Category Archives: People

Recent Arrivals A Benefit To Hedley

Our new neighbours in Hedley, Dian & Tap.

At the beginning of 2017 a number of homes in Hedley were for sale. Linda and I hoped for an influx of quality people willing to commit to our community. By the end of the year almost every for sale sign had come down and it appears our wish has been granted.

Among the new people are our next door neighbours, Tap Nevalainen and Dian McKusick, who moved from Maple Ridge in August. They have very quickly acquired a deep appreciation for the simplicity and peacefulness of rural life. “We lived near railway tracks,” Dian told us. “There were train whistles all night. I had difficulty sleeping.”

Both had experienced a failed relationship when they met in a bar 6 years ago. “I had decided I’d never do that again,” Di told us. Tap wasn’t looking either, but admits he was smitten quickly. “It was pretty close to love at first sight.” Di nodded and said, “It was the same for me.”

Like most of the new emigres to our community, Tap and Di have been matured and tempered by life experiences. Until they made their move to Hedley, Tap worked in construction, building high rise apartment buildings, at times 40 to 50 stories. “I was foreman overseeing the construction of the foundations,” he said. “All the concrete work. On the last building, we dug down 6 levels. On these projects there is always water to deal with.”

Tap was 13 when he moved with his parents from Finland to Canada. Having a pragmatic bent, he knew at a young age he wanted to be a carpenter. “I quit school after grade 10. That was enough to get me into an apprentice program when I turned 19. I didn’t see a need for more education.”

At age 12, Di learned from a sister she was a foster child, not the biological daughter of her parents. “It was a huge shock. She also told me my birth mother had just been found murdered. I first met my biological father and siblings at a Catholic prayer time for my mother.”

Deeply troubled by the unexpected revelations, her life spiraled downward and she ran away. “I was mixed up and didn’t understand. I was unhappy with school and myself.” Unable to cope with Di’s erratic behaviours, her mother enrolled her in the school at Convent of the Sacred Heart, hoping this would settle her. It proved to be an ineffective solution. Di was then placed in a group home where she lived until age 18.

She didn’t become bitter toward the family. “I consider myself lucky, ” she said, “I didn’t get moved around like a lot of foster kids. They are my family and I have a lot of contact with them.”

Di attended school only to grade 7. At age 16 she began working weekends in a rest home, preparing breakfast and dinner for residents, giving medications and doing other tasks. Her husband’s business took her to Quebec for 25 years. When the relationship collapsed she returned to B.C. “I was determined to prove I could make it on my own. I cleaned houses and high rises. On weekends I cleaned at Canada Place.”

Meanwhile, for about 30 years, Tap was a foreman on high rise construction. Getting the foundation exactly right was crucial. He needed to develop the thinking to deal with complex challenges, some of them people related. “It’s nasty out there in big construction,” he said. “The people can make your life miserable. I’m very happy to be out of there.”

Tap, holding one of his rustic birdhouses.

Now in Hedley Tap is again in construction, building dwellings for birds. With Di’s deft decorating skills, each house becomes an intricate work of art, with an alluring rustic aura. It’s a great common ground for them.

Di decorates Tap’s creations.

Until I met Tap, I didn’t think I’d ever be happy again,” Di said. “Moving to Hedley and doing the birdhouses together has been good for us. I’m very happy.”

Like most of those who migrated here in 2017, Tap and Di show up at community functions, including the early morning coffee time at the Seniors’ Centre. They intend to volunteer their time and talents to assist local organizations. Very likely other rural centres are benefiting from a similar influx of solid contributing citizens. Many come with experience, ideas, and skills that will make communities more attractive, and enrich us all.

The Grahams of Hedley

Maggie Graham Pitkethly (photo taken in 1970)

Over the years I’ve heard plenty of speculation by Hedley oldtimers as to how Bill and Maggie Graham found the means to purchase the Colonial Inn after the mine closed. Maggie had worked as a housekeeper for the mine. Bill had operated an ore crusher in the Stamp Mill at the base of the mountain. It was generally known they had not come with money. Since none of the speculations could be verified, I decided they were a rural version of urban myth.

When I learned recently the Grahams’ daughter Maureen and her husband Campbell Dirksen live in Keremeos, I immediately called them and asked if they would talk with Linda and me.

In their comfortable home with a spectacular view of the valley and mountains, we enjoyed Maureen’s rich blend of coffee and delightful blueberry scones. We would learn she and Campbell have an impressive grasp of details from the past.

