Category Archives: Community

Nickel Plate Reunion In Hedley

Former residents of Nickel Plate townsite.

This past weekend Hedley was the scene of a pretty unique reunion. Participants came from various points in the province. With the exception of one individual, as children they had all lived at the Nickel Plate townsite, high on the mountain overlooking Hedley. Their parents worked for the Kelowna Exploration Company, the entity which operated the highly lucrative Nickel Plate Mine.

The mine ceased operations in 1955, so these people are now seniors. Although they’ve had several reunions previously, some had not connected since the mining days. Bob Richards of Penticton, whose father was a foreman at the mine, largely organized the event. Now age 74, he has worked in mines himself and has also earned his living as a wrestler. Like the others, he spoke fondly of his childhood years living in the Nickel Plate community.

Bob Richards

I was one when my parents moved up,” he said. “We left when I was 12. Those were good years. The mine provided a bowling alley and a skating rink. It helped us create a ski run, and much more. I attended school up there until grade 6.”

Patsy (Williams) Ehlbeck

Patsy Ehlbeck (nee Williams), spoke of her father (known by miners as Dibbs) who was mine superintendent during the family’s years at the town site. Her parents had given the Museum a painting of the family home on the mountain. This was of particular interest to Patsy.

Garnet Graham

Garnet Graham, now living in Prince George, said “There were about 40 families up there, plus singles. My dad worked in the mine and is mentioned in Mines of the Eagle Country. It was a great place to be a kid. We had lots of freedom. Sometimes we rode our bikes to Nickel Plate Lake. I have awesome memories of that time.”

Ore was sent down the tram line in skips (ore cars) to the Stamp Mill on the periphery of Hedley. The skips were controlled by the Hoist Man at Central Station part way up the line. “There was one house at Central, and this is where our family lived,” said Carl Lofroth, now of Terrace. For this reason he didn’t have as much interaction with the children of the Nickel Plate community. Even so, there are plenty of great memories. “We had Disney movies,” he said, “and there were Chinese dinners. We went camping together and had picnics.” He doesn’t recall any quarreling. When he was 6, his family moved down into Hedley where he attended school.

Jim Munro

Jim Munro lived at Nickel Plate from age 9 to 14. His dad was the camp administrator. “Kids had the run of the town,” he recalled, “but we couldn’t get too far out of line. Everyone knew who your parents were. It was like having 40 moms and 40 dads.”

Carl Lafroth

During the open mike session, there were a number of references to riding the skip down to Hedley. “People would ride the skip down and do their shopping,” Carl Lafroth explained. “On the way down, we sat on the ore. This allowed us to have a great view of the valley. On the return trip up the mountain, the skip would be empty. We’d be lower and couldn’t see much.”

Don Armstrong provided 2 cakes. This one had a photo of the stamp mill. The other showed the trestle bridge crossing the Similkameen river.

After many laughs, the reunion group was joined by locals for an outdoor roast beef dinner hosted by Don Armstrong and assisted by Judy Turner, Sharon Sund and others, all of Hedley. In the evening the Black Birds provided music for a street dance.

Collaborating For Better Health Care

Nienke Klaver & Ed Staples

Thirty six acres straddling the Tulameen River several miles from Princeton seems an unlikely, overly serene retirement setting for a couple that has traveled, worked and lived in diverse places around the globe. For Ed Staples and Nienke Klaver though, it’s just right. Their wide ranging experiences had prepared them to take a leadership role in striving for better health care in the Similkameen valley.

Sitting in our sun room with a cup of steaming coffee in hand, Ed said, “our time in other countries made us more compassionate. In Chile we watched a young boy playing with an old, deflated soccer ball. I bought a new ball. When I handed it to him, his expression of gratitude and wonderment was life changing. What we experienced helps us understand how fortunate we are in Canada.”

Nienke nodded and said, “One day in Lhasa, Tibet we were walking in a circle, participating in a ceremony. An elderly woman grasped my hand and walked beside me. We didn’t understand each other but we smiled a lot. The needs and wants of people are very similar.”

