All posts by Art Martens

The University Years (part 2 of 3)

At the beginning of our SFU journey, Linda and I rented a poorly heated basement suite from an elderly widow in Burnaby. For some reason, she didn’t trust us. Possibly she was aware that at times I kept a light on while I worked through the night preparing assignments due the next day. This expense may have agitated her. Possibly she thought that since I was a student at SFU, we must be communists.

Our landlady evidently felt a need to keep us under constant surveillance. When we went away, I sometimes placed an object behind the door to our suite. Often it had been pushed back, so we knew she had entered. When my parents came to visit, she just happened to be doing a little gardening at our living room window. At one point she sent us to her son to be interrogated by him. He was a decent man and appeared to be as mystified by his mother’s suspicions as we were.

After three months of this, we told her we would be moving out. She said “that’s good, then I won’t have to evict you.” We had paid our rent faithfully and had caused her no problems. Her seeming unfairness brought out the worst in me and I was tempted to tell her we were Communists, but she was an elderly woman and I thought better of it.

After that we moved into a two room suite in the front end of the old B.C. Tel office on Gladys Avenue in Abbotsford, across the street from several sets of railway tracks. Initially the train whistles and rumbling of the wheels on the tracks woke us at night, but after a few weeks we were able to sleep through this. Linda got a part time job at the Royal Bank and I carpooled to SFU.

I had begun with a history major. When I discovered the PSA department (political science, sociology and anthropology), I switched. Sociology became my main focus. It was in PSA that my real education began. A number of extremely radical American professors had made their home here. One was an avowed Marxist. The others weren’t far behind. They focused on the evils of the capitalist system. I was assigned to read “The Communist Manifesto,” “Red Star over China”, “The Wretched of the Earth”, and “Soul on Ice” (by Eldridge Cleaver, a leader in the Black Panthers), etc. They held up Fidel Castro and Che Guevara as icons.

The PSA professors seemed motivated by a zeal to radicalize us. They wanted us to rebel against the traditions and values of our society. Several of them seemingly believed that to accomplish this they must first wreak havoc in our minds. They were smart, well informed and able to communicate their ideas in a way that caught our imagination. In time they succeeded in fostering a radicalization among many students, especially in the PSA department, but also in other departments. Eventually charismatic, radical student leaders persuaded a significant number of students to participate in a strike and occupy the administration building. This resulted in an early morning raid by the RCMP.

In the midst of the growing agitation, there were other groups, such as the small contingent of hard-core Marxist Leninists who had their own agenda for world revolution. I was particularly fascinated by the Hare Khrishnas in their hooded light brown robes shuffling in tight circles chanting words unintelligible to me. The Hippie movement was also gaining momentum and I was amazed at first that guys would let their hair grow to shoulder length and walk around barefoot in torn jeans. Marijuana, a drug about which I knew nothing and with which I had no experience, was in vogue.

To enhance our understanding of the damage done to Aboriginal culture by white society, 3 PSA profs organized a Royal Hudson train trip to the Mount Currie Indian Reserve near Pemberton. I was sitting in a circle with other students and a skinny “ rollie” was passed around. Each time it came to me, I accepted it and took a drag. Only later did it occur to me that I had been smoking pot. This was early in my days at SFU and I was still the small town boy who had lived a pretty sheltered life.

I attended many of the noon hour meetings organized by the leftwing student leaders. Sometimes the speaker was Martin Lowney, who was generally thought of as the key spokesperson and leader. Martin proved to be a charismatic personality with an ability to whip up emotions. By exposing myself to their ideas, I was being inexorably and increasingly drawn in by the philosophy he and others espoused. I’m sure my parents and also our friends in Abbotsford were astonished at the change in my appearance. I

Art Martens
Art Martens

grew long sideburns and then decided to allow them to meet , which meant I had a beard. Also, I stopped going to the barber and my hair grew very long. My brother in law gave me a pipe which, like other students, I sometimes smoked in the tutorial classes.

The University Years (part 3 of 3)

In the midst of the accelerating emotions on the part of a number of students against the university administration and the senate, I needed to work hard to get decent marks to qualify for student loans and bursaries. Occasionally, when I began falling behind, I called on Linda for help. One day I brought home several textbooks and said “I have a paper due tomorrow. Can you scan these books and lightly pencil mark any paragraphs that pertain to my subject?” Linda very effectively selected paragraphs with information I wanted. There were no desktop computers and I worked all night on my manual Smith Corona typewriter. At 8 am I drove to the university and handed in the paper.

