Category Archives: People

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.”

Prettiest Girl In Manning Park

Along Highway #3 between Hope and Princeton, Mother Nature’s face alters dramatically with the change of seasons. Travelling the

Manning Park in Winter
Manning Park in Winter

route this week, Linda and I were favoured with a blue sky day. The sun was not warm but its rays on the whiteness of the snow clad mountains created a radiant wonderland. A thick layer of snow clung to each evergreen. It was an amazing display of splendour that captured and enthralled us completely. We stopped alongside the highway and inhaled this marvel of creation through all our senses.

For many years we have pulled off the road at Manning Park Lodge to pick up coffee to go. It was a disappointment to us when the business went into receivership some time ago and the lodge closed. Fortunately it was reopened when a new ownership took over. Since then we’ve noticed they are investing in improvements. We have also noticed that they are attracting conventions. More important to us, at times they have a sign along the highway saying “Stop in for Free Coffee.”

Several years ago we began chatting briefly with Laura who was

Laura - The Prettiest Girl in Manning Park
Laura – The Prettiest Girl in Manning Park

often at the till in the store. One day I commented on her shorter hair. “That shows you are regulars here,” she said chuckling. Laura is invariably congenial, very pleasant toward customers. She laughs easily and always looks great. Linda and I think of her as “the prettiest girl in Manning Park.” Apparently she is also a capable organizer. When the new company took over, she was invited to stay on and was appointed to the position of Store Manager.

The Hope-Princeton Highway is a drive worth taking, both for the incomparable beauty of nature and the fresh, (occasionally free) coffee.  And, it’s an opportunity to meet the prettiest girl in Manning Park.

RDOS Director Says Goodbye

With a degree from the Emily Carr School of Fine Arts, how could

Angelique Wood, visionary & pragmatic
Angelique Wood, visionary & pragmatic

the outgoing Director of Area G possibly have had the understanding and practical experience to deal with the difficult issues confronting the RDOS? This is a question we might be tempted to ask about Angelique Wood.

Living on the same street, two doors from her home, I’ve had the opportunity to observe her at fairly close range. Professor Ashley Montague, formerly of Rutgers University, has said, “if you want to know what a person is going to do, don’t ask them what they believe. Observe what they do.” After being her neighbour several years, I’ve concluded that although the lady is certainly a visionary with ideas, she has a distinct pragmatic streak as well. She is quite capable of chopping her own wood, attending to plumbing problems, and building a work shop.

Over a cup of hot ginger tea at our kitchen table, I asked Angelique what had motivated her to get into politics, what had surprised her, what she had learned.

Prior to coming to Hedley she worked at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, one of the biggest in Canada, largely devoted to aboriginal and ethnic art. She also sold aboriginal art for 7 years.

When she bought a small home in Hedley in 2005, it wasn’t her intention at first to live here. However, she found Hedley increasingly alluring. After deciding to make this her home, she got involved with the museum. She painted the basement floor and installed glass shelves in the Tea Room. In 2007 she joined the Fire Department and got her air brake endorsement.

Turning to her time in the RDOS, she said, “I came to the role thinking that most politicians must be corrupted. I found though that I was working with 17 individuals who cared very much about their communities. Many were brilliant in their careers. They came with ideas to improve things. There was an atmosphere of respect.”

Over time she came to the realization most people don’t feel anyone is listening. To counter this, she and fellow Hedley resident Kim English created a forum. They invited speakers from other communities, politicians from the Similkameen Valley and interested citizens.

“We brought together a lot of grass roots leaders,” she said. We wanted them to understand how to communicate with elected officials. We wanted to get people thinking, and talking to each other. We wanted them to be aware of what was happening in the rest of the universe.”

She emphasized that “we need to nurture each other and make our organizations strong. People need to feel safe enough to express their views.”

I have sometimes seen Angelique up very early in the morning, doing yard and garden work before attending to RDOS affairs. She feels a compulsion to get things done. It was a surprise to her that the wheels of government turn very slowly. “I learned that even working 40 to 70 hours per week, I could not speed up the functioning of government. Getting agreement of stakeholders takes time. It’s important to stay focused on what you want to accomplish.”

