“Special Ones” In Similkameen Valley

When I turn off the computer today, I will have written 52 columns for two local newspapers this year, some personal, some political, most based on conversations with exceptionally motivated and focused individuals. I think of them as “special ones”, people not content to sit in restaurants drinking coffee and complaining about everything they consider wrong in the world. They rarely say “someone should do something about that.” They are busy making a significant difference in their community. Reflecting back this week on 2015, I began pondering what it is about these people that sets them apart and seemingly lifts their lives to a higher level.


I feel that keeping values and culture alive and vibrant is one of the significant contributions made by some of the special ones. At the Pow Wow put on by the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, I talked with Lauren Terbasket, a member of the organizing team. I sensed her passion for infusing future generations with pride in their heritage. I saw children bedecked in brightly coloured regalia. Beautiful teenage girls and lithe young men had invested considerable time and funds in their outfits. It was a celebration of friendships, culture, and values.

Pastor Graham Gore
Pastor Graham Gore

Another key function of special ones is to set a positive, uplifting tone. Graham Gore, pastor of the Hedley Grace Church, is viewed by some non attenders as pastor to the community. Less involved publicly, Myrtle Gore’s smile and encouraging words are like a balm for the troubled soul. By their attitude, words and actions, Graham and Myrtle are mentors to some and an inspiration to many. Their love for people fosters a more gentle atmosphere.

I’ve observed that some of the special ones help keep local stories and history alive. Jennifer Douglass and Andy English have carried out extensive research into the largely forgotten Hedley men who enlisted in the Canadian military in World War 1. Except for their research, this important story might have remained buried, possibly forever. Presently they are raising funds to refurbish the Hedley cenotaph. Others, in the community and outside Hedley, have caught their vision and are supporting the project.

Jennifer Douglass & Andy English
Jennifer Douglass & Andy English

The origins of the Allison family and their contribution to the opening of the Similkameen Valley might also have been lost if several local great granddaughters had not delved into that intriguing piece of history. I became interested in this story when I heard about Nora Allison and her pack train of horses. She transported food, mining supplies and other items from Hope to Greenwood. Lori Thomas of Princeton and Nancy Allison of Hedley patiently provided me with details of the life of John Fall Allison, his indigenous first wife Nora and caucasian second wife, Susan. It is because of individuals like Lori and Nancy, and also Susan’s book, “A Pioneer Gentle Woman in British Columbia,” that we have some understanding of the early years of white settlement here, and the role of indigenous people.

Often we are too busy to notice unique contributions being made in our community. One example is Ruth Woodin in her role as Hedley Postmaster. She will listen patiently to a tale of woe, but don’t be surprised if she advises a change of perspective. If someone comes in with an unfounded rumour, she is quick to put the kibosh on anything that might tarnish a reputation.

A number of the individuals I interviewed this year demonstrated tremendous strength of character. Angelique Wood’s attempts to introduce fresh thinking and ideas into the Hedley community have earned her the strident opposition of a small cadre of detractors. Fortunately there are many who appreciate her generosity, desire to serve the community, and courage to consider innovative strategies.

Don Armstrong, (on right)
Don Armstrong, (on right)

The contributions of special ones are varied. Ken Helm of rural Cawston has assembled and lovingly rebuilt an array of delightful vintage vehicles. Lydia Sawicki is passionate about putting an end to wilderness dumping. Don Armstrong of Hedley and Darryl McDonald of Keremeos organized a Hedley BBQ and Summer Festival. Each second Sunday of the month, members of the Hedley Seniors’ Centre host a delicious, $5 pancake breakfast. Most communities benefit from the efforts of such local organizations.

Our lives are enriched when we become aware of the special ones in our midst. Usually they are quietly performing some function that benefits the community. In 2016 we should notice them, honour them, protect them if necessary, and consider becoming special ones ourselves.

