Category Archives: People

Community Pastor and Firefighter

When Graham and Myrtle Gore moved to Hedley in 2002, he

Graham Gore
Graham Gore

harboured no vision for involvement in the community, certainly not in church work.

I’ve been a pastor,” he told his neighbour Rick, “but I’m here to retire.” He had been a pastor in Kamloops, a missionary in Nicaragua and an associate in a nation wide evangelistic tent ministry.

Sitting at our kitchen table with him and listening to him talk about his life, I sensed that Graham’s emotional energy had been at a low ebb when they arrived here on September 20 of that year. He was 63 and the years of working with people had exacted a serious toll. Plus their converted Greyhound bus had been smashed the previous month and their daughter had passed away.

Since that time he has regained his passion for life. He is guiding a small flock in the town’s only church and is also manager of the Hedley Fire Department. Many see him as the “community officiant” in rites of passage ceremonies. He dedicates babies, conducts marriages and guides the community through Celebrations of Life. He has become a pillar in the Hedley community.

His spiritual journey began early, but was seriously derailed. “When I was 17,” he said “I was reading the Bible late one night in the Anglican church in Penticton. God very clearly impressed on me that I should enter the ministry.”

He kept God waiting. At age 20 he entered into a difficult marital union. “I didn’t have the maturity to work through the issues. I was 28 when we divorced.”

In 1968 Graham married Myrtle. This matured into a stable and deeply satisfying relationship, an example to the community of a committed life partnership.

Initially however, a dark cloud enveloped them. He was manager of the auto parts department in a dealership. “When we moved to Revelstoke,” he said, “I began drinking too much.” Alcohol became a potent force in his life and nearly destroyed him.

Everything changed in 1974,” he said, “when I found the Lord (became a Christian). I stopped smoking and drinking”. He describes himself as a “delivered” alcoholic. He and Myrtle have developed a good relationship with his ex-wife.

When I asked one parishioner what makes Graham an effective pastor, she said “a good heart,” then added, “and life experiences.” Graham agrees life experiences play a crucial role in his ministry. “Our blended family gives me greater understanding when I’m counselling blended families.”

Having observed him in his roles outside the church walls, I agree with those who say he is pastor to the community. Volunteering with the Fire Department might be viewed as “ministering”. When the community purchased a new fire truck some 5 years ago, Graham joined the Fire Department because it needed members with an air endorsement. Since then he has come to be a mainstay of the department. He has taken courses such as Incident Safety Officer and Incident Command. He attended seminars taught by Larry McIntosh, former Assistant Fire Chief. “Much of my learning has come by sitting down with the books and studying.” Until a year ago he did most of the theory instruction. He still runs fire practises at times.

In the Fire Hall and church Graham is a mentor, encouraging and training future leaders. Concerning the Fire Department, he says, “I want to continue to raise the level of professionalism here.”

His work and influence constantly spill over into the community. In his view, sending children to camp is one of the most important things the church does. “This year we sent 14 children and young people,” he told me. “A number were from homes not associated with the church. We don’t turn anyone away, regardless of whether they can contribute to the camp fees.”

Graham is gratified by the help of the community in the bottle drive that provides a portion of the funds for camp. “People bring bottles to my home almost everyday,” he said.

Graham and Myrtle minister to a diverse congregation and a diverse community. It is evident they have a love for Hedley. It is equally evident many in town respect and appreciate their positive leadership and unstinting work in the community.

Bill Robinson at Camp Defiance

I first spotted Bill Robinson’s cabin in 1976 when I began regularly

Bill Robinson's Camp Defiance, still there but in a state of decay, Jan. 2015
Bill Robinson’s Camp Defiance, still there but in a state of decay, Jan. 2015

travelling the winding #3 Highway between Hope and Hedley. Nestled among trees and brush, and separated from the highway by the Sumallo River, the cabin seemed shrouded in an aura of mystery.

It appeared well constructed with a stone fireplace and chimney. Whoever built it must have planned to stay awhile. It’s ravaged, weathered exterior had obviously already been exposed to many years of frigid winter winds and heavy snowfalls.

In addition to the cabin, there were two outbuildings, all apparently empty and equally neglected. I wondered what sort of individual had chosen to live in this remote mountainous valley. Had its inhabitant become dissatisfied with the expectations of civilization? Had he (I assumed it was a man) felt rejected by people? What had driven him to this place where contact with society must have been scant?