Nienke came to Canada in 1981 to visit her sister and pursue a masters degree at the University of Victoria. Ed had recently returned from 3 years of teaching in Saudi Arabia. They met one evening when Nienke and her friend Gwen ran out of gas a block from Ed’s home. Gwen knew him so she asked if he had gas. He did and gave it to them. A few days later Ed accompanied them to a Doug and the Slugs concert. He and Nienke sat side by side and it was the beginning of a romance that blossomed into marriage and a life long adventurous partnership.

They traveled extensively and have memories that still influence their thinking and values. “Some roads in Paraguay were so bad I didn’t take the Toyota out of first gear,” Ed said. Tibet provided aunique experience. Two Buddhist monks invited them to their monastery. Here they were granted a rare private audience with the Rinpoche, a highly revered religious leader who had trained with the Dalai Lama. In Japan, where they lived 10 years, Ed taught music at the American School in Japan and Nienke taught violin. She has played with symphony orchestras in Amsterdam, Victoria and Edmonton.

Upon returning from Japan they bought the acreage outside Princeton. “Traveling and living in other countries gave us a greater appreciation for what we have in Canada,” Ed said. “It helped us understand more fully that people need to accept responsibility for the well being of their community. It doesn’t just happen.” He recalled his father’s words, “if you want things to change, you need to get involved and help bring about the change.”

We became aware of a gradual erosion of health care in our community,” Nienke remembers. “We had only one doctor on call. Then there was an announcement that the Emergency Ward in our hospital would be closed 4 nights each week.”

When Nienke began circulating a petition on behalf of health care in the area, Ed was initially reluctant. Seeing people were concerned and were signing the petition, he too became active. “At first people didn’t believe anything would change. Nienke isn’t afraid to try things though,” he observed. “She persevered in spite of the pessimism.” The petition collected 3,600 names and public officials took notice.

Ed and Nienke are grateful for the support and help they received from others. Brad Hope (Area H Regional Director at that time) and his wife June were knowledgeable and helpful. “Also,” Ed said, “we received good advice from Walter Despot, former mayor of Keremeos. He gave us a tour of the South Similkameen Health Centre and advised us to work constructively with Interior Health. There we met Susan Brown. Without her, nothing would have happened. Dr Monro of Princeton has provided great ideas. She’s a firecracker! We became collaborative, not confrontational.”

They developed Support our Health Care (SOHC), a local grassroots organization dedicated to the improvement of Princeton’s model of healthcare. It has joined the B.C. Health Coalition. SOHC has begun working with similar organizations in other rural communities.

We now have visiting specialists, and Princeton and Keremeos have Community Paramedicine programs,” Nienke said at the end. Ed added, “we can’t claim the credit, but our group has developed fertile ground for improvements in health care.”

Hedley Citizens Clean Cenotaph

(clockwise) Bill Day on ladder, Peggy Terry, Andy English, Linda Martens, Margaret Skaar

Carrying buckets of water, soft brushes and toothbrushes, six enthusiastic Hedley citizens showed up at 9 am this past Sunday to thoroughly clean the Hedley cenotaph. Restored recently, with the help of fundraising and a matching grant from the federal government, the cenotaph will be rededicated at 1:00 pm on August 26th. The impetus for the refurbishing came from local researchers Jennifer Douglass and Andy English. From early issues of the Princeton Star and the Hedley Gazette, and conversations with descendants of service men named on the cenotaph, Douglass and English gleaned considerable information that might have been lost without their efforts. Their research brought to light 2 new names that needed to be added. According to English, the cenotaph may have been the first in Canada. Its location marks a point where 17 local recruits assembled in August 1915, prior to departing for Penticton where they enlisted. They were given a rousing send off with a marching band, a large banner and much applause and cheering.

Bill Day observing Jennifer Douglass meticulously cleaning with a toothbrush.
Peggy Terry, Terry Sawiuk & Andy English coming up with a plan to repair the cement floor. (The repair has since been successfully completed by Terry Sawiuk & Bill Day).

