I’ve known for some time that Fred Bell races cars in Penticton. A few days ago I noticed a beat up vehicle on a trailer in front of his home. When I met him and Linda on the street yesterday I asked, “what are you going to do with that wreck on the trailer in front of your house?”
Almost in unison they replied, “that’s not a wreck. It’s a race car!”
I apologized for insulting what they obviously considered a very special car. “Come over and have a look,” Fred offered.
About 15 minutes later I showed up with my camera for a close up inspection of the car, which I learned is a 1972 Monte Carlo. I still thought it appeared extraordinarily trashed and wondered how it could possibly race.
“He won a trophy in Penticton with it last weekend,” Linda assured me. “He posted the fastest time in the Heat Race.”
Fred told me with understandable pride he broke a 14 year record in the quarter mile event. “My time was was 16.33,” (seconds) he said. “I’m in 5th place overall for the season.” It’s not surprising he wins. He started racing at age 15. At that time, his father owned the Big Horn Speedway in Keremeos.
I was amazed to learn the car has only 2 forward gears. “It’ll go 80 mph in first,” Fred said.
The car is so banged up because of the “hit to pass” rule. “I’ll have to do some repairs before I race this weekend,” Fred said. “It costs me $7,000 a season to run it. There is no prize money so I’m looking for sponsors to help with the cost.” To raise funds he offers rides at the raceway to all comers. Cost per ride is $20.00. Be sure to turn off your hearing aids though. The roar of that powerful motor will shatter your ear drums.
Fred told me he races because “it’s fun.” It’s definitely not the prettiest car in town but it may be the fastest.
It’s known in Hedley as “the Miner’s Cabin,” and we speak of it with considerable respect, almost reverence. Who the miner was, nobody appears to know. He vanished many years ago without leaving a trace, other than the cabin. Not even Hedley historian Jennifer Douglass, my usually well informed and reliable source, could enlighten me.
The lack of knowledge about the phantom human being who built this cabin niggled at me. I wondered what sort of man he might have been, and what had drawn him to this remote, mountainous area? I decided to record my best guess as to his character, history, ambitions, values, and eventual demise. He deserved a solid name, so I called him Bert. No one locally ever learned his last name.
I’d heard of men being sent by their family from England to Canada because their unruliness embarrassed them. Bert may have been such a man.
Considered a “Black Sheep” by his wealthy English family, Bert might have been shipped to Canada in the hope a new beginning in a young nation would enable him to grow in maturity. The family supplied him with a living allowance initially and he was therefore known as a “remittance man.” I’d heard my father speak of such a man in an Ontario lumbering camp.
Stung by rejection and abuse and apprehensive of intimate relationships, Bert made his way to British Columbia. Wanting to redeem himself in the eyes of his family, he became a lone wolf prospector, tramping in unexplored areas in hope of coming upon a yet undiscovered rich vein. It would be understandable if a strong willed man with gold fever decided to take his chances and work independently. In Hedley, six hotels, a red light district and a number of flourishing businesses had sprung up to service the miners working deep underground on Nickel Plate Mountain. Certainly a man could believe that by working alone he might stumble across an undiscovered vein that would make him incredibly wealthy.
Exploring the difficult mountainous terrain he lost the fat and flabby muscles of his previous decadent lifestyle. He became determined, rugged and resourceful. With the help and advice of a friendly trapper, he constructed the cabin near the base of Nickel Plate Mountain.
If Bert was indeed an independent prospector, his quest for the mother lode was almost certainly in vain. Had he struck it rich, even his secretive, private nature could hardly have prevented the strike becoming known. Maybe it didn’t matter to him at the end of his days though. An old bearded man, lying on his hard bunk at night, he could find ample satisfaction in knowing he had not frittered away his life with self-indulgence and dissolution.
While Linda and I were in the Museum last week scouring the albums for early pictures of the cabin, Gerry Wilkins came in. He’s pretty computer savvy and has devoted hundreds of hours to researching Hedley’s past. I said, “Gerry, do you know anything about the Miner’s cabin?”
