Category Archives: Inspiration

Poundmaker, A Role Model For Today’s Politicians

This painting of Chief Poundmaker was created by Richard Lindemere, grandfather of Hedley's Bill Day
This painting of Chief Poundmaker was created by Richard Lindemere, grandfather of Hedley’s Bill Day

In this 150th year of Canadian nationhood, our politicians could benefit from an examination of the life of Poundmaker, the Saskatchewan Cree chief. He lived during a time when his people were in great distress and turmoil. White settlers were invading the prairies and pushing his people off their land. The immense buffalo herds on which they depended for their livelihood were being hunted relentlessly. Government treaties were forcing them onto reserves and restricting their movements.

Born in 1842, Poundmaker was the son of a Stoney father and a mixed blood mother. His uncle was an influential chief of the Eagle Hills Cree. Later he was adopted by Crowfoot, chief of the Blackfeet, and lived there for a time before returning to his people.

He was endowed with leadership ability and probably learned a lot from Crowfoot. Robert Jefferson, farm instructor on the Poundmaker Reserve said later, “his bearing was eminently dignified and his speech so well adapted to the occasion as to impress every hearer with his earnestness and his views.”

In 1876 the Indians of Central Saskatchewan negotiated a treaty with the government of Canada. As a member of the negotiating team, Poundmaker sought to obtain the most beneficial deal for his people. His discerning mind questioned the intent of the government and he expressed his concern. He wanted the government to provide his people with instruction in farming and assistance after the buffalo were gone, in exchange for their land. The government did not promise this and he said, “I cannot understand how I shall be able to clothe my children and feed them as long as the sun shines and the water runs.”

He was made a chief and in 1879 he accepted a reserve. He moved there with 182 followers.

For a time the government did provide food, but in 1883 the rations were reduced. It was rumoured that the rations would soon be eliminated entirely and the people left to starve.

The winter of 1883-84 was extremely severe and Indian agents complained that many people would not live until spring if the government didn’t provide more provisions. The government ignored these pleas and Poundmaker’s young men became restless. Young Crees and Stoneys, as well as Metis, began assembling on the Poundmaker reserve. They set up a warriors lodge in the centre of the camp and thereby, in accordance with tradition, took over decision making. Approximately 1000 people gathered and participated in a Thirst Dance.

The government sent a column of 325 men to arrest a band member. Poundmaker declined to give the man up, and offered himself instead. This was refused and government forces attacked Poundmaker’s camp at Cut Knife Hill. After a 7 hour battle they retreated in disarray. The warriors wanted to pursue them and could have dealt them a serious blow. Poundmaker was still greatly respected by the young men and when he counseled against further bloodshed, they listened.

At the same time, the Metis were in armed opposition to the government. When a group of them captured a government supply train Poundmaker intervened, ensuring they were protected and well treated.

After Louis Riel was defeated at Batoche in 1885, many of Poundmaker’s men wanted to continue the fight but he understood the futility of this. At a gathering of the band, he said, “ I know we are all brave. If we keep on fighting the whites, we can embarrass them, but we will be overcome by their numbers, and nothing tells us that our children will survive. I would sooner give myself up and run the risk of being hanged, than see my tribe and children shot through my fault.”

He and some followers gave themselves up and were immediately arrested. Poundmaker was put on trial for treason. The men he had saved from the Metis testified he had treated them generously and with compassion. Even so, he was sentenced to 3 years in Stony Mountain prison. Due to fear of a full blown revolt if he died in prison, he was released early. In ill health, he departed broken and dispirited, feeling betrayed by the government. While visiting Chief Crowfoot, he died while participating in a dance.

Poundmaker was a man of great honour and dignity. He was guided by a selfless desire to secure a good life for his people. Our nation would benefit if more politicians observed his honourable example.

