Princeton Traditional Music Festival

Jon & Rika in front of their home in Princeton, BC. Joyfully expressing in song their enthusiasm for music.
Jon & Rika in front of their home in Princeton, BC. Joyfully expressing in song their enthusiasm for music. (click on photo for close up)

Jon Bartlett and Rika Ruebsaat don’t receive even token remuneration for the hundreds of hours and enormous energy they devote to the Princeton Traditional Music Festival. Listening to them talk about the event and the underlying sizzle of excitement in their voices, Linda and I realized there must be compelling reasons behind their uncommon dedication. Jon gave us at least a glimpse of this when he said, “We want to recover the traditional music of B.C. Music that reflects the experiences of men in logging and fishing camps, of miners, Irish immigrants, French Canadians, and many others.” For them much of the reward stems from the joy they see in musicians and attendees.

Both Jon and Rika are immigrants to Canada. Rika came as a child in 1952. Jon arrived at age 21 in 1969. Their pre Festival lives could hardly have followed a more apt trajectory as a preparation for the present significant enterprise.

As a young woman, Rika’s first career was in theatre. “I began studying theatre at UBC,” she recalled. “Before I was done though, I quit the program, went to England and hitchhiked around Europe. I connected with a bilingual theatre group and we performed in Europe and Canada.” For her it was “an absolute passion, totally engaging and transformative.”

Jon had been a paralegal in England, frequently investigating railway accidents. He also did pre-trial court work. On arriving in Canada he initially followed a similar career path. Later he supported himself, in part, by singing in Gas Town.

Each had a consuming interest in music and this led them independently to the Vancouver Folk Circle. It was here that their relationship and collaboration began.

Jon Bartlett & Rika Ruebsaat
Jon Bartlett & Rika Ruebsaat

Initially it was a relationship of respect and suspicion on my part,” Rika said. “Jon was demanding and challenging. You couldn’t just say something. He expected you to explain. I found that attractive.”

For Jon, Rika met an important expectation. “I couldn’t be with someone who wasn’t political,” he said.

Their story suggests they were restless, always seeking involvements they considered important.

We thought there would be a big change,” Jon said, “a revolution.” He meant a revolution in the thinking of Canadians. “We were hoping for people to wake up and realize we need to work together to make the world a better place. We were looking for decency in public life. We wanted people to accept responsibility for their own actions and not just fall into something. To make a choice. The revolution didn’t happen.”

Combining their talents they forged a potent partnership, performing on stages across Canada, including school class rooms. For some time they sang and told stories “from around the province” on the CBC radio program, “North by Northwest”. They also wrote 2 books. One was short listed for the prestigious Roderick Haig- Brown prize and also the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing.

They settled in Princeton and in 2007 were invited to perform on the Racing Days Weekend. “We had so much fun,” Rika remembers, “we wanted to do a festival. Over the years we had connected with a world wide circle of musicians. We invited our musician friends to come.”

Although they don’t get paid, over the years their friends have responded enthusiastically. “We do fund raising,” Jon said. “Also we receive some support from the town, the Gaming Branch, the RDOS and the federal government, but not enough to pay performers. We provide billets and we also give them food vouchers to local restaurants.”

For the musicians, it’s a total immersion,” Rika observed. “They love it. It provides an opportunity to perform music that comes from the community, the kind of music you make with your family. It’s music you might hear through the wall.”

Linda and I were deeply impressed by the sense of mutual respect, the commitment and the incurable optimism we saw in Jon and Rika.. They were lavish in their praise for the committee that has worked with them since early this year to make the coming festival a huge success.

Although it’s named the Princeton Traditional Music Festival, it really is for the entire Similkameen Valley. Actually, the province and beyond. There will be at least 140 performers, joyfully singing, playing instruments and telling stories. It’s a major musical event, running from August 19 to 21. Admittance is free. A great gift to us all!



Donald Trump Phenomenon

Similkameen Valley (photo Similkameen
Similkameen Valley (photo Similkameen

Does the Donald Trump phenomenon have any relevance for us in our peaceful Similkameen Valley? Certainly many of us have been perplexed by recent U.S. political developments. We wonder why American Republicans cheered on a bigoted loud mouthed renegade billionaire as he brazenly shouldered aside more experienced, more reasonable candidates in the pre-election primaries.

