A Friend To “Untouchables”


Arnet Hales
Arnet Hales

Almost without exception, most of us avoid associating with the “untouchables” in our society. It’s even more unlikely we will seek them out with the intent of being their friend. Arnet Hales is one of that rare breed willing to be a friend to those society has cast off as worthless scum.

I first met Arnet in Hedley in the 1980’s when he was 27, phenomenally fit and about to attain a Black Belt in karate. His brutal training regimen sent shivers along my spine. He had come to work at the wilderness camp for young offenders operated by the One Way Adventure Foundation.

In September of this year, Arnet and spouse Gina travelled 1700 kilometres to the Idaho Maximum Security Institution so he could visit for two hours with a man he did not know and had never met. Brian, the inmate he visited, has served 10 years of his sentence, receives no visits, and, according to Arnet, “is unlikely to ever see the street again.” Arnet chooses not to ask about Brian’s crime but knows he is not welcome outside prison walls.

When the Hales visited Linda and me on their return trip from Idaho, I saw that the past 35 years have exacted a heavy toll on Arnet’s once impressive trim physique. “Several years ago an illness landed me in a hospital isolation ward for 6 months,” he said. “The medical people weren’t sure I’d ever get out. I still have little short term memory and my balance is uncertain.” The resolute determination we observed in his martial arts workouts is still there though, and he has extended his walking from 60 steps to 8,200.

His early pilgrimage was on a treacherous path, mired in a quicksand of turmoil. “My dad had a serious gambling addiction and was probably in jail when I was born in 1949,” he said. “My mom took my sister and me out of the home and moved us to a hotel in a seedy section of Swift Current, Saskatchewan. I was sexually assaulted there by a resident.”

In 1967 he ran away from home and lived on the streets for a year. “That December I was arrested with a pocket full of drugs. I did 3 years in jail for that.” Upon release he got a truck driving job but rear ended a car, “probably due to an alcoholic binge the night before.” He was quickly fired and a period of deep depression ensued.

His life took a more positive turn in 1974 when he met Marilyn. “She was beautiful and I loved her,” he said. “I don’t know if she loved me, but she tolerated me.” She invited him to a Sally Ann production. “I went so I’d be able to sit beside her. She was in the production and that didn’t happen.” He says he did have a spiritual experience though and heard a voice say, “Arnet, it’s time to come home.” That night he slept through to the morning for the first time in years, and his life began to change. Possibly his own arduous journey helps him understand Brian desperately needs a friend.

It began several years ago when a woman in Pt. Hardy handed him a letter and said, “I think you’re the one to respond to this.”

Many letters later, Gina told Arnet she had holidays coming in September. She suggested they drive to Idaho so he could visit Brian. They arrived at the prison September 11 and Arnet was escorted into the visits area. A glass barrier would prevent physical contact.

“Brian was brought in, his hands cuffed tightly behind his back. His head was lowered until the cuffs were removed. When he looked up and realized I was the visitor, he smiled broadly.”

At the end of their visit Arnet said a prayer for Brian. Glancing up, he saw that Brian had placed his finger tips against the glass separating them. Arnet placed his finger tips against the glass opposite Brian’s. In 10 years it was the closest this lonely man had come to having positive physical contact with anyone outside the prison.

“I just want Brian to know he’s not totally alone,” Arnet said in response to my question. “I want him to know he has a friend.”

In a subsequent letter, Brian wrote “I told the chaplain, Arnet is my friend.”

The Conversation I Missed

dump truck

When I received the email saying cousin Eddy had just passed away, a thought emerged unbidden from the misty depths of my sub-conscious. It suggested there was a conversation I had not had with Eddy. Now the opportunity had slipped away and a sense of dark disquiet settled in the bowels of my psyche.

I always called Eddy on his birthday. However, in work and life experience, we had walked on radically different paths. I realized now that conversationally we had not drilled deep enough.

A few days after the email, Eddy’s sister asked me to gather information about his life and write the eulogy. Maybe, I thought, his 8 surviving siblings would be able to answer some of the questions I should have asked him.

I wanted to know what had given him meaning and a sense of fulfillment. What had been important to him? What had given him pleasure and joy? Had anything surprised him? Did he regret anything? Who had he been close to? What were his thoughts, knowing he would shortly draw his final breath??