Inspired By Hardy Cyclists

Cyclists At Manning Park
Cyclists At Manning Park

On the drive home from the Coast yesterday, we passed a lone cyclist struggling up a long incline. I thought of stopping and asking about his motivation, but I realized he wouldn’t want to lose his momentum. I really do admire and respect these seemingly intrepid souls who test their physical endurance and inner will by challenging British Columbia’s mountains. Sometimes I think I’d like to join them but I realize I’d need to train for at least a year and even then would walk up some of those climbs.

It’s that time of year. We’ll be seeing hardy cyclists again, in increasing numbers, making the arduous climbs. Then applying brakes on the long descents.

When we arrived at the the Manning Park Lodge, 3 young, very fit cyclists were taking a break. I asked one how far they had come and where they were going. “We came from Hope this morning,” he said. “It took about 3 hours. We’ll be getting back on the bikes shortly and returning.”

I was amazed. He wasn’t breathing hard and didn’t appear weary. He exuded enthusiasm and a physical zip I haven’t experienced for decades. I noted that there did not appear to be an ounce of fat on these young men. Obviously they are in the prime of life and enjoying their health and youth.

I could have been envious of these cyclists but I decided instead to be happy for them.

He Is Risen!

The Empty Tomb (pinterest photo)
The Empty Tomb
(pinterest photo)

In his 30th year, Jesus of Nazareth began propounding religious and social ideas that confounded and antagonized the Jewish religious elites of his time. He arrived on the scene during the reign of Caesar Augustus, and lived into the rule of Tiberius. Without an army or political party, his message brought more significant, lasting change than all the powerful Roman emperors combined. In the 33rd year of his life, the Jewish religious authorities succeeded in persuading Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to crucify him. According to accounts by Biblical writers like the former tax collector Matthew, he was resurrected on the third day and spoke with his disciples. It is this death on a cross and miraculous resurrection that will be celebrated by Christians around the globe this Easter.

The Roman empire had been cobbled together by 2 ambitious but uneasy partners, Caesar Augustus and Mark Anthony. Throughout its existence, the empire was held together by a web of intrigue, assassinations, political marriages, betrayals, poisonings, and war. Women were valued primarily for forging alliances. In Rome there were numerous temples to various gods, and men of nobility, including emperors, wished to be identified as near gods. Conquered nations usually suffered under a huge burden of taxation. Disobedience was often dealt with by crucifixion, beheading, poisoning or drowning.

In this septic atmosphere of mistrust and scheming, the Jewish religious leaders had managed to acquire a measure of political power. Their authority was lodged in the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. The council consisted primarily of 2 parties, the Sadducees, which at this time held the majority of seats, and the Pharisees. The Pharisees believed there would be a resurrection of the dead but the Sadducees did not. On other points of lesser importance they did agree and had developed an all encompassing system of religious rules which the people found virtually impossible to follow. The religious rulers could bar people from the temple if they didn’t comply. Since Jewish culture centered on religious traditions and especially on the temple, there was fear of being shut out.

It was not an auspicious time for the appearance of a man who claimed to be the Son of God. The Sadducees and Pharisees quickly became suspicious because he contradicted much of their teaching. They held to the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” philosophy. “Love your neighbour,” they said, “and hate your enemy.” Jesus urged the people to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.” The chief priests and teachers of the law deemed his teaching to be heretical and sent spies to question him and report to them.

Jesus warned against the corruptness and false piety of the religious leaders. “They like to walk around in flowing robes,” he said, “and be greeted in the market places and have the most important seats in the synagogues. For a show they make lengthy prayers.”

Equally galling were the miracles. When he healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, they accused him of breaking the law and began plotting to kill him.

Evidently the people were desperate for greater substance than the rules and platitudes offered by the pious, corrupt religious leaders. Crowds gathered around him, sensing his authenticity

and liking his positive message of forgiveness and hope. This fervent adulation aroused fear and jealousy in the Sadducees and Pharisees. When he brought Lazarus back from the dead, a member of the Sanhedrin said, “if we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away our place and our nation.”

Late one night, Judas Iscariot, one of the 12 disciples betrayed Jesus with a kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane. At dawn the religious leaders brought him before Pontius Pilate, demanding he be crucified. Jesus had warned his disciples this would happen.