In the hope of satisfying my curiosity, I began seeking answers to my myriad questions. Bill Robinson didn’t make my quest easy. He apparently didn’t leave behind any account of his life. Michael Cluckner’s ” Vanishing British Columbia” did provide some useful information, as did comments on his blogsite left by others.

Robinson named his home Camp Defiance, probably because he was defying the wilderness. He was a prospector and the proprietor of Foundation Mines. I came across no record of him having hit pay dirt, but he must have discovered a bonanza in the realm of life experience.

It is believed Robinson was there from the end of World War I. In Vol. 46, 1982 of the Okanagan Historical Society, Joan Greenwood wrote that in August, 1926 a nurse, Mary Warburton set out from Hope by foot to pick fruit in the Okanagan. The #3 Highway did not yet exist so she must have been on the Dewdney Trail, which ran close by Camp Defiance. She knocked on Robinson’s door but he was still in bed. By the time he had got dressed and opened the door, she was disappearing from sight down the trail. She got lost in the mountains and was missing for several weeks. Coming across the cabin owned by “Podunk” Davis, she lit a fire in the stove and accidentally burned the place. This drew the attention of Podunk and she was rescued.

In 1929 Rev. John C Goodfellow was walking from Hope to Princeton. He later wrote “After a while … we came to the first sign of civilization since leaving the Overland (car) at Mile 9 Bridge. This was Camp Defiance. We walked right in and received a royal welcome from a man named Robinson.”

A couple of years later Bruce Hutchinson, a writer for the Province Sunday Magazine also walked the trail. In the August 10, 1931 issue he wrote, “Camp Defiance is almost the farthest thrust of civilization in these mountains. His little garden of strawberries, lettuce, and potatoes, 6 petunias and 8 Sweet Williams, in the narrow gorge between the mountain and the stream, are a welcome sight to those who have just come out of the wilderness. And so are the big firm trout Bill caught at his back door last night, and the pie made from his late ripening strawberries.”

It is evident from the few brief accounts that Robinson was not deranged, a malcontent or a hermit. Rather he was gregarious and hospitable. Many years later Leo McIver worked along the Hope-Princeton Highway. Sometimes he visited Camp Defiance. His son Len wrote “Bill burned wood in his fireplace and coal oil in lamps. He and his cronies told stories, fished, drank and dreamed.”

Sometimes men brought their wives, but I have seen no mention of Robinson having a wife. In this setting it would almost certainly have been mentioned if there had been a woman present. White men frequently had common law relationships with aboriginal women. Bill Robinson apparently did not.

The fact that Leo McIver visited Camp Defiance after the highway was built in 1949 indicates Robinson was there at least until then. In the end though, he slipped into oblivion as quietly as he had come. He left behind no diary so all we have are the minimal memories recorded by others. This winter Linda and I pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway to capture a few photos. Not much left of the cabin. Like Bill Robinson, it will soon be only a memory, still shrouded in mystery.

Hedley Arborist Gets High, Naturally

This past Saturday and Sunday morning, while many local citizens

Travis Barck, comfortable in high places.
Travis Barck, comfortable in high places.

were sleeping in or having breakfast, Travis Barck was already clambering about in a tree high above the ground. Hedley’s premiere arborist, he had been contracted to tidy up the massive trees alongside and behind the Hedley Historical Museum. It was a major job but as usual, he appeared confident as a bald eagle perched on a high mountain outcropping.

“This is a Box Elder,” he said,

Travis Barck plying his trade in the Manitoba Maple
Travis Barck plying his trade in the Manitoba Maple

“sometimes it’s also called a Manitoba Maple. It’s the biggest one I’ve ever worked on. At least 3 feet in diameter.” The main impetus for having the trees pruned was a neighbour’s complaint that branches of a tree on one side of the property were touching his roof and leaves were making a mess on his driveway.

“It really was time to give all the trees a pruning,” Travis said. “The winter storms broke branches and some were hanging up in the trees. It was dangerous.”

“They probably have not been pruned in many years,” he explained. “In the past the Box Elder has been topped. This can cause decay. It wasn’t real bad on this tree, but some has set in.” The other large tree behind the Museum is a Norway Maple.