I needed to discover ways to compensate for my inability to do as much reading as my courses required. Fortunately, a number of my profs based a large percentage of their marks on written papers. I decided to focus on writing papers that were both well researched and well written. Linda helped me as much as she could with the research and my marks on these were predominantly A’s and B’s. In an English course focused on poetry, I memorized parts of a number of poems. An angel must have prepared the final exam with me in mind. The main question required an essay length response. This allowed me to use the portions I had memorized and I quoted extensively from them.

I wasn’t aware of it, but Linda told me later she had become concerned that we were drifting apart. Also, she felt that attending university must be easy compared to working. She decided to take a few courses herself. This had several benefits, one of which was immediate. She quickly realized that university expectations were more rigorous than she had imagined. Also, she enrolled in a PSA course taught by one of the radical American professors, and her thinking was considerably influenced. Our views became more synchronized, and this was good for our relationship.

Our time at SFU had one outcome that, in retrospect, we still somewhat regret. With little money in the bank, we had been able to buy the house and five acres mentioned earlier, and also a couple of lots. Selling the lots had brought us a substantial profit, and we were keen to embark on further endeavours of this kind. The teaching of the PSA professors persuaded us, however, that this type of activity was part of the despised, evil capitalist system. We made a decision to cease these activities and it would be many years before we again got back into real estate. Because we had been out of the market so long, we had fallen behind and could participate only in a limited way.

Our experience during the time of student unrest helped us understand that a small group of committed, highly persuasive individuals can at times shape events because the majority are willing to follow. They may have the power to shape events, but the change they bring will not necessarily be desirable. Student dissatisfaction and clamouring for change persuaded the President of the University to resign. Our rejoicing at this was short lived. We had succeeded in deposing the president, but when a new individual replaced him, we discovered that he was even less understanding or tolerant of student wishes.

Linda and I learned from this that it is important to carefully assess the character, ideas and direction of the people we are following and working with. We respected most of the left leaning student leaders, but in time we came to understand their motivation was based more on ideology, than what was best for the majority of the students. Also, while they had some valid insights into issues facing our society, they had little positive understanding of what needed or could be done.

As happens so often after a crises, university life following the strike pretty much returned to its regular ebb and flow, but without the frequent left wing meetings and rallies. I was able to make up for the time lost during the five week strike and realized that my marks were high enough to attain an Honours BA if I took additional courses for extra credits. I did two substantial research projects. One was on the evolving Mennonite culture in the Abbotsford area. The other was on inmate culture at Matsqui Institution. Both required dozens of interviews and hours of writing.

For Linda and myself, it is still interesting and enlightening to look back at the SFU years. Getting me through university was the first time we collaborated on a significant challenge that required full commitment by both of us. We agree that we learned at least as much outside the classroom as inside. Some of what we learned we have subsequently discarded because it does not serve our purpose. We do value and have retained a great deal though and continue to build on it to this day.

Graduation Diploma
Graduation Diploma


A Foolish Decision, A Good Outcome (part 1 of 2)

I admit willingly, even with a dose of embarrassment, that it was a dumb, irrational, foolish decision. Reflecting back on that time now, I shudder inwardly at the memory of what we did. I’m sure our parents shuddered then already, upon hearing of what we were contemplating.

Linda and I were young, newly married and happy in our relationship. She was a bank teller and I was a heavy equipment operator. We had bought a home with five acres on Defehr road, near the Canada-U.S. border. The house needed updating, but we were delighted to not be renting. Our only real problem was that we both felt utterly unfulfilled in our work On a Saturday in early May, 1967, we had just completed breakfast when I asked Linda a question that had been percolating in my psyche for some time.

“How do you feel about what we’re doing?” I asked. She seemed to understand the meaning of my rather vague query.

“I know I really hope I won’t have to be a teller for forty years,” she said.

“And I don’t want to be a cat operator for forty years,” I said.

That conversation ended with our seemingly ill-conceived decision. We gave notice to our employers and found a renter for our home. Two weeks later we loaded our chevy panel truck with camping supplies and food, and set out along the Trans Canada Highway. A couple of innocent, small town kids, we were looking for more from life. How to find more was still well outside our sphere of understanding. We didn’t even know where we were going.

