Category Archives: People

Vonnie Lavers, Green Party Candidate

Vonnie Lavers, Green Party Candidate for Boundary-Similkameen
Vonnie Lavers, Green Party Candidate for Boundary-Similkameen

When Green Party candidate Vonnie Lavers said she once worked as an executive assistant to the president of Syncrude Canada, I needed to mentally pause. This didn’t align easily with my perception of her party. Aren’t Green and Syncrude as incompatible as oil and water?

In a wide ranging conversation in the sun room of our home in Hedley, Vonnie talked freely about her life, beginning with the early years in Port Saunders, a small community in Newfoundland. We would learn that although she is committed to the preservation of our environment, life experience has alerted her to a variety of additional societal challenges. “We lived in poverty the first 8 years of my life,” she said in answer to my question. “I was the second oldest of 8 children. My parents are Metis and I’m also Metis. I did housework, picked berries, helped bake fruit pies, cleaned fish. We ate moose, bear, rabbits, fish, plants and berries.” Her early experiences gave her an appreciation for the role a healthy environment plays in sustaining all life. “We need to think about the future of our children.”

We began to see Vonnie’s grit and capacity to be proactive when she spoke of her time in a trades and technology college after high school. “I received a phone call from my parents one day,” she recalled. “They said I’d have to quit my studies. There wasn’t money to pay the $35 a week room and board. I had worked and had enough hours for EI, but being in school made me ineligible.”

She reflected for a moment, then smiled. “I sat on the doorstep of MP John Crosbie’s office 3 days. I guess he decided I wasn’t going away so he invited me in. After hearing me out, he arranged for me and other students to collect EI. That took away a lot of anxiety.”

After completing her courses, she managed a summer government work project. When she overheard 2 men talking about opportunities in Fort McMurray, she told her mother she’d like to go there to work. The response was, “we’ll have to see what Dad says.” Undeterred, Vonnie replied, “you’d better persuade him because I’m going.”

The move to Alberta would be important in her education outside the classroom. She would grow further in her understanding of the complex issues every society must contend with.

In Fort McMurray her college training and work experience persuaded John Lynn, president of Syncrude, to hire her as an assistant. During these years she witnessed the prospering of Syncrude when oil prices rose, and also the difficult times when prices declined sharply. She recalls seeing a bumper sticker saying, “please God, let there be another boom. I promise not to pee it away this time.”

The years at Syncrude gave her an understanding of the role natural resources play in providing good jobs. Extensive travel and reading alerted her to the need to ensure our environment is not overly exploited. “Even the Saudis are diversifying, moving into renewable energy. We need to allocate more funds for research and the development of alternative sources. There are good job and business prospects in this.”

She’s still enthusiastic about an opportunity she was given at Syncrude to make a positive contribution outside the corporate offices. A committee she chaired donated $3 million annually, primarily to child related programs and the arts.

Growing up with 6 sisters and a brother gave Vonnie a keen appreciation for family. “Our entire society is based on family,” she observed. “It’s important we sit down together for supper. We also need to be connected outside the family. We can’t just be taking all the time. We have to give back. Family and friends support us in the valleys of life.”

The president of Syncrude became her mentor and encouraged her to prepare for further accomplishments. At age 28 she enrolled in Mount Royal College in Alberta. Since then work, community involvements and business ventures have broadened her perspective. She can speak knowledgeably about Portugal’s response to drug and mental health issues, depletion of wild life in Zimbabwe or an apartment building in New York where at Thanksgiving the tenants come together around long tables in the hallway for a potluck meal.

Vonnie has an offer on her Kelowna home and plans to move to the Boundary/Similkameen constituency. This Green candidate is about much more than just the environment.

Green Party Candidate Vonnie Lavers with Dave Cursons, Campaign Manager
Green Party Candidate Vonnie Lavers with Dave Cursons, Campaign Manager

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.

A Love Story From The Yukon

Vern & Cynthia Armstrong, residents of the Yukon.
Vern & Cynthia Armstrong, residents of the Yukon.