A Treasured Christmas Memory


Domination of the holiday season by the corporate world appears to have doomed to obscurity the concept of the Christmas Spirit. Even a jovial mall Santa and brightly wrapped gifts under a tinsel bedecked evergreen cannot conjure up the deep joy and inner excitement many of us hope will enter our lives during this special season.

Linda and I were early in our dating relationship when we were gifted with a Christmas Spirit inducing memory. I was 19 and she was 16. It was the middle of December when the seed of the memory was sown on a road in a remote, heavily forested area behind Mission B.C.

I recall with great clarity the dark cloud that moved in rapidly and unexpectedly unleashed a drenching downpour. The windshield wipers could scarcely cope with the deluge. In the distance a grey figure became discernible, bumping in our direction beside the road. I slowed the car as we passed by. It was an elderly woman, her sodden coat wrapped tightly about her. Face toward the ground and shoulders slumping forward, she appeared feeble, miserable and utterly dejected.

Linda gasped and said, “she needs help!” I turned the car around and pulled alongside her. “Would you like a ride?” I asked. She nodded wearily, relief and gratitude on her disconsolate, lined face. I opened the rear door and, encumbered by her heavy wet coat, she clambered in awkwardly.

In a quiet, slightly quavering voice, she directed me to an obscure gravelled road. “There,” she said, “that’s where I live.” I pulled the car into a barely discernible driveway and opened the door for her. “Thank you,” she said, “I didn‘t think I’d get here.” Her teeth chattered but she declined my offer to assist her to the door of her shack.

I forgot about the woman, but Linda didn’t. The evening of December 24th, an almost full moon shining overhead, we drove again to the elderly woman’s home. Pale light shone through the only 2 windows. Walking toward the house, holding hands, we heard a dog bark inside. I knocked on the door, and the dog barked again. After waiting a long minute in the chill night air, I knocked a second time, more vigorously. Still no answer, so I made a fist and banged with considerable force. Excited barking suggested there might be more than one dog.

Sounds emanated from inside, as though the shack was shifting. Finally the door opened just enough to reveal the woman’s wispy face and uncombed hair. It was evident she wasn’t accustomed to company, especially two strangers after darkness had set in. She peered warily through the barely open door.

“Hello,” Linda said. “We picked you up a few weeks ago when it rained so hard. We’re here to wish you a Merry Christmas.”

Reassured, she stepped out onto the porch, clad in a flimsy house coat. “I’d invite you in,” she said apologetically, “but I have 17 dogs in there.”

She glanced up at the nearly full moon, then asked, “is it Christmas?” In the light of the moon a wistful expression on her lined face was clearly visible. “When I was a child my grandparents took me to church with them one Christmas Eve,” she said. “There was a manger and shepherds with sheep. A baby lay in the manger. They said it was Jesus. That was many years ago. I had forgotten.”

nativity scene 3

We talked for about 5 minutes, then saw she was shivering in the December air. Linda presented her with a small gift and we bade her farewell. She followed us to the car. As I backed onto the road, she stood clearly silhouetted in the light of the moon. Waving vigorously, she called, “Au revoir! Au revoir!” I turned down the car window, waved, and responded “auf wieder sehen!” As we drove away, she continued to wave and call out “au revoir!”

In time, Linda and I were married, adopted 2 wonderful children and pursued careers. I rarely thought about the little lady living alone with 17 dogs in an unpainted shack. A few years ago, just before Christmas I thought of her standing alone in the moonlight, waving with great fervour and calling “au revoir!”

Now each year, the memory rekindles the Christmas Spirit that otherwise might lie dormant within me. It’s a reminder that when I bring joy into someone’s life, I also receive joy.

Winter In Hedley

20 Mile Creek 2 weeks ago, when we had cold days
20 Mile Creek 2 weeks ago, when we had cold days

Since moving to Hedley I’ve been giving myself the message in winter, “enjoy the cold and the snow.” I know I could be

Winter view from our front deck, after last night's snowfall.
Winter view from our front deck, after last night’s snowfall.

easily tempted to wait out the cold season and the longer dark hours. But why? I don’t want a mindset that permits dissatisfaction to dominate my thinking. Maybe it’s for this reason I’ve been watching for uniquely winter scenes to record with the camera. Winter offers a spectacular beauty and also experiences that are not present in the other seasons.