Tim Roberts, Enthusiastic About Community Paramedicine

Tim Roberts, Community Paramedic

I know the name of every person represented by a white cross along the highway,” Tim Roberts told Linda and me last week. As a paramedic, he has been called to the scene of numerous tragic accidents in the Similkameen Valley. When he arrived at our home, he was wearing a uniform representing Community Paramedicine, a new service being offered to local citizens.

Tim and I came to know each other when we worked together in a program for emotionally disturbed youths at the One Way Adventure Foundation in Hedley. After that our paths intersected only occasionally. I was interested in hearing how life circumstances had prepared him for his current challenging role.

Tim Roberts

The work in Hedley gave me an opportunity to acquire leadership experience and a better understanding of people,” he said. “By observing one administrator, I learned about management. From a program coordinator I learned about developing relationships. When I made mistakes, I tried to not repeat them. In 1990 I married Vera and at age 26 I became administrator of the organization’s Ashnola Campus, now the site of Ashnola Crossing. I ran a residential program for 10 young probationers. I wanted staff to become involved with our students and help them learn to make wise choices.” Making appropriate choices would become a theme for him in later assignments.

When the government discontinued that program,” he said “we provided activities for groups seeking wilderness adventure and experience. Vera was head wrangler.”

While they developed new strategies to remain financially afloat, Tim worked nights as a custodian for the Keremeos school district. Then, back at the Camp, after a few hours sleep he would rise early to help in the kitchen. Tim and Vera did facility upgrading, including painting. They cleaned toilets and did whatever was required.

After several years of unstinting commitment and effort on their part, the organization leaders decided the Ashnola Campus must be sold. By then the school district knew of Tim’s experience in working with youth and invited him to apply to become a behavioral counselor. “I did sessions on substance abuse and making smart choices. I confessed I at one time had a 2 pack a day cigarette habit. By choosing to butt out, I was able to save enough money so Vera and I could go to Fiji for our honeymoon. I wanted them to understand often there are alternative more beneficial choices.”

Now Unit Head with the Keremeos Ambulance Service, Tim is enthusiastic about the Community Paramedicine program recently introduced in both Keremeos and Princeton. “With an aging population,” he observed, “our medical system needs to deal with more chronic health issues. The Paramedicine program helps people of all ages better self manage their health and stay in their home longer.”

I asked Tim how the new system works. “My partner, Tom Robins and I are each assigned to the program 2 days a week,” he said. “A doctor or community nurse can assign a person to us. If the individual has foot problems, we can arrange an appointment with a specialist in this field.” He paused, then added, “if it’s a falling issue, we check for proper banisters, electrical cords on the floor, poor lighting, carpeted floors, shuffling due to inappropriate slippers.”

Tim emphasized they don’t tell the individual what to do. “We inquire about their health goals. If we think diet may be an issue, we don’t tell them what to eat. We ask if they would eat other foods if this didn’t entail additional expense. We can refer them to a dietitian. We have great resources in the Similkameen valley.”

Tim’s voice and facial expressions conveyed his enthusiasm for the potential benefits of the program. “In the past I challenged youths to examine their life choices,” he said. “In this program we invite people to examine their health and lifestyle choices. The program reduces financial stress on our medical system by dealing with issues before they become serious. Most important, it offers people the possibility of better health and greater enjoyment of life at any time, including the senior years.”

I sensed in Tim a compelling desire to help people live more complete lives. It seems built into his marrow. As a regular paramedic, there will still be white crosses. In Community Paramedicine, he can help people extend their lives.

For a referral to this program, consult your family doctor or other health care professional.

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.

Celebration Of Aboriginal Day Of Wellness

Oly Bent sang a Welcome Song as he played his hand drum at the Aboriginal Day of Wellness Celebration.
Oly Bent sang a Welcome Song as he played his hand drum at the Aboriginal Day of Wellness Celebration.

Joining with people of other cultures and traditions can be a delightful, soul enriching experience. When the Upper Similkameen Indian Band recently posted an invitation to its celebration of Aboriginal Day of Wellness, Linda and I knew immediately we wanted to be there. We thought it would be a low key affair, with the possibility of getting to know some band members. It was a pleasant surprise to learn there would be a formal program and a sumptuous sit down meal.