He replied, “It was moved to the Museum from the corner lot where the motel is. I was involved in moving it. Before that it was on Vince and Audrey Flynn’s property, next to the motel.”
He then led me into the bowels of the Museum where there is a computer in a cramped office I didn’t know existed. Examining Fire Insurance Map records, Gerry concluded there was a record of the Miner’s Cabin in 1908 and also 1937. He discovered one photo of a cabin that has similar windows and also logs of similar dimensions.
Since those early days, the cabin has endured the ravages of cold winters and hot summers. Two years ago the Museum Society had the roof replaced. This summer the walls were repaired. Wide cracks had developed between the logs. These were covered with 2 inch wood strips and sealed with caulking, inside and out. Windows were also either repaired or replaced, and the door was rebuilt. The work was done by Red Seal carpenter Terry Sawiuk, with the assistance of Bill Day and Josh Carter. These three local men put in many hours of volunteer time. The cabin will long remind present and future citizens of Hedley’s once vibrant, swashbuckling past. I’m sure Bert would be pleased at the now spiffy appearance of his erstwhile home.
A number of the homes in Hedley were constructed at the time Henry Ford was building his iconic Model T and Model A cars. Early records indicate that for the volunteer fire fighters, protecting these dry wooden structures with scanty equipment presented a mammoth challenge.
According to the now defunct Hedley Gazette, when a fire broke out in the Red Light district of Hedley in 1912, the hose wasn’t long enough to reach the blaze. The only means of combating the fire was to take shovels and throw snow against adjacent buildings. Five structures burned down that day. Museum records are a bit hazy on details but the town apparently purchased a longer hose and used a home made “pull cart” to transport it. Even so, that same year the New Zealand hotel burned to the ground.
In 1956 three hotels burned down. These were the Hedley, the Commercial and the Great Northern. According to the Spotlight, the entire business district burned that year, except for one service station.
When Linda and I first visited Hedley in 1976, we watched incredulously as 4 men raced along Scott Avenue, determinedly hauling a pull cart and attached hose to a chimney fire. A former Fire Chief, Ralph McKay, told me recently one man always ran behind the cart to pick up pieces that fell off. In 1984 Hedley purchased a used 1973 Ford truck after the Red and White store burned.
Approximately 10 years ago small cash strapped communities were amazed to learn that insurance underwriters required fire trucks to be less than 20 years old. They threatened to jack up premiums if we dug in our heels. Hedley citizens did just that. Surely an acceptable used truck could be had for far less money, some said. In spite of diligent searching though, no acceptable used truck was ever found. Premiums rose astronomically jolting us like a high voltage lightening strike. In a third referendum we caved in and agreed to borrow funds for a new truck.
Having come to the attention of the Insurance Underwriters Survey, a thorough overhaul of the system and equipment was added to the list of new requirements. According to Vicky Hansen, former office manager for the Hedley Improvement District, “much of the equipment was obsolete, training needed to be upgraded, a duty officer must be designated for each day and members needed to report when they went out of town.” She then added, “I had just been hired. My first day on the job I wrote a cheque for $350,000 to buy the new truck.”
The truck was delivered in 2010. When Terry McFarlane, the new Fire Chief learned that Graham Gore had an air brake ticket, he asked him to join the department. Qualified drivers were in short supply. Graham, age 70 and volunteer pastor of the local church agreed. Then, because no one was doing it, he began reorganizing the department. Being retired and having been in business, he was just right for the job. He was soon named FD manager, a volunteer position.
Now, after 6 years of diligent service, at age 77, Graham has recently stepped down. In a telephone conversation this week he said that in pressing for a higher professional standard, he had built on the work of former Assistant Chief Larry McIntosh. He also praised current Chief Terry McFarlane as a good decision maker.