Beautiful winter sky, and our street got plowed - a winning combination.
Beautiful winter sky, and our street got plowed – a winning combination.


Wood smoke spiralling up is a common sight in winter.
Wood smoke spiralling up is a common sight in winter.

Never Too Late For A Circle Of Friends

Our friend Laura at Manning Park Lodge
Our friend Laura at Manning Park Lodge

When Linda and I stopped at the Manning Park Lodge to pick up coffee last week, Laura told us she’d be leaving soon. Young, pretty and convivial, she has always had time for a brief visit with us in the park store. Earlier this year I wrote about her on my blog, calling her “the prettiest girl in Manning Park.” Apparently she has a huge fan base. That post drew an incredible number of visits. We had become friends. When she told us she was leaving Manning Park, we were disappointed, realizing we might never see her again.

Friendships in our society are frequently short lived. They may surprise us like a brief ray of sunshine on a sombre day, then quickly fade away. We tend to be rather blasé about relationships, possibly because geographically many of us do not put down deep roots. In the past people often stayed in the village or town where they were born. This gave relationships time to mature.

Friendship Circle by Starwood Quilter
Friendship Circle by Starwood Quilter

When Laura told us she was leaving Manning Park, I was reminded of Roy. One of my most useful lessons concerning friendships came from him, an entirely unlikely source. My work at that time frequently took me into provincial and federal prisons. During those years I developed relationships of considerable trust with men doing time for fraud, trafficking in heroin and cocaine, murder, etc. In some cases all their relationships with people outside prison had been severed and they received no visits. When they became eligible for a Temporary Absence, Linda and I at times invited such men to our home for a meal. In some cases we became friends. Almost invariably though, upon release they reverted back to their former criminal associations and haunts. Most apparently didn’t understand the value of friends.

Inexplicably, Roy did understand, although he at times severely tested my patience. He was doing time at Matsqui Institution for b & e’s and possession of heroin. His stocky physique, massive arms and shiny dome gave the appearance of a Mafia enforcer. In his childhood and youth, family life had been a shambles. His father did jail time and his step mother didn’t want Roy in the home.

Roy never became a success story. In time he traded the heroin for alcohol, which did nothing to improve his outlook or circumstances. Unlike other men who disappeared when their parole time ran out, Roy continued to stay in contact with Walter, his community sponsor, and with Linda and myself. When our phone jangled raucously at 2 am, I knew it would be Roy. Invariably, he’d dipped deeply into some intoxicating beverage that had elevated him to a state of joyous euphoria. He was a happy drunk. Although not a religious man, as he grew older he often asked if he could pray for me and my family before we signed off.

The next day he’d phone to apologize for waking me and behaving like a fool. It was a crazy friendship but in his sober hours, Roy frequently expressed deep appreciation for Walter and his family and for Linda and myself. He had no one else in his life. I was never able to develop an appreciation for the nocturnal phone calls, but I realize now Roy desperately wanted to stay connected with his few friends.

Friendship Circle by Jennifer Sanborn
Friendship Circle by Jennifer Sanborn

When Linda and I returned to Hedley 3 years ago after an absence of 25 years, like Roy, we realized we’d need to be proactive about staying in touch. In our earlier stint here, many of our relationships in the Fraser Valley had fallen away due to lack of attention.

Not wanting another loss of friendships, we decided to employ the understanding Roy had, although we didn’t have the chutzbah to make middle of the night calls. I think of it as the Roy Friendship Plan. Our version consists of writing an e-mail letter every 2 months to family and friends. The response has been gratifying. After each letter, a number of recipients respond with a note about their activities. Some invite us to come for coffee or lunch when we’re in their neighbourhood.