When I learned Vern and Cynthia Armstrong of the Yukon have always chosen to make their home in the cold northern parts of Canada, not along the more hospitable 49th Parallel, my curiosity was aroused. I invited them to our home recently to tell Linda and me about their lives. They were in Keremeos to celebrate the 98th birthday of Cynthia’s father, John Merriman.

Even after 22 years, they are probably still a little surprised to be married. Cynthia had planned to be a vet, but was inspired by a nurse to enter nurses training. “I had no plans to ever marry,” she volunteered, “but I knew my mother was experiencing despair because I didn’t have a husband. I put an ad in the Western Producer. The ad asked, Are you the answer to my mother’s prayers?” She received 28 replies which she read to her sisters at a weekend get-away. “It was hilarious,” she said. “We laughed a lot.”

Those men didn’t have a chance, did they?” Linda interjected.

No,” Cynthia said, smiling at the memory. “They didn’t.”

Vern’s life and career trajectory had been quite different. “I attended school for 8 years and got to grade 6,” he said. “I quit then because I wanted to be a farmer and I figured I had enough education for that.” He never did farm but was good at math and managed a lumber yard for 30 years. He got married to Edith and they had 2 children and also adopted 2 indigenous children. After 43 years, Edith died of cancer.

During the years while Vern was married and raising a family, Cynthia ‘s nursing career and adventuresome spirit took her to a number of remote northern locations. When she was sent to Wollaston Lake in Saskatchewan, the nurse assigned to train her quit and Cynthia was alone, without the experience or instruction she really needed. Then, at isolated nursing stations along Hudson Bay, she was again the only nurse and there was no doctor.

Her adventuresome spirit wasn’t diminished during a year of training in Ottawa. She suggested to the instructor they invite the Governor General of Canada, Madame Sauve` for coffee. The instructor said this would certainly not be accepted. Undeterred, Cynthia sent the note anyway. Not long after, she and her 12 co-trainees and the doubting, astonished instructor, were in Government House having coffee with Madame Sauve`.

When a Christian mission opened a centre in northern Saskatchewan, Cynthia was hired to run the post office and do maintenance. Vern, now a widower, came to the centre as a volunteer. When he offered to drive her to another location she accepted, thinking he would bring along a male co-worker. Already well into her 30’s, she was considered to have no interest in finding a husband. Vern found her attractive though, and decided not to bring his co-worker. “Until then, I always addressed him as Mr. Armstrong,” she said, “but we took the long way back. That was how it started.”

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After they were married, Cynthia suggested they move to the Yukon where Vern had siblings. “I sometimes wondered why they never wanted to leave, even for a visit,” she said. “Now I understand. It really is nice.”

They settled first in Watson Lake where Vern worked with a carpenter, often doing jobs at the local school. Cynthia worked as a home care nurse.

The people in Watson Lake are terrific, they agreed, but the medical care isn’t. “If we needed to fly to a big hospital,” Vern said, “it took an hour for a plane to come from Whitehorse. Also, the town had only 1 grocery store. The 2 gas stations closed at night and the 3 restaurants closed at 7 pm. The coldest it ever got when we were there was -52.”

As people age and are beset by medical issues, it is common to gravitate to a warmer climate and big city medical facilities. Having both had heart attacks, Vern and Cynthia moved to Whitehorse. They have no plans to come further south. “The medical facilities are great,” Cynthia said, “and the government pays most of our medical expenses. It’s called the “golden handcuff.” “There are about 35 restaurants,” Vern added. “Some serve ethnic meals.”

They have learned to live with the cold and to see humour in adversity. The Yukon is fortunate they are there for the long haul.

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Visit From A Homeless Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

She nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you have a dad?”

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

“Any brothers or sisters?”

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

“What about grandparents?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Horgan Up Close

In conversation with John Horgan in Shades at Main, Penticton. Photo by Josh Berson
In conversation with John Horgan in Shades at Main, Penticton.
Photo by Josh Berson

When I called the provincial NDP office in early December to request an interview with party leader John Horgan, I considered it a “long shot.” With a provincial election looming, would he want to talk with a small market columnist? I suggested to his effervescent press secretary, Sheena McConnell, that he is well known as a politician, but not as a person. My interest was in writing about his non-political life. She said, “Let’s set something up in a couple of months.”