We didn’t anticipate the congenial, up beat, fun atmosphere. Plenty of smiles made it clear these people had come to have a good time. Even more important to us, a number of band members gave us a warm welcome.

The event took place last Wednesday at the USIB’s Centre on Snaza’ist Street on the periphery of Hedley. Fifty two enthusiastic guests attended, including a number of children and youths, plus at least half a dozen individuals from the Hedley community. We were impressed by the way the evening’s activities were ably coordinated by Shauna Fox, head of the band’s Home and Health Care program.

Shauna Fox, organizer of the event.
Shauna Fox, organizer of the event.

Prior to the meal, band member Oly Bent offered a reverential, heartfelt prayer of gratitude to the Creator. He followed this with a traditional welcome song, accompanying himself on a hand drum.

Oly Bent with his hand drum.
Oly Bent with his hand drum.

In a lively, well received talk, Clint Holmes explained how he had dug a pit, lined it with rocks and cooked the moose and elk that were on the menu. He said he had assisted with pit cooking twice in the past, but this was his first time doing it alone.

Clint Holmes described the pit cooking process.
Clint Holmes described the pit cooking process.

Guests were invited to select from an elaborate array of dishes, consisting of traditional Indigenous cuisine, laid out on a large table. Along with other elders, the small Hedley contingent was served by 2 congenial young men, Kelly and Kennedy Fox-Zacharias. Respectful and competent, these clean cut young men introduced themselves and made us feel honoured. They would almost certainly be coveted by any high class, big city restaurant.

Shauna Fox explained later it is an aboriginal custom to serve elders first. The young servers delivered to each guest a platter laden generously with Aboriginal style chili, topped with chopped lettuce and tomatoes, sour cream and salsa, all on a slice of delicious, mouth watering fried bread. The bread had been prepared by much loved and respected local elder, Carrie Allison, wife of departed Chief Slim Allison. The frying, which required 6 hours of intensive labour in a hot kitchen, was done by Mary Allison under Carrie’s guidance.

Of particular fascination for Linda and me, and the other Hedley attendees seated at our table, was the soap berry ice cream (sxuxm), also made by Carrie. We learned from her that the main ingredient is soap berries, which can be picked, usually at higher altitudes, in the Similkameen Valley. Water and sugar are added and this concoction is whipped into a delightful, crowd pleasing dessert. A couple of Hedley citizens were observed enjoying a second, rather generous helping of the ice cream at the close of the event.

One lucky guest, Brenda Wagner, was pleased to win a 19 inch television in a draw. We were surprised when Linda’s name was drawn for a high quality barbeque. We’ve never had much luck in draws. Linda has decided she will donate the barbeque back to the band for its own use or as a fund raiser. Several children also won prizes.

As people were leaving, a happy buzz suggested they felt they had participated in a significant, joyous event. Certainly that was the sentiment of the Hedley people. We had been graciously and respectfully received.

I have come to think of celebrating a special day with another culture as a privilege and an education. In this case it was an opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of who our neighbours are and what they value. I respect their fervent desire to pass on their traditions, customs, values, history and wisdom to future generations. In society generally, there often isn’t this understanding that it’s important to retain what has been learned and taught by elders.

With continued effort, good will and willingness, events like Aboriginal Day of Wellness could further strengthen the relationship between the band and the Hedley community. As we celebrate 150 years of nationhood, it’s a good time to become better acquainted with our neighbours.

Larry McIntosh Influenced Hedley Fire Department

Some members of the Hedley Fire Department at practise (Larry McIntosh not on this photo).
Some members of the Hedley Fire Department at practise (Larry McIntosh not on this photo).

In 1976, on my first visit to Hedley, I watched with fascination as firefighters, clad in jeans and t-shirts, ran to put out a chimney fire. They were pulling a 2 wheeled cart laden with a firehose. They had plenty of grit, but scant equipment or training.

Some years later, Linda and I moved to Hedley and I was able to observe the development of the Fire Department. The community made a bold move into the 20th century in 1984 when it acquired a 1973 Ford firetruck. Because house fires were scarce, the truck was used mainly to douse occasional chimney fires and for practise. Its mileage remained almost static and we had little thought of upgrading. Why pay higher taxes for a new truck we didn’t need?