My dad, Bill Graham came from Scotland,” Maureen told us at the outset. “Mom was born in Hedley in 1909, in the house that still stands at the corner of Daly and Irene. Her father, Anton Winkler, owned several hotels, including the Grand Union, one of 6 in town. Over the years all burned down. My parents were married in 1935.”

The Inn was purchased first by Dr. Moore, a dentist who used it for his practice. When the mine shut down operations in 1955, the miners mostly moved on. Having few clients in town, Dr. Moore sold the Inn to the Grahams about a year and a half later.

Where did they get that amount of money?” I asked, hoping they could shed light on this local mystery.

Dad asked the Kelowna Exploration Company for permission to clean up the dust left behind from the mining operation,” Maureen said. “He was the only one who thought there must be gold in that dust. They gave him a profit sharing contract.”

Campbell picked up the story. “With a broom and wheel barrow, he swept up the dust in the Stamp Mill. He removed the floor boards and swept under them. All told, he collected enough dust to fill 8 tram line cars. He had it sent by train from Princeton to Everett, Washington. It took 3 years.”

It turned out there was a lot of gold in all that dust,” Maureen recalled. “Even after the mine got its share, my parents were able to buy the Inn and also send me and my brother to college in Vancouver.”

Bill and Maggie ran the Inn as a lodge and restaurant. Maureen has warm memories of working in the kitchen with her red headed, vivacious Mom. “She taught me everything I know. I baked 12 loaves of bread every day. People wanted to buy them but we needed them all. Our blueberry pies were very popular. We received letters from all over the world from satisfied guests.”

Famous people like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Governor Generals, and former Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas came by for a meal and sometimes stayed overnight.

One time Bing Crosby said we should have a juke box. Mom teased him, saying she wouldn’t have any Bing Crosby records in it anyway. She was good with people. Very friendly and she always remembered names of guests when they returned. She often picked up hitch hikers and brought them to the restaurant and gave them a meal. Sometimes she put them up overnight.”

Eight years after buying the Inn, the Grahams also acquired the Coach House, located at the rear of the property, near the Stamp Mill. “People were removing doors and windows and other items,” Campbell said. “It required a lot of repairs.” Unfortunately in 1971, Kelowna Exploration Co. had the iconic stamp mill burned due to liability concerns.

Bill died of cancer in 1968. About 5 years later Maggie married David Pitkethly, a wealthy businessman who stopped regularly for a meal at the Colonial Inn.

In July, 1975 Maggie and Maureen were collecting rocks on a mountainside. Without warning, a large boulder broke loose above them and came hurtling down toward the two women. Without thought for her own safety, Maggie pushed Maureen out of its path. She didn’t have time to get out of the way herself and was killed instantly.

At the end of our conversation with the Dirksens, Linda and I were convinced Bill and Maggie Graham played a significant role in Similkameen history. Their story is authentic, not an urban or rural myth.

Foundation Fosters Change

Gerry & Julie Beauchemin, a “Foundation” success story.

There was at one time a small cabal of disgruntled elderly men in Hedley who wanted local people to believe the One Way Adventure Foundation was a cult. I would have been interested in their reaction had they been present when Gerry and Julie Beauchemin told Linda and me about the impact of the “Foundation” on their lives.

I’m surprised I’m alive today,” Gerry began. Sitting beside him on the couch in their Penticton home, Julie nodded and said, “I was mixing drugs and alcohol. I wanted to slowly and surely die. I hoped to escape life.”

The organization was established in Surrey in 1973 by Len and Jean Roberts, who until recently lived in Princeton. Their goal was to engage troubled teens in challenging activities, develop positive relationships and point them to a more productive life. They purchased the Hedley property to provide housing and free the youths from unhealthy city distractions and influences.

For Gerry, as with a lot of youths in care, home was not a sanctuary. “My mom died of cancer when I was 10,” he said. “Dad married a woman who had 2 kids. She didn’t like me. Her kids could do no wrong, I could do no right. Dad was away at work a lot and my life began unraveling. Pretty soon only kids with their own home problems would accept me. We stole cars and did B & E’s.”

Deeming him out of control in the community, his Probation Officer sent Gerry to the House of Concord in Langley, then to Outward Bound, at that time near Keremeos. Things didn’t improve and out of desperation Gerry was sent to the Foundation’s Surrey location. For 8 months he lived in a staff home, which he preferred over his parents’ home. He participated in the program but continued to create havoc with his street friends. “That’s why Len sent me to Hedley,” he said with just the hint of a smile.