Sheena McConnell, Press Secretary
Sheena McConnell, Press Secretary
Photo by Joshua Berson

On his early February whirlwind swing through the Okanagan Valley, we met in the Shades on Main restaurant in Penticton. He turned out to be everything I had not expected in an NDP leader.

Upon entering the restaurant, he walked briskly to our table accompanied by Sheena. He had already been interviewed at 8 a.m. by CBC Kelowna, also by Kamloops and Victoria stations. He had met people in two Kelowna coffee shops and one in Osoyoos. In spite of the travel and interviews, he exuded energy and congeniality. I would learn that at age 57 he has the concentration of an NHL goalie.

In response to my question about family, he said “my father suffered a brain aneuyrsm on Christmas Eve and passed away a few months later. I was an infant and have no memories of him. My mom didn’t have a drivers licence or job. A few years later, I’d come home from school, turn on the tv and make myself a peanut butter sandwich.”

There were serious hurdles before he found sure footing. “I went off the rails in grade 9”, he said. “I started smoking and hanging out with a bad crowd. I skipped classes and failed math, science, typing and French. The principal, counselor, and basketball coach worked hard to keep me in school.” In grade 12 he was elected president of the student council and captain of the basketball team. “In basketball, soccer and lacrosse, I learned a lot about personal discipline. I came to understand the importance of working together.”

Along the way he got experience that seasoned him and helped him understand people with limited means. “I’ve worked in mills,” he said. “I’ve worked in construction. I know what it’s like to live paycheque to paycheque.”

On his first day at Trent University, he met Ellie. “She was gorgeous and she was kind.” They have now been married 33 years and have 2 sons. He rarely takes Ellie along campaigning. “I’m concerned for her,” he said. “It’s too distracting.” He needs to be away a lot so he doesn’t see her as much as he’d like. He says, “Even so, she’s my oasis in all this madness.”

John didn’t hesitate when I asked if we could talk about his bout with cancer. “Sure,” he said. “I was diagnosed with bladder cancer at age 49. I’ve had surgery since and it went well. It helped me understand that every moment is precious. We need to make an impact and try to help others.”

He had thoughts of social work when he began undergraduate studies as a psychology major at Trent University in Ontario. This changed when he attended a talk by Tommy Douglas. Then about 82, this iconic political elder kindled a flame in him. “He was a small, frail man, but I was impacted by the power of his voice, his speaking skill, and his message. He spoke of compassion and empathy, the importance of protecting the less fortunate. I shook his hand, convinced I could make a greater difference in policy development.”

John switched to political science and history, and went on to attain an M.A. in Australia. In 1983 he joined the NDP.

Having grown up in a politically conservative family, I’ve long been wary of NDP policies. I decided to ask a few political questions. His responses suggested he might be closer to median voters like myself than I had anticipated. He said, “A linear spectrum of politics doesn’t work anymore. The needs of business people and working people are the same. Seniors aren’t concerned about ideology. Students aren’t interested in manifestos.”

We need investment in industry. Workers understand that to have jobs, business must prosper.”

After 35 minutes he needed to hurry to a meeting with the Chief and Council of the Penticton Band. In his values, especially his concern for all people, John Horgan caused me to think of J.S. Woodsworth, respected founder of the CCF, now the NDP.

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.

Magic Of The Model A

Gordon & Sam with the 1930 Model A in winter.
Gordon & Sam with the 1930 Model A in winter.

When I was told Gordon Glen of Keremeos owns a very pretty, restored Model A half ton pickup truck, I was intrigued. Possibly my fascination stems from early experience. I was about age 5 when my parents decided to move from rural Manitoba, not far from Steinbach, to Abbotsford, B.C. Dad bought a Model A, which he was confident could weather this arduous trip via Stevens Pass in the U.S. There were 6 of us in the car, my parents, sister Vi, plus 2 paying passengers. Amazingly, we encountered no mechanical difficulties. For a couple of years Dad drove the Model A every 2 weeks to his job at a logging camp near Hope. Having this experience in my history, I phoned Gordon and invited him and his wife for a visit.