Our complacent thinking received a rude shock when the insurance underwriters informed us our well preserved truck must be replaced, or our premiums would rise sharply. Many in the community felt we should look for a suitable used truck. The fire department argued for a new one. In two referendums we turned down the purchase of a new truck. Then, when we went to renew our home insurance, we experienced premium sticker shock. In a third referendum we meekly bowed to the will of the all powerful underwriters and voted to buy a new fire truck. This marked the beginning of a remarkable transformation in the department.

After talking recently with Derek Lilly, a former Fire Chief, current Assistant Chief Doug Nimchuk, and retired Fire Department Manager, Graham Gore, I’ve concluded that one individual provided the primary impetus for the high standard now evident in the Hedley Fire Department.

Larry McIntosh settled in Hedley in about 2002. He had earlier been employed by the Delta Ambulance Service, when it was still combined with the Fire Department. He had also been Unit Chief of the Princeton Ambulance Service. He was currently working for the Forestry Wild Fire Service in summers, in charge of Logistics. His experience and skill level were impressive, and he was named Hedley’s Assistant Fire Chief. Using his wide range of training and expertise, he began making significant changes.

Larry laid the base for what we have today,” Doug Nimchuk told me. Graham agreed. “He had been involved in combating pretty much every major fire in B.C. Larry brought a high level of professionalism. He built training records and operational records. He instituted truck inspections and standardized turnout gear.”

Larry trained our First Medical Responders,” Doug said. “He raised the service to a high level. I accompanied him on a number of calls. He was confident and competent.”

Larry could be thoroughly practical. At one house fire there was a need for ventilation. He threw bricks and stones through the windows. He was known to say, “just give me water! Surround and drown!” At one fire only 26 inches separated the burning home from the adjacent building. Following Larry’s teaching, firefighters maintained a constant stream of water in the narrow space and the second structure was saved.

By the time Larry’s employment no longer permitted him to give much attention locally, he had trained others and established sound procedures. He apparently understood clearly he would be most effective, not by attracting more followers, but by developing more leaders. “He taught me almost everything I know,” Graham said. “Without his teaching and personal attention, I could not have been manager of the department.”

Larry didn’t seek recognition. He wanted to teach, raise standards and hand over responsibilities to the next generation. Graham, in his time as department manager, has sought to maintain Larry’s systems and his high standard of fire fighting and First Responder excellence.

End view of our house after fire burned the house next door
End view of our house after fire burned the house next door

Seven years ago the home next to ours burned to the ground on New Years Eve. It was a cold night and there was plenty of ice. Under the Command of Larry McIntosh, the Hedley Firefighters, with assistance from Keremeos, saved our home and the home on the other side. The new truck and the skill, training and discipline of the firefighters prevented what could have been a disastrous fire all along our block.

Before passing away unexpectedly on June 3rd of this year, Larry McIntosh played a key role in raising the Hedley Fire Department to a much higher level. Thanks to him, Graham, Doug and all the dedicated firefighters, our little community has a fire department we can be proud of.

Hedley Museum Celebrates Stamp Mill Day

The entertainers had an attentive audience at Hedley's Stamp Mill Day.
The entertainers had an attentive audience at Hedley’s Stamp Mill Day.

Sitting in the shade of several large trees, guests at the Hedley Stamp Mill Day celebration enjoyed a sumptuous lunch on Saturday. Put on by the Hedley Historical Museum, the meal featured beef on a bun plus a variety of salads and fruit. There was a continuous line up for the 5 cent ice cream cones.

Historical researcher Jennifer Douglass had written an account of the purpose and nature of the Stamp Mill. According to Douglass, the stamps pounded relentlessly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When the Nickel Plate Mine ceased operations in 1954 and shut down the mill, there were reports of people not being able to sleep due to the silence. The account was read by Hedley Postmaster Ruth Woodin.

Harold Tuck, George Huber and Colleen Cox playing Bluegrass music.
Harold Tuck, George Huber and Colleen Cox playing Bluegrass music.