Travis is a U.S. citizen with permanent resident status in Canada. He is applying to be a dual citizen.

Although only 36, he comes with an impressive array of experience and training. He began his horticultural career in 2000, working at the illustrious Las Vegas Springs Preserve, then obtained a BA from Cornell University in 2004. In 2006 he worked at the Morris Arboretum, one of the most renowned tree museums in the world. He moved to BC in 2007. Until he came to Hedley about 3 years ago, he worked for Bartlett Tree Experts. In his day job he is a Utility Operator with Public Works in Princeton. Due to the winter storms, he has plenty of work to do there.

Locally he’s been seen silhouetted high against the sky, 80-90 feet above ground, trimming Douglas Firs. His artistry with a chain saw is helping tidy up and beautify the town.

Manning Park Has Another Prettiest Girl

Toward the end of 2014 I wrote about Laura, “the Prettiest Girl in Manning Park.” A couple of days ago Linda and I stopped there to pick up coffees to go, and discovered that for the past year Laura has had an equally pretty work partner. Manning Park often surprises and delights us with its grandeur, beauty and fresh air. Meeting Janis was another Manning Park surprise.

When we walked into the store, which Laura manages, we sensed quickly she was even more upbeat than usual. She embraced us warmly – the first time ever.

We had not seen Laura since posting the column about her. The hugs seemed to suggest the story had been a positive experience. I mentioned that the blog had received a vast increase in visits for a few days after that post. “You must have a lot of fans,” I said. She smiled.

“The Lodge manager become aware of the post.” she explained. “He publicized it around here”. She seemed happy about the recognition.

Then she told us about Janis, a young German gal who has worked at Manning for a year. As she spoke, I began to wonder if Laura had something in mind. “Janis learned about the Lodge at the Jobs Fair in Vancouver,” she said. “Adolfo, one of the young men who works here, was at the fair. He thought she was wonderful and urged us to hire her.” She glanced at her watch. “Janis is due to come into the store in 5 minutes.” It seemed she hoped we’d wait. “Her time in Canada will be up in 4 days, but she wants to come back and live here. She says Canadians are more friendly.” Laura’s voice exuded warmth and excitement as she spoke of her work partner and friend.

While she went to serve a customer, we examined a display of warm

Janis at Manning Park
Janis at Manning Park

gloves knitted by women in Nepal. When Janis entered the store area, she and Laura spoke quietly for just a moment. Then she approached us smiling. Extending her hand she said, “hi, I’m Janis.” Her lovely face was attractively framed by auburn brown hair. It was the smile that captivated us and won us over immediately.

We asked Janis a few questions and she answered without hesitating, apparently completely trusting Laura‘s assessment of us. Her command of English was virtually flawless and her smile radiated joy. It was as though she knew about us and had anticipated our arrival and our questions. I wondered if Laura had primed her for this moment, hoping she too would be written about and have a positive experience to take back to Germany.

“When I learned about Manning Park Lodge,” Janis told us, “I wanted to work here. I met Adolfo at the Fair but I don’t remember him. There were too many distractions. He is the one who told Laura they should hire me. When I met him here, I fell in love right away, and he did too.” She smiled.

“Adolfo is from Mexico,” she continued. “In a few days I have to return to Germany. My time in Canada is up. In May I will go to Mexico.” The smile on her pretty face was that of a young woman who loves and is loved. “Adolfo and I are both interested in tourism,” she said. “I plan to go to university in Germany to get trained for it.”

Knowing we needed to let her attend to her duties at the cash register, I said “will you let me take a picture ?” I reached into the pocket of my jacket for the camera.

“Yes,” she said. Again I felt she had expected I would make this request. By now I was definitely wondering if we were following

Janis & Laura
Janis & Laura

Laura’s mental script for this occasion. After snapping several shots of her by the Manning Park Lodge fireplace, I requested a photo of Janis and Laura behind the counter. Laura put an arm around Janis. Her joy at seeing her friend get this attention warmed our hearts. Their love and caring for each other was like that of two sisters who have shared a significant life experience and have grown close.

A Friend Helped Him Change



I think of January as the unofficial season of good intentions. Like a lot of people, I’ve made numerous New Years Resolutions to change some aspect of my life. By February they have always been pretty much forgotten.