Although Roy has moved on to another sphere where he doesn’t need alcohol or drugs to experience euphoria, we continue to be grateful for his example. It’s never too late to gather a circle of friends.

The St. Germains of Stirling Creek Ranch

Kimberly & Jay St. Germain
Kimberly & Jay St. Germain

As a corporate executive with Super Save Group, local rancher Jay St. Germain was drawing a salary that would make most of us giddy with envy. The job didn’t allow for the lifestyle he wanted though. “When I increased my division’s profits,” he said, “it just meant the expectation level went up.” One day he confided to his wife Kimberly, “by the time I’m 50, I want to be out of the city.”

Jay grew up around tractors, equipment and agriculture. Early on, his parents owned a chicken farm, and had horses for hunting. One year he rode bulls. He also joined a saddle club. Early experiences developed in him a love of the outdoors.

Jay and Kimberly met at a night club on the Lower Mainland. His CFL linebacker frame (minus the extra weight) got him a job there as doorman/bouncer. Kimberly, blond, pretty and comfortable talking with almost anyone, was a bartender. She jokingly said, “Jay threw out anyone who was a possible rival suitor.”

Kimberly went on to a 25 year career in telecommunications, beginning with Bell Canada and ending at the help desk at Telus. Prior to working for Super Save, Jay became a realtor and also owned a cleaning business that employed 25 people. He had the drive, skill and personality to achieve impressive success in business, but in his heart he always knew he wanted to be in ranching.

His parents bought a ranch in the Pemberton area and Jay spent as much time there as possible.

He and Kimberly were married in September, 1992. They bought 5 acres in Milner and had horses. “In time, we had a good home, a Mercedes in the garage and the income to go out for nice dinners and various events,” Jay said. “I realized though I’d never find fulfillment in the corporate world.”

His parents sold the Pemberton ranch. Then, a few years ago his dad began talking of buying another one. He would only do it though if Jay and Kimberly partnered with him.


When they decided to take the plunge and began looking for a ranch, it meant giving up the security of a corporate income and pension. Jay’s fellow executives were dumbfounded. They attempted to convince him this was a foolhardy move. Just a little more than a year after purchasing the Stirling Creek Ranch west of Hedley, he says, “life experiences are a result of the choices we make. At times we have to risk to get what we want. I’m a risk taker.”

The ranch has changed their lives. “Before we made this move I’d often be in a hotel room in Toronto or some other city,” he said. “I was away a lot. Now I work 7 days a week, but I love what I do, and I see Kimberly every day.” Instead of attending executive meetings, his work is mostly outdoors, where he wants to be.

Jay & Doug, the cowboy
Jay & Doug, the cowboy

With the help of Doug, their one cowboy, his time is given to haying, managing the range so the cattle don’t overgraze, repairing equipment, cutting in trails, riding, fixing fences and much more. Coy, their Australian Working Kelpie, assists with cattle control.

Jay & Coy, the Australian Working Kelpie
Jay & Coy, the Australian Working Kelpie

The St. Germains feel fortunate in having inherited Robin from the previous ownership. “Robin manages the place,” Jay said. “He knows where the wells are. He knows a lot about breeding. It’s all so technical now. He has made the learning curve less steep.”

Kimberly doesn’t have Jay’s agricultural background but she pitches in whenever she can and is eager to learn. “I began taking riding lessons,” she said, “but then I had back issues and also broke an arm. I do want to be a cowgirl so I can help with the roundup. It will enable me to embrace the life style more fully. In spring I’ll get back to the lessons.”

The St. Germains own about 450 acres and lease thousands more, some from the local band and individuals. They also have a government grazing lease. Their goal now is to improve the herd and make the ranch profitable. “Costs and profits don’t match up well,” Jay said.

Even so, after a delicious lunch in the dining area of their spacious home and listening to them, Linda and I sensed their contentment. “We’re living our dream,” Jay said. He is nearing 50 and out of the city.

A Door-To-Door Vacuum Salesman

A little silver haired lady opened the door.
A little silver haired lady opened the door.