For Julie, home was not a sanctuary either. “My dad was a problem for me,” she said. “I didn’t feel safe around him. Mom kept quiet. My brothers and I tried to poison her. I roamed the streets with a knife up my sleeve. Alcohol, and medications I stole from drug stores dulled my inner pain. When I OD’d, the Fire Department saved my life. ”

Julie’s chaotic, unruly street lifestyle prompted her harried PO to send her to Hedley. “We did rappelling, rock climbing and chimneying,” she said, “also a 2 week canoe expedition on the Bowron Lakes.”

When I turned 17,” she continued, “my P.O. put me in the Foundation’s adult program in Surrey. I lived with Len and Jean Roberts. They became like parents to me. I still call Jean mom.”

Now Gerry nodded agreement. “When I came to Surrey for a weekend,” he recalled, “I went to Len and Jean’s place, not to my parents. From them, and from Jim, my worker in Hedley, I learned about unconditional love. They didn’t reject me when I caused trouble. I wanted to earn their trust.”

When a worker with a Black Belt began teaching karate, Gerry joined. He trained rigorously, and eventually achieved his own Black Belt.

Gerry and Julie agreed participating in challenging recreation and work projects developed their confidence. Observing positive interactions between couples and how they dealt with their children enlarged their understanding of family. “Everything really changed in a big way when I let God come into my life,” Gerry said. “It was that way for me too,” Julie added.

As young adults, they applied to enter the Foundation’s Leadership School and were accepted. In time Gerry became a creative and trusted program coordinator, respected by the youths he worked with. Julie was a leader in the girls program.

With growing maturity and an understanding they didn’t need to repeat the errors of their parents, they married in 1980. Today they have 3 daughters and 8 grandchildren, all doing well. Gerry is currently on longterm disability due to an earlier back injury. Julie has worked at Walmart since 2006.

Leaving their past behind and striving to develop into responsible, contributing citizens has been an arduous journey at times, but they have persevered. “We work at our relationship,” Gerry told us. “And we work at who we are,” Julie added. The aforementioned disgruntled cabal of elderly men might be impressed.

Dianne Watts, A Proven Leader

Dianne Watts

Can Dianne Watts, popular and highly regarded former mayor of Surrey, win leadership of the B.C. Liberal Party? When she announced her candidacy, one front runner in the leadership race quickly labeled her an “outsider.” Outsiders are rarely welcomed by those grasping the levers of power.

In a telephone conversation with Watts last week, I asked if being perceived as an outsider is an asset or a liability. “It’s an asset,” she responded without hesitation. “I don’t have to explain the budget.” She was, of course, referring to the desperate Liberal attempt to stay in office by unabashedly adopting much of the NDP platform in their doomed final budget.

My interest in Watts’ candidacy stems from a concern that the former cabinet ministers, if elected, would almost certainly not represent a positive change from the past. They have said publicly, “we stopped listening to the people.” Steeped in this stultifying culture of political deafness, have they now been given a miraculous desire to listen? Was their initial post-election hand-wringing an indication of repentance, or of sorrow at losing power?

Examining Watts’ personal and political history, I came to understand she definitely wasn’t given a free pass to success. Talking about her early years she told me “I was a classic case of a kid at risk and a runaway.  By age 17 I was on my own. The time came when I knew I’d have to choose which path I wanted to take. Difficult experiences can make us stronger if we choose to move forward. I chose to move forward.”

When she worked on a friend’s political campaign, some well connected individuals urged her to run for Surrey Council. She won a seat in 1996 and in 2005 defeated entrenched mayor, Doug McCallum. Watts needed all her grit, stamina and leadership skills to win over a hostile council.

A former MLA who at times worked closely with Watts said, “She was very good to work with. She knew what she didn’t know and asked questions. She organized a very successful Economic and Social Development conference. Dianne was strong on the anti-gang file. She also did a lot to change Surrey’s reputation as the welfare capital of B.C. She has excellent political instincts.”

A January, 2013 editorial in The Province observed “… in Watts you have a politician who listens to and works for voters, versus a provincial government that does things to voters, while refusing to hear them. Watts name always comes up whenever people talk about who would make a good premier.”

After establishing a solid track record as mayor, she didn’t run in 2014. She subsequently won the South Surrey-White Rock seat in Parliament. “Resigning your seat and running for the leadership seems pretty risky,” I suggested. “Why take that risk?”

Staying in Parliament would have been easier,” she agreed. “It was about my connection to the province. I saw the frustration across the province, the disappointment.”

Looking ahead she said, “when you’re elected, you’re in service to the people. I entered the leadership race to effect change, to change peoples’ lives for the better. To do that we need to rebuild and refresh the party. We need to rebuild the trust. Politics is a mechanism to do the work that needs to be done. If elected, I will work with caucus to develop a viable plan for the entire province.”