That first evening we pulled the chevy into a campsite near 100 Mile House in central British Columbia. One night in our new sleeping bags convinced us they were more suited to California summers than to this area’s minus zero temperatures. It had not occurred to us that May in the Caribou would not be as pleasant as in the Fraser Valley. Even fully dressed, we shivered. A couple of weeks later we spoke with an elderly local realtor. In spite of our severely limited funds, he seemed to take an interest in us. “Meet me here tomorrow at 8 a.m.” he said.

The next morning, after an hour of travelling in his pickup along an unpaved road, we eased his canoe into the pristine water of Sheridan Lake By sunset, we had fallen in love with the leased lot the realtor showed us on the rugged, far side of the lake.

The next day we set up our tent on the property. At about 5 the

Art in front of our tent
Art in front of our tent

following morning Linda roused me, agitation in her voice. “What’s that noise? I hope it’s not a bear”. Heavy breathing just outside the tent had awakened her. I unzipped the flap of the tent and realized we were surrounded by a herd of curious long horned cattle. The realtor had not informed us that this was open range cattle country. After breakfast I built a corral around the tent.

For nearly 3 months our only visitors were an overly bold black bear, a shrieking demanding squirrel, a curious cow moose and her calf, and the local rancher patrolling on his ancient dirt bike.

We cleaned up debris on the lot and in the water. Needing a place to prepare meals, w created a fire pit and circled it with stones. In the evening we sat by the fire, often talking about what might lie in the future for us. With no real sense of direction, we considered the idea of building a log cabin and staying over winter.


A Foolish Decision, A Good Outcome (part 2 of 2)

Our days on the shore of Sheridan Lake were taken up with

Marie Curie
Marie Curie

physical work. Each evening, sitting around our campfire, we read a few pages of the biography of Madame Curie. As a university student passionate about scientific research, Marie Curie existed largely on buttered toast and tea. She and her husband Pierre conducted their research in a cramped storage room, the only space the university could offer. During one phase of their experiments, the Curies, mainly Marie, treated 8 tons of pitchblende to obtain one gram of radium. They could have sold it for $150,000 but decided to keep it for further research. Their commitment and sacrifice deeply stirred our imaginations.

Toward the end of summer, we began to realize we were living in a world with an extremely limited horizon. Marie Curie’s commitment to science awakened in me a desire to further my education. Swatting at hungry mosquitoes and trying to avoid the smoke of our campfire one evening, I said, “I’d like to go to university, but I know we don’t have the money.” Without hesitating, Linda said, “I could work.”

A few days later, while we were working in the water at the front of our lot, the black bear jumped over my corral and damaged our tent. It really didn’t matter. We were preparing to depart and broke camp a few days later.

Back in the Fraser Valley, I enrolled at Simon Fraser University and we found a basement suite to rent in Burnaby. In September I began working toward a BA in the social sciences.

That was 46 years ago. Now my hair is the colour of snow and I have retired after many years of working with inmates in provincial and federal corrections and then with young offenders in a remote setting. I still like to reflect on Marie Curie’s unswerving commitment and wonderful passion. Her life infused Linda and me with a sense of direction and purpose. Because of her example, our foolish decision had a good outcome.

Courting Linda (part 1 of 2)

It was at a church youth group party that I first saw Linda. I didn’t require a second look  to decide she was lovely, a girl I’d like to spend time with.  Even today, some 48 years later, I recall feeling inexplicably attracted to her.  But, she was with another guy and he was at her side continuously. I heard someone say they were “going steady,” as we referred to it then. Reluctantly, I dismissed the memory from my mind.

On a cool, dark night several years later, my friend Alvin and I were sitting on  bales of hay at the rear of a flat deck truck.  It was another event sponsored by the same youth group.  Although I didn’t attend the church or belong to the group, I knew they were  pretty accepting people and I had suggested to Alvin it could be fun.