Having worked with inmates in most Lower Mainland prisons, I know that for men and women coming out of prison, change is even more difficult. Many have lost family connections. Often they have few employment skills. They may know only other ex-cons and have no positive vision for themselves. There is little hope for a better future.

Upon release some return immediately to their previous haunts. Prison regulations have stripped them of the ability to plan and organize their lives. It was only with the assistance of a mentor that my friend Peter was able to throw off the far reaching shackles of prison life.

As a boy, Peter told me, he sometimes helped himself to items in stores. If caught, his father made him pay, then gave him a whipping.

“As I got older,” he said, “I started drinking and hanging out with a rough crowd.”

He credits his father with ensuring he knew how to work. “I always had a job,” he said, “and I always had money. When I was 20 I bought a brand new convertible. I traded that for a pickup and drove from Ontario to B.C.”

In BC he attended a noisy drinking party. “I had money so I brought booze. I didn’t realize some of the girls were under age. The police came and I was arrested.”

That earned him time in Oakalla for contributing to juvenile delinquency. Here he became acquainted with hard core criminals. Upon release he began doing B & E’s with a partner. That netted him 2 years in the B.C. Penitentiary.

He applied to M2/W2 (Man to Man, Woman to Woman) for a citizen sponsor and was matched with Henry, a no nonsense poultry farmer who attended a conservative Mennonite church. Henry visited Peter regularly and they engaged in some intense discussions, especially concerning his culture, simple life style and faith. Peter came to respect Henry for his inner strength, solid character, and total integrity. He had never been close to a strong, compassionate individual before. Pragmatic and astute, Henry evidently saw the potential in this head strong young man.

Over 14 months, a bond developed and through Henry’s influence, Peter came to have a more positive understanding of life. It was by no means a complete change though and when he was given early parole, his intention was to return to Vancouver. “I had nothing and nowhere to go,” he said.

Henry picked Peter up at the prison, with the understanding he would drop him off in Vancouver. Realizing Peter would almost certainly return to his criminal life, he suggested, “why don’t you come and see my farm?” Having no better plan, Peter agreed.

“Henry introduced me to his wife and children. They welcomed me. I felt at ease and accepted.” He stayed a few days and when the contractor building a barn for Henry needed a worker, he hired Peter. “You can live with us,” Henry offered.

The family’s simple lifestyle was unfamiliar to Peter at first. He didn’t resent their ways though. “Henry always gave thanks to God before meals. I liked that.”

“At first going to church with them was scary because it was so unfamiliar,” he remembers. “ But people were friendly. They already knew about me from Henry. I felt accepted.”

Before long he married Sylvia, a young woman from the church. He learned several trades and always had work. They bought a small acreage and raised their 4 children there. Peter is now semi- retired.

His words when we spoke recently helped me understand more fully what had made the transformation possible. “Henry was a good influence,” he said. “ I give him and the people of the church credit for helping me learn to have stability in my life. And I give God the credit for giving me a family, friends, the jobs I’ve had, and our little farm. Everything. I could not have done this on my own.” Change comes more easily when we have a friend who encourages us to go in a good direction.

RBC Donates to Hedley Cenotaph Fund

Peggy Terry retired from the RBC on June 30, 1999. Last

Peggy Terry (left) handing cheque to Museum Treasurer, Margaret Skaar
Peggy Terry (left) handing cheque to Museum Treasurer, Margaret Skaar

week the bank sent her a $500 cheque for the Hedley Cenotaph Renewal Project.

The money came out of a fund current and former employees can apply to on behalf of a charitable organization in their community. Those making such a request must be actively volunteering in their community.

Peggy began working for RBC several years after completing grade 10. She started as a teller at the Main and 25th branch in Vancouver. From there she transferred to several other cities, including Richmond and Duncan. After receiving training in finance and administration at UBC, in 1975 she was assigned to the Visa Centre in Vancouver. Here she gained a breadth of experience in such departments as Collections, Security, Customer Service Audits and Bankruptcies. In time she was elevated to the position of Supervisor of Authorization.

Prior to her retirement, Peggy and her husband Bill, now deceased, searched widely throughout the Okanagan Valley, looking for a home in an area where it was quiet and he could fish. They bought a home just outside Hedley and moved in the day after she retired.