Reluctantly, Pilate sentenced him and he was crucified between 2 criminals. One joined the scoffing. The other said, “Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “today you will be with me in paradise.”

Several writers in the Biblical New Testament report that Jesus died on the cross, was placed in a tomb, and was resurrected 3 days later. This Easter, Christians around the globe will again greet each other with “He is risen!”

Alexa In Basketball

Alexa (far left) with 3 basketball teammates
Alexa (far left) with 3 basketball teammates

Our granddaughter Alexa is an apt example of what can happen when we find the courage and will to step out of our comfort zone and attempt something seemingly out of our reach. Two years ago, in grade 8, she tried out for the junior girls basketball team at her school. Possibly she was inspired by her brother Brandon who was a star centre on the boys team. She frequently scrimmaged with him in their back yard.

At first Alexa’s timidity and anxiety on the court were palpable. She didn’t want to be a starter in games. When she was given the ball and had an opportunity to shoot, she looked for a team mate to whom she could pass.

Evidently the 2 coaches, a husband and wife team not employed by the school, recognized potential in her, were patient, and gave her plenty of personal attention. Alexa certainly did her part. Her commitment surprised all of us. She got up early for open gym before school. She participated fully in P.E. activities and stayed after school many days for team practice. In addition to this, she still scrimmaged with Brandon. Also, last year the coaches arranged for a contingent of players to play in Mt. Vernon, Washington State one night a week. That was a huge commitment, both for her and her mother,Vivian, our daughter.

This demanding schedule of practises and games, plus conditioning like running stairs, developed her body and mind. We became aware of an innate determination. Physically she developed endurance and agility.

A couple of weeks ago Linda and I drove to the Coast to watch Alexa’s team, the Bobcats, play in the Provincial tournament. The girls had grown in skill and belief. They had also come together as a team. Their conditioning became apparent when they were expected to play 2 full length games on the same day. Watching them streaking like sleek greyhounds from one end of the court to the other and then back, I envied their energy and endurance. The demanding physical preparation had stripped their bodies of all fat. They were young, fit, skilled, and committed.

We observed a new version of Alexa. The coaches had appointed her earlier in the season

to be team captain. The reason for this quickly became apparent. She had developed an astonishing work ethic. She harassed the opposing team verbally and could easily be heard from the bleachers. Her shooting and guarding had improved greatly. Her feisty attitude was inspiring, even to people in the stands.

The once timid girl has now been asked to play on the senior team next season. She and her mother are again driving to Mt. Vernon once a week and Alexa is practising with the team. Her new coaches are even more serious and demanding. They expect their team to win top honours in the Provincial Tournament next year. Basketball is taken seriously at this school. Alexa certainly has the commitment and drive to again contribute to a winning season.

Basketball, A Preparation For Life

Mascot for "The Demolishers"
Mascot for “The Demolishers”

There are times in life, as in a game of basketball, when the outcome is determined not only by the skills we have acquired, but also by the character and habits we have developed. I was reminded of this last week in a game between Langley’s Brookswood Bobcats and a team I will refer to only as the “Demolishers”. This game was of interest to me because my 6 ft. 5 grandson Brandon was playing centre for Brookswood.

Brandon began playing basketball in grade 8, at that time a tall, gangly kid with lots of energy but little finesse. Observing him in their backyard dribbling, feinting and shooting, his dedication and work ethic impressed me. At times I scrimmaged with him but my grandfatherly body couldn’t match his height, long arms, agile movements and increasing skill. Before long I retired from the backyard court and cheered him on from the comfort of the second story patio.

Now in grade 12, Brandon is finishing his last season of high school basket ball. Unfortunately, none of the Bobcat teams he’s played on over 5 years have been hugely successful. Several of the players he grew up with on the team were scarcely over 5 feet. Opposing players towered over them. In spite of the great height disadvantage however, the boys battled on, bringing enormous energy and commitment to each game. They developed the inner strength to play with amazing determination even when losing, which was frequently the case.