What does she believe needs to be done? “Among other things, we need to make housing more affordable. Affordability isn’t just a Lower Mainland issue. We need to give more attention to seniors issues, mental health, addiction, and Alzheimer’s. The time has come to strengthen partnerships between local communities and the province.”

As mayor of Surrey, Watts developed a pretty decent record. She was named 4th best mayor in the world by the UK based City Mayors Foundation. Surrey had the lowest residential and business tax rates in Metro Vancouver. She became known for taking good ideas off the drawing board and turning them into reality.

Watts’ track record suggests she has the leadership skills, understanding of government, and authenticity the B.C. Liberal Party needs to again become a viable option citizens can trust and vote for.

To support her leadership bid requires membership in the BC Liberal party. Deadline to join is December 29, 2017. For further information, google Dianne Watts or phone 604-265-9846.

Jody Woodford, Proud of Tulameen Fire Department

Jody Woodford, Chief of Tulameen Fire Department

Considering Jody Woodford’s chaotic early home life, I would not have guessed she would one day be chief of the Tulameen Fire Department. “We lived in the Yukon for about 10 years,” she told Linda and me. “My father was a heavy equipment operator. We lived in a school bus and every time Dad was sent to a new job, we moved. Sometimes my sister and brother and I went to a school for a week and then we moved. One year we moved 10 times.”

In spite of the family’s lacklustre circumstances, there was a positive thread. “Mom and Dad wanted us to have a better life. They wanted us to be resourceful, resilient and independent. We were a tightly knit family and when our parents had health problems, us kids accepted a lot of responsibility.”

Her Dad was a big man, close to 500 pounds. “He drove fast and was hard on transmissions. When I was 13, my two younger siblings and I changed the transmission on our Chevette. Dad coached us at every step.”

Her father’s health began to fail and in 1983 the family moved to Princeton where she graduated from high school in 1988. “I enrolled in a heavy transport mechanics course,” she said. “I did the practical training and got my papers. By then Dad had terminal cancer and Mom’s health wasn’t great. My parents had bought a small home in Coalmont, their first ever. The foundation consisted of cottonwood stumps. I went there to take care of Dad. It was just something we had learned at home. Dad died in 1993.”

Her mother didn’t have the income to make the mortgage payments so Jody and her sister worked and by 1995 the home was paid for. Then a flood destroyed the home. “There was no insurance, so my sister, brother and I began building a new house for Mom,” Jody said. “I studied books to learn how. Our neighbours helped and the building inspector gave us advice. It was a community project and Mom got her first brand new home ever. That was my beginning in carpentry, which is how I now make a living.”

Physically strong and willing to contribute to her community, she was asked in 1998 to join the Tulameen Fire Department. “For the first 17 years the Fire Department paid only for basic training. I took extra courses and paid for them myself. I wanted to have the knowledge to do the job.”

Ten years ago the department needed a new chief, but no one stepped forward. By this time Jody was probably the most qualified member of the department. “It scared me,” she said, “but I accepted the position.” At that time there was no remuneration for going out on calls.

Jody Woodford & the Tulameen Fire Department

It’s a team effort,” she stressed. “I’m very lucky to be working with committed firefighters. The community has been great too. We work together to make things happen. We have year round bottle drives. We put on dances and sell fire wood. The whole valley gets involved in fund raising. In the beginning they used a septic truck to haul water. Now we have 3 trucks. In February we took delivery of a new Freightliner. We turned an impossibility into a possibility.”

Being Chief requires her to be strong in crises. “I’m pretty emotional but there are times when I have to be a rock,” she admitted. “It was extremely hard when a very close friend, a fellow fire fighter was killed in a car accident.”

It became clear to me that Jody has reflected on her life and gleaned insights. “Some people allow themselves to be consumed by their circumstances. At home us kids learned we could make better choices. From my friend who died I learned I should get to know people, and not make assumptions.”

She is proud of the Fire Department and the community that has worked and sacrificed to strengthen and modernize it. She values the opportunity to grow. “It has enabled me to help people in crises situations,” she said. “Sometimes I’m as scared as they, but I have to act in spite of the fear.”

Living in a bus, changing schools repeatedly and not being able to develop lasting early friendships, could have caused Jody to flounder. Instead, she chose to view her life experiences as preparation to take on greater challenges in the future.

Jody & her siblings are still close. This is a gingerbread house she created with her niece and nephew last Christmas.