Bluegrass music was provided by the energetic and highly popular duo, George Huber and Colleen Cox of Powell River. They had invited 85 year old Harold Tuck, also of Powell River, to accompany them. Harold’s father worked underground here from 1935 to 1941. Harold was only 3 when the family moved here but still has positive memories of Hedley and returns occasionally. He plays guitar and sings bass, mostly doing country and western music. Local musician Eric Lance played guitar and added his pleasant voice and style to the group.

Terry Regier has attentive observers for his gold panning instruction.
Terry Regier has attentive observers for his gold panning instruction.

Terry Regier of Hedley offered instruction in gold panning. The sand had been “salted” with real gold flakes. Participants were definitely motivated.

Also as part of Stamp Mill Day the Seniors’ Centre offered its always well received $5.00 pancake breakfast. In addition to pancakes it features 2 eggs and 2 sausages or slices of bacon and coffee.

Sixty three guests attended the event. Judging by comments they all went home well fed and very content. Museum president, the energetic Jean Robinson, expressed great appreciation to the numerous volunteers who made the day successful and memorable.

Drug House Sign On Telephone Poll

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Last week when Linda and I were walking along Daly Avenue in Hedley, we noticed an unusual sign attached to a telephone pole. It was an “advertisement” for the local drug house. Someone must have placed it there in the darkness of the night. It had not been there the previous day and would certainly be removed before the end of this day. People selling illicit drugs do not place ads in newspapers or on telephone poles. Fortunately, I had my camera in my jacket pocket and I took advantage of the opportunity.

The sign intrigued me because although there is a good deal of under the breath grumbling about the drug house, I’m not aware anyone has taken any direct action, other than complaining to the police.

At the Senior Centre’s coffee time early the next morning, Linda learned that similar signs had been posted on poles elsewhere in town, but no one could even guess who had done it. Whoever did it likely fears retribution and isn’t talking. All we know is the individual has the ability to use a computer, but just about everyone in Hedley possesses that skill.

My best guess is that it was a woman. One with the lively imagination required to concoct a plan such as this. (I’ll call her Martha.) Without exposing herself, Martha has cleverly and effectively cast light on the local drug operation. This certainly will not be welcome. When I looked for the signs the next morning, they had already been taken down.

Martha evidently possesses a well developed social conscience, and the will to take action when she believes her community is threatened. If one of the drug house “clients” had been restless and wandering about that night, she might have been seen and reported.

In suggesting that it was a woman who posted the signs, I’m obviously making an assumption. However, women have often provided leadership in battles against wrongdoing in their community. I’m always impressed when, instead of attacking head on, they devise wonderfully ingenious schemes to unsettle their adversary.

Nellie McClung

Martha seems to have a lot in common with an early Canadian social activist, Nellie McClung. I was reminded of Nellie when I saw the sign on the pole. Early in the 20th century Nellie and a delegation of women publicly presented Manitoba Premier Redmond Roblin with a petition requesting that women be given the right to vote. Roblin told them his mother had instilled in him a great respect for women and that they are actually on a higher plane than men. Nevertheless, he declared himself unequivocally opposed to giving them the right to vote. While he was speaking, Nellie observed his pompous, patronizing attitude, his ingratiating friendliness designed to disarm them, and his at times loud, commanding voice.

The following evening Nellie announced to a capacity crowd in the Walker Theater in Winnipeg that the program would include a mock parliament. It would feature a fantasy legislature in which gender roles were reversed.

When the curtain rose the stage was occupied by women wearing evening gowns and black coats.

Nellie McClung, in the role of Premier, adopted Roblin’s pompous, patronizing words and tones. Referring to a delegation of men who had requested the right to vote, she said, ”if all men were as intelligent as these representatives of the downtrodden sex seem to be, it might not do any harm to give them the vote. But all men are not intelligent.” Many in the audience had heard similar words about women from the Premier the evening before. She adopted the Premier’s stance, palms up. “There is no use giving men the vote,” she continued. “They wouldn’t use them. They’d let them spoil and waste. How could they be allowed to vote,” she thundered, “when 70% of those appearing in court are men? Giving men the vote would unsettle the home. The place for them is on the farm!”

