Farewell To A Faithful Friend

SILK, part Golden Retriever
SILK, part Golden Retriever

Linda and I were still at the table in our sun room after breakfast last week when a firm knock on the front door surprised us. It was Barry, our next door neighbour. Visits from him are a rarity, so we knew intuitively something of importance had prompted him to come. The January air carried a distinct chill and he was wearing a parka with the hood up. I invited him in but he declined.

“I just came to tell you I’ve arranged for Silk to be put down today,” he said. His voice became raspy and he put a hand to his throat as though to help him speak. I could see this was an extremely difficult message for him to deliver. I again invited him in, but once more he declined. “I thought you might want to come and see her,” he said, “before I take her to the vet.”

He paused and momentarily turned away to look toward his yard, possibly hoping to catch a glimpse of the dog. Then, still in the clutches of an emotional moment, he suggested “maybe you could take a picture of her for the blog. After all, she was sort of a community dog.”

“ I’ll get a jacket on and come over immediately” I said. A few minutes later Linda and I approached the gate to Barry and Sharon’s high wood fence and were accosted by their two black Bernese Mountain dogs, barking and wagging their tails vigorously. Silk, a partial Golden Retriever hobbled toward us, obviously uncomfortable but wanting to be part of this social event.

Although age and failing health had robbed her of her former robust vitality, and weakened hind quarters caused her movements to be laboured, her face retained an elegant beauty. She had not lost her desire to be in the company of friends.


For years, we had frequently observed Silk purposely wandering around town, alert for a rabbit to harass or a human to give her a few strokes. She had arrived in Hedley with the Nimchuk family. They had acquired her fourteen years ago as a 5 month old pup when they still lived on a 10 acre property, where she had freedom to explore. Not having a fence and not wanting to curtail her love of roaming and meeting people, they had allowed her to patrol the town. She had offered friendship to everyone she met, and many of us had gladly given her the strokes she craved. Silk enjoyed people and people enjoyed her.

Now, while he was attempting to keep the two younger dogs away, Barry told us how Silk had attached herself to him and Sharon, and their dogs. “Eight years ago she got a paw caught in the wire fence I had at that time”, he said. “I freed her and she began hanging around and spending time with us and our dogs”. The Nimchuks recognized that she was at ease and happy with them. Silk gradually became part of the family, and we frequently saw Barry and the three dogs departing for a trek early in the morning. It was evident that Silk felt accepted.

Silk occasionally visited the Nimchuks. Ayrelea, one of their daughters, at times took her for a walk. On such occasions she usually groomed and hand fed her.

I snapped a few photos of Silk. She stood quietly, as though understanding these pictures would provide her family and many friends with a means to remember her. Then she lay down, obviously having exhausted her meagre reserves of energy and strength. Calm and unmoving, she watched the two younger dogs capering about the yard. Possibly age had given her the understanding this time would come and she was facing it with dignity and a sense of deep inner equanimity.

Doug and Michelle Nimchuk and their four children arrived to bid Silk a sad farewell. They wanted to take her for one last walk around the block. She was eager and her spirit was willing, but her hind quarters would not support her.

When the time of her departure drew near, Barry lovingly and gently placed Silk in his van for her final ride. She was truly a lady of distinction. The town has lost a faithful friend.


Lauren Barwick, Inspirational Equestrian

Lauren Barwick
Lauren Barwick

In a 2 hour telephone conversation from her home in Florida last week, paralympic gold medalist Lauren Barwick told me about her devastating accident and how it changed her life. Born in Langley, BC, she loved horses and riding. When a 100 pound bale of hay fell on her and broke her back, she lost all strength and feeling in her legs from her hips down. That day she also lost her dream of being a movies stunt rider.

“After 2 months in the G.F. Strong Rehab Centre,” she said, “I returned to my home, thinking everything I had wanted to do was now impossible. Mom urged me to get on a horse, but I told her I wanted nothing to do with that.”

Only 22 when the accident happened in 2000, she drifted into a state of deep discouragement and depression. A former coach visited, and against vigorous protests, put her on a horse. He talked about preparing for the 2004 Athens Paralympics.

“I had been doing a lot of reflecting,” she said. “I knew I had 3 options. I could be miserable and make people around me miserable. I could end my life. Or, I could move on. I stopped asking ‘why me?’ Instead I now asked, ‘Why would I not be able to win a gold medal?’”

She had trained briefly at the renowned Parelli ranch prior to the accident, but had not completely bought into their philosophy. Now she negotiated with them and returned to the ranch.