Peggy came to Hedley with much needed organizing capability, a will to get things done, and plenty of energy. She also had experience in volunteering, having begun as a member of the Legion Teen Auxiliary at age 15. Later she organized a Big Brothers bowling fund raiser each year . As a member of the Variety Club, she persuaded the organization to advertise the availability of Visa and MasterCard for donation purposes. This boosted the group’s income.

It was Mitzie Helmstead, now living in Princeton, who persuaded me to join the Museum Society,” she said. “Then the president, Harry Alton, also now in Princeton, talked me into becoming a Director.”

She joined the OAPO and when the local group decided to break away from the parent organization and become the Hedley Seniors’ Centre, she did the considerable paperwork to make this happen. Presently she is serving as Treasurer. She is also a board member and Treasurer at the Hedley Grace Church.

“I worked with  a lot of good people at RBC.  Now in my volunteer roles, I am again meeting many wonderful people,” she said. “I enjoy having these people around me.”


Happy Valentines Jim & Pat!

Advertising moguls wouldn’t likely select Jim and Pat Melville of Hedley as their Valentines Day poster couple. After the bumps and

Jim & Pat, still in love!
Jim & Pat, still in love!

bruises that come with almost 45 years of marriage and raising 2 children, the Melvilles don’t have the sleek, unrealistic fashion magazine figures. They don’t exude the “over the top” glamour advertisers thrive on. For me their life partnership provides convincing evidence that stability and faithfulness in a relationship is more rewarding than the Larry King model of multiple failed marriages. I was interested in meeting with them because they are so thoroughly untouched by the hype and values of the advertising gurus.

They grew up in a time when money was scarce. Recalling the day in 1960 when he went to a car lot, Jim said, “I told the salesman I liked the1949 Pontiac they had, but I could pay only three hundred dollars. He said he’d talk to the manager. A few minutes later he came back. The manager had approved my offer.” The first time he went to put in gas, he couldn’t find the gas cap. After hunting for some time, he found it behind one of the tail lights.

For Jim, meeting Pat must have been “love at first sight.” He still remembers the day and the precise time. “I was working at what is now the Weyerhauser Mill in Princeton,” he said. “Some friends came to give me and a co-worker a ride home. They brought Pat along. It was 6 pm on October 24th, 1969.” For him the timing was fortuitous. His father had been deceased for 13 years, and he had lost his mother 3 weeks ago. Pat was a ray of sunshine. The following weekend he took her to a movie in Oroville.

They had similar interests and values, and their relationship flourished rapidly. It may surprise younger readers that Jim asked Pat’s parents for “her hand in marriage.” At that time there was greater respect for societal values and institutions, including marriage. Her father liked him and jokingly said, “if you want her, take her.”

“We asked Reverend Derek Salter to marry us,” Jim said. “He took marriage pretty seriously. We had to go to his home and tell him about ourselves and why we wanted to get married. I don’t remember what we told him.”

Apparently the Reverend was satisfied with their responses. He performed the ceremony in Hedley’s United Church (now Hedley Grace Church) on March 28, 1970.

Pat and Jim share a lengthy history in Hedley. Her family arrived in 1951 and her father operated the tram that moved ore, supplies and people between the Nickel Plate mine, high on the mountain, and the town. “I attended school here,“ she said. “So did our children and grandchildren.”

Jim arrived somewhat later than Pat. He is one quarter native and related to the well known Allison family. “My mom was half aboriginal,” he said. “My dad was Irish.”
Initially they rented. When they applied to rent a house owned by the Credit Union, the manager said, “Why rent? You should buy it. There is a grant available.” They accepted his advice and it is their home to this day.

“There were large families living in small houses then,” Pat said. “People didn’t have much money to do things. We attended community events. There were dances at the Moose Hall and a big Robbie Burns celebration each year. Also Boxing Day and New Years dances. Groups of ladies met for coffee in their homes. Expectations weren’t as high as now.”

It has taken love, a sense of humour and commitment to get to where they are now. “If we didn’t agree about something,” Pat said, “we talked about it. We always worked through the problems.”

When our coffee cups were empty and they were ready to leave, it occurred to me that throughout our conversation, their voices had been gentle and respectful toward each other. At a time when 30 day Hollywood unions no longer surprise us, the Melville’s life long partnership is inspiring and well worth observing. Happy Valentines Jim and Pat!


