Mennonite Metis On A Harley

Andrea Dan on her Harley

When Andrea Dan pulled into the gathering of cousins in Kelowna, the low growl of her Harley attracted my attention. I knew of her but we had never talked. Her chaotic lifestyle had permitted only limited contact with family. The motorcycle and her demeanor suggested an independent spirit.

The occasion was an annual event hosted by my Aunt Nettie, her effort to keep the family together. I don’t recall Andrea ever attending previously. During a brief conversation, she agreed to meet with Linda and me in Abbotsford a few days hence.

Andrea was the offspring of a man of French descent and an indigenous woman. She was placed in foster care at 6 months. In her fourth year, Social Services placed her and 2 sisters temporarily with my Uncle Peter and Aunt Nettie, who already had 4 sons and a daughter. Ten days later at the court hearing, the mother didn’t show up. The girls were left with my uncle and aunt, who attended a Mennonite church and practised a simple, conservative lifestyle.

I was a rebel from an early age,” Andrea admitted. “I didn’t like the family rules and I refused to obey them. There were turbulent scenes.”

Although she brought almost continuous havoc into the home, she came to think of her foster parents as mom and dad. “It got really out of hand when I stole Mom’s engagement ring. She was deeply hurt and told me I’d have to live elsewhere until I was ready to respect the home.”

For 3 years she lived with foster parents in 100 Mile House, then returned home, pregnant and in need of support. “Mom and Dad loved me and helped me through that time,” she said. “I wasn’t ready to settle down though. I was still a rebel. I still wanted freedom from rules.”

There were 5 marriages. I walked away from the first 3. My third husband tried to kill me in an automobile accident. I spent months in a trauma unit. Mom and Dad urged me to come home. They nursed me back to health. They saved my life.”

Although she returned to her chaotic lifestyle after each disaster, she stayed in touch with the family.

My fourth husband walked out on me. That was painful. The fifth marriage lasted 15 years, but only because I was too scared to leave. My husband was completely controlling. He told me when I could work and when I couldn’t. It was always a huge fight when I wanted to visit family. I wasn’t allowed to go out. I had no friends. Drugs and alcohol became my escape.” Her desperate desire for freedom had brought her almost complete bondage.

She didn’t want to be a mother. Even so, she had 3 children. “My sister Jean was more of a mother to them those years,” she said.

Andrea’s expression became serious. “Dad was my hero. When he became ill I managed to get away to see him in the hospital at the very end. He was already unresponsive, but when I greeted him he opened his eyes and recognized me. He gave me a big smile. The next day he died.” She could not quite control the tears.

Eight years ago Andrea bought the Harley and rode across Canada with her husband. On the bike she felt free. A few months ago she found the courage to leave the controlling husband. “I waited for good weather. When it came, I jumped on the bike and rode from Vanderhoof to my sister Jean’s home at the Coast.”

Now liberated to ride as she chooses, she told us “I prefer to ride alone, and very fast. Other bikes don’t pass me.”

She rides a Harley, but she’s also a lady.

Reflecting on her life Andrea said, “I made bad choices. I don’t blame anyone. Now my strength comes from my family. They kept me alive. They prayed for me and helped me see there was hope. Mom became my best friend when I had my third child. My sisters are very important too. I love my children and grandchildren. Since leaving my marriage, the drugs and alcohol have dropped away. When people ask who I am, I tell them I’m a Mennonite Metis.”

Before mounting the Harley to leave she said, “I’m not bitter. My choices brought the trouble. Now I just want to live a good life.” The Harley growled and she was gone, free at last.

Aunt Mary’s Commitment Shaped Lives

Aunt Mary celebrating her 90th birthday.

I wasn’t really surprised there was no mention in the national, or even the local Manitoba media, of the recent passing of my 98 year old Aunt Mary. She had not battled for social justice like Supreme Court Judge Bertha Wilson. Nor did she have Emily Carr’s remarkable ability to create inspiring scenes on canvas. What she did have was an understanding of the importance of commitment. Especially a commitment to living in a manner that positively impacts the thinking and actions of the next generation. In my opinion, she lived in a way that is as beneficial to our country as the lives of more well known citizens.

Working with young offenders in Hedley, I saw repeatedly the unfortunate results of careless, self-indulgent, neglectful parenting. Almost without exception, the youths sent to us came from shattered, dysfunctional families. The parents seemed to not understand that their values and attitudes were exacting a toll on the future of their children. Apparently it did not occur to them that without constructive examples to observe and learn from, their offspring would be ill-equipped to participate productively in the life of our nation.

When Aunt Mary’s husband, David, lost a battle with cancer, she could have become immersed in self pity. David had been a strong man, physically, mentally and emotionally. He had brought order and stability, as well as a sense of humour. At age 46, with 2 young sons still at home, she now needed to be the one who was strong for them.