Very close to us were two lively, fun loving gals, Linda and her close friend Jenny.  Attractive and congenial, they laughed easily. I again found Linda’s animated face, dancing eyes and lighthearted manner appealing. Her boyfriend of two years ago wasn’t there so I wondered if that relationship had ended. My interest was definitely and significantly rekindled.
For the next two weeks I mulled over the idea of calling to ask her out. I had no way of learning if she was still seeing the other guy. Finally I decided to take the risk of finding out, possibly the hard way. With great anticipation and even greater trepidation, I deposited a quarter into the pay phone at the corner of Clearbrook Road and the Fraser Highway. I didn’t want my parents to hear me being turned down.
A weight lifted off my young shoulders when she agreed to go to an Abbotsford Panthers basketball game with me. I had switched to Abby High for my last year of school and enjoyed the drama of basketball.  In their black uniforms, the players were impressive visually.  The cheerleaders had dazzling good looks and knew how to work the willing crowd.  A student at Aldergrove Secondary, Linda is still somewhat amused at my lack of creativity on our first few dates.  It didn’t immediately occur to me she might not be enamoured by the idea of watching basketball players she did not know.  At school the following week a friend said to me, “she’s a doll.  Where did you find her?”  I decided I would not introduce him to her.
She was the girl of my dreams and I was smitten, but I certainly

Art & Linda During the Dating Years
Art & Linda During the Dating Years

was not yet thinking in terms of a life partner.  The idea of marriage wasn’t even on the distant horizon.  I did understand though that if I became serious about a relationship with a girl from a Mennonite home, there almost certainly would be a significant obstacle.
In the Mennonite faith and culture in which Linda and I had both grown up, the church and the faith were central.  They determined values, morals, ethics, and many aspects of lifestyle.  I was quite aware that most Mennonite parents at that time fervently hoped their children would follow in their footsteps in regard to the faith.  Like my parents, Linda’s parents were founding members of the church she was attending.  It was the church on which I had turned my back. When I began seeing Linda,  I didn’t need to be reminded that my lack of interest in the church or the faith would become a deeply troubling concern for her parents.
We were young though, and I wasn’t yet giving this matter serious consideration.  If it troubled Linda, she didn’t talk about it. Our focus was on enjoying the relationship and having a good time together.


Gas was relatively inexpensive then and we often explored backroads, looking for interesting , little known hiking trails.  Sometimes we took food and cooked meals in the outdoors. Rollerskating in Lynden and visits to Shakey’s Pizza Parlour became part of our routine. Sometimes we read a book together and this is where I became acquainted with Great Expectations and Gone With the Wind.


In winter we skated on outdoor ponds.  One night we went to an ice skating party at Lysak’s Pond on the border of Canada and the U.S.  We arrived late and were amazed to find the pond dark, deserted and silent.  We had the entire expanse of the pond to ourselves, skating hand in hand.  Suddenly, an ominous roar rumbled through the ice, as though it was about to fracture. Terrified, we made a speedy exit. We now understood why everyone had left early.
Still in school, I was living in the basement of my parents home.  In summer I worked with Dad operating a bulldozer and doing whatever was needed in his business.

Dad and I shared vehicles and when he saw I was dating a very

1957 Ford Fairlane
1957 Ford Fairlane

nice girl from a solid family, he bought a pretty red and white ‘57 Ford Fairlane hardtop.  He wanted to encourage our relationship.

Courting Linda (part 2 of 2)

In time, Linda felt we should begin talking about marriage, but I wasn’t mature enough to be ready. In part, the challenge for me was that I didn’t have a clear or accurate understanding of either love or marriage. Observing my parents should have been a lesson as to the nature of a committed relationship based on faithfulness, integrity and love. For them it was “steady as she goes.” They were too preoccupied with making a living, raising children and maintaining friendships, to focus on a need for glamour.

However, this example was overshadowed by the way love and romance were portrayed on the movie screen. Hollywood “love” was almost invariably characterized by constant, high level passion and glitter. For me this was confusing. I enjoyed being with Linda and we were having great times together. It was wonderful, but it wasn’t like in the movies. Did that mean I wasn’t in love? I didn’t want to make a mistake.

Linda eventually grew weary of my dilly dallying and her ardour cooled. It became a case of “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” When she backed off, I realized I didn’t want to lose her.

It was a speedy and effective lesson in reality therapy and overnight Hollywood’s dazzle lost its capacity to confuse. Before long, our relationship again flourished.

I still needed to deal with the misgivings Linda’s parents had about their daughter marrying a guy who showed little interest in the church scene. Fortunately, they understood that this was what their daughter wanted and when I asked for her hand in marriage, they were gracious.