Veteran fire fighter Andy English said “Graham upgraded the training, bought dress uniforms for public occasions, brought in a device so we can fill our air bottles locally, and much more. He has instilled a high level of professionalism. We have a sense of pride.” Assistant Chief Doug Nimchuk said “Graham had no experience with fire fighting but he studied the manuals and learned to do training. We respect his integrity. He doesn’t do a half job.”
Graham Gore’s zeal for the department, his unstinting push for a professional standard, and his positive, uplifting attitude will not be easy to replace. Acknowledging his contribution, one fire fighter said, “to keep up the standard, we’ll all have to step up to the plate.” If early fire fighters could obtain a day pass from the other side of the Great Divide to view modern equipment and training programs that now exist even in Hedley, they’d almost certainly clamor to sign up.
As happens so often, we were sitting at the table in our sun room in Hedley. Derek Lilly was drinking his coffee black and reflecting on his Metis heritage. “The history books don’t tell the whole story about who played significant roles in Canada’s early development,” he said.
Derek was 10 when he came to Hedley with his mom and stepfather. “I looked up at the mountains and felt at home immediately. About a year later the folks decided to move on. I didn’t like their lifestyle so I stayed with my grandparents. They had moved here earlier and were pretty straight people.” His decision to stay was an early demonstration of an ability to make sound choices.
“Although my mom appeared aboriginal, I wasn’t really aware of my Metis heritage at that time. It wasn’t talked about in the family. On my birth certificate I was actually registered as French. They just tried to fit in,” he said.
In grade 10 he dropped out of school and joined the armed forces. After a 4 year stint he returned to Hedley and worked for the One Way Adventure Foundation as a youth counsellor. Here his friendship with a young couple resulted in a spiritual conversion. “This produced a change in how I looked at life,” he said. “I married Noree and not long after we moved to Winnipeg. There I earned a BA in General Studies at Providence University College and Seminary.” Courses such as logic, ethics and philosophy suggest he already had the capacity to mentally wrestle with difficult issues.
In 2004 Derek was hired by the Upper Similkameen Indian Band to run their tourism program. “They were just completing the stairs high up the mountain at the Mascot Mine. I was involved in developing tours. It was during this time that Phillippe, band business manager, encouraged me to check out my Metis heritage. I followed his advice and it changed my life.”
He learned that one of his early grandfathers, John McIver, had come from Scotland. The other, James Lilly, had emigrated from England. Both were probably less than 20 years old. “They worked for the Hudsons Bay Company as fur traders,” he said. “James Lilly’s Day Book is still in the HBC archives in Winnipeg.” Like many European men, they took aboriginal wives and had families. McIver’s first wife was Inuit. When she died, he married a Metis woman.” Unlike some, both McIver and Lilly stayed with their wives and children.
“In 1811 the HBC granted a large tract of land to Lord Selkirk. He created the Red River Colony, now Winnipeg, near the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers,” Derek said. “He wanted to provide land for retired fur traders. he lots were long, each with frontage on the Red River. My forebears were among the Metis who received lots.”
The Metis were prosperous farmers for a time, but their lives were not trouble free. Difficulties included an infestation of locusts, drought, the government’s desire to push them out, and the Riel Rebellion. Eventually they sold their lots and dispersed to various locations.
In time, some of the Lilly family made the migration to Hedley. For Derek this was fortuitous because it led him into his Metis past. He needed to rigorously study Aboriginal history and culture to run the Mascot Tours, and then represent the Aboriginal Tourism Association of B.C. in their Pavillion at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He also organized tours of Stanley Park for the association’s Klahowya Village.
I asked Derek how his life has been impacted by his Metis heritage. “I never knew my dad,” he said. “What I’ve learned about our history has helped me understand where I came from, who I am, and where I’m going. I also have a better understanding of my mom’s life. Learning about the role of my ancestors in building Canada has given me a greater sense of belonging in this country, a sense of pride.”
