Iva McLaren, Everyone’s Granny

Demolition of the McLaren Home
Demolition of the McLaren Home

In 1940 William and Iva Mclaren travelled by train with their 9 children from Saskatchewan to the Lumby/Cherryville area. Hearing there were mining jobs in Hedley, they loaded furniture, children and chickens onto a truck and travelled here, hoping for a new beginning. At that time the community was a bustling gold mining centre. With their large family, William’s job at the Nickle Plate Mine was sorely needed and welcome. Last week the McLaren home, nestled among trees alongside 20 Mile Creek, was taken down. The demolition was a reminder that their simple way of life is gone forever.

When Linda and I had a conversation with their granddaughter Marianne McLaren recently, we found she has fond recollections of them, especially of her grandmother. We have been told by long time residents, Derek Lilly and Terry Sawiuk, Iva was everyone’s Granny.

Talking about her grandmother’s early years, Marianne said, “Grandma was 9 and had only a grade 4 education when her parents took her out of school and sent her to a farm to help with the children and do housework. Grandfather was a worker on the same farm, but 20 years older. It took time, but they fell in love and were married.”

Marianne’s family moved to Ontario when she was 5 so she didn’t get to know her grandfather well before he passed away in 1962. She does remember that he was quiet and laid back, and let grandmother make many day to day decisions. “But there was never any doubt that he was the final authority in the home. Grandma rented their first home, the house next to the former ball park, now owned by Dave Peers.”

Marianne thinks of her Grandma as a real go getter. “She joined every group in town and, in partnership with Jean Granger, ran a bingo in the Senior’s Centre. She also opened a cafe in the building on Scott Avenue where Elef Christensen now has a store.”

Iva frequently came to the aid of ill individuals, preparing meals and cleaning their home. One of these left her some money in his will. Another, Bob MacKenzie, sold her a lot with a small house at a very good price. In 1945 the still growing McLaren clan moved into this house. Located on Webster street on the far side of the bridge over 20 mile creek, it’s still an idyllic setting.

The 1948 flood left the house perched precariously on the bank, but the family continued to live in it for a time. This was also the year Iva, now 48, delivered her 12th child. With a large family their options were limited.

When their small home on the creek became too endangered by erosion of the bank, Iva moved the family into 2 small shacks behind her cafe. In 1958-59, a son and a son in law dug a partial basement by hand and built a new house on the family’s property. Much of the lumber was hauled down from the no longer operating Mascot mine. Three years later William passed away, leaving Iva to carry on alone.

Idyllic setting of McLaren house.
Idyllic setting of McLaren house.

When Marianne returned to BC as a young woman, she and Iva sometimes did cooking projects together. One day while pickling cucumbers, Marianne observed that Grandma wasn’t measuring ingredients. Appalled at the large quantity of salt being added, she exclaimed, “Grandma, that’s far too much salt!” Nonplussed, Iva said, “It will work.”

In another cooking project Iva said, “stop using that dirty sugar!” Surprised, Marianne asked what she meant. Iva’s explanation helped her understand that with the advent of white sugar, manufacturers’ advertising had begun referring to brown sugar as “dirty.”

Grandma didn’t buy bread,” Marianne said. “She baked her own. She grew a garden and canned the produce.”

After the children were out of the home, Iva was able to relax more and have fun. “Grandma and several girlfriends began taking the bus to Vegas,” Marianne said. When I asked if they gambled, she replied, “oh yes, they gambled!”

To help Iva, Marianne’s father, Ernest McLaren, bought the property and paid maintenance expenses. When Iva was 86, her son Tommy moved her to the Legion apartments in Princeton. She passed away at age 97.

Marianne and her partner, Mark Woodcock, now own the property and will put up a new home. Undoubtedly William and Iva would be pleased.

Mark Woodcock & Marianne McLaren
Mark Woodcock & Marianne McLaren

After The Political Heavy Lifting

Book Cover photo from Amazon
Book Cover photo from Amazon

Now that we’ve done the heavy lifting, casting our ballot, where will we turn our attention next? For most of us, it likely won’t be to politics. Having pondered about whether the Liberals or the New Democrats will do the most good and the least harm, we’re ready to move on. Anyway, our democratic system encourages electors to get out of the way and permit the government to make all decisions.

There are several insidious black flies in this ointment, however. They hide behind a curtain of tradition and secrecy and bedevil politicians, federal and provincial, and also tax paying citizens. Their chilling influence is experienced by those on the government benches and also those on Opposition benches. Recently some frustrated retired politicians have drawn our attention to a number of disquieting issues in our political system, in the hope there will be change.

One of the key issues is the rigid control exercised by political parties over elected representatives at both the provincial and federal levels. Alison Loat, formerly a fellow and instructor at the University of Toronto, and billionaire businessman Michael MacMillan, have cast a glaring light on Canadian politics at the federal level. In “Tragedy in the Commons” they report on interviews with 80 former MP’s from all parties across Canada. According to Loat and MacMillan, “MP’s rarely speak out against their leader or party, fearing they will be demoted, removed from caucus, unable to fully do their jobs, or will not be considered for cabinet positions or promotions.”

One of those interviewed was Russ Powers, a former Liberal MP (2004-2006). He said, “the party tells us to say we are there to adopt national policies for the betterment of all in the country. Reality though, is we are there to adopt policies that are self-serving and beneficial to the party in order to stay in power and get re-elected. You had to adhere to the policy or endure the wrath of the Whip.”