Having no lower back muscles and no feeling in her legs, she embarked on a vigorous, disciplined program to strengthen her upper body. Regular visits to the gym included throwing a medicine ball and a lot of time on pulling machines. Outside she did sprints, and also longer distances, in her wheel chair. She grew stronger and now does 10 kilometres a day 2 to 3 times per week. She found mentors and read inspirational books. “I needed to become strong mentally, emotionally and physically,” she said.

The Parelli teaching was well suited to her physical circumstances. Pat Parelli emphasizes partnership without domination and willingness without intimidation. “Don’t kick the horse to start, don’t pull the reins to stop,” is basic to his teaching. Lauren’s philosophy reflects this understanding. There was evident joy in her voice when she said, “my horses catch me. I don’t catch them. I don’t force them to do what I want them to do. A horse can be an incredible partner.”

For Lauren the relationship with a horse is important, even precious. “I treat a horse the way I like to be treated. I want to be my horse’s first choice. I have to earn that by showing respect. It’s the same with humans.” She still stays up late to watch videos about horses. “Studying horsemanship has taught me about myself, morals, the way I live.”

This understanding helps her focus on the good in her life. She is grateful, especially to the Parellis. While under their sponsorship they paid her competition fees and provided accommodation and food. “The Parelli’s enabled me to obtain an incredible education.” She also appreciates the assistance of Canada’s “Own the Podium” program and Equine Canada.

Lauren Barwick, Paralympic Dressage Rider
Lauren Barwick, Paralympic Dressage Rider

Lauren’s capacity to focus on her vision, her discipline and courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, have earned her a place on the international equestrian stage. She has participated in some 50 international events, including 4 world games and the Beijing Paralympics, where she won silver and gold. She is also a much in demand public speaker, providing inspirational talks based on her life. Currently she is training for the Rio 2016 Paralympics.

A 4-star instructor in the Parelli Natural Horsemanship program, she operates her own farm and training centre at Reddick, Florida. She rides 2 to 5 horses a day, usually 6 days a week. Without use of her legs, this is tiring. For 2 to 9 hours a day she teaches horsemanship and conducts clinics and work shops. Her program, Bridging the Gap, attracts clients from diverse places like Germany, Norway, New Zealand, England and the U.S.

Lauren Barwick acknowledges that “since the day when that 100 pound bale broke my back, it hasn’t been easy.” Her parting words to me were, “We need to be open minded. That enables us to see the ideas and opportunities that may help us.”

Tom Siddon, A Life In Politics

Pat & Tom Siddon visited us in Hedley
Pat & Tom Siddon visited us in Hedley

Last week, sitting at our kitchen table with Tom and Pat Siddon of Kaleden, Linda and I received the benefit of a 2 hour political seminar. When Tom began speaking, I set aside my interview notes and listened with great interest. He had been an MP during the years when Joe Clark, Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney held the reins of power in Ottawa. In the Mulroney years he served in several key cabinet posts.

“I was born in Drumheller, Alberta into a family of modest circumstances,” he said at the outset. “ My dad was a barber. He was determined I wouldn’t follow in his footsteps.”

Tom studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alberta, not a common career track for an aspiring politician, but at that time he wasn’t considering politics. This is where he met Joe Clark, future Canadian PM, and also Pat. He and Pat were married at the beginning of his final year. She discontinued her studies to work so he could attain a Phd. at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Aeronautical Studies. “Pat was typing my thesis one day when I suddenly needed to rush her to the hospital to have our second son,” he said.

While teaching engineering at UBC he joined a group opposed to the construction of 3 high rise towers in Richmond. This experience persuaded him to run for a position on council. In the 1975 city elections, campaigning with Pat at his side, he defeated an incumbent councillor by 20 votes.

In this role he began garnering political experience and credibility. When he agreed to run in a federal by-election in Richmond, his parents didn’t understand. “You have a good career teaching at UBC,” they admonished him. “Why go into politics?”

Elected, he and Pat soon learned about the uncertainties inherent in a political career. In 1979 he was re-elected in the general election which handed Joe Clark a short lived minority government. “We moved our family to Ottawa and enrolled our children in school,” he said. “Then our government was defeated on a budget vote. We moved back to Richmond.”

Voters had come to trust Tom and gave him the nod in the 1980 election. This time he found himself sitting in the benches of the Official Opposition, facing a Pierre Trudeau government.