Donald J. Trump
Donald J. Trump

The U.S. political and social environment has been in a state of uncertainty and flux for a number of years. Some Americans fear their leaders aren’t capable of coping with critical issues such as the frightening domestic racial strife or international terrorism. Already during the Obama versus McCain election campaign in 2008, Peggy Noonan, conservative leaning Wall Street Journal columnist suggested there was a sense of unease in her country.

In “Patriotic Grace” she wrote, “I think a lot of people are coming around in their hearts to a belief the wheels may be coming off the trolley, and the trolley off the rails.” She then added, “I think in some fundamental way, things are broken, and can’t be fixed, or won’t be any time soon.” She may have been foretelling and reflecting the present American mood when she said, “I believe we have to assume something bad is going to happen, 10 times, or 100 times as bad as 911.”

Trolley Car (
Trolley Car (

Governments in America and Canada have ballooned to the point where dialogue with the electorate is scant, virtually non-existent. Political leaders almost inevitably promise open, transparent government. Then, just as inevitably, they find reasons to ignore the wishes of the people who entrusted them with the responsibility of managing the affairs of the nation.

In America and Canada, governments have for some time been relentlessly re-engineering significant societal structures. They have entered into overly cozy relationships with multi-national corporations. According to Tom Parkin (Toronto Sun, July 17, 2016) “There’s been a lobbyist explosion in Ottawa. Over 8,000 lobbyists are plying their trade there.” Many of these represent corporations.

One result of corporate pressure is the (yet to be ratified) 12 nation Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Once ratified, this agreement will allow foreign corporations to sue any level of government if they believe regulations are likely to limit their profits, either in the present or the future. According to organizations like the Suzuki Foundation, we will lose much of our ability to protect the environment that is so crucial to our well being and that of future generations. Doctors Without Borders have expressed alarm that the TPP will adversely impact affordability of pharmaceuticals.

Peggy Noonan says, “there is a sense that the old America in which we were raised is receding and something new and quite unknown is taking its place, a sense that our leaders have gone astray. Some young people don’t know if they have a future.”

Donald Trump has skillfully tapped into the growing sense on the part of some, that the American dream is fading and losing its once magnificent, compelling allure. He has urged Americans to believe that a festering corruption at high levels is frittering away the nation’s greatness. Even if he is right, does he have the experience, ability, or wisdom to fix what he believes is wrong with America?

Trump has certainly not attempted to disguise his disdain for the practises and policies implemented by Republican and Democratic presidents over the years. His supporters seem determined to vent their anger and disgust by voting for someone, possibly almost anyone, who promises a new approach to governance.

As voters we at times over react against a leader or party we have come to distrust and even despise. This happened in the 2001 B.C. election when we gave the Dosanjh NDP only 2 seats because we had been angered by the previous Premier, Glen Clark. It is possible, at least in part, that support for Trump is rooted in such a reaction.

Peggy Noonan states “Political leaders can know what our priorities are only if we tell them, again and again.” This week I have written our local MP Dan Albas stating my concerns about the TPP, and also the profligate squandering of funds by some Senators. Even in the Similkameen valley, we can help keep the wheels on the trolley, and the trolley on the rails. We can be far more forceful in communicating our expectations to all levels of government. When a nation is governed well, bigots like Donald Trump will find fewer receptive minds.

A Surprise In Midlife

Ingrid Percival of Keremeos, BC
Ingrid Percival of Keremeos, BC

When Ingrid Percival of Keremeos, BC was 42, she received the surprise of her life. Recalling it in a conversation with Linda and me last week, she smiled, still experiencing a touch of euphoria at the memory. “I became a teenager again,” she said.

Ingrid was born in Germany in 1941, when Adolph Hitler’s Wehrmacht was trampling Europe. “My father was in the military,” she said. “I never really got to know him. After the war my parents divorced and my mother married a British soldier. When I was 8 years old, we moved to England.”