Graham Steele, Nova Scotia’s former NDP Finance Minister, adds another unsettling thought. In “What I Learned about Politics,” he contends that “the desire to get elected drives everything a politician does.” He adds, “in politics regrettably, the undecorated truth is usually unwelcome.”

In spite of these gloomy observations by former politicians, all may not be lost. Knowing it’s extremely unusual for currently elected politicians to voice concerns regarding our political system, I was surprised to learn that a number of MP’s, representing all parties, have recently expressed their views in a new book just released last week. The title is “Turning Parliament Inside Out: Practical Ideas for Reforming Canada’s Democracy.” In a news release about the book, Samara Canada states “MP’s from all major parties and ridings across the country joined together in a rare display of unity to make change a reality, explaining why reform is so urgently needed and proposing practical, achievable suggestions for making it happen. It has chapters from MP’s Niki Ashton, Michael Chong, Michael Cooper, Nathan Cullen, Elizabeth May, Scott Simms, Kennedy Stewart and Anita Vandenbeld.”

What does this mean to us living comfortably in our beautiful Similkameen Valley? While we may consider it unlikely that we can play a part in cleaning up the political mess in Ottawa or Victoria, this may be an overly complacent, pessimistic conclusion.

We could begin by changing what we expect of politicians. When we ask, “what will you do for us,” are we not implicitly agreeing to be bribed with our own money? Understandably, politicians experience great pressure to outbid the other party. Leaders believe we are more likely to support them if they promise what we demand. To get elected and to be given consideration for committee positions, the lower ranks fall in line, even when at times those at the top make decisions that will adversely impact an unsuspecting electorate.

We need to view governance as a shared responsibility. This means we don’t ask for more than we can afford. It also means we remind our leaders that what we really value is integrity, honesty, truth, prudent decisions, etc. By shifting our focus from the material realm to a values realm, we may be able to begin a dialogue with our representatives about what is really important to us and our nation.

Graham Steele suggests that “the only person who can change our policies is the engaged citizen.”

Allan Gill, Not A Conventional Thinker

Allan Gill
Allan Gill

When former Similkameen Valley veterinarian Allan Gill expressed enthusiasm for the beauty of slugs, I thought I had misunderstood him. “You didn’t say slugs, did you?” I asked. He assured me he had. For me that was a novel concept. In the course of our conversation I was to learn he is not a conventional thinker.

Allan was 4 when his family moved to Princeton in 1943. His father, formerly a member of an elite unit in the police force, had been appointed as the local game warden. He is still fondly recalled by area seniors.

Standing at 6 feet, 4 inches, Allan has the height and robust physique of a big league quarterback. “My brother Carl and I are identical twins,” he said. “Most people can’t tell us apart.” It occurred to me that seeing 2 very tall men of identical appearance might result in a sensation of double vision.

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At UBC, Allan became interested in comparative physiology, but along with 8 others taking a first year biology course, he failed. Fortunately, he had several mentors. “The registrar, CB Wood, kind of tucked us under his wing,” he said. “Sometimes he took us to his home. I stayed in touch with him after graduating.”

Allan obtained a doctorate in veterinarian medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. Then, in the mid-eighties, he didn’t hesitate when he had an opportunity to take over a 2 day a week small animal practice in Princeton. “My base was in Kelowna where I had a full service animal hospital. I had a plane. That made it possible to serve people in a number of British Columbia communities. I also flew to the Yukon 2 times a year and went from town to town treating animals. Sometimes, especially in rural areas, people asked for advice concerning their own medical issues. Often people in out of the way places were lonely and just wanted to talk. Getting to know these people gave me a lot of joy.”

He wasn’t a small thinker. A 1-800 line enabled him to practise animal medicine across Canada. In one case a hunter deep in the bush asked about removing porky pine quills from his dog. “He knew he had to get the quills out,” Allan said, “but he hadn’t thought of checking inside his mouth and ears.”

As he talked, it became evident Allan continues to have a special place in his heart for people in the Similkameen Valley. ” I visit as often as possible. I stay in contact with about 15 people here, most of whom became friends when they brought their pets to the clinic.”

It’s probably fortuitous they enjoy visiting this area regularly. Recently Allan became aware of a rumour making the rounds in Princeton that he has Alzheimer’s. Another rumour suggested he had died. Apparently he’s one of those larger than life individuals people like to speculate about.

Animals, like people, are drawn to him. Bill Day, a part-time resident of Hedley said, “one day I took Tobi (a small black Terrier Cross he shares with partner Lynn) on a walk with Allan. When we returned, Tobi was so enamoured with Allan he wanted to go with him, not me.”

In time, Allan became intrigued by the faces of his elderly clients. “I began asking if I could photograph them,” he said. “Then I started inviting people I spotted in town.”

Among those he has photographed is Joe Bell, a sniper in the U.S. army in Vietnam. He also photographed Rollo Ceccon, a local contractor who many times moved the Princeton caboose. Last year he featured 16 of his portraits at a showing in Princeton.

Now in retirement, Allan’s curious mind continues to embrace new opportunities. One of these is x-ray floral photography. With technical assistance from collaborators who have expertise in radiology and photo manipulation, he is able to create exquisite images.

At this point he shared one of the secrets of his success in life. “I’ve had lots of help,” he said. “Over the years I’ve learned that to accomplish things, I need to find people with skills I don’t have.”

At the end of our conversation Allan Gill said, “I’m surprised that at my age I’m still fascinated by things that interested me as a 12 year old. I’m grateful I can still do things I love. I feel very, very lucky.”