My Colonoscopy Adventure

“The lab test indicates there may be a problem in your colon,” my

Colon image from WebMD
image from WebMD

GP, Dr. Chou, told me in December, 2014. “I’m going to refer you for a colonoscopy.” Upon hearing these words, I realized Linda and I might soon be treading on an uncertain, even treacherous path. My Dad had endured intense pain at the end of his battle with cancer.

Linda’s online research didn’t reassure. Knowing she was already anxious, I said nothing about the symptoms I was experiencing. Dr. Chou told me these could be caused by other factors. “Polyps will do that,” he said. “No worries.”

Dr Jangra, a General Surgeon had an opening on January 20. To educate myself I picked up a copy of “The End of Diabetes.” It deals with a variety of serious health issues, including cancer. The author, Dr. Joel Fuhman takes a nutritional approach.

Not a fun read, it nixed virtually every culinary delight known to my palette. “Refined carbohydrates from processed foods and animal protein are at the core of our cancer and diabetes epidemic,” Dr. Fuhman says . Then, becoming quite specific, he states “white flour and sugar contribute to cancer.” Mentally I listed the forbidden foods, Linda’s white buns, hamburgers and fries, milk shakes, pizza, pancakes, etc. All foods I enjoy.

He does very generously permit greens and beans. “The increased fibre from these,” he says, “lowers glucose levels, increases bowel regularity, and protects against colon cancer development.” Reading this I briefly ceased grumbling. Couldn’t keep that up long.

indexI reluctantly shared this with Linda and she began hanging out around the bean bins at Cooper’s in Princeton. Beans and greens

Beans Wikipedia photo
Wikipedia photo

became staples in our home. Surprisingly, I enjoyed both. On the advice of Dr. Fuhman, we also began eating more nuts and seeds. I grudgingly pretty much eliminated dairy products. No ice cream or yogurt, or even milk with my morning bowl of oatmeal. Not a trace of compassion in the recommendations. In two months I lost 10 pounds.

Not wanting to be told I wasn’t ready, I began the colon cleansing process one day early (Sunday). Fruit in the morning, Linda’s broccoli soup at lunch, then only clear juice and broth. Juice and broth again on Monday. Nothing after 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

At 2:30 pm Tuesday, I reported to the hospital and was directed to the waiting area. Although the outcome of the procedure concerned me, food was a more immediate interest. I dozed off for about a minute and dreamed I saw two hands place a platter of thick steaming pancakes in front of me. Quite a disappointment when I awoke before I could pour Lumber Jack syrup on them and indulge.

An hour later I was taken to a small enclosure. “Take off all your clothes and put on this gown with the opening to the back,” a nurse instructed. “Keep your socks on.” I wondered if they feared I’d get cold feet about this and attempt an escape.

My thoughts went back to Dr. Jangra’s statement that 9 out of 10 colonoscopy’s reveal no sign of cancer. I mentally counted the number of individuals I knew who had experienced the procedure without evidence of cancer. There had been at least 9. Would I be the unlucky #10?

Finally my cot was wheeled to the room where the procedure would

Dr. Jangra
Dr. Jangra

be performed. Dr. Jangra was waiting, and two nurses stood ready to send me to an unconscious state. I quickly said, “I’m hoping the doctor will permit me to take a couple of pictures for my blog and newspaper column.” He stood up and willingly posed. Then I was “out like a light”.

On January 28 I was back in Dr. Jangra’s office. “No cancer or polyps,” he said, seemingly happy to deliver positive news.

Two Smiling Nurses
Two Smiling Nurses

He knew I’d be writing about the experience and offered a little counsel. “One in 13 Canadian men will be diagnosed with colon cancer. Early detection is important.” He paused, then said, “Get lots of fibre in the diet. Also, go to for more information.”

Later that evening Linda surprised me with a photo of myself on the IMG_0870cot, still under the influence of the anaesthetic. Not a flattering shot but she insisted we post it on the blog. With the utmost reluctance I agreed.

Thank you Dr. Chou and Dr. Jangra, and the two nurses, for a very positive colonoscopy adventure.

The Allisons at Standing Rock

Henry and Barb Allison live on Reserve land directly across from the iconic Standing Rock on Highway #3 near Keremeos. From the IMG_0841outset of our 2 hour conversation with them in their immaculate log home, my wife Linda and I were impressed with their warmth and congeniality.