Derek has contributed to the Hedley community. He was Fire Chief for 18 years and still serves as duty officer one day a week. Currently he is on the Hedley Grace Church Leadership Team. When he retires from his job as an industrial electrician at the pellet plant, he hopes to be more involved in Aboriginal work. The young man who quit school in grade 10 has done a lot to make Metis and Aboriginal people proud.
Although Bill Day lives in Hedley only part-time, some 23 people, primarily citizens of Hedley, gathered last Saturday to honour him on his 83rd birthday. A former college president and citizenship judge, Bill has won the respect of many in the community by participating and contributing wherever he can. Last year he did the sleuthing necessary to locate two WW1 machine guns. He persuaded the owner to loan them to the town for a special commemorative ceremony to pay tribute to the young men who had volunteered for war service.
He is a member of the Hedley Historical Museum Society and when the kitchen needed updating, he gave time to this project. His plumbing experience was a great asset. Bill also worked many hours with Terry Sawiuk restoring Miner’s Cabin at the Museum. When something needs doing, Bill frequently says, “just tell me what you want done and I’ll do it.” Maybe his robust health comes from having an optimistic outlook on life.
The party was arranged by Bill’s partner, Lynn Wells. Apparently Bill and Lynn enjoy the company of people making a positive and substantive difference in this community. Virtually every guest present is active in at least one community organization, and, according to Lynn, Bill has worked on one or more projects with each of them this past year.
The atmosphere was upbeat and the cake was delicious.
Linda and I were walking to church on Sunday and saw these bikes and riders lined up in front of the Hitching Post Restaurant. Even a novice like myself could see that they’re not Hell’s Angels. Although I didn’t look for it, there likely wasn’t a Harley among them. The two who answered my questions told me they belong to The Valley Riders.
They have about 140 members, most of whom live in the interior of B.C. Places like Kamloops, Vernon, Sicamous, etc. They had reservations here for breakfast and were expecting about 30 members, mostly retirees, to show up. They do breakfast together in a different location once each month. The Hitching Post is popular with them. They come once a year. To accommodate them, the restaurant opened early. Last year 62 riders attended. The place doesn’t normally have tables and chairs for that number. It will have been a challenge for everyone, especially the chefs. The riders are a friendly bunch and I’m sure the staff enjoyed their good humour. Probably a good morning for tips as well. These boys are easy to like. The Valley Riders are welcome back in Hedley any time.
Fearing rain would wash out the May 28 Stamp Mill Day celebration in Hedley, organizers debated various strategies, including a Sun Dance. Virtually no rain fell so possibly the latter tactic did keep it at bay.
Sponsored by the Hedley Heritage Museum Society, Stamp Mill Day is a celebration of the swashbuckling mining era when the unrelenting thump of the stamping could be heard day and night, with no respite on weekends. Former Hedley resident Helen Moore, now living in Penticton, described it as a constant roar in the background.According to local historian Jennifer Douglass, the mill used 40 heavy iron stamps to crush the ore. She has heard that after the mill ceased operations, people in town experienced difficulty getting sufficient sleep. They had gotten used to the unceasing thumping of the stamps. It seems there is no longer anyone still living in Hedley who can verify this.
Some 70 guests arrivedfrom diverse locations, including Alberta, Kelowna, Summerland, Keremeos and Princeton. In the morning Terry Regier schooled the children in gold panning and Jan Leake painted their faces.Lunch was served in the back yard of the Museum under a canopy of green branches provided by large trees. There were numerous compliments for theHedley cooks whoagain prepared a meal that delighted the palate. This year it was beef on a bun, potato and vegetable salads, plus a selection of fruit. Five cent ice cream cones attracted a steady line up of excited children and appreciativeadults.
Entertainment was provided by George Huber and Colleen Coxof Lund, B.C. Billing themselves as The Seniors, they are a high octane duo, apopular item on the provincial Blue Grass circuit. Local residents, Eric Lance and Bill Day backed them up with guitar, mandolin and voice.
Like most rural community events, Stamp Mill Day was a success because a small band of committed volunteers planned and prepared for several weeks. Museum President, Jean Robinson said, “I’m happy with the way it turned out. People enjoyed the meal and the music. It was a success because of the people who pitched in to help. Also those who donated food.”