Only later did it occur to me that I never actually asked Linda to marry me. Since our relationship had resumed its positive tone, I simply assumed she would be delighted to receive a ring. I presented her with an engagement ring Christmas Eve, 1964. My assumption could have proved to be more than just embarrassing. Mom had come to love Linda like a daughter, and if she had refused the ring, Christmas would have lost its sheen for her and the entire family. Fortunately, Linda accepted and Mom didn’t need to cancel Christmas.

We bought our first home two months before the wedding. We were visiting our friends Jake and Helen Klassen who owned five acres on Defehr Road. They said, “the lady just up the road wants to sell her house and five acres. You should buy it.” As yet we had no precise plan for where we would live. We accepted their advice and visited the lady. Widowed and elderly, she was eager to sell. She considered our offer satisfactory and quickly accepted our agreement for sale proposal.

We had little money but Linda was working at the Royal Bank in Abbotsford and the assistant manager agreed quite readily to provide the down payment without collateral. Like me, he had come to understand that she was a woman of sterling character and fully responsible. We visited a furniture store and bought the items needed to furnish our home at a fairly basic level. On possession day we moved the furniture in and felt ready for a future together.

We were married in the Olivet Mennonite Church in Clearbrook

Mr. & Mrs. Art Martens September 18, 1965
Mr. & Mrs. Art Martens
September 18, 1965

on Sept 18th, 1965. Linda was stunningly beautiful in her wedding dress. After the reception she changed to a going away outfit, a deep blue suit with hat and gloves. I experienced great amazement that this lovely young woman was now my wife.

Upon returning to our home in the country after the honeymoon, I picked up Linda and carried her up the few steps to the back door and over the threshold. In the years since that memorable day, I have come to understand that courting Linda was just the first step in an exciting, challenging and rewarding life journey together.

“The Girls” and I Tackle Gate Maintenance

May 1st    “Maintenance on gate to chicken enclosure,” my To Do list instructed me this morning.  It had actually been on the list for 2 days so I decided to make it a priority.  With a screw driver and 4 small screws in hand, I went out to tackle what I was certain would be a quick, easy job.

The girls immediately exhibited their usual keen interest in having

Art & Curious Chickens
Art & Curious Chickens

some role in this project.  I’m sure they didn’t care much what that role would be, but they intended to become involved. Extraordinarily curious creatures, they are easily bored.  It quickly became evident that either I would include them in what I was doing, or they’d take measures to frustrate me. To acquaint me with their desire to assist, and get my attention, they immediately pecked at my legs with their usual woodpecker zeal. What they lacked in velocity they made up for with intensity.

Until this spring, I had credited myself with great cleverness and ingenuity.  By wearing rubber boots, I had avoided the irritation of their constant pecking.  In time though, they had begun to understand that their pecking tactics were having no effect on my mental equilibrium. Like sophisticated computer hackers, they experimented with new, more advanced strategies. By craning their skinny necks higher, they could access human flesh through my pant legs.  As efficiently as a highly trained group of militants, that is where they now aimed their 3 pronged assault.

Distracted by them,  I lost my concentration and dropped the first screw.  They evidently assumed it was something quite delicious and with their usual amazing speed pounced on it.  It was my quick witted response that spared the screw from being swallowed whole by a chicken.  I had only four screws so I didn’t want to lose one.  Also, swallowing a screw probably would not be conducive to fowl health.  Of course, it was much more their scrambling and bumping than my quick witted action that thwarted them.  Even the two identical, virtually joined at the hip, Cleopatras give no ground to each other if there is the prospect of a delicacy.  Everything is deemed to be a delicacy until they discover otherwise.

When I tried once more to get the screw started, the pecking resumed with increased intensity. Miss Lonely Hearts apparently had decided on revenge because I had deprived her of the screw.  I pushed her away with my foot, gently but firmly. She resisted, flapping her wings and squawking.  A power struggle ensued.

With the incessant drumming on my legs and no means to prevent it,  I simply couldn’t focus on getting that first screw started.  Determined to get my little job done, I bent over until I was just about nose to beak with Miss Lonely Hearts.  Alert so I would not be pecked in the face,  I said, “Lady,  you are stretching my sense of humour!  Go away and lay an egg!”

She stared at me, apparently amused.  Realizing I wouldn’t win this little contest without help, I scattered a handful of bird seed on the ground to occupy them.  It’s their favourite but infrequent menu item. Like children scrambling for candies thrown from a float in a parade, they raced to garner their share. I quickly completed the job.

