Category Archives: Community

Only A Child, Only At Christmas

Taegert, B.C. 1979. It was Christmas Eve in Taegert, a small remote former gold mining community in northern B.C. Snow had begun IMG_0742falling steadily the previous night and the mountains surrounding our little town were now bedecked with a soft white mantel. Through the still falling snow plumes of grey wood smoke streamed upward from chimneys into the dark sky.

My wife and I leaned forward, pressing into the chill north wind flinging snow into our cold faces. Not far ahead snow laden figures loomed out of the whiteness of the night. We were all hurrying, adults and children, to get a good seat at the Christmas Eve celebration in the community hall.

We arrived to find the hall already packed with a boisterous crowd. The only place was along the back wall with other stragglers. Outside, cold snow hurled itself at the hall, but inside it was toasty. The ancient pot bellied wood stove was working its magic. In one corner an enormous fir tree, with lights, ornaments and tinsel encouraged a holiday spirit.

The program MC, Marty Dyke, slipped from behind a curtain at the left end of the stage. She was a robust woman, something her loose, bright red dress could not hide. With a hearty laugh and booming voice, she said, “ Welcome to our community’s 38th Christmas concert.” Then she turned to the side of the stage where she had entered. “ Without further adieu, let’s put our hands together and bring on the famous Jones family!” There was clapping, hollering and stamping of feet.

The Jones clan came hustling on stage with guitars, fiddles, harmonicas and a banjo. Grandpa Jones began belting out the tunes and his whole lusty clan backed him up like they were on stage at Nashville, Tennessee. Pretty quick folks were smiling and singing along. A few pretty young girls in bright dresses danced in the aisles. It was a Christmas hootenanny. Marty always introduced them first because they knew how to stir up the crowd’s Christmas spirit.

Everyone settled down when 11 year old Susie Thomas began telling about the baby Jesus born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger. “It happened in a stable,” she said, “and there were probably sheep and donkeys watching. And shepherds came from taking care of their flocks in the fields.” She seemed awed by the event. Susie was followed by Mrs. Brown reading her latest Christmas poem.

Everyone was having a grand time. Everyone except me, that is. Just before the program started, Marty Dyke had whispered to me, “I’ve asked your friend J.K. Barnabas to bring his guitar and sing two or three tunes at the end. Be a fine way to wrap up the evening, don’t you think?” It was too late to change things, so I remained silent.

I was concerned because J.K.’s a black man. A big old white haired blues singer who used to perform in bars in cities like Winnipeg, Vancouver and Seattle. Not that anyone in Taegert would object to him singing blues, or to him being black. No one that is, except Gerhardt Gruber. And, in a way, old Gruber had a pretty good reason for not liking black men. He had nothing against black women.

In the big war back in the forties, he and his son were in the same company in the German Wehrmacht. In close combat, a black Yankee soldier shot the son dead right in front of Gruber. He’s been bitter against black men since that day.

That’s why I was troubled about J.K. Barnabas getting in front of this crowd. Gruber might have a flashback. What if he did something crazy? J.K. isn’t a well man. He doesn’t need that.

While my mind was thinking about these things, the evening was flying by. Now Marty called on J.K. He walked to the front slowly and sat down on a hard wooden bench. After taking a moment to adjust the guitar strings, he grinned at the children in the front row and launched into a frisky rendition of Frosty the Snowman. Next he pleased the crowd with Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer. Everyone cheered when he was done, but not Gruber.

Then the raucous, buoyant mood was gone and he seemed to forget we were there. He drifted into a tune I was sure he had written himself.

“I woke up this mornin’ and the sun, it didn’t shine,
Was sittin’ in my room all alone, didn’t have one friend I could say was mine.
Too many nights in the bars, too many days on the road, now this body’s gettin’ old.
Snow’s fallin’ and I’m feelin’ mighty low, oh yes, I’m feelin’ mighty low.
My little baby’s gone.
She’s grown up big, don’t come to her daddy no more to play.
Sure has broke this old man’s heart.
Oh Yeah, sure has broke this old man’s heart.”

Then he was quiet, still sitting on the bench, a lonely old blues man. A single tear rolled slowly down one cheek.

A hush fell over the hall, and no one cheered or moved. It seemed everyone was expecting something to happen.