Mentally basketball hasn’t been as high a priority for Brandon this year. He has a pretty girlfriend and a part-time job. Although his passion for the game has diminished, his loyalty to the team has not. Their tallest player, he has many times thwarted the shots of opponents. He can also score. Aware of the team’s dependence on him, he has continued to play with the same vigour.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the Bobcats squeaked into the Fraser Valley Tournament. Knowing he was nearing the end of his high school basketball career, Linda and I made the trip to Langley to watch him play. Because the Bobcats were ranked low, we realized they’d immediately be matched against a strong, higher ranked team. We were dismayed to learn this would be the Demolishers, a team with a reputation for rough play.

All games in the tournament were scheduled to take place in the Demolishers home gym. Upon entering the gym, it was evident to us Demolisher fans intended to make noise a significant factor. Watching the Demolishers go through their warm up routine, I became conscious of how much bigger these boys were than the Bobcats. Their swagger suggested a high level of hutzpah. They had manhandled Brandon and his team 2 times in the regular season. Brandon had come home with an abundance of bruises from those games. The Demolishers were confident.

At their end of the gym, the Bobcats were going through warm up drills with quiet determination. In the previous match ups, the referees had allowed the Demolishers to push the Bobcats around almost at will, calling few penalties on them. If that happened again it would be a basketball version of dirty hand to hand combat. Life isn’t always fair, and basketball referees aren’t either.

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Expecting Demolisher fans would again attempt to distract his team with noise, one of the coaches had brought 2 garbage cans for fans to bang on. The mother of one of the Bobcats came with a shopping bag filled with noise makers. The coach had also announced in school he would bring $200 to pay the entry fee for students.

 

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When the play began, it quickly became evident the Bobcats would refuse to be intimidated by their bigger opponents. They surprised the Demolishers with their feisty defense and the scrappy manner in which the point guard drove in to the basket and scored. When the Demolishers tested reffing, a couple of penalties made it clear the refs would not tolerate their rough brand of play. This deprived them of their bullying advantage and permitted the Bobcats to play more creatively, less concerned they might be injured.

The Bobcats pressed relentlessly, determined to beat this team which had bruised their bodies and egos. In the end, their work ethic and inner strength enabled them to overcome a team that relied on intimidation. In basketball, as in life, character can still determine the outcome.

Basketball banner for Brandon's team at Provincials

George And Christina, Still Valentines

George & Christina, with a couple of Christina's creations.
George & Christina, with a couple of Christina’s creations.

For me a relationship that has been tested by the storms of life holds a more riveting fascination than young, often transitory romance. Aware of the cloud overshadowing the marriage of George and Christina Thiessen, and with Valentines Day approaching, I wanted to hear their story. Last week they invited Linda and me to their spacious heritage home in Hedley.

For reasons that will be revealed, George did most of the talking. “We met in Reno,” he began. “Christina was a passenger on the bus I was driving for Maverick Tours. The Tour Guide asked me what I like to do in Reno. I told her I’d probably go dancing. I just needed a partner. She introduced me to Christina, and that evening Christina was my dancing partner.”

She told me later she had not expected to hear from me again, after we returned to B.C.”

George had been married twice. His first wife had borne 3 children, then died at a young age. The second wife had become a demanding, unruly alcoholic and the marriage had been a crushing failure.

Upon meeting Christina, George realized she possessed the depth of character he had been longing for. Smitten by her pretty, smiling face and evident kindness, he called her.

In time they moved in together. “Christina wouldn’t marry me though,” George said. “She had also been hurt in previous relationships and didn’t want to commit again.”

George continued to drive the tour bus, at times away for 11 days, with only a 1 day break between trips. Christina was working at the Surrey Memorial Hospital, cleaning operating rooms. George’s driving schedule and their history of hurtful relationships might have made this a rocky union. Fortunately George’s stability appealed to Christina and reassured her.

When I lost my 17 year old son in a bike/automobile accident, it was a difficult time,” he said. “Christina stood by me. Then my daughter passed away and again Christina was at my side, supporting me.”