My impatience with them subsided and I was able to think more rationally about how to handle this kind of challenge. I recalled that our neighbour Angelique had observed quite sagely when I was constructing the Hen House, “after all Art, they are only chickens.”  She is a longstanding owner of chickens herself and also a local politician. I respect her experience and knowledge concerning politics and chickens.  Maybe my expectations of the girls are beyond their capability.  After all, in their own way they just wanted to be included in my project.

I returned the tools to the shed. Locking the door, I retreated to the sanctuary of the house with the rare pleasure of knowing that the girls and I had successfully completed the gate maintenance project.

Endangered Food Systems a Threat to Humanity

Dr. Kent Mullinix quickly captured the attention of his audience at

Dr. Kent Mullinix
Dr. Kent Mullinix

the Hedley Seniors’ Centre Friday evening when he said “No sustainable food system, no sustainable humanity. Food sustainability is going to be mankind’s supreme challenge.” At a time when crises threaten the outbreak of serious military conflict at various points on the globe, we did not expect to be told the most dangerous issue facing humanity could soon be a shortage of food.

Dr. Mullinix is Director of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at the Kwantlin Polytechnic University. His two Phd.’s in agriculture related fields and almost 4 decades of experience in agriculture make his views worth listening to.

There was a discernible passion and intensity in his voice when he spoke of the significant threats to our food system. “Think about the trend,” he urged, “and about the logical conclusion the trend indicates. It’s the trend that is important, not a snapshot of the present.”

He said the agricultural industry is an 11,000 year old endeavour. The soil in the Similkameen valley, he said, took thousands of years to develop. The present industrial agricultural system has been in existence 50 years and, in his view, lacks adaptability and resilience. He pointed out that there is less diversity and it requires “propping up” with pesticides and fertilizers. These are damaging to the earth, thereby causing habitat and biodiversity destruction.

Dr. Mullinix considers the present system to be “hugely costly.” “It requires great amounts of oil and natural gas for energy,” he said. Small farmers are getting out. There is a tremendous consolidation in the agriculture sector. (In my conversation with him after the session he referred to large agricultural corporations as “robber barons.”)

“Money, machines, and fossil fuels have replaced strong backs, big hearts and youthful exuberance,” he told his audience.

The result, in his opinion, is that there is less nutrition in our food. “We have to pay more and eat more to get the same amount of nutrients. Spinach now contains little iron.”

Other consequences of industrial agriculture, he noted, are pesticide and fertilizer contamination, soil erosion, salinization, desertification, pollution of air, water and soil. Problems also include acquifer and ground water depletion and greenhouse gas emissions. Referring to information published by the National Academy of Sciences, he said “Current practises by large agricultural entities are producing the kind of conditions that create dust bowls. This begins to happen when carbon dioxide levels reach 450 ppm. We are now at 400 ppm.”

Dr. Mullinix compared the experience of conventional (industrial) farms versus organic farms in Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch. On organic farms there remained 40% more topsoil, and an average of 20% more vegetative cover. There was also an average of 40% less landslide incidence, 47% less soil erosion, and 69% less gully erosion.

“In B.C.” he said, bringing the situation closer to his audience, “there will be less precipitation, a smaller snow pack, increased temperature and higher sea levels. The cost of food will rise.”

In view of his dire predictions, we might expect Kent Mullinix to be immobilized by anxiety. Rather, he is working with others to educate and empower people, such as the group he addressed this weekend. He wants people to become aware of the challenge and develop a plan to respond.

”Our program is a people/community proposition,” he asserted.

He said they are working to establish Farm Schools, also referred to as Incubator Schools, to prepare young people for small scale farming.

“We need to support small scale farming,” he suggested. “It is possible to create jobs, businesses and produce food in the Okanagan. It’s a community builder and driver. Let’s work to keep the jobs and the money here.”

Dr. Mullinix’s keynote address set the tone for this second in a series of Community Conversations organized by Angelique Wood and Kim English. The conversation continued Saturday morning. Participants were divided into three small groups to discuss threats, weaknesses, opportunities and strengths, as they pertain to sustainable food systems. Date of the next “Conversation” will be announced and the organizers invite all interested citizens.