The mine and the Stamp Mill are no longer producing gold, but glittering memories linger.
The following is a brief description and history of the Hedley downtown core. In further posts I will write about some of the other public structures in town.
Hedley Post Office: owned by Ken and Heather Knight. The building was in dire need of upgrading when the Knights purchased it. Part of the lower floor has long been occupied by Canada Post. Although there is little information as to when the P.O. moved into this building, it is known that it was given a facelift in 1938. Also, longtime postmaster T.C. Knowles was appointed to the position in 1937 and served his entire term in this building. Initially the Post Office was located in Schuberts Mercantile, near the creek. In 1913 it moved to Love’s Drug Store.
According to current Post Master Ruth Woodin, when she came to Hedley the room next to the PO served one day a week as an outlet for the Valley First Credit Union.
Strayhorse Station With Hedley Inn & Hostel: In earlier times this was a one story structure and served as the Hedley Fire Station and also as the office for the Hedley Improvement District. It is now owned by Ken and Heather Knight. The Knights enlarged the structure and added a second story. New siding and windows have greatly added to the appearance of the Hedley downtown area. At this time it is primarily operated as an inn and hostel.
Hitching Post Restaurant: According to Hedley researcher Jennifer Douglass, in 1913 two entrepreneurs, James Schubert and Frank French opened and operated the Hedley Trading Post in this building. It is now a thriving restaurant owned and operated by Brenda Gould and Wilson Wiley. When they arrived in Hedley some years ago they initially lived in the smallest house in town. They have developed a solid reputation for excellent cuisine and a warm, historic ambience. Many of the restaurant’s patrons come from neighbouring communities, specifically to dine. Often people from more distant locations stop for a meal because they have heard of it from friends.
Hedley Country Market: According to Jennifer Douglass, in 1904 this was Fraser’s Fraternity Hall. Several organizations used it, including the Masons, the Loyal Orange Lodge, Wood Bin of America (a Tradesmens’ organization) and the Anglican Church. It is now owned by Doug and T.J. Bratt. Prior to buying the store,(once owned by The One Way Adventure Foundation), TJ owned a small confectionary and liqour outlet across the street. She and Doug Bratt have built the store into a successful enterprise. They have the only liquor outlet in town. Both Doug and TJ are deeply involved with the Hedley Community Club.
Listening to Margaret Skaar in our home last week, I understood very quickly that she’s a high octane lady who, in the game of life, is not a mere bystander. “I was born in the Lethbridge Hospital the day it opened,” she said. “A year later our family moved to the outskirts of Calgary. When I was about 4 or 5, sometimes my Mom really ticked me off and I’d jump on a street car and ride to my Dad’s downtown office.”
Later, after graduating, she wanted to go to tech school but an aptitude test suggested she pursue a career in the financial sector. Margaret landed a position with CIBC. At age 19, she fell in love and got married to Peter.
The bank put Margaret on a fast track to management. She enrolled in university night classes such as business law, economics, and personnel development. After completing the required twelve courses she was awarded the Fellowship Institute of Canadian Bankers certification.
While still enrolled in these courses, in 1980 the marriage to Peter unravelled. “It was an amicable separation,” she said. “Our 3 children stayed with me.” In addition to family responsibilities, she worked and continued with the courses. It was a test of her determination and resilience.
“When they made me a bank manager,” she said, “I learned to golf so I could hang out with the business crowd. I attended their fancy social functions. The experience helped me realize I was more comfortable with ordinary people, not with the ones who owned the corporations. People think I’m not shy, but with people I don’t know, I am.”
When the man she was dating was transferred to B.C., Margaret moved too. “The bank didn’t have a manager position for me here, so they put me in Consumer Loans. I was delighted. I especially enjoyed dealing with people buying their first home.”