I heard the rustle of a dress and I looked to my left where old Gruber was sitting, arms crossed over his chest and face hard as the barrel of a German army rifle. Before he could stop her, his pretty little granddaughter had slipped off his lap and was running to where the white haired J.K. Barnabas was sitting.

Gruber's granddaughter offering her baby to Mr. JK
Gruber’s granddaughter offering her baby to Mr. JK

“Here, Mr. J.K.” she said, holding a little blond doll toward him. “Take my baby. She’ll make you happy. I have more babies at home.”

I think everyone stopped breathing and looked at old Gruber. His stiff white Wehrmacht moustache made him look real serious.

And then it happened. Gruber got up. Using his cane, he walked unsteadily to where his granddaughter and JK. were. He sat down on the bench next to J.K. and lifted the little girl onto the black man’s lap. Although he wasn’t a religious man, far as I knew, he began singing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht,” in his native German, his sweet tenor carrying the words throughout the hall. After hesitating a moment, the old blues man joined his deep baritone to Gruber’s tenor.

“Silent night. Holy night. All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon virgin mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace.”

Then everyone was singing, and when the song was done, I saw men and women laughing and crying, shaking hands and embracing. At the front of the room, I saw the old black man and the old German army officer rise and embrace.

Taegert was never quite the same again. There was more of a sense of peace. And that’s why I say, “Only a child could have accomplished what happened in our little town that night. And only at Christmas.”

Elections Expose Community Fault Lines

Elections have an uncanny and inconvenient capacity to expose

section of the San Andreas Fault (photo from Quake Basics)
section of the San Andreas Fault (photo from Quake Basics)

community fault lines. This once again became evident prior to last week’s municipal vote. Especially in larger centres like Vancouver, Surrey, Abbotsford and Kelowna, the vitriol at times flowed as freely as beer at a bartenders convention. Ambitious politicians flayed at each other with verbal clubs in media ads, a plethora of letters and brochures in our mail boxes, public meetings etc. There was the usual frenzied competition to persuade us by putting up enough signs to construct a few homes. Even in Princeton, Keremeos and usually quiet, peaceful Hedley, cracks were revealed in the political and social fabric.

We have come to accept that politicians will heatedly espouse opposing views as to what is most beneficial for our community. When the skirmishing between leaders becomes personal and continues after the election, we have reason to be concerned. Leaders at war with each other are not able to focus on creating a safer, healthier, more vibrant community.

We cannot do anything about fault lines that exist below the earth’s surface. By examining our motivation and changing our thinking, we can do something about fault lines in the fabric of our communities. For the sake of the people, it is essential that leaders develop the maturity, wisdom and will to work productively with those who hold differing views. We grow stronger as a community when we do not permit diversity of outlook and ideas to divide us.

Wise leaders, whether in politics, business, a profession, etc., consider the ramifications of their attitudes, words and actions. They choose to work constructively with others, sometimes even with those who have radically different ideas.

This will almost certainly mean overlooking slights, harsh words, possibly even physical injury. It may also require forgiving. Josh Billings has said, “There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.”

Politicians could benefit from studying carefully the inspiring example of Nelson Mandela. For much of the 26 years of his imprisonment, he was held in the infamous Robben Island Prison. He was compelled to do hard labour in a lime quarry and was permitted only rare visits from his wife Winnie and their 2 daughters. He longed to be at home with his family and to continue his struggle against the government’s policy of strict dehumanizing racial segregation. It grieved him when he received reports of his people being shot while demonstrating against Apartheid.

When the government realized it could no longer cling to power, Nelson Mandela was released. Elected to the position of President, it was expected he would wreak vengeance on the minority white population. South Africa was in danger of degenerating into a bloody civil war. Mandela’s thinking, decisions and actions would determine its future.

While in prison he had made a conscious decision to not become

Nelson Mandela (Guideposts)
Nelson Mandela
(Guideposts)

bitter. He chose to rise above the pain and loneliness of his lost years. The understanding and philosophy he developed during the difficult years of confinement enabled him to forego punishing those who had kept his people in virtual slavery. He understood that for the good of all citizens, black and white, he must rise above anger and bitterness. He needed to enlist the skills, experience, and cooperation of the former masters. To this end, he appointed F.W. de Klerk, the former president, as his first Deputy President.