 

Sam Glen
Sam Glen

When they arrived, he introduced us to Sam. Sensing our puzzlement she explained, “My name is Joan but my Dad tagged me with the name “Sam” when I was a kid. It has stuck and I’m happy with it.”

Sitting around the table in our sun room, Gordon said, “We’ve both been married before, we both have a set of twins, and we both lost our spouses through illness. About 5 years ago, a mutual friend introduced us at the Keremeos Legion. We were married a year ago.”

Sam, a slim blonde, has her own experience with vehicles. At one time she owned a T Bird and still has a rag top VW convertible. Equally interesting, she drove semi trailer transport trucks all over Canada and the U.S. for 15 years. Having a Class 1 driver’s licence, she was qualified to drive the fire truck at the Williams Lake volunteer fire department. “Often the men were away at their jobs during the day, so I drove,” she said.

Gordon Glen
Gordon Glen

Our conversation turned to the subject of Model A’s. Gordon’s experience with the iconic cars goes back to his early years. “Our neighbour had a Model A,” he recalled. “One summer my two older brothers worked for him. At the end of the harvest he gave them the old car for payment. We used it to haul potatoes and bring the cows in from the field.”

Eventually the brothers tired of the Model A, parked it in a slough, and departed the farm. “When I was 17,” Gordon said, “I asked for the car and they gave it to me.”

Having heard there are still a significant number of the much loved Model A’s tucked away in garages across this continent, and even around the globe, I asked Gordon what is so special about the car. “They’re almost completely constructed of steel,” he said, “Dodge and Chevrolet used wood and they didn’t last as well. While other companies lowered standards to keep prices down, Ford continually raised the bar and still kept the cost of the car affordable to any working man. They have a simple design and are easy to maintain. Some farmers actually turned their Model A’s into tractors for farm work. Even today all the parts, including tires, are available.”

Then he added, “I’ve been surprised by how well the Model A runs. It’s intended to go up to 45 mph, but is actually capable of higher speeds.”

The Model A was in production from 1927 to 1931. “The first couple of years they were quite small,” he said. “I’ve heard that Henry Ford wanted them small so that couples could not comfortably have sex in them.”

In time, Gordon sold his Model A with the understanding the owner would restore it. Some years later he again wanted to buy one, but owners were not selling. He bought a 1941 half ton Dodge. “It was my answer to not finding a Model A,” he said. “When we moved from Moose Jaw to B.C., driving it was like driving a Sherman tank.”

The 1930 Model A in summer.
The 1930 Model A in summer.

Acting on a tip from his brother Al in Vancouver, he finally located a Model A for sale, a 1930 pickup. “I bought it on the spot,” he said. He also joined the Lions Gate Model A Club and is still a member. “I’ve done a lot of upgrading on the truck. Members share knowledge and tools with other members.”

I don’t golf, do sports, garden, or gamble,” Gordon said at the end. “For me the Model A is a good hobby.” Sam nodded and smiled. She’s just as hooked.

Looking For Grandfather

Richard Lindemere, a Self-Portrait (courtesy of Bill Day)
Richard Lindemere, a Self-Portrait (courtesy of Bill Day)

This year being Canada’s 150th birthday, I was pleased to receive “Looking for Grandfather”, an account of an epic motorcycle adventure in 2010 by two B.C. Seniors, Bill Day and cousin Michael Pease. Written by my good friend Bill Day of Hedley (part time), it’s a real life story of their 6 day, 3000 kilometer ride to learn about their mutual grandfather, painter Richard Lindemere. Almost in passing, Bill manages to skillfully weave in fascinating snippets of an earlier time in western Canada.

Bill notes that Grandfather Lindemere had been raised in a privileged environment in London and studied painting in Paris, where he had an apartment on the Champs Elysee. Also, “he spoke beautiful French.” This lavish lifestyle came to a tumultuous end when the family fortune was lost in the great London stock market crash of 1898.

Lindemere returned to England, acquired a very fleet Greyhound and began to gamble in dog racing. The Greyhound brought him some monetary success. Confident of the dog’s speed, he rashly placed a huge bet, for which he had no financial backing, in a particular race. All went well until the animal leapt over a fence to chase the rabbit the promoters used to motivate the dogs.

