Category Archives: People

Larry McIntosh Influenced Hedley Fire Department

Some members of the Hedley Fire Department at practise (Larry McIntosh not on this photo).
Some members of the Hedley Fire Department at practise (Larry McIntosh not on this photo).

In 1976, on my first visit to Hedley, I watched with fascination as firefighters, clad in jeans and t-shirts, ran to put out a chimney fire. They were pulling a 2 wheeled cart laden with a firehose. They had plenty of grit, but scant equipment or training.

Some years later, Linda and I moved to Hedley and I was able to observe the development of the Fire Department. The community made a bold move into the 20th century in 1984 when it acquired a 1973 Ford firetruck. Because house fires were scarce, the truck was used mainly to douse occasional chimney fires and for practise. Its mileage remained almost static and we had little thought of upgrading. Why pay higher taxes for a new truck we didn’t need?

Our complacent thinking received a rude shock when the insurance underwriters informed us our well preserved truck must be replaced, or our premiums would rise sharply. Many in the community felt we should look for a suitable used truck. The fire department argued for a new one. In two referendums we turned down the purchase of a new truck. Then, when we went to renew our home insurance, we experienced premium sticker shock. In a third referendum we meekly bowed to the will of the all powerful underwriters and voted to buy a new fire truck. This marked the beginning of a remarkable transformation in the department.

After talking recently with Derek Lilly, a former Fire Chief, current Assistant Chief Doug Nimchuk, and retired Fire Department Manager, Graham Gore, I’ve concluded that one individual provided the primary impetus for the high standard now evident in the Hedley Fire Department.

Larry McIntosh settled in Hedley in about 2002. He had earlier been employed by the Delta Ambulance Service, when it was still combined with the Fire Department. He had also been Unit Chief of the Princeton Ambulance Service. He was currently working for the Forestry Wild Fire Service in summers, in charge of Logistics. His experience and skill level were impressive, and he was named Hedley’s Assistant Fire Chief. Using his wide range of training and expertise, he began making significant changes.

Larry laid the base for what we have today,” Doug Nimchuk told me. Graham agreed. “He had been involved in combating pretty much every major fire in B.C. Larry brought a high level of professionalism. He built training records and operational records. He instituted truck inspections and standardized turnout gear.”

Larry trained our First Medical Responders,” Doug said. “He raised the service to a high level. I accompanied him on a number of calls. He was confident and competent.”

Larry could be thoroughly practical. At one house fire there was a need for ventilation. He threw bricks and stones through the windows. He was known to say, “just give me water! Surround and drown!” At one fire only 26 inches separated the burning home from the adjacent building. Following Larry’s teaching, firefighters maintained a constant stream of water in the narrow space and the second structure was saved.

By the time Larry’s employment no longer permitted him to give much attention locally, he had trained others and established sound procedures. He apparently understood clearly he would be most effective, not by attracting more followers, but by developing more leaders. “He taught me almost everything I know,” Graham said. “Without his teaching and personal attention, I could not have been manager of the department.”

Larry didn’t seek recognition. He wanted to teach, raise standards and hand over responsibilities to the next generation. Graham, in his time as department manager, has sought to maintain Larry’s systems and his high standard of fire fighting and First Responder excellence.

End view of our house after fire burned the house next door
End view of our house after fire burned the house next door

Seven years ago the home next to ours burned to the ground on New Years Eve. It was a cold night and there was plenty of ice. Under the Command of Larry McIntosh, the Hedley Firefighters, with assistance from Keremeos, saved our home and the home on the other side. The new truck and the skill, training and discipline of the firefighters prevented what could have been a disastrous fire all along our block.

Before passing away unexpectedly on June 3rd of this year, Larry McIntosh played a key role in raising the Hedley Fire Department to a much higher level. Thanks to him, Graham, Doug and all the dedicated firefighters, our little community has a fire department we can be proud of.

Dave Cursons, Not Ready To Slow Down

Dave Cursons of Dumplingdale Organic Farm, Cawston, BC
Dave Cursons of Dumplingdale Organic Farm, Cawston, BC

An initial encounter with Dave Cursons of Cawston might lead to an assumption he’s a university prof, deeply immersed in lecturing and ivory tower research. His white beard and quiet, unassuming demeanor could point us in that direction. It would be a hugely incorrect conclusion, however. For many years he’s been a powerhouse in issues important to the Similkameen Valley, sometimes taking the lead, at other times working behind the scenes. Now 70, he still gladly rolls up his sleeves and gets his hands dirty, so to speak.