Corky Evans, Not Jaded Or Bitter

Corky Evans (photo supplied by Corky Evans)

After a 2 hour telephone conversation with former provincial cabinet minister Corky Evans, I concluded that unlike some retired politicians, he has not become disappointed, jaded or bitter. Certainly it could have turned out otherwise. But now living with Helen Sebelius, his partner of 15 years, he retains a wonderful sense of humour and laughs easily.

I was born in California and grew up in Berkley,” he said. “There were angry protests by university students against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war. My wife and I were troubled by the unrest so we took our 2 daughters and moved to Canada. Our son was born shortly after we arrived. I had no money, no college education and I didn’t speak French. But I was willing to work.” Looking back now, he feels his experience as a stevedore, logger and heavy equipment operator later gave him an understanding of people in a variety of circumstances.

.Corky managed to buy 5 acres on the Slocan River and built a house. With a note of pleasure in his voice he said,”for 20 years I got to be a logger.”

“Against the Wind Farm” on the Slocan River.

In 1975 he became a Canadian citizen and joined the NDP. His community activities suggest his motivation in politics was not greed, a thirst for power, or prestige. Seeing the need to control the devastation created by large logging operations and wanting to protect forests and water, he became immersed in the Slocan Valley Forest Management project. It was at this time that Corky began to demonstrate a willingness to speak publicly against corporate disregard for the environment and government inaction. He was becoming one of that all too rare breed that will not remain silent, even when others hesitate.

Realizing an elected position would give him a stronger voice in community issues, he ran for a position on the Central Kootenay Regional District government. He earned a measure of trust and served 3 terms, growing in political awareness, instinct and courage. All attributes he would need at the provincial level.

His willingness to publicly speak on significant local issues was attracting attention. Only in his late 20’s, he was urged to seek the NDP nomination for the Nelson/Creston riding in the 1986 provincial election. “I worked hard and won the nomination,” he said. “I was quite well known locally, but not in Creston.”

A friend suggested he enter a car in the Creston Demolition Derby because it was the big event of the year. “Social Credit was strong in the area so I bought a puppet of Bill Vanderzalm and attached it to the front of an old vehicle. I hoped other contestants wouldn’t smash the radiator. I also attached a puppet of Mike Harcourt on the rear, thinking they would focus on it. I placed third in the derby and won $20.00.” His participation wasn’t enough though, and he lost the election by a narrow margin.

He subsequently ran in four more elections, and lost only in the 2001 rout of the NDP. Although named to high profile cabinet positions like health, transportation, and agriculture, he found time for local issues and played a key role in developing the Columbia Basin Trust. “Sometimes I think of it as my child,” he said.

He believed MLA’s should be permitted to disagree with the party leader. Even though it was politically dangerous, he spoke publicly in defense of Bob Simpson when party leader Carole James booted Simpson out of caucus for criticizing her. Another time some MLA’S met with James privately to suggest a leadership review. At a caucus meeting she had staff hand out yellow ribbons to MLA’s not involved in this request, thereby singling out the “culprits.” When she castigated them publicly, Corky spoke strongly in their defense. He didn’t hesitate to jeopardize his own position in caucus.

Helen was concerned about Corky’s health because he had already dealt with heart issues and a bout with cancer. Prior to the 2009 election she asked, “Do you want to die in the legislature or do you want to die on your tractor?” This question clarified his thinking and he realized he wanted to die in his community, not with strangers.

Helen grows cut flowers on “Against the Wind Farm”.

Now living on their “Against the Wind Farm” alongside the Slocan River, Corky grows organic blueberries, potatoes and squash, and raises turkeys. Helen grows cut flowers. It’s a wonderful life,” he said.

Corky Evans enjoys working on the “Against the Wind Farm”.

Gerry St. Germain, Making A Difference

Gerry St. Germain at Stirling Creek Ranch, Hedley, BC

Former federal cabinet minister and Canadian Senator, Gerry St. Germain knows the feeling of being underestimated. In a conversation with Linda and me in his home at the Stirling Creek Ranch, not far from Hedley, he said, “many years ago I started dating a young woman. Her parents told her to stay away from me. He’s got Indian blood in him they said, and he won’t amount to anything.” This turned out to be fortuitous. In time he met and married Margaret, who became his lifelong partner in many adventures.

I was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba,” Gerry began. “My parents were renting a small cabin. The night they brought me home it was snowing and windy. The next morning my blanket was covered with snow. We were poor.”

He developed a way of looking at his circumstances that could be a beneficial template for youths today. “I got a lot of encouragement and help from the people in my life,” he said with evident conviction. “My mom and dad, my grandparents, and the whole family were my mentors, my support system. I learned to accept their counsel and to change.”