Eddy was born at home in a small settlement not far from Steinbach, Manitoba, the same area in which I was born. He was delivered by our grandmother Susana, who in her time delivered hundreds of babies. Our mothers were sisters. In 1947 the family moved to the Fraser Valley and when he was old enough, he quit school and got a job.

Most of his 9 siblings became successful in real estate. Several gravitated to the eye glass business. Eddy worked as a trucker, driving first a highway rig and in recent years a dump truck.

It was well known that he lived with a couple of addictions. One sister said, “he enjoyed his alcohol and cigarettes.” His siblings were concerned about this but he apparently did not give much thought to the health implications. If there was a price to pay, he would pay it without grumbling. Unlike some who are driven to despair and life on the street by substance dependency, Eddy possessed the inner ruggedness to carry on with work and a social life.

His siblings are now focusing on the positives. “In his early years,” Alven his youngest brother recalled, “Eddy was a great yodeler. He played the accordian very well. He tried to teach me but that didn’t go anywhere. He was my big brother.”

Being a truck driver gave Eddy a sense of deep purpose and self-respect. Jake, an older brother said, “he was a born trucker. For him the truck was almost like a live person. When his truck was being loaded, he stood on the running board to watch. He didn’t allow it to be overloaded.”

Vic, the superintendent on many high rise projects Eddy drove for said, “he was my best driver. When we were ready to begin digging a hole for a new building, in the morning I’d see a truck come flying around the corner. It was always Eddy. He set the pace.” Cathy, his life partner, said he was called “Fast Eddy” by other truckers. He retired at age 70. In appreciation for his faithful service, his employer sent him and Kathy to Mexico for a holiday.

Eddy’s joy came from an extraordinarily close relationship with Cathy, the love of his life for the past 10 years. “Five years ago our dog Princess and I began riding in the truck with him on his jobs,” she said.“I’d pack a lunch, sometimes it was buns with sliced meat and tomatoes. We’d stop in a park and eat. Eddy often told people we have a picnic everyday.” Rob Redekop, the company owner, said that when Cathy started riding with Eddy the paperwork improved.

For 20 years a shadow had hovered over Eddy’s life. He had not talked with his only son during that time and didn’t know how to bring about a healing of the relationship. A week before he passed away, his brothers Jake and Andy approached the son about a reconciliation. Eddy’s younger sister Leona shaved Eddy and cut his hair, to prepare him for the surprise visit. It went well, and Eddy’s son and family are now getting used to being part of the extended family.

According to Alven, just before his passing Eddy said, “I’ve made peace with God. I’m not scared to die. I’m happy.” He drew his last breath while Alven was holding him in his arms.


Allurements Of A Hedley Autumn

20 Mile Creek in Autumn
20 Mile Creek in Autumn

The Creator’s paint brush has been sprucing up the landscape this month. We’re enjoying it, knowing that the darker colours of late autumn are also beginning to be etched in. Linda and I love standing on either of the bridges in town, gazing along 20 Mile Creek. The shadings of colour are altered a little each day. At this time the water flow is meagre. The weatherman isn’t promising us much precipitation yet. Normally we can expect the first sprinklings of snow in November. That will bring another kind of beauty.


We’re beginning to see plumes of smoke streaming up from chimneys. Some of our wood burning neighbours have their stock in and under cover. A few still have a lot of sweating to do before the wood is ready for the stove.


Schizandra and Evangeline bring a welcome ray of sunshine in autumn, and every other season. It’s a joy to observe their light footed scampering. They love giving away little pictures they have drawn. On Sunday Evangeline gave me a cookie in church. The girls were pretty standoffish for some time. Lately they have at times made friendly overtures.

Stemwinder Mountain on an autumn morning
Stemwinder Mountain on an autumn morning

This morning the sun began lighting up the top of Stemwinder Mtn. just before 9 am. We watch for that because it means the sun will be streaming into our rear windows in about half an hour.

Autumn is a season to enjoy.