My interest in them stems in part from their status as Elders in the Lower Similkameen Indian Band. I was also curious about Standing Rock, a revered First Nations ceremonial site.

In response to my question about their home, Henry said, “I was a logger. I personally logged the trees for the house. I traded logs in exchange for the construction.”

I encouraged Henry to continue. “We weren’t going to build on this

Henry & Barb Allison with Standing Rock in the background
Henry & Barb Allison with Standing Rock in the background

site,” he said, “but Barb’s mom owned the land and she insisted we build here so we could protect Standing Rock.” They have been diligent in carrying out her wish, at times telling people not to deface the Rock with writing.

Henry was born in Princeton and lived in Hedley, attending school here to the end of grade 6. “It wasn’t easy,” he said. “The other kids teased us a lot because we were Indians. For a time we had to sit on a bench along the wall. The white kids had desks.” He completed grade 8 in Keremeos. In grade 9 his teacher said, “We don’t know how you’re doing it, but you must be cheating. You couldn’t be getting such high marks.” Frustrated by the racially inspired accusations, he quit school.

It was at the Keremeos School that he met Barb. They come from very different families. Barb’s parents were ranchers, living in Chopaka. “Dad was sent to a residential school,” she told us. “When the authorities came for us, he wouldn’t let them take us away.” She and her siblings rode horses across the Similkameen River to their school in Cawston. Like Henry, she and other Indian children had to initially sit on a bench against the wall.

Especially at that age, being Aboriginal was difficult. “One day some white boys told us they would wait for us at the railroad tracks,” she said. “They were going to beat us up. We waited at the school, hoping they would leave. Finally we went to meet them. When we put up our fists to defend ourselves, they ran away.”

Henry’s mom had been taken to a residential school at age 10 and wasn’t returned home until she was 18. “She didn’t see her mother all those years,” he said. “She never learned to be a mother and as an adult alcohol got a hold of her. Once, when I was 8, us kids were left with cousins in a cabin in the bush near Hope. We fished and picked berries to feed ourselves. We didn’t know if our parents would ever return. I felt abandoned.”

“I didn’t understand her life until I attended a workshop about residential school experience,” he said. “Then I was finally able to forgive her.”

Henry grew up to be physically robust, with a desire to leave his past behind. Working in the bush, he became a skilled logger, eventually owning 2 mills and his own logging show. He and Barb began dating and he gave her an engagement ring as a graduation gift.

“That really upset my mom,” Barb recalls. “She was completely against our engagement. She wanted me to go to university and become a lawyer.”

Barb and Henry met with her parents to talk. Finally her dad said,“ we better let them get married or they’ll run away.”

Henry was non-status at the time so when they got married, Barb lost her status.  Later she and a group of women travelled to Ottawa to plead for status and it was granted. “I had some trouble persuading them I was Indian,” she said. Possibly the bureaucrats in Ottawa didn’t understand that an Indian could be so intelligent and articulate.

After gaining some life experience, Barb was nominated for the position of band chief in 1994.  She won in spite of intense opposition.  Believing band accounting might be flawed, she submitted the books for a forensic audit in Kamloops. Irregularities came to light and some individuals lost their jobs and band funding. This was not an easy decision but she possessed the integrity and inner strength to do it.

We sensed the depth of their despair when they talked about the loss of one of their 3 children.  “Our son was 18,” Henry said, “He was my right hand man in our logging operation. One day when he was on the job the new pickup he was driving stalled on a hill and went over a steep bank. I was away with the logging truck at the time. When Barb arrived, she climbed down the bank and lay down beside him until he died.”  Now years later, both Barb and Henry still carry the grief of that loss.

When we left the Allisons and their comfortable house of blond logs, we felt we had become friends. The racism in their early years and also later hasn’t made them bitter. The tragic loss of their son has not robbed them of joy.

They have decided instead to focus on the wonderful blessing of having 2 children, 10 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. They have become resolute, people of integrity and strong character. Henry and Barb would indeed be good friends.

Janet Christie Cautions Pregnant Women

On a dark street near the outskirts of a prairie community, at age 13

Janet Christie and her son Cole
Janet Christie and her son Cole

Janet Christie had her first taste of alcohol with a friend. It would be a life altering moment. At 21 she bore Cole. She didn’t realize at the time that because she had continued drinking during her pregnancy, her baby’s entire life would be severely impacted. Their story is one of turmoil, trauma, terror, and ultimate victory. For anyone contending with difficult circumstances, especially alcoholism and its consequences , they are a beacon of hope. Janet is telling their story because she wants women to be aware of the crushing toll that may be exacted if they drink while pregnant.