They saw an ad for a spacious home in Hedley and called the realtor. Entranced by the house and the large yard, they bought it. The house needed serious updating so George studied magazines, bought tools and set to work.

George & Christina, in front of their Hedley home, Oct. 2015
George & Christina, in front of their Hedley home, Oct. 2015

He began experiencing severe sciatic pain and Graham Gore, pastor of the Hedley Grace Church, drove him to Kelowna for surgery. After recovering, George and Christina attended the church on a Sunday morning to thank the congregation for their support. Liking the people and the atmosphere, they continued to attend. On May 30, 2009 Graham married them in a small ceremony on their park like grounds.

About 2 years later the aforementioned cloud appeared on the horizon, scarcely noticeable at first. “Tests were done and we were told Christina had a slow progressing form of dementia,” George said, a note of deep sadness in his voice.

The diagnosis changed their lives. “Christina was always very talented in crafting,” George said. “One year she made 30 teddy bears to give away as Christmas gifts. She inspired me to take up woodworking.”

He pushed back his chair. “Come,” he said, “we’ll show you some of our creations. He led us upstairs to 3 rooms where we were greatly impressed by an array of Christina’s stuffed animals lolling on chairs and George’s intricate wood creations displayed on the walls. A beguiling aura of genius pervaded these rooms.

George with one of his wood creations.
George with one of his wood creations.

The dementia has caused this creative activity to cease. Their lives have become constricted. They still attend the church but participate only briefly in the coffee time afterwards. “Christina becomes anxious in groups.”

George paused. “Sometimes when I’m doing yardwork she wanders off and I don’t notice Fortunately, if she stays on the route we walk, she can find her way back. Usually when people see her alone, I get phone calls. People want to help.”

Christina playing the keyboard.
Christina playing the keyboard.

Not all is lost. Christina played the key board for us and her rendition of the Blue Danube Waltz was delicate and pleasing. Also, we had observed that while George was talking about the dementia, she sensed his distress and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. When they go out, she requests his assistance in selecting appropriate combinations of clothes. Although her comprehension is limited, she is able to engage in simple exchanges.

I love Christina and I’m committed to her,” George said. “I won’t place her in a home. We’re in this together to the end.” They’re still Valentines.

Ayrelea In India

Ayrelea Nimchuk
Ayrelea Nimchuk

We would likely not be surprised if a 15 year old girl decided to spend at least a portion of her summer earnings on designer clothes, jewelry and cosmetics. Quite possibly Ayrelea Nimchuk of Hedley was also tempted by these allurements. I was amazed to learn that she chose instead to pay for a trip to India where she volunteered for about 3 weeks at a school for underprivileged boys.

Sitting in our sun room she said, “I heard Dan and Olga McCormick talking about going to a boys school in India. I asked when they were leaving and said I’d like to go with them.”After several discussions and some research, her parents agreed. Ayrelea saved her income from working at the Hedley Museum to pay almost $3000 for the trip. The Hedley Seniors’ Centre gave her $200 and the Hedley Grace Church contributed $500 for a chicken dinner for the approximately 500 boys at the school.

Prem Sewa is a free boarding school for boys from poor homes,” she said. “They can start at age 5 and go to grade 12. Parents are eager to have their sons attend. They know there is no future for them without an education. In their home these boys often received only one meal a day. At the school they get 3 meals. She smiled and said, “the plates are really big and the boys go back for second and third helpings. They eat it all.”

In addition to Dan and Olga, there were 3 other recruits from Keremeos. “ We played football (soccer) with them. It’s a big game there. Also, they love volley ball. Their ball is very hard but they really smack it. They are good players.”

Ayrelea in India (3)

Another smile. “They all wanted us to take pictures of them. They’d say ‘one photo’, but they meant many. They’d look at the picture and burst out laughing.”

According to the school’s website, it’s purpose is “to give children from poor homes, orphans and semi-orphans, a chance to study in schools and institutions, which otherwise would be closed to them.” There is a computer lab, a wood workshop, a mechanics shop and land to grow crops. If a boy demonstrates special promise, Frank Juelich the founder, will personally pay for him to attend college.