There was a time in my life when you might say, I lost touch with all things rational. I confess I once signed up with a door-to-door vacuum sales company. Not just any vacuum company, mind you. I signed up with the best. I knew it was the best because my smooth talking, clean shaven, spicy smelling manager assured me it was the best. “These vacuums sell themselves,” he told me very confidentially my first day. It was as though he was Warren Buffet, sharing with me his personal formula for financial success. How I dreamed of being just as confident and sophisticated as that manager.

But after my first week of knocking on doors, my tail twitching between my trembling legs, I had sold nothing.

Don’t sweat it, Tiger,” the great one confidently assured me, his jewel bedecked arm around my slumping shoulders. “Once you get the knack of it, your picture will hang in our company’s hall of fame.”

One wet, dreary evening at about 9 o’clock, I knocked on the door of an older house at the very end of a dead end street. Dead end. That’s where I felt my sales career was.

A little silver haired lady appeared at the door. And, as luck would have it, a monstrous, grouchy looking yellow dog at her side.

I could see right off I’d better make peace with that big jowled canine.

Hey buddy,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant. “Relax, I don’t bite.”

He dismissed me with the careless contempt the omnipotent reserve for mere peons.

Next to that pugnacious appearing hound, the little silver haired lady was like a lovely, delicate butterfly.

Oh,” she said very sweetly when I had explained my mission. “Really, I do have a good vacuum.”

How my heart plummeted within me when I heard that. But then, pointing a firm finger at yellow old El Groucho, she banished the beast to a fittingly lowly spot in the hallway. “Young man,” she said, “you look like you could use a cup of hot tea. Won’t you come in for a few minutes?”

Dispirited from the cold and lack of success, I accepted. Before long she said, “Now tell me, what’s so special about your vacuum?”

Just one minute,” I said, jumping to my feet and almost spilling my blackberry tea on her light coloured carpeting.

I rushed out and proudly carried in a sleek new gray and blue machine. In less than 15 minutes of frenzied activity, I’d surrounded the little silver haired butterfly lady with a half moon arrangement of black cloths, each with a small mound of grey dust from her carpet.

Ceasing my labours, I wiped my sweating brow. “Your old vacuum must be about due for retirement,” I suggested hopefully.

Oh,” she replied, smiling sweetly, “I don’t think it’s that old. In fact, the warranty might still be on it.”

Although I hadn’t seen her vacuum, I knew my high roller manager would have dismissed it as a piece of junk. But just the same, her words didn’t encourage me.

Why don’t we go to your kitchen table anyway, and I’ll show you how it looks on paper,” I suggested.

She followed me willingly, but when I pulled out a contract and pen, and asked for her name, she protested.

Oh my gracious, you mustn’t waste your paper on me. I’m not buying anything.”

Don’t worry about the paper.” I said, chuckling at her frugality.

She gave me her name but said, “You really shouldn’t spend your time on me.”

She got up and poured us each another cup of tea while I filled in the contract. I then laid it and the pen in front of her, albeit, rather half heartedly.

She glanced at the bottom figure with no apparent interest. Then, inexplicably, that little butterfly lady picked up the pen, signed the contract and wrote a cheque for the entire amount.

My stunned expression produced a mischievous smile and she said, “You don’t think I invited you in just for your company, do you? I knew all along I wanted the vacuum. I had to be sure you weren’t a slick operator, like that manager in your store. I was in there the other day, and when I saw all the jewellery on him, I thought he’d scam me.”

Getting the sale was awesome. But, it was cranky, conniving yellow El Groucho that got the last word. He’d been sulking, biding his time in the hallway. Now, while the silver haired butterfly lady admired her new acquisition, and I was bending over to tie my laces, the old cuss leapt up with unexpected vigour. Before I could slip through the door, he nipped me smartly in the behind.

Once outside, I consoled my bruised ego with the thought that I’d gotten a vacuum sale my high roller manager had missed.