Unable to pay the gambling debt, at age 24 he fled to Canada. “Like a lot of young middle class Englishmen at that time,” Bill says, “he had dreams of becoming a cowboy, work for which life experiences had not prepared him.”

It was 1904 and only 19 years after the second Riel Rebellion. “Poundmaker, the great political and military leader of the native peoples was still in very recent memory. Gabriel Dumont, Louis Riel’s lieutenant and brilliant military leader of the Metis, was living quietly at his original homestead at Batoche.”

In spite of the sophistication of his life to this time, Richard Lindemere evidently possessed the pluckiness required to adapt to the more rugged western Canada setting. He did become a cowboy and worked as a drover, participating in 3 major cattle drives from 1905 to 1907.

It was a time,” Bill observes, “when the North West Mounted Police were a huge presence on the prairies, and were generally well regarded by the Aboriginal people.” Lindemere developed life long friendships with Mounties and they appeared in many of his paintings. Three great Chiefs, Poundmaker, Fine Day and Crowfoot captured his admiration and respect, as did Gabriel Dumont. According to Bill, “Grandfather systematically painted the Native and Metis leaders of the time, including Fine Day, who lived until the 1930’s and was Grand Chief of the Saskatchewan Cree.”

Painting by Richard Lindemere of Chief Fine Day -1926 (courtesy of Bill Day)
Painting by Richard Lindemere of Chief Fine Day -1926 (courtesy of Bill Day)

Lindemere established a homestead with his brother, “Uncle Bertie”. According to the family it failed, likely because he devoted his time to painting and his brother spent his time whittling.

At this point Bill’s narrative picks up the motorcycle trip. “The final 30 kilometers to Batoche was along the South Saskatchewan River, a step back in time. Family subsistence farms appeared, many with French names, obviously descendants of the original Metis settlers. They were laid out in strip fashion, characteristic of riverine settlements in Quebec.”

Obviously captivated by the political, social and military dynamics of those years, Bill now slips into a disquieting aspect of Canada’s relationship with indigenous people. “Despite superior generalship and brilliant tactics,” he says, “the Metis and Native forces were ultimately overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and fire power (Gatling guns and cannon) of the Canadian troops.”

After days of hard riding Bill and Michael arrived at their ultimate destination, the Saskatchewan Legislature. Here a number of Lindemere’s paintings are hung in the Prince Edward Room. The Security Officer told them the room was booked all day for a cabinet meeting. “We explained our desire to see Grandfather’s paintings and he looked at these 2 old guys in dusty leathers, then told us to wait. Shortly we were informed that the Premier had granted us10 minutes during their lunch break.”

Mesmerized by this segment of family history, they viewed Richard Lindemere’s 1928 painting of the Speaker of the House, commissioned by the Saskatchewan government. There were also 8 paintings of the North West Mounted Police. (Some of Lindemere’s paintings and sketches will be featured on my blogsite this month.)

Bill, age 77 at the time of the trip, says “Six whirlwind days, about 3000 kilometers, flawless machine performance, and we found Grandfather.” Richard Lindemere left a rich legacy for family and Canada!

Remembering Len Roberts

Len Roberts photo: Providence Funeral Homes
Len Roberts
photo: Providence Funeral Homes

My experience with Len began on June 1, 1974. That morning he picked me up from our home in rural Abbotsford to go to Hedley for training. During our 3 hours together in the car, he gave me an extensive verbal tour of the organization’s purpose, philosophy and methods. “We employ unique ministries to establish a common ground with the students. Our goal is to build relationships with them so we can share our life style, values and where appropriate, our faith.” The next morning I received my first hands on experience with Len’s “common ground” concept. Beth Hall, one of the wilderness skills instructors, asked me to join her and 3 girls to do rappelling.

I was behind the others as we walked across a field of brown grass to the rappel site. Observing these street wise girls in their tight jeans and blouses, I wondered if I’d ever be able to work effectively with kids like this. There seemed to be a wide gulf between me and them. They ignored me completely, as though unaware of my presence or existence. We made our way to the top of the high rock face down which we would rappel. I began to see the anxiety in their faces. They must also have seen it in mine. We feared the thought of descending on a rope down that sheer rock face. The rappel process required us to depend on each other for safety, and we began to talk. By the end of the morning we were no longer strangers.