For many years I had not had much contact with Aunt Mary. To learn more of her life, I called each of her 3 older offspring, all living in Manitoba. Sara, the youngest of the 3 said “mom loved to be with people and to serve them. She was very thankful, and she knew how to laugh. She lived on the 6th floor in a residence for seniors. When a group came to provide music, she always went down to the entrance to open the door for the guests and welcome them. She would often say ‘we should be thankful for people who come to sing.’” Sara also said, “I did everything I could for her. I’m so grateful for that.” She had been inspired by her mother’s example of service to others.

Elsie, the eldest, said their mom walked a lot until she was 95. “If it’s not raining,” she would say, “I’m walking.”

As long as she could walk,” Elsie said, “she volunteered in a care home for the elderly. Often she pushed people in their wheelchairs. When there was a potluck in her residence, if someone wasn’t well enough to attend, she would bring them a tray laden with food.”

Ed said, “Mom often wanted to visit relatives in Barkfield and Gruenthal. These relationships were important to her, so I would take her there. Sometimes there were functions in her church that involved a meal. When she finished eating, she’d get up and help with clearing tables.”

In the Fernwood residence where she lived, people place a yellow card on the outside of their entry door before retiring at night. In the morning, by 10 am, they take it back in. “For many years Mom would walk the halls on all the floors, checking for cards,” Ed said. “If there was a card after 10 am, she would knock on the door and inquire if there was a problem. She was still doing this in her nineties.”

Aunt Mary did all she could to foster strong relationships in her family. “Toward the end of her days,” Ed told me, “she encouraged us to always love one another.”

Having received only a rudimentary education in a remote one room rural school, Aunt Mary never achieved the renown of Canadian icons like Bertha Wilson and Emily Carr. After listening to members of her family and others though, I decided her commitment to service had positively shaped thinking and actions in her limited sphere of influence. She encouraged people with her smile, a cheery greeting, sometimes by noticing they had a need. Aunt Mary demonstrated that if we are alert and willing, there are many little actions that can bring a ray of sunlight and a reminder someone cares. Fortunately she isn’t the only one doing this. Our country needs many more.

Which Political Leader Can We Trust?

Christy Clark, John Horgan, Andrew Weaver. photo by bc.ctvnews.ca

I’m certainly not the first to observe that politics can be a fickle, mischievous mistress. This is especially the case when politicians lose the trust of the people. In Searching For Certainty, Bricker and Greenspon suggest “trust is no longer given, but earned.”

I respected and enjoyed Christy Clark’s vibrant style as a popular Vancouver radio talk show host prior to returning to politics. My trust in her and the Liberals took a body blow though when she refused to order a Site C evaluation by the BC Utilities Commission. Like many B.C. citizens I feel such a massive project, estimated to cost $9 billion, should receive serious scrutiny by experienced experts. Some knowledgeable individuals not beholden to the government are saying the power isn’t needed and will have to be sold at fire sale prices. I’m wondering if the Liberals have set us on a course that will put our children and grandchildren on an unnecessary financial hook for many decades.

My trust was further eroded by Clark’s brazen inclusion of a number of NDP promises in her recent ill-fated budget. This seems at least a tad tacky when we consider the way she had earlier scoffed at the NDP program, claiming much of it was not affordable.

I still like Christy Clark’s enthusiastic gung-ho style. Having been disappointed too often by charisma unaccompanied by substance and wisdom though, I’m experiencing anxiety as to her motivation. She appears focused on toppling the in-coming government and forcing an election. According to several big city pundits, the Liberals have already amassed a considerable campaign war chest. Large donations are mostly from corporations, which is troubling in itself. Campaign contributions generally come with expectations of favours. Ordinary citizens are rarely in line for such favours.

I realize the Liberals are not going to accept any advice from me. Possibly not from anyone else either. They seem to be thinking about how best to again grasp the reins of power. If they were willing to listen, I’d suggest before they trigger another campaign they consider the 1944 Saskatchewan election outcome.

Premier William Patterson and his Liberal party thought they could convince voters the CCF (now NDP) candidates were dangerous communists. According to Charlotte Gray in The Promise of Canada, “corporations contributed dollops of cash for fear mongering.” Evidently the Liberals didn’t believe Tommy Douglas and his small contingent of MLA’s would be taken seriously. They didn’t understand the trust factor.

On the campaign trail, Douglas made promises that would benefit ordinary people, not big companies. Although the CCF had won only a total of 11 seats in 1938, including one in a by-election, and had never been in power, voters liked and trusted Douglas. In the 1944 election, CCF won a surprising 47 of 52 seats.