He also gives credit to the Grey Nuns and the Jesuits who educated him. “In one test,” he recalled, “the passing mark was 50 per cent. I got 65. They wouldn’t let me go home because I had not tried hard. I realized they were right. They were the best teachers.”

Gerry began setting goals early. “I knew I wanted to be a pilot, I knew I wanted to be a policeman. I also wanted to own a cattle ranch one day.”

At age 17 he enlisted in the Canadian Air Force. Not knowing he was being timed, he failed a written test. Even so, he told the officer he wanted to be an air controller. “No,” the officer said. “You will be washing trucks.” When he wrote the test again later, he achieved a high mark and went on to be a jet pilot. “It’s the best life,” he said. “I learned leadership skills that I wish we could impart to kids today.”

He still felt the call to law enforcement and in time joined the Vancouver police force. “I was an undercover cop assigned to the 100 block East Hastings beat. I learned to be tough. That’s what the people there respect.”

In the 1970’s, as real estate developers, he and his partner pre-sold several lots with a handshake for $40,000 each. When the prospectus came out, they were valued at $80,000. “We could have backed out, but I insisted we honour the deal. Word got around and it gave me a lot of credibility.”

His impressive success in business attracted attention and in 1983 he was urged to seek the Progressive Conservative nomination for the Mission-Port Moody riding, an NDP stronghold. At a large political gathering, wearing his signature stetson and not dressed in an expensive business suit like many of those present, he told people he intended to put his name forward and win in the coming by-election. Bob Ransford, later his trusted assistant and lifelong friend, initially dismissed him as a country bumpkin. He drew aside a cabinet minister and asked, “Who is this cowboy and who does he think he is? He doesn’t have a chance of winning.”

Gerry did win and in Ottawa became a friend of Brian Mulroney. The PM liked his fluency in English and French. He was appointed Caucus Chair and became known for his ability to fix sticky situations.

Later in his political career, he was named to the Senate and it was here he became active on behalf of Indigenous people. A Metis himself, he used the prestige of his position and his personal credibility to help bands develop alliances to negotiate more successfully with large corporations.

Now retired from politics, he is active part-time on the ranch and energetically supports Indigenous causes.

Gerry turned 80 last week. Looking back he told us, “It really isn’t about me. Margaret played an integral part in my achievements. People loved her. People took time to help me. Also, I have 3 heroes who inspire me to live with integrity and hope. They are Jesus Christ, Mother Teresa, and Terry Fox.” For more about his numerous contributions to Indigenous people and all Canadians, I suggest reading his excellent biography, I Am A Metis.

The Nelsons of Cawston

Phyllis & Fred Nelson

Sitting at a table among fruit laden trees in the midst of Fred and Phyllis Nelson’s Cawston orchard late this past summer, Linda and I felt embraced by their large family of neighbours and friends. The surrounding mountains outlined crisply against a pristine blue sky lent an aura of grandeur to the occasion. Scattered among the trees were about 200 people, all at tables, enjoying a delicious potluck meal. At the end of a protracted, dry summer, this was a welcome break in the routine of hard work. In the growing dusk, with talented musicians performing on stage, there seemed a pervasive sense of goodwill in the atmosphere.

Several very young boys with plastic shovels were digging vigorously in Fred’s potato patch. The expert manner in which they used their small shovels suggested they were offspring of local farmers.

Linda and I were intrigued by the Nelsons’ vision for this remarkable event. Wanting to know more, we returned to the orchard last week for a 2 hour conversation. “We’ve done this potluck annually for about 10 years,” Phyllis told us in reply to my question. “It’s a celebration of the harvest. We also celebrate music, and the fact we’ve been here another year. I get on the phone and invite our neighbours and friends. It’s strictly by invitation. There would be too many people if we opened it up.” We quickly grasped that she is a capable, proactive event planner.

I reminded Fred of seeing him shoo the youngsters out of his potato patch and asked if there are problems associated with the evening. “Digging up potatoes is not a permitted activity,” he said good-humouredly. “We spend a day preparing and another day cleaning up.”

Fred and Phyllis both grew up in Nelson, B.C., are only a few months apart in age and attended the same elementary school. “I became interested in Fred at age 8,” she said. “He wasn’t aware of me yet, but by age 13 we were dating.” Clearly Phyllis understood early how to make things fall into place.

After graduating in 1966, Fred trained in forestry at BCIT and Phyllis graduated from UVic with a degree in education. They were married at age 21. When their careers proved unfulfilling, they bought a VW bus and travelled for 26 months in Canada, the US and Mexico. Subsequently they fell in love with Cawston and rented the house in which they now live.