Born in New Westminster in 1947, he experienced most of the years of the Cold War, which threatened to erupt on a number of occasions into an atomic cataclysm. “In school,” he recalls, “we were told that if we saw a flash, we should dive into a ditch. As a child and a youth, it frightened me. I didn’t expect to live past 25.”

For many years he has been active in the Peace Movement and for 34 years has participated in the Mother’s Day March to the Canada-U.S. border. “My views on war were probably shaped by Ben Ankrum, an elderly WWI veteran who during the 1930’s spoke on Armistice Day at my mother’s school. He was a family friend and when I was 8 or 10 made quite an impression.”

One thing Mr. Ankrum said remains indelibly etched in his memory. “He told us as long as there is an arms buildup, there will be war. He was outspoken on militarism and he was right. Mr. Ankrum always wore a beret.” Dave paused for a moment, then said, “It just occurred to me that I often do too. An influence for sure.”

Dave Cursons often wears a beret.
Dave Cursons often wears a beret.

As a youth Dave became a Boy Scout and also joined the National Survival Program. “I was a marksman and I enjoyed martial music,” he said. “We did a lot of marching.” A mischievous smile briefly touched his face. “I wasn’t in step though and the Sergeant said I looked like a pregnant water buffalo.”

In 1995 he met Gabriele, his wife, across the table at a forestry seminar. “We were both outspoken,” he said. “Our views differed but that didn’t matter. She was from Germany and had become a farmer in Cawston. We bought an acreage and named it the Dumplingdale Organic Farm. We grow produce for the farmers market in Penticton. Gabriele is the farmer. I’m an occasional field hand.”

Dave’s interests are wide ranging. He talked about the history of trails and roads in what is now The Crowsnest Route. “The grade couldn’t be more than 12 per cent or it was too steep for a horse drawn wagon.”

In high school Dave’s favourite subject was social studies. The Crusades and the Riel Rebellion especially intrigued him. In grade 11, in a Bible history course, he became aware of the Jewish Pentateuch. “It provides information about some of the issues we are grappling with today. An example is the notion that we are not of this earth and the earth isn’t that friendly.”

His first year at UVic didn’t go well. “I enrolled in Latin because it seemed to me a base for history, a key to understanding who we are. Academically I was a flop. I failed the Latin course. I took a year off and worked on a railway crew, building bridges and snow sheds.”

Dave later graduated as an English literature major from UBC. He subsequently worked many years as a probation officer and then as a family court counselor. “When I retired, it was to our little farm in Cawston,” he said.

Retirement for Dave is fulfilling. He provided leadership in the development of the Cawston Players and is still active with them. He also works a few hours a week counseling youth. “In counseling one needs to gain trust,” he said. “It’s very encouraging for me to spend time with children. I think that from them we get a clearer view of the world.”

Dave joined the B.C. Green Party when it was formed in 1983 and has been a candidate 3 times in the 80’s and 90’s. In the recent provincial campaign he served as campaign manager for the local Green candidate.

How would he like to finish the race? “I’d like to grow wise,” he answered, “but I’m not sure I know how.” Dave Cursons, you may be closer than you realize.

Redemption Of Two Abused Boys

Shayne & Jennifer with Curtis & Dallas, April 2006.
Shayne & Jennifer with Curtis & Dallas, April 2006.

Having observed first hand the way abused children often turn out as adults, I’ve come to consider their redemption as virtually miraculous. This was certainly my conclusion after Jennifer told Linda and me the story of Dallas and Kurtis, the young sons of Shayne, her second husband. I feel her account might be of interest and benefit to others.

Shayne was a trucker,” she began. “He wasn’t home enough to look after the boys and their 2 half- sisters, so they were living with their mother Cassia. There was a lot of alcohol in the home and Cassia’s boyfriend was abusive to her.”

Jennifer’s face grew serious as she continued. “Cassia moved her family into a house with 16 people. Then she moved out on her own again, accompanied by the boyfriend. The boys’ family life was chaotic and we suspected they were being abused. We thought the boyfriend might be a crack addict. I decided we couldn’t just stand by and watch their lives being destroyed.”

There was conviction in her voice and I sensed her keenly honed understanding of right and wrong. “We got permission to take the boys to our home for 3 weeks. This became a pattern for some time. Their bodies were usually bruised when they came. We always took them to be examined by a doctor when they arrived and before we returned them. The boys feared repercussions if they talked about their home life so they kept quiet about that.”