Ayrelea in India, rolling dough to make chapattis.
Ayrelea in India, rolling dough to make chapattis.

The school, which has a sister school for girls about 650 kilometers away, actually was not begun intentionally. As a young man Frank Juelich traveled in India and wanted to learn a local language. He found 3 young men with a desire to learn English and they began studying together and helping each other. One of these men knew a boy who needed an education and asked if they could help him. Soon there were 40 boys attending sessions.

Frank became aware of the pressing need for educational opportunities among the very poor. He returned to Canada, raised $42,000 and purchased 17.75 acres in a rural area.

Now the school has a small medical clinic with a nurse on duty. A doctor comes in once a week. They also have an ambulance. The boys bathe 2 times each day and learn about hygiene. Since the inception of the school, dormitories and other facilities have been constructed. A settlement has grown up around the facility, and approximately 150 children are day students at the school.

The language of instruction is Marathi, with English also required.“We sat with them in the English classes and helped them,” Ayrelea said. “When we went to the market, we took along a few of the boys who were more advanced in English to translate for us.”

I was impressed to learn that most of the staff are graduates of the school, including the Director and also the President. Frank Juelich, now elderly, is continuing as a consultant. He wants to die in India.

Ayrelea returned with many vivid memories. Cows, pigs and chickens wandering unmolested, cow dung used to fill joints in walls. Markets with a rich array of offerings. Also, she loved the peanut butter. For her the experience reinforced a desire to be involved in humanitarian work somewhere.

Ayrelea dressed in her salwar kameez.
Ayrelea dressed in her salwar kameez.

She’s a pretty young lady and really doesn’t need the designer clothes and jewelry. Her decision has provided her with rich experiences and memories, and it brought smiles to the faces of the boys in India.

Thoughts About New Years Resolutions

New Years Resolutions
New Years Resolutions

Like a lot of sensible citizens of the Similkameen Valley, I long ago ceased tormenting myself with New Years resolutions that really didn’t stir my imagination or my will to persevere. Looking back over my lifetime, I see that generally when significant inner change has come, it has not been the result of a New Years resolution. Although it required time, eventually I grasped the silliness of resolving to not eat chocolates or donuts.

In retrospect, I understand now that significant change for me has at times been born of necessity, as when I visited the Toastmasters club in the offices of Langley Township. Walking into that room I was much like a fearful, whimpering cur, tail tucked tightly between its trembling legs. Although I was conscious of what I was doing, it was nevertheless a reckless plunging into territory considerably outside my comfort zone.

I had long considered myself inept in front of a crowd of any size. Exposing my lack of training and inexperience before this group of pretty accomplished public speakers brought on a disquieting weakness in my knees. Gathering up my scant courage and paying the membership fee that day, I embarked on an arduous journey that has taught me some lessons about how to introduce positive change into my life.

The impetus for joining Toastmasters was a fervent desire to participate more effectively in the issues bedeviling our community. I was willing to take this initial step into unknown and dangerous terrain because I believed it was important. Not eating chocolates or donuts might be desirable but seemingly not important enough to make a firm, irrevocable decision.

Possibly bringing about change requires an element of adventure and even danger. Certainly for me becoming a Toastmaster, while not physically hazardous, did introduce a serious threat to my ego. Evaluators of my speeches began making me aware of habits that were distracting for the audience. One said, “Art played the accordian today,” a reference to my repetitive hand gestures. Another observed that “Art did a lot of pacing.” To become a more effective communicator I would have to listen to what these members were telling me. And I needed to apply their suggestions for improvement.

The Toastmasters program provides plenty of encouragement, but after 6 months I felt demoralized, my sensitive ego battered by a growing awareness of my seemingly myriad deficiencies. Much of the battering was coming, not from evaluations by fellow members, but from my own overly critical self-evaluations.