Art Martens with Len Roberts (photo taken 2015)
Art Martens with Len Roberts (photo taken 2015)

Reflecting back on my years with the Foundation this past week, I began to understand more fully what Len had put in place, with Jean’s consistent help. It was Jean who kept the wheels on the rails and the trolley on the tracks.

Initially there were 2 programs, both in Surrey. Each worker was assigned a “squad” of 5 students. Len recognized the need to burn off a lot of excess energy and the program consisted of such activities as swimming, roller and ice hockey, hiking and camping. Camp Colonial in Hedley was purchased and became the wilderness hub. This made possible rappelling, rock climbing, canoeing, map and compass, horseback riding, skiing, and wilderness expeditions like canoeing the Bowron Lakes circuit and back packing in Cathedral Park. During those years Len traveled between Surrey and Hedley on an almost weekly basis. He was away from home and family frequently. It was a huge sacrifice for Len and Jean, and their children.

In time they moved the Foundation headquarters to Hedley. They sold their home in Surrey and the family also moved. The Foundation became like a complex puzzle in which each piece was required to support the whole. Some students lived in staff homes and saw how a husband and wife team interacted with each other and their children. Many students attended the organization’s school, taught by Ann Pinchin, who is here today. Len purchased the former store and reopened it, naming it The Mother Lode. Students were assigned there for work experience. Students were also assigned to the kitchen and dining room to learn culinary and public service skills. The emphasis was always on finding a common ground, developing relationships and winning the right to build positively into the lives of the students.

Our family and friends didn’t understand why anyone would want to live in a hot, remote community that had almost nothing to offer. Amazingly, a lot of young singles came, and stayed, and also young couples with children. That is what kept the Hedley school open as long as the organization was there. They came in large part because Len was able to speak compellingly about his vision for the work. He couldn’t pay high wages but he did offer a fascinating opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young people. And he offered an action packed program that was rare at that time, and still is. Young, inexperienced workers obtained work experience and developed skills they could later take elsewhere.

Len could be quite pragmatic. When Ruth Woodin, now the Hedley Post Master, applied for a job in the office, Len said, “I’m looking for someone who won’t get pregnant and quit, or who won’t get married and move away.” He had experienced both. Ruth didn’t do either, and she stayed to the end. She told me “when I was going through a very difficult valley in my life, Len & Jean stood by me all the way. Especially Jean. It was the best job I ever had.”

Len didn’t avoid the long hours and dedication he expected of us. When there was an AWOL, he was out late at night, patrolling the highway. Sometimes his quick mind made the difference. One day I was talking with several students on the top balcony of the Coach House. I noticed Eugene pacing agitatedly. He was an extremely intense, worried kid. I knew what he needed was attention. Before I could get to him, he slipped away and was running down the hill to the highway, obviously emotionally out of control. I went onto my radio handset to alert our workers. At the same time, Len was in his red toyota, coming down the hill from the Lodge toward town. He heard my call, pulled alongside Eugene and opened the door. “Quick get in before they get you!” he said. Relieved, Eugene got in and felt safe.

Did the Foundation make a difference? Ruth Woodin thinks it did. “A number of former students have come into the Post Office,” she told me. Again and again they said, “I was a kid in a program here. It turned my life around.”During the Foundation years, I knew Len as a boss and to some extent a friend. I understood his need to maintain some distance so people wouldn’t crowd him too much. Everyone wanted to ask him a question.

When a new government closed the Foundation doors in 1993, Linda and I kept in touch with Len and Jean. We saw that this was a difficult time for everyone. For Len and Jean it was especially difficult. They had invested many years of their lives in this work, now they needed to wrap it up.

We moved back to Hedley about 4 years ago and our home needed improvements. Len offered to help with a plumbing project. Then he and a friend replaced all windows and doors. They also drywalled almost the entire lower floor. They did it at a price no one else could touch. He had once run a complex organization. Now he was willing to work with a hammer, wrench and screwdriver without grumbling. We felt he wanted to help us.