The politicians elected in the Similkameen communities last Saturday don’t need to deal with issues that could destroy their community and bring death to many. But there are important matters to grapple with. Many of these were raised in the race to win. Will the winners shut out the losers now or will they respect them and listen to them? Will the losers adopt a fifth column role, always seeking to undermine and sabotage those in power?

Whether there is animosity or a spirit of cooperation will to a great extent be determined by the level of maturity and good will demonstrated by our leaders, both winners and losers. Societal and political fault lines do not have to divide our communities.

Ceremony and Wreaths at Hedley Cenotaph

Parkas, toques and gloves abounded as approximately 100 Similkameen Valley citizens gathered around the Cenotaph in

Marching to the Hedley Cenotaph
Marching to the Hedley Cenotaph

Hedley for the Remembrance Day ceremony. Light flakes of snow were falling as a bag piper led a procession that included Constable Anthony Pankratz, MP Alex Atamanenko and local flag bearers. Pastor Graham Gore prayed for the fallen in conflicts ranging from WWI to Afghanistan. A moving talk by local war historian Andy English captured the full attention of the crowd. In spite of the cold, caps and toques came off during the minute of silence to remember and honour the fallen warriors.

Later, it was a sombre scene as 6 committed citizens of Hedley met

Ruth Woodin, Hedley Postmaster, placing wreath for TC Knowles, WWI war hero.
Ruth Woodin, Hedley Postmaster, placing wreath for TC Knowles, WWI war hero.

at the cemetery to lay wreaths on the graves of Hedley boys who had given their lives to preserve our freedom. Local Postmaster Ruth Woodin laid wreaths on several graves in the Masonic section. One was placed on the grave of TC Knowles, recipient of the Military Medal for Bravery in the Field in WWI. It was fitting that Woodin placed this wreath since Knowles was an earlier Hedley Postmaster, serving from 1937 until his passing in 1959.

Researchers Jennifer Douglass and Andy English placed a wreath on

Jennifer Douglass & Andy English, laying wreaths for Margaret Robertson & her 2 family members who gave their lives in WWI.
Jennifer Douglass & Andy English, laying wreaths for Margaret Robertson & her 2 family members who gave their lives in WWI.

the grave of Margaret Robertson who died in 1929. They believe the two empty graves fenced in with hers were likely intended for two fallen family members. In the fall of 1916 her brother, William H. Henderson, died of wounds from the accidental explosion of a mortar shell while in training school in France. Her son, Robert W. (Bobby) Robertson, died of wounds suffered in a trench raid at Vimy Ridge in spring of 1917.

Two other Hedley residents, Terry Sawiuk and George Koene, also participated in placing a total of 15 wreaths.

Our Mentors At Menno Hospital

Menno Hospital Entrance
Menno Hospital Entrance

When Linda and I entered East 1 at Menno Hospital in Abbotsford this past Tuesday, Eagan and his wife Mary pulled up alongside us. Mary was pushing him in his wheelchair.

“Are you going to pray for us?” he asked in his soft voice. It seemed an unusual question, but I said “sure, I’ ll pray for you.” However, in the midst of nurses and care aides chatter, I had not understood him correctly. Linda informed me that he’d asked if I was going to play for them. Although I’m a very basic plunker, I had played piano for them many times during the 6 years my Dad was a resident there.

While I played some of the old tunes like “Red River Valley,” “Home on the Range,” “I’ll Give you a Daisy a Day” and “The Wabash Cannon Ball”, Linda visited with Hazel. Hazel has been in care at Menno for a number of years.

After 20 minutes I switched to hymns. As in the past, 91 year old John Boersma joined us with his pleasant, very robust voice. Linda had advised me beforehand that she did not plan to sing, but I was pleased that she had a change of mind, possibly thinking she couldn’t leave the singing just to John. Many of the residents, all in wheelchairs and most of them white haired, were at their various tables waiting for the green clad kitchen staff to arrive with lunch. Linda told me later that quite a few had been singing or tapping their fingers. John called me to the sound system mike and suggested I ask for God’s blessing on the food. I was happy to do this.

The food had not yet arrived so we visited briefly with as many residents as possible. I stopped at Ilya’s table but couldn’t be certain I knew who she was, even though we had talked many times in the past. Inevitably I had found her asleep in her chair, appearing ready to pass away. This day she was alert, cheerful and smiling. A little later Linda saw her bent over as usual, sleeping, but we’ d had our few minutes together.