Politics Is A Fickle Mistress

All Candidates Meeting
All Candidates Meeting

For the past two months hundreds of decent, well intentioned individuals all over Canada have worked unstintingly to win the right to represent their constituency. Because my neighbour Angelique Wood was one of these dedicated ones, I have some comprehension of the energy and focus required to campaign effectively. Particularly in the last month, her car was rarely at home. Undoubtedly, she and most candidates entered the race motivated by a desire to make a positive difference. They have laudable intent, but in time the winners may conclude politics is a fickle and frivolous mistress.

Increasingly over the past four years, there has been a growing sense on the part of Canadians that our democracy has become confoundingly undemocratic. The Prime Minister controls the appointment of many key figures in our system of government, including the Governor General, members of the cabinet, justices of the Supreme Court, senators, heads of crown corporations, ambassadors to foreign countries, provincial lieutenant governors, and approximately 3,100 others. The appointees feel beholden to the PM and most do not dare voice disagreement with government policy.

The National Post’s Andrew Coyne recently wrote, “cabinet does not matter. It does not govern. That is the job of the Prime Minister and the group of political staff he has around him.” This is not new. Several Prime Ministers in recent decades have chosen to govern almost as dictators.

Some pundits contend it was Pierre Trudeau who first began seriously consolidating power in the Prime Minister’s office. Certainly his charisma generated a dizzying excitement in the electorate and people anticipated positive change. By the 1972 election though, the “halo effect” had run its course. Peter C Newman said being reduced to a minority government “was due to one central fact. He had lost touch with his constituency. He functioned the first 54 months in office as head of a government, not the leader of a nation. He didn’t understand Canadians and their concerns. What was worse, he didn’t appear to care.”

Although our democracy doesn’t prevent leaders with dictatorial inclinations from rising to the top, it does possess the means to push them ignominiously from “the throne.” Trudeau managed to hold onto power but, prior to the 1984 election, polls indicated the Liberals would not win with him at the helm. Chastened, he stepped down.

Voters then gave the Liberals a political spanking, allotting them only 40 seats. Brian Mulroney and the Conservatives snatched 211, the largest majority in Canadian history. Unfortunately, Mulroney didn’t learn the lesson of the Liberal debacle. He greatly irritated Canadians with the detested GST. When polls indicated he had lost support of voters, he retired just prior to the 1993 election.

We replaced Mulroney with Jean Chretien, who did not keep his famous “Red Book” promises. He also allowed the “Sponsorship Scandal” in which some two hundred million dollars were squandered. In time, voters wearied of the Liberals’ evident sense of entitlement and Chretien, under extreme duress, agreed to retire.

More recently, Stephen Harper, like Trudeau, Mulroney and Chretien, has ruled with a heavy hand and alienated large numbers of Canadians. MP’s, and even most cabinet ministers, received instructions as to what they were permitted to say in public. Scientists and others were also muzzled.

The problem of party leaders gripping the reins of power too tightly isn’t confined to the party in government. Writing in “Tragedy in the Commons,” Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan suggest “Canadian party leaders today enjoy a remarkable amount of power when measured against peers in Canadian history, or against leaders in similar parliamentary systems around the world.”

There is one possible glimmer of hope. Conservative MP Michael Chong has stickhandled a bill through Parliament that gives MP’s the power to trigger a leadership review and subsequently vote to oust the leader of their party. In a watered down version, the bill was approved by a majority of government MP’s. Very likely they realized many constituents longed to give them the heave ho for the PM’s undemocratic rule. In spite of some resistance in the Senate, the bill was passed and the Reform Act received Royal Assent this summer.

In politics there are few guarantees of course, but this could be a small step toward change. In time, newly elected MP’s could have a more substantive role. Canadian democracy may yet smile.

Pacific Crest Trail

Jay and his magnificent beard
Jay and his magnificent beard

When Linda and I stopped for coffee at Manning Park yesterday, we met several individuals who had just completed hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. One of them was Jay, a young man probably a little upward of age 25. He sported a black beard a lot of men would envy. His lean physique reminded me of mountain men I’ve seen in movies. I asked if he had been hiking in the park.

“I’ve actually just come off the Pacific Crest Trail,” he said. “I started in Campo, California 175 days ago.” He looked down at his feet and said, “this I my seventh pair of runners. I wore out 6 pairs.