Bill Day: A Force in Adult Education (part 1 of 2)

Bill Day & Nellie, his 1930 Model A
Bill Day & Nellie, his 1930 Model A

It isn’t likely you will hear Bill Day talk about his MA in Adult Education, his years as President of Douglas College, the Order of Canada Award he received, or his service as a Citizenship Judge.  After visiting with him and his partner Lynn Wells for an hour, I came away with the distinct impression that at age 80, he’s just too busy and goal oriented to focus on past accomplishments.

From the beginning, he received very little without effort on his part. “We were depression babies,” he says.  “Things were ok until my alcoholic father was fired from his position as a prof at UBC. The next 5 years were terrible. We were hungry a lot.  I remember card boarding my shoes. Work was scarce in those days so we considered it a stroke of good fortunate when my mother was hired by Finning Tractor. Her pay wasn’t great but at least the family had a steady income and stability.”


Necessity made it essential for him to be proactive and creative. “To pay my camp fees at YMCA’s Camp Elphinstone,” he remembers, “I cleaned out-houses.  It was something no one else wanted to do. I was my own boss. I liked it. I learned that if you do work others don’t want to do, you get respect.”

He developed the habit of doing whatever it takes. To pay for his UBC tuition, he worked at the paper mill at Ocean Falls. “I learned on the job and became a millwright,” he says. “I loved the work and I loved Ocean Falls.  It was there that I started teaching English to immigrant men in the evening in the bunkhouse.” Helping those men put him onto a path he was to walk on the rest of his working life.

One day his foreman came to him and said “Bill, I’ve been authorized to offer you a job in administration. However, I don’t think you should accept it. In a few years you would be bored.  My advice is go back to school and train for a career in teaching. You have a gift for it.”
(continued in part 2)

Bill Day: A Force in Adult Education (part 2 of 2)


Bill Day & Lynn Wells at Hedley Farmers Market
Bill Day & Lynn Wells at Hedley Farmers Market

Bill had the good sense to accept the advice of his mill foreman and returned to university. After completing his training, he began his teaching career in Quesnel.  Here he taught during the day and tutored Italian railroad workers in English four evenings a week. Subsequently he taught in Maple Ridge, continuing to teach English at night, and then accepted a role in Surrey as one of the first full-time Adult Education administrators in B.C.

His growing experience and expertise in Adult Education brought an invitation to go to India for a year, to advise the Rajasthan State government in this field. “They didn’t really need me,” he says, “I learned from them and it was a wonderful experience. I loved India.”

Upon returning to Canada, he was asked to plan the development of Douglas College. He subsequently became Dean of Continuing Education and then served as President for 15 years. He also wrote feasibility studies for two other Community Colleges.

Bill considers himself very fortunate. “Until I retired,” he says, “I was always in the right place at the right time. I served under people for whom I had great admiration.”

Observing him participate in the community organizations of Hedley, it quickly becomes evident that Bill’s good fortune had less to do with luck than with preparation and the willingness to do what is needed.  Undoubtedly, a positive outlook and a touch of charm helped too. His partner Lynn Wells describes him as “a hard worker, very bright, personable and proactive.”

Understanding that everyone appreciates recognition, he gives it quickly and enthusiastically. He is convinced that by working collaboratively, a community can accomplish what seems impossible. This positive, proactive thinking has many times attracted the attention of people in authority and power. For his work in Adult and International Education, Bill was awarded the Order of Canada.  Then, after official retirement, to his great amazement, he received a call from Ottawa offering him a position as Citizenship Judge.

“I was certain at first they had the wrong Bill Day,” he recalls.  “When they assured me they didn’t, I was thunderstruck.”  Pausing as though reliving that moment he says, “it was very affirming. It told me I had actually done a good job.” “I loved the work and carried on for ten more years until I reached mandatory retirement at 76.”

Bill is still doing a good job, even if he doesn’t get paid for it now.  At the Hedley Museum he said to the Directors, “tell me what you need done and I’ll do it.”  Last year he spoke at Hedley’s Canada Day celebration and also at the Remembrance Day ceremony.  He is currently spearheading the development of Unity Park in Hedley.  He and Lynn are “devoted” volunteers at the Princeton Traditional Music Festival. This morning, before our visit, he painted woodwork and washed windows at the Seniors’ Centre.

After sitting across the table with Bill and Lynn for over an hour, I realized that his mind hadn’t lost its focus even for a moment.  He is optimistic, bright, high octane, apparently healthy, and community minded.  I wasn’t surprised when he said at the end of our time together, “it’s being a great life.”