After returning to Hedley, our friendship with Len & Jean deepened. Over the past few years they had numerous medical appointments in Penticton, and they at times stopped in at our place on their way home. Over coffee, Len would regale us with details about medical procedures and interactions with doctors, nurses and other patients. We could tell that at times his sense of humour had made the appointment entertaining for those who dealt with him.

For many Len Roberts was rare and special. For Linda and me he became a valued friend.

And of course, we continue to value Jean as a dear friend.

Gary Clarke, Del Riemer, Jim Martin, 3 of the many former staff that attended the Celebration of Life on Oct. 29, 2016
Gary Clarke, Del Riemer, Jim Martin, 3 of the many former staff that attended the Celebration of Life on Oct. 29, 2016

Dan Twizell And His 1929 Dodge

Dan Twizell
Dan Twizell

At the recent Harvest Dinner in Hedley I introduced myself to a man with a luxurious, white beard. He said, “My name is Dan Twizell. I’m the owner of that 1929 Dodge parked across the street.”

A week later Dan came to our home for coffee, driving the Dodge. In response to my question he said “I chased the car 10 years. The owner didn’t want to part with it but I called him every 6 months. Finally he agreed to sell. It came with only the body, windows and wheels. No motor, running gear or interior.”

I had never done painting, upholstery or body work. My friend Leroy Fague and I spent 13,000 hours over 5 years. I drive the Dodge everywhere. I don’t want it to be a garage queen.”

Dan Twizell & his 1929 Dodge
Dan Twizell & his 1929 Dodge

Dan was born near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan where his parents were homesteading a small acreage. Family income was meager and at an early age Dan began learning the importance of making sound decisions and being independent. “There was always a 30-30 Winchester at the back door,” he recalled. When he was 5 his father instructed, “don’t fool around with it. If you’re going to hunt, be sure you don’t need to use more than one shell.”

One day his father said, “we’re going to starve to death here. I’ll have to go west to look for work.” Two months later he sent train tickets for the family to join him in New Westminster, BC.

For me it wasn’t good timing,” Dan remembers. “I was just completing grade one. The school made me repeat the grade. They considered us farm kids who didn’t know much.”

For a kid who supposedly didn’t know much, he had a lively and practical mind. “On my 8th birthday I was given a wristwatch.” he said. “I went upstairs to my bedroom and took it apart.” Like many boys, myself included, he wanted to know what was inside. However, unlike most boys, he put it back together and it worked!

At the senior secondary level he opted for the trade school, an indication of his preference for a career that didn’t require sitting behind a desk in an office. “I heard they placed students in practical work assignments, like a tire shop and a dairy farm. I wanted the experience.”

When his parents bought the popular take-out Snack Shack near Aldergrove, he got plenty of cooking experience. “My parents worked there all day,” he said, “so when I came home, I needed to prepare supper for the family. My dad told me to make meals from scratch. Even now I do most of the cooking. I’m a throw it together cook.”

Upon completing high school he demonstrated he was a “roll up your sleeves and go to work” type of guy. He went to a garage to apply for a job. Seeing that the owner was busy, he removed his jacket and began pumping gas. Two hours later the owner said “o.k. you’re on the payroll as of a couple of hours ago.”

As a young man he drifted into beer drinking associations. “In time, I saw that the crowd I was with was becoming dependent on the pub. I wanted to get away from the pub so without telling anyone, I moved to another town.”

In his mid 20’s, he applied for a job as a heavy duty mechanic. “I was the happiest guy in the world when they made me a field mechanic. Often I’d come to work and there was a note telling me a float plane was waiting to take me to a job. I’d ask the pilot where we were going. I stayed with the company 30 years until I retired at age 56.”

Asked about his greatest success, he replied, “my wife Judy. We attended the same school but I didn’t meet her until we were both at a mutual friend’s Christmas Eve party.” They’ve been together 36 years, enjoying lots of camping, hunting and fishing.

In 2004 they moved to their present property, which they named Crazy Goat Acres, on Old Hedley Road. It was here he rebuilt the Dodge. Regrettably, the goats needed to be sold recently. Judy has MS now and walks with a cane. Even so, with chickens, ducks, 3 dogs, a horse, a donkey, and the Dodge, they’re pretty content.