in 3 sections, and with a vertical drop of 3,600 feet between the upper and lower terminals.

The gravity tram is built on the ground, follows the slope of the hill, and has 3 rails, except at the central passing station. Its grade varies from 10 percent to 66.8 percent. The cars are 5 ton skips attached to a 43 strand wire cable, the loaded car pulling the empty one back. The tramway handles 150 tons a day.

The mill is constructed to allow the ore to travel through the plant by gravity. Power is brought from 20 Mile Creek by a flume 4 ft. by 5 ft. and 3 miles long. The plant at the mill includes 2 Farrell jaw crushers, from which a belt conveys the ore the full length of an ore bin of 1,000 tons capacity from which the stamps are fed by automatic feeders.

The mill is 40 stamps. The stamps are 1,050 lbs. each, dropping 100 times a minute into Homestake mortars weighing 8,000 lbs. each.

**********

The first stamps were dropped on May 4, 1904, and the Stamp Mill ceased operation in 1955. By mid-1960’s the abandoned Stamp Mill building was becoming an insurance liability. Partial demolition occurred in the late 1960’s, and in 1972 the remainder of the building was deliberately burned. The trestle and tipple were spared.

Although only a portion of the foundations remain, the Stamp Mill is viewed locally as an important aspect of Hedley history and is celebrated each May on “Stamp Mill Day”.