For Ingrid it was an early event in a series of challenging life circumstances. Her face grew serious. “My childhood wasn’t happy. When I told my mom what my stepfather was doing, she didn’t believe me.” This didn’t change when the family emigrated to Canada in 1953.

Some youths retreat to a street existence to escape the emotional quagmire at home. Ingrid possessed the staying power to complete high school, an early manifestation of the spunk and resilience she would require to survive future daunting circumstances. Upon graduating at age 17, she immediately fled from home, a young woman seeking sanctuary and happiness.

She believed the sun was finally shining on her when she fell deeply in love with Bill, a man serving in the navy. Although he loved her, he wasn’t ready to settle into a longterm relationship. He moved away and she was devastated.

Wanting stability and love, at age 19 she accepted a marriage proposal. The promise of happiness was short lived. She soon realized her husband had a serious alcohol addiction. “It wasn’t a good marriage,” she said. “Eventually we got a divorce.” Her face relaxed. “It didn’t leave me bitter. God has always given me the ability to forgive. The marriage did give me 4 good children.” In the midst of turmoil, she had that rare capacity to see a blessing.

She had a stable job with B.C. Electric (now B.C. Hydro) and became a purchasing agent. “I wasn’t dating,” she said, “but I did ask God if there would be a man for me again.”

Her life unexpectedly took a positive turn when she attended a seminar for purchasing agents in Vancouver. “Everyone was already seated when a man walked in,” she recalled. She looked at him and thought, “It can’t be!”

It was Bill, the navy man she had fallen madly in love with as a young woman. At the coffee break she went to him and said, “Hello Bill. Do you remember me?” He said, “How could I ever forget you, Iny?” It was at this point in her account that she said, “I became a teenager again.”

Their lives had been on a parallel track, she told us. “Like me, Bill had married an alcoholic. He was a purchasing agent. Also, at that time he was in the midst of a divorce.”

They again fell in love and this time he was ready. Ingrid and Bill were married and, in spite of a disastrous joint real estate venture, were happy together.

We had 19 wonderful years,” she told us. “At Christmas 2005 Bill died of lung cancer. He was the love of my life.”

Once again her life was in turmoil. “It was tough,” she said, “but I decided to carry on. I went into volunteering. I began working in the kitchen at the Senior Centre when they put on dances. I drive for Volunteer Drivers. I also work at the Food Bank. In the beginning, I did it because I didn’t have to think. Now I do it because I like helping people. It’s satisfying.”

Ingrid found strength to move on emotionally. “I used my mower to cut the sage and weeds on the vacant lot across the street,” she said. “I tried to give away some irises, but no one wanted them so I planted them on the lot. I painted 2 rough benches and placed them there. People began noticing. An old hydrant and a lamp pole were dropped off. Also owls and figurines. It isn’t just my project anymore.”

Ingrid Percival in the  "Secret Garden"
Ingrid Percival in the “Secret Garden”

When people walk by now she sometimes hears them say, “I didn’t know about this garden. It’s beautiful!”

Ingrid Percival garden

The midlife surprise is still a deep well of joy for Ingrid. Now she also derives meaning from “our secret garden,” which gives pleasure to others.

Model A In Princeton

Model A in Princeton, BC
Model A in Princeton, BC

It was a delight to see this 1928 Model A in the Princeton A & W parking lot on Sunday. I asked Tim, the owner, if I could get a few pictures. He said, “Sure, most people don’t ask.” He said it had taken more than 8 years to re-build. I gathered it was a job of finding parts, making those that weren’t available, and assembling them. A labour of love. I should have suggested he stand by the car. That was a case of negligence on my part.


Seeing Tim’s creation mentally took me back many years. My Dad owned a 1929 Model A (basically the same as the 1928 according to Tim). Our family made the move from rural Manitoba, not far from Steinbach, to Abbotsford, B.C. in that car. There were six of us in the car, Mom & Dad, my sister Vi, myself plus two young guys who I assume helped with expenses. A large trunk containing all we owned was strapped to the rear of the car. I don’t think the young guys were able to take anything except for the clothes on their bodies. That Model A didn’t let us down, not even a flat tire. Thanks Tim, for the photos and the memory.