These women protested with Nellie McClung.
These women protested with Nellie McClung.

Nellie McClung’s response to the Premier was innovative and her performance was masterful. She succeeded in persuading the audience that the Premier’s intransigence was illogical and foolish.

Although the signs have been removed from the poles, they aren’t really gone. I’ve heard that a local citizen posted a picture of one on Facebook.

The drug house won’t close because of Martha’s signs, but like Nellie McClung, she has reminded us that it is possible to push back against unsavoury influences in our community.

Visit From A Homeless Girl

Homeless Girl (morningadvertiser.co.uk)
Homeless Girl (morningadvertiser.co.uk)

Some years ago, on a frigid day in early January, I came upon a young homeless girl huddled under a tree against the wall of our Abbotsford condo.

Surprised, and sensing her misery, I asked “are you OK?”

“Yes,” she responded. Her voice suggested she meant “no.”

“You look cold,” I said, pulling off my thin gloves and handing them to her. She protested a moment and then accepted them willingly. Skinny as an anorexic fashion model, she seemed incredibly vulnerable. Giving her a pair of skimpy gloves was a meager gesture.

“Would you like to come in and get warmed up?” I asked.

She nodded.

In our condo, Linda turned up the fireplace. “Sit here,” she said. “I’ll bring you hot chocolate and a sandwich.”

“Complexa” seemed eager to talk about her life. We learned she was only 16, and for the past year her home had been a couple of tarps and blankets under some trees. Without any prompting, she volunteered she had done some drugs, including crystal meth. “I haven’t done a lot of meth,” she said. “I don’t have much money. I don’t sell my body.”

Still, we observed considerable twitching as she talked and ate. We attributed this to the meth.

Thinking she needed a thorough warming, Linda asked if she wanted a bath or shower. This thought appealed to her and she spent a good two hours in the tub.

We became concerned she might have taken drugs in with her and overdosed. Linda asked several times, “are you OK?”

Possibly the long stint in the bathroom was to forestall going back to the snow-laden streets.

We had a commitment that evening and couldn’t leave her in the building alone, so when she emerged from her long sojourn in the bathroom, we attempted to help her find a place for the night.

“Does your mom live around here?” Linda asked.

“Yes,” Complexa replied, “but we don’t get along. I haven’t seen her in over a year. Her cell number is out of service.”

“Do you have a dad?”

“My dad faded out of my life quite a few years ago,” she responded. “I don’t know where he is.” There was no indication of regret.

“Any brothers or sisters?”

“I have one brother,” she said. “He’s in prison.”

“What about grandparents?”

They were separated and living somewhere in Ontario. We attempted to find a phone number for them, but without success.

I phoned Community Services, the Salvation Army and the Abbotsford Police. I learned that only one small facility took in young girls. No answer there.

In the end, Complexa asked to use our phone and someone agreed to take her in. This person frequented a “drug house” in our neighbourhood.

Before leaving, she ate a bowl of hot stew and a bun, then thanked us warmly. When she walked out of our door, she walked out of our lives. In more than four hours, she had not smiled once.

Living in a strata building with strict rules, I’m not sure we could have done much more for Complexa.

Although I was aware of our limitations, I felt great unease knowing this 16-year-old unsmiling girl must wander about with no hope, no real destination and no connections outside the drug scene.

The social ills that were already prevalent in Abbotsford at that time have also been creeping into the Similkameen valley. In Hedley, addicts freely visit the much complained about drug house on Daly Avenue. Several are reputed to be making drugs available to teens. It seems that as a society we are capable of building impressive edifices, but we do not know how to create a future for drug addicted,homeless youths. The recent provincial budget, in spite of its many spending promises, will not change this.

Can we do more than wring our hands over this condition that is festering in the bowels of our society?

If our community and our larger society are to be healthy and vibrant, we must make a serious commitment to individuals and families in trouble, before they walk too far along this perilous path to utter hopelessness.

In spite of the scarcity of resources, I’d like to say to the addicted homeless Complexas in our communities, “don’t stop looking for help. It’s always too soon to give up.”