There was a downside for her in this role. “Some people coming for a loan consolidation were making serious mistakes and would come in again for more funds. I could see what they were doing wrong, but I couldn’t help. If they came in for a third consolidation, I had to refuse them. I always referred them upstairs to get advice about money management.”
Desiring companionship again, in 1986 she placed an ad looking for a man who enjoyed camping, fishing and country music. In the same paper, Oly Skaar placed a virtually identical ad. They were married later that year and bought a home in Hedley in 1990. “I learned about Hedley when I did a mortgage for a man buying a home here,” she explained.
After opting for early retirement in 1992, they did a lot of camping and fishing, often at Spence’s Bridge. “We loved taking our grandchildren fishing,” she said.
It wasn’t all joy though. “Everyone in town knows Oly had a serious alcohol issue,” she said. Once again she needed to be strong and resilient. She didn’t walk away from the marriage, and she didn’t wallow in misery.
“I joined Al Anon,” she said. “That gave me a better understanding of what Oly was experiencing, and it helped me cope. When I stopped complaining about the drinking, he didn’t drink as much. We came to have a fun relationship. Sometimes we sat for a couple of hours on the front porch drinking coffee and talking. Staying in the relationship paid off.”
They gave time and energy to the community. “Oly became President of the OAP, now the Hedley Seniors’ Centre, and I was treasurer. In our first year here, Oly served as greeter at the Museum every Saturday and I worked in the kitchen.” When Oly passed away a few years ago, Margaret made the decision to carry on.
Currently she is a member of the OAP in Princeton and the Seniors’ Centre in Hedley, belongs to 3 Red Hat Ladies groups, and is treasurer at the Museum. At the Seniors’ Centre she has for 10 years prepared the eggs for the monthly pancake breakfast. Until recently she participated in line dancing 3 days each week. “I used to dance with them at Ridgewood and New Beginnings. I enjoyed that. Now I go only once a week.”
The young child who took the street car to her Dad’s downtown Calgary office, now 73, is employing that early feistiness and strong will to serve her community.
Until a few weeks ago, 20 Mile Creek flowed at an unimpressive low ebb. Then the sun turned up the thermostat and began melting the snow high on the mountains. From our vantage point in Hedley we see virtually no snow anymore but it must be tucked away somewhere, out of reach of the sun’s warmth until now. We know the snow is there because the creek is flowing furiously. We gage the amount of flow by observing its level at a particular rock. When the water mounts the rock and roars over it, we consider the water to be at an intense flow. Not there yet.
A few blooming Saskatoon bushes along the way give promise of tasty berries later in the season. It’s always a competition between humans and the local black bear. The bear invariably insists on getting more than his rightful share. We knows he’s been munching when the branches are in considerable disarray, and have been stripped of berries and leaves. The bear is not a tidy eater. Some people don’t appreciate the seeds, but he seems not to be troubled by them.
Flowers are beginning to bloom, even on the bank along the trail, where there appears to be no good soil to encourage growth. This flower is an Arrowleaf Balsam Root.
Yesterday Linda spotted a bird hiding in a clump of grass, obviously hoping its colouring blended well with the surroundings. Although I didn’t think it would show well on a photo, she took the camera and managed to get fairly close. We weren’t sure what type of bird it was so she later asked Frank Schroeder, our local bird expert. He compared it with pictures on his phone and identified it as a spruce grouse. It is his opinion that because it doesn’t show bright colours, it is likely a female.
The area is still fairly pristine, thanks to people like Lydia Sawicki, Frank Schroeder and Bill Day who have been active in removing garbage left by those who show little respect for the wilderness. Lydia has played a key role in persuading people not to dump or leave anything behind.
I am frequently impressed by the beauty, orderliness, and intricate interrelationships within nature. For me the phenomenal complexity is convincing evidence of a Designer’s mind, still active behind the scenes, keeping it functioning in a manner that delights and surprises. We’re blessed to have 20 Mile Creek, a wilderness gem at our doorstep.
A small town perspective on people, community, politics and environment.