After much soul searching I began to understand that my negative thoughts were dragging me down. I asked myself a question that changed my focus. Was I willing to accept ignominious defeat, or would I dig deep and make a more serious commitment to my purpose in doing this?

I began altering my focus, reminding myself of my desire to make a constructive contribution to my community. This made it easier for me to hear the encouraging comments of evaluators, and to be aware of the progress I was making. In time I was able to turn the experience into an adventure. I set a goal of writing and delivering one speech each month, in addition to serving regularly in other roles. I attended meetings faithfully and made a firm decision to always follow through on my commitments to the club. Some of my distracting habits, like erratic, repetitive hand gestures began falling away.

In time it became easier, even enjoyable. I began speaking outside the club, a couple of times addressing the mayor and council of Abbotsford on environmental issues.

In my years as a Toastmaster, I saw some members grow phenomenally. Others though, became discouraged and drifted away. One member with good potential joined because she dreamed of becoming a professional public speaker. When she didn’t place well in her first speech contest she left, apparently forgetting her reason for joining.

The Toastmasters experience has helped me understand that to attain positive growth, it’s important to have a powerful reason. Affirming the purpose regularly is useful. In my case this provided the resolve to commit more deeply in the midst of perceived failure. Maybe the time will yet come when I’ll decide to dump the chocolates and donuts habit, but not this year. New Years Resolutions can be productive if they have the power to stir our imagination and our will to persevere.

Look Thy Last On All Things Lovely

This summer I thought of Walter de la Mare’s line, “look thy last on all things lovely every hour.” It had become indelibly imprinted on my memory when I was still in school decades ago. Although I don’t recall thinking about it consciously at that time, it probably was a reminder that the colour and beauty in people and all life have a finite shelf life.

 

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One glorious day as Linda and I were walking across the tailings that remain from the gold mining era, de la Mare’s words quietly alerted me to the spectacular splendour surrounding us. I decided to record some of the awesome scenes impacting our senses every day, in a variety of situations. The following are a few excerpts from my growing collection of personal encounters with beauty and colour.

I noticed Phaedra’s golden hair and pretty face at the potluck to raise funds for the Tillotson family after their home burned. She was at a table with her children. I didn’t know her and was hesitant to ask if I could take her picture. Feeling she would bring a touch of colour and interest, I approached her with the question. She looked at me rather quizzically. “Why?” she asked, obviously perplexed at this request from a stranger.

I’m looking for a pretty face for my blog,” I answered.

Phaedra, a lovely young lady.
Phaedra, a lovely young lady.

Her dubious expression suggested she doubted I was serious in selecting her for this role. After a moment of hesitation and consideration, she graciously agreed. Anywhere else I might have been quickly rebuffed, but this is Hedley. And she is pretty.

Beauty on Lynn Wells' yard.
Beauty on Lynn Wells’ yard.

Lynn Wells had a luxurious assortment of sunflower plants this summer. While enjoying a cup of tea with her partner Bill Day, I asked permission to get a few photos. It occurred to me I should have Bill in the midst of that brilliance. He’s a colourful character himself and has an adventurous past.

Bill Day adds his own charm to the beauty.
Bill Day adds his own charm to the beauty.

Linda and I hike up Hospital Hill or along 20 Mile Creek virtually every day. This entails crossing the bridge over the creek. Almost without exception, we stand quietly on the bridge for a few moments, enthralled by the changes that occur in water levels, colours of the trees, the towering mountains around us, the smell of clean air, etc. Each side of the bridge offers its distinctive, attention holding ambiance.

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This former tailings pond is about a 20 minute walk from town. In summer the growth takes on a shimmering golden hue. In autumn the gold colouring gives way to a rich brown. Surrounded by the green mountains, this majestic scene is always an inspiration. Sometimes we stand quietly, in contemplative awe and silence, overwhelmed by a sense of total insignificance.

Now, in late autumn with winter already whitening the mountain peaks, I’m becoming aware once again that this season, like the others, invites us to “look thy last on all things lovely every hour.”