A visitor came and said Susie wanted us to come and talk with her. She was in her wheelchair, facing away from us. I noticed that she was observing us in a round mirror she held in both hands. We learned that she is 91 and had come to Canada with her parents from Russia when she was 5. A pleasant lady with a surprisingly young face.

After several other brief visits, we made the trek down the hall to see Mrs. Dosanjh. Mr. Dosanjh was in the room and I greeted him in Punjabi. When we drew near to her bed, we realized that this once vibrant woman with a clear, strong voice no longer recognized us. I looked at Mr. Dosanjh and he lifted his hands in a gesture of sadness and futility.

We left Menno Hospital, once again reminded that it’s a blessing to be able to walk, to live in our own home, and to have each other. We were also again reminded of the solid character of these people. In spite of their circumstances, very few complain. Some voice their thanks to God for the wonderful life they have had. They seem to have decided to squeeze meaning and joy out of whatever days or years they will be given. In their outlook and attitude, they are mentors to us. We feel deeply privileged to know count them as friends.

Hedley Supports Church Bottle Drive

When people began arriving at the Hedley Fire Hall Saturday morning for the spring bottle drive, they were amazed at the imposing mound of black garbage bags piled in front of the hall. The bags were full of bottles and cans, waiting for volunteers to sort them.

Sponsored and organized by the Hedley Grace Church, the event is enthusiastically supported by many in the community. People save their empties for both the spring and fall drives. They seemingly like the fact that the funds will be used to send children and youth from the community to summer camp.

Fortunately it was a bright, pleasant day and volunteers

Bottle Drive
Bottle Drive

could work outside or at a long table inside the Fire Hall. The constant scurrying to the mound and back to a table made counting volunteers challenging, but in the end organizers said there had been 10 children and youths and 15 adults. One man said he and his wife and two children have come for more than 11 years. Both youths will again attend camp this summer. Several other parents and their children also participated fully.

Although the volunteers worked with quiet resolve, there was also some banter and at times laughter. It was an opportunity for people to become not just neighbours, but also friends.

In past years the church has sent 8 to 10 children to Camp Tulahead. The bottle drive pays for a portion of their camp fees. In cases where parents are unable to make up the difference, the church pays the additional amount.

When it was all over, Pastor Graham Gore ’s assessment of the event was upbeat. “We had more cans and bottles donated than usual,” he said, “and the turnout of the community to help sort them was better than most years. People agree with the purpose and some really chipped in and worked with us to get it done. We are deeply grateful for all the support.”

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.

First Community Conversation A Huge Success

On February 10, Hedley’s Senior Centre was crowded with community leaders and advocates from Princeton to Penticton, Osoyoos and Kamloops.  They had come to hear Julie Fowler, executive director of the highly successful ArtsWells Festival.

It was the first in a series of “Community Conversations” organized by Angelique Wood, RDOS Director of Area G, and Kim English, a director of the Hedley Heritage Museum Association and Assistant Manager of the Grist Mill.

Purpose of the workshop, according to Wood was to “improve existing festivals and also to encourage networking among participants ”  She said “this type of meeting will enable us to form lasting bonds and grow our communities.”  English said she hoped people would hear something of value they could take back to their own community and apply there.

Fowler, who has been in Wells 10 years, told the group her passion is to support artists of all kinds. “I want to bring them together,” she said, “and I want to bring their art to the world.”

The Wells festival began small. “In the beginning we gave away a lot of tickets so people would come. And if an artist showed an interest we begged them to come. There was little money to pay them, but we did feed them.”

She advised her audience to use existing facilities and look for funding through corporate sponsorships and government grant programs, in addition to selling tickets.  “Publicity is important,” asserted Fowler.  ArtsWells has found the CBC to be helpful.

Fowler said last year the festival sold out and had about 2000 guests.  They require approximately 220 volunteers, most of whom come from outside Wells.  Many of the artists and guests stay in tents during the 4 day festival.  It is still “quite grass roots.”

Currently the Wells festival features over 100 musical performances on 12 stages.  It offers more than 20 different workshops teaching everything from Ukrainian dance to lyric writing, clowning and more.  Activities for children include a crafting station, a children’s stage and workshops geared towards children.