In time they were able to buy the house and a 10 acre portion of the orchard on which it is situated. The orchard was old and not producing an income. It would demand all the qualities normally required for success in any difficult endeavour. Their patience, perseverance and belief would be tested repeatedly. Fortunately Brian Mennell, a neighbour across the street, offered Fred employment and instruction in orcharding.

By this time they had 2 sons, Forrest and Pharron. Life became a financial scramble. Phyllis taught school and gave private piano lessons. Fred for some years was the water bailiff for the Fairview Irrigation District. He also did carpentry.

In 1996 they took what must have seemed a hazardous plunge into the unknown. Fred went into orcharding full-time. In the coming years they would encounter late frosts that destroyed blossoms, cold weather, crop destroying hail and much more. Lately, due to global warming there are new pests that destroy fruit and trees. All problems familiar to farmers. Their decision would require them to become a team forged together by love, trust, commitment and strength of character. They could not falter when disaster threatened.

Fred & Phyllis Nelson

I began a l0 year orchard development program,” Fred said. “Each year I took out one acre of trees and replanted with a variety of fruits, especially apples. I also switched to organic growing. For this I needed specialized equipment and materials. We are the only ones in the valley growing organic Aurora apples. They are particularly sweet, but delicate and require great care.”

Pherron Nelson (centre) & helpers packing organic aurora apples.

Now close to retirement, they will soon sell the orchard to Pharron and his wife, who already live and work on the property. Their other son, Forrest and his partner, also live in the Cawston area, and grow organic vegetables. Fred and Phyllis look forward to a slower pace and spending more time with their grandchildren. “I’m amazed at how quickly the years have flown by,” Phyllis said. Fred nodded agreement.

The Passing of Hugh Hefner and John Boersma

Hugh Hefner (April 9, 1926 – September 27, 2017) photo from Wikipedia

My friend John Boersma and Playboy empire founder Hugh Hefner had both attained the 9th decade when they passed away in September. This was pretty much all they had in common. John’s exit received little attention outside his very loyal circle of friends. Hefner had a following around the globe and for a couple of days, local and international media avidly interviewed anyone who had ever known him. I wondered about the impact of their lives.

Hugh Hefner is principally known for his Playboy Magazine and the 29 room Playboy Mansion. The former was first published in December, 1953, with Marilyn Monroe on the front cover. It became famous for its centerfold. Each issue featured a dazzlingly lovely young woman sporting an exquisite, flawless, totally nude body.

John Boersma (November 29, 1922 – September 17, 2017) photo from Dignity Memorial.

When John Boersma was a young man, a woman exposing her body publicly was considered unseemly. This was certainly true in the conservative culture in which he lived. He attained a trade, worked diligently, got married and with his wife Theresa raised 3 children. They sought to instill sound values and modeled stability.

In the mean time, Hugh Hefner was embarking on an amazingly, hedonistic life style. He established the Playboy Mansion and surrounded himself with “bunnies,” gorgeous young women he invited to live with him in the mansion. He dated up to 7 women at a time, had 5 partners over the years, plus numerous girlfriends. Into this confusing mix, he added 3 marriages. His third wife, Crystal Harris, was 26 and he was 86 when they married.

John Boersma was already in his 80’s when I met him at a longterm care facility where he visited Theresa daily. She had drifted into dementia, which might have persuaded some men to part company. Not John though. Even when she lost all speech, probably didn’t recognize him, and needed to be fed, he continued to call her “sweetie” and spend the entire day with her. When she rested, John cheered up other residents, encouraging them, often whistling a tune, adding his deep baritone to a musical group, sometimes taking a female resident’s chair and dancing with her. His zest for life raised morale and brought joy.

Hefner’s Playboy magazine lured men into a very different lifestyle. The centerfold caused their hormones to flutter erratically and dance in excited anticipation. I never did buy a copy but as a teen I occasionally slipped into the local pharmacy and surreptitiously viewed the beauty of the month. Payment of $25,000 persuaded many cash strapped lovelies to disrobe for the Playboy camera.

There’s a meticulously crafted sense of mystique around the mansion, the magazine, and Hefner himself. The Playboy empire is deliberately portrayed as a glamorous, magical kingdom with Hefner in the role of Playboy Prince. The alluring imagery is calculated to lead people to believe they’re missing something essential, and to long for that elusive ingredient.

As seen from outside the Mansion, it is indeed a glamorous and enticing lifestyle. According to several former Hefner playmates however, the reality was not as enchanting as the public image. Holly Madison, for 6 years Hefner’s #1 girlfriend, presented a more somber view in Down the Rabbit Hole. In its promotion of the book, publisher Harper Collins wrote “What seemed like a fairy tale life quickly devolved into an oppressive routine of strict rules, manipulation and battles with ambitious, backstabbing bunnies. Life inside the notorious mansion wasn’t a dream at all, and quickly became her nightmare.”