During one visit, Shayne became troubled by something Cassia was planning for the boys. He threatened to not return them. A few days later, Cassia and a friend arrived from Prince George with a court order for their return. They waited down the street while the police went to enforce the order. The boys cried. Kurtis sat on the step and said, “I’m not going back!” “It was a terrible day for the boys and for us. We were powerless to prevent it.”

When the boys were 5 and 6, Cassia agreed to let them live with Jennifer and Shayne for one year. Three weeks after arriving, they began to divulge the mental, emotional and physical abuse they had endured. “Things were bad with Dallas,” Jennifer recalls, “he was diagnosed with FAS and ADHD. Being older, he had seen and experienced more.”

Both boys were enrolled in counselling, with a good deal of play therapy. In their own way, each arrived at a unique understanding. One day the counsellor invited Jennifer into the play room and pointed to a play house. Opening the doors to the little house, she said, “Kurtis removed all the furniture and people. He even tore out the carpets.” The counsellor explained that when he had completed gutting the house he shut the doors and said, “I’m moving out. I’m done.” He was leaving his old life and memories behind.

About 7 months after the boys moved in with Jennifer and Shayne, Dallas asked them and also Jenae, Jennifer’s daughter, to sit in the living room. Then he quite formally addressed them all. “Cassia isn’t our Mom anymore,” he pronounced. From now on we’ll call her Cassia. Jennifer is our Mom.”

After the agreed upon year, Cassia didn’t show up in court to contest an application to give Shayne full custody and Jennifer guardianship over the boys. Since then Dallas has many times asked to see these papers, wanting assurance he and Kurtis would not be returned.

Cassia has never even asked about them in our occasional telephone conversations,” Jennifer said. “Recently she did request to speak with them. Dallas absolutely refused. Kurtis reluctantly agreed, but only by phone.” As the day for Cassia’s call approached, he wanted Jennifer to tell her he had changed his mind. Wanting him to grow strong, Jennifer told him, “I can’t protect you anymore. You’ll have to tell her yourself.” Cassia didn’t call.

Shayne, Dallas, Jennifer & Curtis in 2016
Shayne, Dallas, Jennifer & Curtis in 2016

Dallas is now 18 and has completed his first year in a construction electrical program. He is apprenticing with an electrical contractor. Kurtis is 17 and enrolled in an architectural drafting course.

Dallas summed up their experience recently. “If you hadn’t rescued us, we’d have lived in foster homes and on the streets. I’d be in jail.”

The redemption of Dallas and Kurtis came only with Jennifer and Shayne’s love, patience, and unwavering commitment. It is indeed a miracle.

Iva McLaren, Everyone’s Granny

Demolition of the McLaren Home
Demolition of the McLaren Home

In 1940 William and Iva Mclaren travelled by train with their 9 children from Saskatchewan to the Lumby/Cherryville area. Hearing there were mining jobs in Hedley, they loaded furniture, children and chickens onto a truck and travelled here, hoping for a new beginning. At that time the community was a bustling gold mining centre. With their large family, William’s job at the Nickle Plate Mine was sorely needed and welcome. Last week the McLaren home, nestled among trees alongside 20 Mile Creek, was taken down. The demolition was a reminder that their simple way of life is gone forever

When Linda and I had a conversation with their granddaughter Marianne McLaren recently, we found she has fond recollections of them, especially of her grandmother. We have been told by long time residents, Derek Lilly and Terry Sawiuk, Iva was everyone’s Granny.

Talking about her grandmother’s early years, Marianne said, “Grandma was 9 and had only a grade 4 education when her parents took her out of school and sent her to a farm to help with the children and do housework. Grandfather was a worker on the same farm, but 20 years older. It took time, but they fell in love and were married.”

Marianne’s family moved to Ontario when she was 5 so she didn’t get to know her grandfather well before he passed away in 1962. She does remember that he was quiet and laid back, and let grandmother make many day to day decisions. “But there was never any doubt that he was the final authority in the home. Grandma rented their first home, the house next to the former ball park, now owned by Dave Peers.”

Marianne thinks of her Grandma as a real go getter. “She joined every group in town and, in partnership with Jean Granger, ran a bingo in the Senior’s Centre. She also opened a cafe in the building on Scott Avenue where Elef Christensen now has a store.”

Iva frequently came to the aid of ill individuals, preparing meals and cleaning their home. One of these left her some money in his will. Another, Bob MacKenzie, sold her a lot with a small house at a very good price. In 1945 the still growing McLaren clan moved into this house. Located on Webster street on the far side of the bridge over 20 mile creek, it’s still an idyllic setting.