Penticton Vees, A Cinderella Team

Net minder Ivan McLelland in Berlin, Germany
Net minder Ivan McLelland in Berlin, Germany

Although the Penticton Vees had won the coveted Allan Cup in 1954, a huge uproar ensued when they were selected to represent Canada in the 1955 World Hockey Championship. “Some at the top of the Canadian hockey scene insisted on an all-star team,” Ivan McLelland told Linda and me during a 2 hour conversation in his comfortable Penticton home. “They complained that at 23 I was too young and inexperienced to be in the net. They wanted Harry Lumly of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Canada had lost to the Soviets the previous year and winning was a matter of national pride.”

Ivan McLelland in his home in Penticton, BC
Ivan McLelland in his home in Penticton, BC

Born in South Porcupine, a small Ontario community, Ivan has experienced a good deal of success in his 85 years, but he certainly didn’t get off to an auspicious start. “My dad worked away from home a lot,” he said. “We lived in what was virtually a shack. With 14 kids, my mother’s life was difficult. I got in a lot of trouble. When I was hauled before a judge it really scared me.”

Fortunately, hockey attracted his interest at a young age. “We played on the ponds all winter,” he told us. “When the ice melted, we played road hockey and baseball. Father Les Costello noticed me and asked me to try out for the local juvenile hockey team. Hockey turned me around.” Like a lot of Canadian boys, he started thinking NHL. “Often I lay on the floor of our home, dreaming about playing at that level.”

He wasn’t a good student. “In grade 10 the principal suggested I quit school and find a job.” He was hired by the local gold mine and worked underground. To help his Mom keep the family together, he handed over most of his earnings to her. For 2 years he played for the mine team, the Dome Porkies.

In the net he was agile, with quick reflexes. He was developing an ability to focus intensely on the puck. A New York Rangers scout noticed his skill and grit and he was sent to the Vancouver Canucks, at that time a New York “farm” team.

He smiled at this point. “I made the team but Gump Worsly was in goal. This was 1951 and there was no place for a backup goalie. Coley Hall, the owner, wanted to send me to Penticton where the Vees were being assembled as a team. He told me it was the most beautiful city in B.C. and the only place in Canada where I’d see girls in 2 piece bathing suits. He also told me I’d have to be tough minded because many of the players would be cast-offs from other teams, so we weren’t likely to win a lot.”

Ivan reflected for a moment, then said, “I was the first player to ever put on a Vees uniform. We were an assortment of disparate characters. Some quiet, some crazy partyers. That first season we won 15 of 54 games. The fans cheered us whether we won or lost.”

Goal tending is as much mental as physical,” Ivan observed. “In 1954 we played 102 games. In the playoffs for the Allan Cup we were the underdogs. We shouldn’t have been there. Every team was better, on paper. We had to come from behind at each level.”

After winning the Allan Cup they were selected to represent Canada in the Hockey World Championship in West Germany. Wanting to squeeze them out, the top hockey people required the team to raise $30,000 in 2 months, a virtual impossibility. An Alberta radio DJ drew attention to this and said he was sending the team $10.00. People responded and in one month the money was in place.

Coach Warwick courageously insisted on taking the entire team and the players rewarded him with a determined, high calibre effort. Ivan confounded Canadian hockey brass, posting 4 shutouts, a record which still stands. He allowed only 6 goals. The Vees defeated the Soviets’ “Big Red Machine” 5-0.

World Hockey Championship Trophy awarded 1953 - 1959
World Hockey Championship Trophy awarded 1953 – 1959

Ivan has received many forms of recognition, including induction into the BC Sports Hall of Fame (2005). His book “From Gold Mine to Gold Medal” sold out very quickly. He speaks to community groups 25-30 times a year. His awesome power to focus is still in place. “I’m telling the story of the Penticton Vees to inspire people to believe they too can rise above difficult circumstances and beat the odds.”

Ivan with a plaque presented by City of Penticton in 2010 to the 6 members of the team still alive at that time.
Ivan with a plaque presented by City of Penticton in 2010 to the 6 members of the team still alive at that time.