As is common after an election defeat, the Conservatives held a leadership vote. Tom deemed Brian Mulroney (a skilled labour lawyer and CEO of the Iron Ore Co. of Canada) to be the most promising candidate. Mulroney won, and Tom’s support would prove to have been prudent.

After taking power in the 1984 vote, Mulroney named Tom Minister of State for Science and Technology. In this role he was on hand to watch Mark Garneau being launched into space at Cape Kennedy.

When Mulroney subsequently appointed him Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Tom needed to deal with the sticky issue of disappearing cod stocks. “My science background enabled me to understand what the scientists were telling me,” he said. “I felt they were wrong and decided to close the cod fishery. I was roundly condemned for this by some but my instincts were correct. Even now the cod haven’t come back.”

His appointment as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in 1990 led to what he considers his most significant achievement, the creation of Nunavut.

“Pat and I were taken by dog sled across ice and snow to Igloolik on the western side of Hudson’s Bay,” he said. “Our Inuit guide built an igloo and that night we slept in it on caribou skins. In the morning I woke with my back against a block of ice.”

Chief Negotiator Paul Quassa & vice-president Bob Kadlun present then Indian Affairs Minister Tom Siddon with "Snow Block Carving" in Igulik on April 30, 1990
Chief Negotiator Paul Quassa & vice-president Bob Kadlun present then Indian Affairs Minister Tom Siddon with “Snow Block Carving” in Igulik on April 30, 1990

As part of the signing ceremony they were offered Inuit delicacies such as raw caribou, bear and Arctic char. Pat avoided most of the meal by handing out gifts of fresh fruit and daffodils. The signing ceremony laid out the basis for negotiations over the next 3 years. In appreciation of his dedicated work, Tom was presented with a carving of an Inuit hunter cutting snow blocks. In 2015 the Siddons returned the carving, considering it a treasure that belonged to Nunavut.

Today, among various involvements, Tom Siddon is Area D Director in the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen. His partnership with Pat still strong, he continues to believe being in politics should not be for personal honour. It must be to serve the community and the nation.

Winter Scenes in Manning Park

Linda and I drove from the Fraser Valley to Hedley December 28th, after celebrating Christmas with family and friends.  We stopped at Manning Park Lodge just long enough to buy coffee and get a few photos.  This stretch of the #3 Highway again offered a winter splendor that fostered a deep sense of delight.

Approaching Manning Park Lodge
Approaching Manning Park Lodge
Glimpse of a cabin on the other side of the highway
Glimpse of a cabin on the other side of the highway
Snow laden trees
Snow laden trees
Glimpse of blue sky added to the splendor.
Glimpse of blue sky added to the splendor.


A First Step To Combat Drug Problem

Drug Paraphernalia
Drug Paraphernalia

When I recently heard about the assassination of Gisela Mota, a Mexican mayor, I considered it of little concern for myself and my neighbours in the Similkameen Valley. Surely, I thought, our society will never spiral downward to where drug cartels are able to kill politicians almost at will.

Maybe I was a tad overly complacent. A conversation with Monica a couple of days later caused me more than a twinge of concern. After moving from New Brunswick with her daughter Curly, and 2 younger children, her anticipation of a peaceful life here was shattered. Sixteen year old, musically gifted Curly began hanging out with youths skipping classes and smoking drugs. She started dating older guys doing cocaine and heroin. Soon Curly too was hooked on hard drugs.

Understandably, Monica fears retaliation from the traffickers and asked me to not use her real name. “Curly is behind in paying for drugs,” she said. “She’s been warned there will be serious consequences. I know she’s taking things from my home and selling them to pay. Now they expect her to be a drug runner. She’s scared, but it’s a bit late.”

A note of deep despair crept into Monica’s voice. “The police and government people are sympathetic, but their hands seem to be tied. I’m trying to persuade my daughter to go into a rehab facility, but it’s like all she can think about now is getting drugs. She doesn’t understand these people are wrecking her future. I can’t get help anywhere.” A single tear trickled slowly down Monica’s cheek. She’s fighting a lonely battle.

It’s alarming that as a society we don’t grasp the extent to which drugs have infiltrated the lives of our next generation of citizens and leaders. We seemingly don’t possess the will or know-how to deal with the curse of illicit drug use. In Hedley we have a dealer who does a pretty brisk business. Customers go to his house in broad daylight. Some are selling to youths. People are appalled that this is happening in our community.

Some years ago in another setting, I received a lesson about how a community can oppose those who seek to bring harm to citizens. Our opponent was a powerful, air polluting US corporation. Several individuals were so spooked they wrote letters to the local paper advising us to back off, because we were like dwarfs against this corporate giant with its deep pockets and high priced attorneys.