The 1948 flood left the house perched precariously on the bank, but the family continued to live in it for a time. This was also the year Iva, now 48, delivered her 12th child. With a large family their options were limited.

When their small home on the creek became too endangered by erosion of the bank, Iva moved the family into 2 small shacks behind her cafe. In 1958-59, a son and a son in law dug a partial basement by hand and built a new house on the family’s property. Much of the lumber was hauled down from the no longer operating Mascot mine. Three years later William passed away, leaving Iva to carry on alone.

Idyllic setting of McLaren house.
Idyllic setting of McLaren house.

When Marianne returned to BC as a young woman, she and Iva sometimes did cooking projects together. One day while pickling cucumbers, Marianne observed that Grandma wasn’t measuring ingredients. Appalled at the large quantity of salt being added, she exclaimed, “Grandma, that’s far too much salt!” Nonplussed, Iva said, “It will work.”

In another cooking project Iva said, “stop using that dirty sugar!” Surprised, Marianne asked what she meant. Iva’s explanation helped her understand that with the advent of white sugar, manufacturers’ advertising had begun referring to brown sugar as “dirty.”

Grandma didn’t buy bread,” Marianne said. “She baked her own. She grew a garden and canned the produce.”

After the children were out of the home, Iva was able to relax more and have fun. “Grandma and several girlfriends began taking the bus to Vegas,” Marianne said. When I asked if they gambled, she replied, “oh yes, they gambled!”

To help Iva, Marianne’s father, Ernest McLaren, bought the property and paid maintenance expenses. When Iva was 86, her son Tommy moved her to the Legion apartments in Princeton. She passed away at age 97.

Marianne and her partner, Mark Woodcock, now own the property and will put up a new home. Undoubtedly William and Iva would be pleased.

Mark Woodcock & Marianne McLaren
Mark Woodcock & Marianne McLaren

Allan Gill, Not A Conventional Thinker

Allan Gill
Allan Gill

When former Similkameen Valley veterinarian Allan Gill expressed enthusiasm for the beauty of slugs, I thought I had misunderstood him. “You didn’t say slugs, did you?” I asked. He assured me he had. For me that was a novel concept. In the course of our conversation I was to learn he is not a conventional thinker.

Allan was 4 when his family moved to Princeton in 1943. His father, formerly a member of an elite unit in the police force, had been appointed as the local game warden. He is still fondly recalled by area seniors.

Standing at 6 feet, 4 inches, Allan has the height and robust physique of a big league quarterback. “My brother Carl and I are identical twins,” he said. “Most people can’t tell us apart.” It occurred to me that seeing 2 very tall men of identical appearance might result in a sensation of double vision.

IMG_3589

At UBC, Allan became interested in comparative physiology, but along with 8 others taking a first year biology course, he failed. Fortunately, he had several mentors. “The registrar, CB Wood, kind of tucked us under his wing,” he said. “Sometimes he took us to his home. I stayed in touch with him after graduating.”

Allan obtained a doctorate in veterinarian medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. Then, in the mid-eighties, he didn’t hesitate when he had an opportunity to take over a 2 day a week small animal practice in Princeton. “My base was in Kelowna where I had a full service animal hospital. I had a plane. That made it possible to serve people in a number of British Columbia communities. I also flew to the Yukon 2 times a year and went from town to town treating animals. Sometimes, especially in rural areas, people asked for advice concerning their own medical issues. Often people in out of the way places were lonely and just wanted to talk. Getting to know these people gave me a lot of joy.”

He wasn’t a small thinker. A 1-800 line enabled him to practise animal medicine across Canada. In one case a hunter deep in the bush asked about removing porky pine quills from his dog. “He knew he had to get the quills out,” Allan said, “but he hadn’t thought of checking inside his mouth and ears.”

As he talked, it became evident Allan continues to have a special place in his heart for people in the Similkameen Valley. ” I visit as often as possible. I stay in contact with about 15 people here, most of whom became friends when they brought their pets to the clinic.”

It’s probably fortuitous they enjoy visiting this area regularly. Recently Allan became aware of a rumour making the rounds in Princeton that he has Alzheimer’s. Another rumour suggested he had died. Apparently he’s one of those larger than life individuals people like to speculate about.

Animals, like people, are drawn to him. Bill Day, a part-time resident of Hedley said, “one day I took Tobi (a small black Terrier Cross he shares with partner Lynn) on a walk with Allan. When we returned, Tobi was so enamoured with Allan he wanted to go with him, not me.”