In subsequent years, Tommy Douglas delivered on his promises and went on to win 5 consecutive elections. Among other measures of benefit to citizens, he introduced public auto insurance, the first in Canada. People quickly saw that they were saving money.

During his time in office the government renovated or built 33 hospitals. By 1954, Saskatchewan had gone from having the fewest hospital beds in Canada to having the most. The government also began paying for hospital care. Charlotte Gray says one major secret of Tommy Douglas’ continued success is that he was bringing in polices and programs that made peoples’ lives easier. They came to trust him.

Although it was expected then, as now, that the socialist-democratic government would pile up debt, provincial treasurer Clarence Fines was tight fisted. Over the years he brought in 16 balanced budgets. He also began paying down government debt. New services were provided only as they became affordable.

Undoubtedly we can expect high drama in the B.C. Legislature in coming days and weeks. Will Christy Clark be a constructive leader of the Opposition, or will she be in campaign mode? Will John Horgan and Andrew Weaver maintain a positive working relationship, foster a productive atmosphere in the legislature and not drive B.C.’s bank account deep into the red? For all 3 leaders it will provide an opportunity to prove we can trust them to do what is right, not primarily for themselves, corporations, or unions, but for the citizens who pay their salaries. Along with the rest of us, the fickle, mischievous mistress of politics is observing.

Hedley’s Canada Day 150 Celebration

Corporal Chad Parsons led the parade.
Corporal Chad Parsons led the parade.

Hedley’s Canada Day 150 celebration got off to a rousing start Saturday morning, in large part due to a creative advertising strategy by Peggy Terry. She placed notices of the Seniors’ Centre’s $5.00 breakfast on the doors of outhouses at local camp grounds. A near record 142 hungry customers showed up, many of them tourists camping in the area.

Breakfast was followed by a parade, one of Hedley’s best in recent years. It was led by Corporal Chad Parsons of the Princeton RCMP. Following him were 3 horseback riders from the Sterling Creek Ranch. Nicely groomed and well behaved, the horses were a reminder of Hedley’s swashbuckling past. Also in the parade was a float carrying 6 local ladies wearing apparel representative of Hedley’s early years.

Canada 150 museum 062

There were a number of vintage vehicles, each in some way representing the character and personality of their owner. Bill Day was at the wheel of “Nellie”, a 1930 Ford Model A. Dan Twizzle’s 1929 Dodge, Leroy Fague’s 1936 Ford pickup, and Gary Zroback’s 1953 stock coral red Mercury pickup also drew a lot of attention. Certainly the noisiest entry was Al Skramstad’s 1982 Malibu wagon. Sporting a 500 horse power motor, it was radically modified specifically for racing. Two vehicles that may have been unique to this parade were Pete Pillipow’s 1950 Studebaker and Cecil Holmes’ 1994 Cadillac hearse.

Pete Pillipow in his 1950 Studebaker
Pete Pillipow in his 1950 Studebaker

At noon people gathered at the Hedley Museum for a formal program. A main feature was a talk delivered by local historical researcher, Jennifer Douglass. Her subject was “Diversity and Inclusion in Canada and the Similkameen Valley.”

Another highlight was a visit by Upper Similkameen Indian Band chief, Rick Holmes. In a conversation with the MC, he spoke briefly about the history of Indigenous peoples, the band’s deep respect for elders, and the very popular Mascot Mine Tours, which are currently on hold. Several rounds of applause indicated a warm reception of his words.

After the program, hamburgers and hotdogs were served by chefs Simon Harris and Terry Sawiuk. A wide range of vegetable salads, plus fruit, were also on the menu. Once again, there was a line up for 5 cent ice cream cones.

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Tomahawk and Friends, a local group headed up by Darryl Brewer, provided a pleasant, well received blend of music. At the end  of the Canada Day 150 celebration there were numerous positive comments about the parade, food, program and music. People went home well fed and happy.

Gophers Attract Children At Manning Park

Hand feeding gophers at Manning Park
Hand feeding gophers at Manning Park

We frequently see children feeding, sometimes running after, the gophers at Manning Park. The little hole diggers make walking on the grassy field hazardous for anyone focused on texting. I’m sure a few ankles have been twisted or broken here. The kids love them though and very likely some tourists stop here by request of their children.

On our most recent turn into the park we observed this young fellow, patiently using blades of grass to entice the little creatures to come to him. The gophers are quite accustomed to such lavish attention from children, of course, and seem to revel in it. At times they passed by very close to him, and occasionally he managed to briefly stroke them. He was obviously in no hurry to move on, and his grandmother, standing nearby, seemed quite content to wait. There appeared to be a nice bond between them. Every kid would benefit from this kind of relationship with at least one grandparent.