There are also screenings of independent films and local theatre productions.  A one minute play festival is always popular.  Added to this is a host of inter-genre literary performances and workshops, including story telling/writing, poetry and the unexpected.

Following Julie Fowler’s presentation,  Bob Nicholson of the Okanagan-Similkameen Conservation Alliance participated in a panel discussion. He spoke about the Meadowlark Nature Festival which takes place in Penticton.  It features hikes, history, wild life and much more.  Each year they have an artist paint a picture, usually of a Meadow Lark, and put it on t-shirts which are sold to raise funds.  “We could use more help,” he said, “including a few additional people on our board, and we need money.”  He expressed a desire to work with other groups.  “A lot of the power is already in this room,” he suggested.  “Often we don’t know who has the experience, knowledge and skills.”

At the end of the workshop there was palpable excitement and enthusiasm as attendees exchanged ideas and contact information.  Angelique Wood described the presentations as “inspiring”.  Another Community Conversation will take place in April at a date to be announced.

 

 

 

Mentoring More Important than Winning

Letter to the Editor

The boys basketball tournament at Robert Bateman Secondary demonstrated how skilled and competitive boys and coaches are at that level. With only one exception, I was impressed with the attitude of players and coaches. The one exception was a coach who, in the opinion of many spectators, appeared to be more intent on winning than on developing his players.

Early in the game his team was ahead by 6 points and he called a time out to scold them. Throughout the game he was loud and disrespectful in his instructions and comments to his team. Unfortunately, his thinking and attitude were reflected in rough play by the team.

I have long believed coaching young players in any sport is an opportunity to prepare them for adult life. They are developing attitudes and values they will rely on in adversity and also in success. Sports can teach discipline, commitment, respect for others, staying strong in times of disappointment, and much more.

I mentioned the negative approach of this coach to a longtime, highly successful coach of Abbotsford softball teams. He told me that at the beginning of each year he had a chat with the parents of his players. His primary message to them was “ don’t be critical when players make a mistake. They are young. Encourage them.” His teams won numerous medals. This coach wanted to help his players develop a sound foundation for all of life.

My grandson played in the basket ball tournament this weekend. I am pleased that his coach is an encourager. At his age, positive mentoring is more important than winning.

 

 

 

 

Committed Citizens Create A Vibrant Community

In mid-December, approximately a dozen highly committed members of the Hedley Senior Center worked feverishly to create a successful potluck experience for some 80 attendees. Very likely, similar events took place in other communities. And almost certainly, the number of guests far exceeded the number of those who organized the event and served. After the Hedley potluck, a member of the Senior Center said to me, “We’re getting old. We need younger bodies.”

Most small communities are kept alive by giving, participating citizens. For a community to be vibrant, it needs the ideas, energy, and skills of many people.

Having been active in volunteering roles most of my adult life, I know that when we give our time and talents to society, we will almost certainly derive unexpected benefits. We gain new skills and experiences. We meet other active people. My wife and I have gained close friends through volunteering. And the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from giving far exceeds any monetary value.

Community organizations can only survive and thrive if people participate. If everyone does something, no one needs to do it all. And by making a contribution now, we will pass on to our children a more interesting, compassionate and cohesive community.

A decision to volunteer would make a worthy New Years Resolution.

Homelessness Requires A Societal Vision

(This post was written when we were still living in Abbotsford, several years prior to our move to Hedley.)

Last week we were given one more reminder that we are not grappling seriously with a significant societal failing. Another homeless person has died on our streets.

I noted with interest that in The Abbotsford News (October 31,2009), the account of this most recent death was juxtaposed to a story about the three Plan A projects. Reading the two articles, I concluded that as a society we have learned a good deal about creating impressive structures, but relatively little about developing communities that enable all citizens to live productive lives.

This is not to in any way disparage the efforts of committed individuals, churches and other organizations providing shelter and various kinds of assistance to street people. I do feel, however, that we are doing little more than talking about the problem.

The well intentioned comments by some community leaders when Compassion Park was in the news several years ago, is an example of this. Our track record since then has been dismal. The same is true in Vancouver and throughout Canada.

As a society we have had a vision for building expensive structures for our pleasure. Where is our vision for dealing with a cancer that is endangering the safety of our citizens and the well-being of our entire nation?