In time, Allan became intrigued by the faces of his elderly clients. “I began asking if I could photograph them,” he said. “Then I started inviting people I spotted in town.”

Among those he has photographed is Joe Bell, a sniper in the U.S. army in Vietnam. He also photographed Rollo Ceccon, a local contractor who many times moved the Princeton caboose. Last year he featured 16 of his portraits at a showing in Princeton.

Now in retirement, Allan’s curious mind continues to embrace new opportunities. One of these is x-ray floral photography. With technical assistance from collaborators who have expertise in radiology and photo manipulation, he is able to create exquisite images.

At this point he shared one of the secrets of his success in life. “I’ve had lots of help,” he said. “Over the years I’ve learned that to accomplish things, I need to find people with skills I don’t have.”

At the end of our conversation Allan Gill said, “I’m surprised that at my age I’m still fascinated by things that interested me as a 12 year old. I’m grateful I can still do things I love. I feel very, very lucky.”


Linda Larson, Wiser And More Experienced

Linda Larson
Linda Larson

Before Linda Larson arrived at our home for a conversation last Thursday, I read the column I had written about her 2 years ago. At that time she said, “In my childhood, mom struggled to put food on the table. She baked bread. We had butter every 2 to 3 months. Other kids at school wore store bought clothes. My mom made mine.” Since those early meager times, Linda has attained considerable success in politics, initially as mayor of Oliver and more recently as the Boundary/Similkameen MLA. I was interested in her perception of what it’s like to play a role (even if not a high echelon one) in Christy Clark’s high roller style of politics. I also wanted to know if success had in any way tainted her values and principles.

Sitting at the round table in our sun room, eating my wife Linda’s egg sandwiches and bean salad, we engaged in a pretty frank discussion of life in provincial politics. I was watchful for the usual escape hatches that politicians duck into to evade uncomfortable questions.

I began our conversation by suggesting that a lot of politicians express a desire at the outset of their career to make their community and country a better, safer, more liveable place, but before long they become jaded. “It is important to come into politics with the belief you can make things better,” she replied. “Politics is a game, but not a frivolous game. You have to learn the rules and make them work for you. As an individual, you aren’t powerful, but as a member of a team you are.”

She reflected for a moment. “If I want to get things done, I need to be a team member. Democracy is a challenging system, but it’s the best in the world.”

In response to my question, she cited several instances where she has obtained results. A transition house, a dam project and an irrigation system. Also a 10 year contract for the Grist Mill in Keremeos.

It’s complex,” she observed. “Sometimes it takes a lot of time and persevering. Three years ago a man came to me with the request that disabled motorcyclists be permitted to park in places designated as disabled parking. “It was quite a process,” she said. “A number of organizations and several government departments were involved. Now you can get a sticker for a motorcycle licence that lets you use a parking space reserved for the disabled.”

She told us that work on individual files is handled by a staffer in her office. “When a man didn’t have the funds to take a bus to Vancouver for cancer treatments, Pat knew who to talk to. She has dealt with 700 cases over the past 4 years. She really knows how to produce results. This allows me to work on larger, complex issues that require engaging various levels of government.”

About 95 percent of people are great, Linda told us. “I love my work and I love the people. When someone is angry, I know something has happened. We have to try to fix it. Only about 5 percent are negative, but they are also the most vocal. Dealing with them has taught me I have a thicker skin than I realized.”

Linda acknowledges there have been disappointments. “In my riding natural gas is not available to a number of homes.

Those people are hit hard by high electricity costs. I had hoped for more from the recent BCEU report.” Her face registered concern. “We can’t just tell a government body what to do,” she said. “A rule change can affect the entire province. Government needs to look at social, environmental and cost implications when making changes. I feel though there is a better way and we need to find it. I will continue to work on it.”

I sensed that her concern regarding exorbitant hydro rates is deep and genuine. She has the experience to know this will not be an easy fix. She’ll need allies. Her statement that she will continue working on it seemed much more than a convenient line to please voters.

After our 90 minute conversation, I had a better understanding of how government functions. Linda didn’t duck into escape hatches and I felt pretty certain she has not been unduly influenced by the flamboyant, off the cuff style of her leader. Still Linda Larson, but wiser and more experienced.

Linda Larson on the campaign trail.
Linda Larson on the campaign trail.

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.

Painting of Chief Crowfoot by Richard Lindemere
Painting of Chief Crowfoot by Richard Lindemere

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.”

IMG_3509

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.

IMG_3514

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.”