Pacific Crest Trail overview from Forest Service brochure
Pacific Crest Trail overview from Forest Service brochure

Most of those intrepid individuals who walk the entire trail begin at the southern terminus near the U.S. – Mexico border. In length it is 4,286 km. (2,663 miles) and reaches an elevation of 4,009 meters (13,153 ft.). The trail traverses California, Oregon and Washington, ending at Monument 78 at the U.S.- Canada border. This is on the edge of Manning Park.


Adriana answered the phone at Manning Park Lodge when I called with a few questions. She estimated they see 40-60 of these long distance hikers at the park each year. “They begin arriving sometime in August,” she said. “By the end of October the last ones have straggled in. They’re always pretty thin.”

While I was talking with Jay, Linda approached another young man who had also just completed the trail.

“You appear very fit and lean,” she said.

“Yes,” he agreed. “Doing the trail, you lose all your body fat.”

A young woman standing nearby was listening intently, then broke in. “I’ve just come off the trail today,” she said. “I didn’t lose all my body fat. It doesn’t seem quite fair.”

It is believed that about 300 hikers challenge the trail each year. About 180 complete it. It is also common to attempt only a portion of the trail. Probably the most common reason for failure to complete the entire length is running out of funds. Some hikers have re-supply packages sent to themselves at postal outlets or general stores in communities along the way.

Planning and commitment are considered essential. It is a gruelling trek and there have been occasional deaths. A variety of health related issues can also develop. Jay, a software engineer in San Francisco suffered a broken foot along the way. “Probably a stress fracture from all the walking,” he said.

Jay’s enthusiasm for the adventure and also his trim body made me a little envious. Although I’m somewhat past my “best before” time in life, the spirit is still willing. I rather doubt I could persuade Linda, but the Pacific Crest Trail does appeal.

Baseball and Politics


Parliament on Ottawa River
Parliament on Ottawa River

There is a common thread running through both professional baseball and party politics in Canada. When an umpire calls the last “out!” in the 2015 World Series, the players will pick up their fat paycheques, retrieve their golf clubs and head to the links. The disciplined ones will continue their conditioning regime. At the management level, there will be frenzied preparation for the next season of ball. The fans, having cheered until they are hoarse, will go home and focus on other interests until the umpires again call, “play ball.”

When the current federal election campaign has run its course, the voters, like the baseball fans, will also resume other pursuits. Having voted, we believe those we have elected will now carry out their duties with an acceptable degree of diligence, having in mind what is best for citizens and the nation. We need to understand though, that the serious politicians, whether winners or losers, will now begin planning and strategizing to win the next election.

Just as for players, managers and owners, baseball is about winning, for career politicians, politics is also about winning. Many of their decisions will likely have little to do with good governance. We should not forget that over the past four years, the political parties have been engaged in an aggressive, perpetual “dog fight,” seeking to score political points.

In baseball it’s not a problem that fans are inactive in the off season. In politics though, when the people are not involved between elections, there is a significant down side. As citizens, we are stakeholders in our nation. If we are not attentive, we may one day understand to our chagrin, politics is often more about achieving and maintaining power than governing prudently.

In contending this, I certainly do not mean to slam the many fine individuals running for election. Recently I attended a local all-candidates meeting and concluded each is a reputable person with honourable intentions. If the party hierarchy listened more frequently to our representatives, we would almost certainly have a superior form of government.

In our country, as in every country around the globe, there are ambitious individuals aggressively grasping for the levers of government, whatever its form. And those holding the levers cling to them tenaciously, doing whatever is necessary to thwart rivals. Too often this results in decisions designed to gain favour with multi-national corporations, or with particular elements of the electorate, not to provide sound governance.

This dynamic has prevailed throughout history. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire is one of the most thoroughly documented cases of often mutually destructive struggles between ambitious individuals, sapping the vitality of a nation and in time contributing to its down fall. In “How Rome Fell: Death of a Super Power”, Adrian K Goldsworthy says, “there was never a shortage of men wanting to be Emperor. Being killed by a rival remained the most frequent cause of death of Emperors.”

At times powerful army commanders challenged the Emperor. If the challenge was successful, the usurper usually had the Emperor killed. Goldsworthy states further, “senior officials regularly arranged for the disgrace and even death of colleagues. Personal survival and success were the foremost goals of most officials.” By the third century of the Empire’s existence, Emperors and their administrations were thinking less of the good of the Empire than their own survival. It was not a recipe for efficiency.