Hedley Fire Department 1912-2016

Hedley in the early years Photo from Hedley Heritage Museum Society
Hedley in the early years
Photo from Hedley Heritage Museum Society

A number of the homes in Hedley were constructed at the time Henry Ford was building his iconic Model T and Model A cars. Early records indicate that for the volunteer fire fighters, protecting these dry wooden structures with scanty equipment presented a mammoth challenge.

According to the now defunct Hedley Gazette, when a fire broke out in the Red Light district of Hedley in 1912, the hose wasn’t long enough to reach the blaze. The only means of combating the fire was to take shovels and throw snow against adjacent buildings. Five structures burned down that day. Museum records are a bit hazy on details but the town apparently purchased a longer hose and used a home made “pull cart” to transport it. Even so, that same year the New Zealand hotel burned to the ground.

Fire hose pull cart - the first one didn't look as attractive as this one.
Fire hose pull cart – the first one didn’t look as attractive as this one.

In 1956 three hotels burned down. These were the Hedley, the Commercial and the Great Northern. According to the Spotlight, the entire business district burned that year, except for one service station.

When Linda and I first visited Hedley in 1976, we watched incredulously as 4 men raced along Scott Avenue, determinedly hauling a pull cart and attached hose to a chimney fire. A former Fire Chief, Ralph McKay, told me recently one man always ran behind the cart to pick up pieces that fell off. In 1984 Hedley purchased a used 1973 Ford truck after the Red and White store burned.

Approximately 10 years ago small cash strapped communities were amazed to learn that insurance underwriters required fire trucks to be less than 20 years old. They threatened to jack up premiums if we dug in our heels. Hedley citizens did just that. Surely an acceptable used truck could be had for far less money, some said. In spite of diligent searching though, no acceptable used truck was ever found. Premiums rose astronomically jolting us like a high voltage lightening strike. In a third referendum we caved in and agreed to borrow funds for a new truck.

Having come to the attention of the Insurance Underwriters Survey, a thorough overhaul of the system and equipment was added to the list of new requirements. According to Vicky Hansen, former office manager for the Hedley Improvement District, “much of the equipment was obsolete, training needed to be upgraded, a duty officer must be designated for each day and members needed to report when they went out of town.” She then added, “I had just been hired. My first day on the job I wrote a cheque for $350,000 to buy the new truck.”

The truck was delivered in 2010. When Terry McFarlane, the new Fire Chief learned that Graham Gore had an air brake ticket, he asked him to join the department. Qualified drivers were in short supply. Graham, age 70 and volunteer pastor of the local church agreed. Then, because no one was doing it, he began reorganizing the department. Being retired and having been in business, he was just right for the job. He was soon named FD manager, a volunteer position.

Graham Gore retires as Hedley Fire Department Manager
Graham Gore retires as Hedley Fire Department Manager

Now, after 6 years of diligent service, at age 77, Graham has recently stepped down. In a telephone conversation this week he said that in pressing for a higher professional standard, he had built on the work of former Assistant Chief Larry McIntosh. He also praised current Chief Terry McFarlane as a good decision maker.

Veteran fire fighter Andy English said “Graham upgraded the training, bought dress uniforms for public occasions, brought in a device so we can fill our air bottles locally, and much more. He has instilled a high level of professionalism. We have a sense of pride.” Assistant Chief Doug Nimchuk said “Graham had no experience with fire fighting but he studied the manuals and learned to do training. We respect his integrity. He doesn’t do a half job.”

Graham Gore’s zeal for the department, his unstinting push for a professional standard, and his positive, uplifting attitude will not be easy to replace. Acknowledging his contribution, one fire fighter said, “to keep up the standard, we’ll all have to step up to the plate.” If early fire fighters could obtain a day pass from the other side of the Great Divide to view modern equipment and training programs that now exist even in Hedley, they’d almost certainly clamor to sign up.

Doug Nimchuk Assistant Fire Chief, Terry McFarlane Fire Chief, Graham Gore retiring FD Manager, Derek Lilly former Fire Chief
Doug Nimchuk Assistant Fire Chief, Terry McFarlane Fire Chief, Graham Gore retiring FD Manager, Derek Lilly former Fire Chief