We began with a committee of about 10 concerned individuals and invited a couple of community leaders to meet with us. Realizing we needed to educate people regarding the health implications for their children and grandchildren, we asked a reporter with the local newspaper to attend our next meeting. She was a firebrand and began researching the issue and writing about it. We wanted people to understand this was a danger that would impact them personally.

Our small committee quickly grew into a group of approximately 30 committed citizens. We wrote a letter to the National Energy Board (NEB) and set a goal of having 10,000 individuals send copies of this letter to the Board.

Increasingly, people became aware of the serious implications for their own health and that of their children. Many picked up copies of the letter and urged their family, friends, and co-workers to sign it.

Initially, the mayor and city hall welcomed the corporation but as the community pressure against it increased, the mayor realized he’d have to join us. Our local MLA provided paper and extensive use of his office copier to produce thousands of letters. The head of the Downtown Business Association did the same. She also provided a booth at the town’s summer festival.

All told we generated some 20,000 letters to the NEB, as well as other documentation. We sent so much material, one of the NEB fax machines burned out. It was a tough fight over several years, but in the end we won.

Just wringing our hands will accomplish nothing. However, with leadership, a comprehension by the community of the personal implications, a plan that people can participate in, and dialogue with police, there could be a significant push back against those who are destroying the lives of young people like Curly. This is not a total answer, but community ownership could be an important first step.

A New Vision For A New Year

Cover Of Book By Serena Williams
Cover Of Book By Serena Williams

Standing on the threshold of a new year, some of us will dare believe we can rise up like eagles and attempt what we have thus far only dreamed of. We will dare to contemplate possibilities that both excite and frighten us.

Working with out of control adolescents on the streets of Surrey and also at Camp Colonial in Hedley, I began to understand that within each of us lies buried a belief we are destined to accomplish something significant with our lives. This understanding was bolstered one morning when Mickey refused to get out of bed and go for breakfast. Only 15, he had been sent by a judge to the One Way Adventure Foundation in the hope one of our programs would foster a less adversarial, criminal mind-set. He was lodged with 11 other equally difficult youths in the Coach house. Fair haired and slight of build, he could be amiable when the gods were smiling on him. When discouragement overtook him though, he became obnoxious and obstinate. This morning, I told the workers to take the others to breakfast and I’d talk with Mickey.

I sat on the edge of his bed and we chatted casually about his family and past life. An atmosphere of despair hovered about him. His mom had visited him only once since he arrived several months ago. Her boyfriend disliked him. His mind had plunged into a deep abyss of resignation, and he had no compelling reason to get out of bed. I wondered if there was even a tiny spark that could be ignited within him.

Realizing he had awakened to a mood of utter disconsolation, I felt I needed to divert him in the most profound way I could think of. “Mickey,” I said, “do you want to do something important with your life?” A radical departure from our conversation to that point, I discerned from the sudden restlessness of his legs that the question had unsettled him. After a moment the restlessness ceased and a meek voice answered, “yah… I do.”

“Can I give you an idea of what it takes to do important things?” I asked. He nodded, probably hoping he wasn’t wandering too far onto dangerous terrain. “Almost always it begins with changing our thinking,” I said. “Changing our thinking about what we are capable of doing and about how we deal with problems. Hard things will often stand in our way. We can believe it’s possible to overcome them and do important things in spite of them.”

Mickey’s nod indicated he had not shut me out. He threw off the bedcovers, resolutely eased out of bed and reached for his pants and shirt.

Tennis super star Serena Williams could have given Mickey, and each of us, a much fuller understanding of a more productive way of thinking. In “My Life: Queen of the Court”, she discusses the value of planting positive, uplifting thoughts in our minds, and reinforcing them continually. When she was young, her mother told her “whatever you become, you become in your head first. You become what you think about most. Good thoughts are powerful.” Serena clung to these words and wrote dozens of post it notes, reminding herself of who she wanted to be and what she hoped to accomplish.

Mickey’s mother never learned the importance of planting a powerful, positive vision in the mind of her son. Like virtually every student of whom I asked the question, Mickey did have the desire to do something significant with his life. He also had at least the spark of a belief that he could.

I concluded from the experiences I had with our students there must be planted within each of us a belief we are capable of doing something that has meaning and value. For all of us, the start of a new year is a great time to think about what we want to accomplish in the coming 12 months, and in the rest of our life. We can believe for more and reach a little higher. We all have everything it takes to do important things.