In a phone interview from her home near Victoria, she permitted me to enter some of the dark inner recesses of a past that is not pretty. “After I had that first taste of alcohol,” she said, “life was never the same again. In the beginning it was fun. Then it was fun with problems. In the end, it was just problems.”

Janet grew up in a church going family. Photos indicate she had stunning looks. There were positives, but they were over powered by her thirst for alcohol. Partying took over her life and Cory, her boyfriend, had a similar wild streak. He was 5 years older and had plenty of money. For them the well of alcohol had no bottom.

Janet was 18 when they got married. She became pregnant with Cole 3 years later. Intuition suggested to her alcohol might be harmful to the baby. “My doctor told me the placenta would not permit alcohol to pass through,” she said. “His words didn’t convince me entirely, but I had no control. Also, we were having serious difficulties in our marriage. Alcohol helped me cope. ”

She experienced great relief when Cole entered the world with no apparent complications. “He appeared totally normal, a beautiful lovable baby. I soon decided he was very bright, maybe even a genius,” she remembers.

The marriage ended abruptly and suddenly she was alone with Cole and her addiction. Fearing he would be taken from her, she didn’t seek help. “I wished I had never taken that first drink,” she said, “but how was I to know it would rock my world and catapult me through the gates of hell?”

When he started school, Janet’s consternation level soared, but she didn’t understand yet that by drinking during the pregnancy, Cole had also been catapulted through those same gates.

“My son, who I believed was brilliant, had great difficulty learning the alphabet and numbers didn’t make sense to him,” she said, a tremor in her voice. “I knew something was very wrong when he failed grade one. With each increasing grade, life became more difficult for him. Other students told him he was stupid and he reacted by fighting. Teachers accused him of being lazy and not trying. Not being able to learn like the others, he became disruptive in class. Teachers made him sit on a chair in the hallway. He couldn’t tell time until he was 10, so frequently he was late for school. A number of schools expelled him.”

“At home it was equally difficult,” she said. “He became so frustrated and angry, he punched holes in the walls. In one apartment his fists went through to the outside. We were evicted. He thought he must be stupid.”

Janet admits she was rarely in a state to give Cole constructive direction or provide supervision. By his 12th birthday, her life was rapidly spinning out of control and consequently so was his. “He was hanging out with older guys and doing drugs. I had lost my job and rarely left the apartment except to get basics, mostly cigarettes, milk and booze.”

One morning she awoke and the smell of cigarette butts and the empties scattered on the kitchen table made her stomach churn. In a rare lucid moment, she became frantic. “Suddenly I needed to know where Cole was. I wanted to know if he had come home last night. Was he ok? My son had become a crack addict. I knew I would lose him if I didn’t make a radical change. In desperation, I appealed to a recovery support group. That day my healing began.”

She hesitated, gathering courage. I wondered if there were tears. “For Cole it was almost too late,” she said. “A week into my sobriety, the phone rang in the darkness of the night. A voice at the other end told me Cole was in a closet in a crack house and the police had a gun to his head.”

Janet called government services, institutions, universities, vainly seeking help. One worker told her, “you created the problem. You fix it.”

“Finally when Cole was 20, a paediatrician diagnosed him with partial FAS. I was then able to explain to him that his problems were my fault. He forgave me long before I forgave myself.” Her voice faltered for a moment as she recalled this scene.

“With the diagnosis, I had a better understanding of my son. He needed someone to believe in him, be patient with him, love him and help him.”

Now 36, Cole has a siding application business. He is in a relationship with a woman who is understanding and helps him manage his affairs.

Janet finished by offering this advice, “I wish to say to women who have been drinking and find themselves pregnant, stop. The brain is vulnerable the entire 9 months of pregnancy, and the moment you stop drinking is the moment the damage stops. If you can’t stop, get help. Today. Contact your nearest alcohol and drug service (1.800.663.1441). There is no shame in asking for help. You have no idea the power each drink has to affect the rest of your life and your baby’s life. Forever. FAS is FOREVER.”