Goldsworthy sees parallels in our time and suggests “perhaps we should expect more from our political leaders. If they do not set an example by placing the wider good above personal or party interests, it is most unlikely anyone else will behave any better. A greater willingness to take genuine responsibility would be a good place to start.”

Although Canadian political experience is considerably more civilized than that of the Roman empire, the grasping for power is uncomfortably real. For this reason, it is essential we encourage all politicians to work first for the good of Canada and its citizens, not for party advantage. After this election we need to continue asking questions and demanding substantive answers of those elected to represent us. Unlike the game of baseball, politics does impact us, our children and our grandchildren. We can play a part in the well being of this great country.

Professor Focuses on Indigenous History

Prof. Janet MacArthur
Prof. Janet MacArthur

Approximately 6 months after writing about the Similkameen Valley’s well known Allison family, I received an e-mail from Professor Janet MacArthur of UBC’s Kelowna campus. “I’m collaborating on an anthology of writings by white and indigenous women who lived in the interior in the early settlement period,” she wrote. “Can we talk?”

I live in a small community not renowned for its sophistication. What kind of prof was she, I wondered. Would I require a dictionary in hand to understand her academic language? And did I know anything that would be helpful to her?

In a 2 hour visit at our kitchen table and then a telephone conversation, I realized that in spite of an education infinitely superior to mine, I didn’t need the dictionary. We began by talking about much more than her current writing project. I learned that challenging life experiences have given her an understanding that cannot be attained via a high level of education.

“My mother was ill during much of my growing up time, but I had lots of support from other family when she couldn’t be there,” she said in response to my question about her early years. “My grandmother became a big influence. I learned from her about becoming strong, having faith and the importance of education.”

She completed a BEd at University of Calgary, taught school in northern Alberta, pursued graduate studies at Dalhousie and UBC, then earned a PhD in Renaissance literature at U of C in 1988. In 1989, she was hired at Okanagan University College in Kelowna where she has taught 16th and17th century literature, including Shakespeare, women’s literature, and autobiography.

When I asked about challenges in her life, Janet’s expression became serious and a sober note crept into her voice. “I have a pretty competitive side,” she said. “Twenty years ago I was given a diagnosis of Lupus. There were many things I wanted to accomplish, but could not. That was devastating and at first I was angry.”

She paused to reflect, then said, “the illness forced me to think about my limits and accept them. I understand now that people who don’t need to struggle do not comprehend some things. It’s given me a deeper understanding of life. I hope I have grown spiritually through this.”

When she was 44, Janet adopted an infant girl from China, then another daughter 10 years later. “At my age it has been tougher than I expected,” she said, “but a huge source of joy.”

An area of interest now is how people react to extreme experience. She explores this in a course on Holocaust memoir. “The media simplifies issues,” she said, “but events can mean different things. I urge my students to probe deeper. In the Holocaust course we look at accounts written by victims, perpetrators, bystanders, and children. We consider how this historical episode continues to affect many cultures. We examine thoughts and feelings. Too often people turn a blind eye to what is happening. I value the opportunity to shape the way students think.” Her focus on Holocaust trauma is related to her work on the oppression of the Syilx (Okanagan and Similkameen) people.

The planned anthology of writings by indigenous and settler women is a collaboration with Jeannette Armstrong of the En’owken Centre in Penticton and Lally Grauer, retired UBCO professor.. “We’re bringing out a history that hasn’t been offered to the public yet,” she said. “We’re trying to create a trace of the women of the past. Even white women’s voices are not central to traditional Okanagan and Similkameen history. Bringing indigenous and non-indigenous women’s voices together provides a new way of seeing.”

She values the writing of early Princeton settler Susan Allison, the white wife of John Fall Allison, as she appears to have had an unconventional relationship with First Nations people. Earlier work on Susan Allison overlooks this. “Susan was in a state of conflict because she knew the white people and was part of that culture. She couldn’t say some things, but she leaves a muted trace.”

Janet feels that Nora Allison, John Fall’s (aboriginal) first wife should be celebrated. “I would like the indigenous women of today to tell the story of John Fall’s two wives,” she said. Janet MacArthur and her collaborators are serious about providing them that opportunity.