In Bunny Tales, Izabella St. James, another former Hefner girlfriend wrote, “ Every Friday morning we had to go to Hef’s room, wait while he picked up all the dog poo off the carpet, and then asked for our one thousand dollar weekly allowance. He used the money to control us. We all hated the process.” St. James described the mansion as decrepit. “The mattresses on our beds were disgusting – old, worn and stained. The whole business was built on the bodies of nude women.”

There are always some who push the bar lower. Flamboyant individuals like Hugh Hefner are able to have a destabilizing impact on our society, because the media love to feature them and we are willing to be tempted. People like John Boersma do not exude the same charm or charisma, but they set for themselves a high standard of morality and decency. They are worthy role models for us all.

 

John van Dongen On Life And Politics

John van Dongen

In a drenching downpour on a Saturday morning in 1995, I huddled under an umbrella with a ragtag group of local citizens picketing a mushroom composting complex on Lefeuvre Road in the Fraser Valley. A car stopped alongside the roadway and MLA John van Dongen stepped out. Standing under a large umbrella he explained the Farm Practices Act and answered our questions. As the Liberal Agricultural Critic, he was a staunch supporter of farming in the province.

In the ensuing months we had further conversations with him and he came to understand our concerns about the stench emanating from mushroom plants at several locations in Abbotsford. Last week I called him at his home in Abbotsford and he agreed to talk about his early years, his time as an MLA and Minister in the provincial government and the recent Darryl Plecas decision.

His beginnings were humble. “I was born 5 months after my parents came to Canada from Holland in 1949,” he said. “They had $219.00 to get started. In 1951 they bought a little swampy farm, probably with loans from family and friends. I didn’t know much English when I started grade one.”

John’s parents were Catholic. “My siblings and I were taught all the basic virtues of the Christian faith,” he said. “I attended a Catholic school and two teachers, both nuns, had a positive influence on my life. Initially I had serious thoughts about becoming a priest. I attended the Seminary of Christ the King, part of the Westminster Abbey at Mission. After 2 years, I realized I didn’t have a calling to be a priest.”

My father was a farmer, and by age 16 I decided I wanted to be a farmer too. We’d come running home from school, put on work clothes and go to the barn. My father expected us to work hard.”

At UBC he studied Agricultural Economics, still intent on farming. After his third year, the Ministry of Agriculture hired him as an Assistant Dairy Farm Inspector in summer. “I was 20,” he said, “but I looked 16. That’s when I started growing a beard.”

By 1975 he was renting a small dairy farm in Dewdney. He later bought the 135 acre dairy farm that he still operates with the help of his nephew, who is gradually taking over the family farm. In 1979, at age 29, his political education began as a member of the board of Dairyland. “I read a lot about corporate governance, and I learned from 3 senior Directors”. He was particularly influenced by Peter Friesen, an Abbotsford dairy and poultry farmer. “I held Peter’s hand when he was on his deathbed.”

John van Dongen on the dairy farm.

When Liberal MLA Harry deJong resigned his Abbotsford seat in 1994, John was nominated to replace him and he won the 1995 by-election. “I wanted government to be relevant to the people,” he said. “I tried to educate citizens about their rights. My constituency office worked with people on issues like child protection and income assistance. I would offer to come to the family home to learn about the problem. To be more effective on behalf of constituents, I worked to have constructive relationships with (NDP) government ministers.”

He developed a reputation for following through on commitments and returning phone calls. In regard to the mushroom composting issue I mentioned at the outset, John worked closely with Corky Evans, then Agriculture Minister. When I called Corky at his home and asked for his memory of this matter, he said, “John and I didn’t care about the politics. We just wanted to get the job done.”

The Liberals formed government in 2001. As Minister of Agriculture, John stickhandled through the Avian flu crises and the disastrous “mad cow” disease. Then, as Solicitor General he worked patiently with the federal government and also the Americans, to bring in the Enhanced Drivers Licence. He had been warned the Americans would never accept this.

At the end of our marathon telephone conversation, I asked about Darryl Plecas’ controversial decision to become Speaker of the Legislature. “Darryl took a 50% cut in pay to become an MLA,” he said. “Money wasn’t the motivation. He knew people didn’t want another election.”

When John van Dongen declined to support Christy Clark’s leadership, this decision ended his political career. For him it was a matter of integrity and ethics. The outcome of the recent provincial election suggests a lot of British Columbians agree.