She reflected on this a moment and then added, “ A lot of what you do as a politician is listen. Often when people have a problem, they are frustrated. Sometimes they begin with yelling. It takes patience to wait for them to calm down. Then we can begin working on their issue.”

“Where did you make progress?” I asked.

“We signed a protocol agreement with 3 of the 4 Indian bands,” she replied. “We wanted to open lines of communication between the bands and the RDOS. We came to understand we need to work together.” She said the USIB is considering signing.

Angelique also cited development of a joint tourism strategy as an important step. This agreement includes both Area G Indian bands, Keremeos, Princeton and areas H,G and B.

What was gratifying? This question triggered an emotional moment and she picked up a kleenex. “The most gratifying thing about being an RDOS Director,” she said, “is the many people who have said ‘thank you. You did a good job’.”

Surprised by an Electric Trike

I’m always delighted and intrigued when I encounter someone doing the unusual. Last Thursday Linda and I were sitting in our car on the parking lot at Skaha Lake, drinking coffee and eating sandwiches. A cool breeze was blowing off the lake and except for an occasional warmly bundled walker, no one else was at the beach. When an SUV pulled up near us I became curious.

Two boys got out of the vehicle and opened the rear door. They were actually in the middle years, but I call them boys because I quickly learned they were there to have fun.

Jon on his electric trike
Jon on his electric trike

They pulled an electric trike out and the bigger one mounted it and began racing around on the parking lot. He was obviously enjoying the ride. When he handed the trike to his friend, I went over and asked him about it. I learned that his name is Jon and he is age 50. His friend Craig is 45. Usually it’s only young children who ignore the cold and play anyway.

Jon was the owner of the trike and he was happy to talk about it. “It cost me $1600 U.S.” he said. “The charge takes 3 hours and then it will go about 30-45 minutes. Top speed is probably 20-25.” I didn’t ask if that was kilometres or miles but watching, I think it may be the latter.

“The first time I rode ,” Jon said, “I tipped it and scraped quite a strip of skin off my buttocks. My wife considered that pretty hilarious.” In retrospect he seemed fine with this. Maybe not so much at the time.

As we chatted, Craig braked hard, turned the front wheel sharply and instantly reversed direction. I wonder if he scraped any skin off his behind the first time he tried that fancy little maneuver. While Craig continued to press the limits with the trike, Jon told me a little about himself.

He had just returned from Rio. When I asked if he’d been on a holiday he said, “No, I have a 3-4 year contract there to drill impossible wells. I recently completed a 3 year contract in Malaysia. I mostly do consulting now, telling the operators how to do it.”

Turning my attention back to the trike, I asked Jon if he ever rides on the street. “Only late at night when there’s no one else out there,” he said. That’s wise. The trike is so low a driver might think it was a shadow streaking along.

He has two sons, ages 3 and 6. The older boy is eager to ride, but at this time he still has to settle for a spin sitting on Dad’s lap.

I clicked a few photos and Jon handed me a helmet. “Want to have some fun?” he asked. I didn’t attempt Craig’s quick turn around trick, but for a few minutes on that awesome electric trike I experienced the sense of adventure I often felt when I was a boy. Thanks Jon and Craig, for reminding me of what it was like to be young.

Ukrainian Friendship

When Richard Lubiak of Hedley was born in 1937, his Ukrainian homeland was already in crises. He and his mother were among the fortunate ones who escaped the escalating danger.

Richard in his back yard near the Similkameen River
Richard in his back yard near the Similkameen River

Richard called recently and said, “I have a story you might be interested in. Come for coffee”. Over a cup of delicious brew in his home near the Similkameen River he told his story. It’s a story of war, turmoil, and love for Ukrainian culture and people.

Richard began with a brief outline of a chaotic period in Ukrainian history. The Russians had a stranglehold on much of the country. They imposed collectivization of farms, imprisoned and killed millions, and engineered a devastating famine. Ukrainian men joined various militias to fight occupying powers.

“In the midst of all the turmoil and violence,” Richard said, “two soldiers in the Ukrainian Army became friends. They were fighting the Bolsheviks. One was my future step-father. The friend was Mr. Nesterenko, an artillery gunner. They fought against the Bolsheviks for the Czar, then against Russia and Poland.

The Ukrainians’ plight deepened with the advent of WWII. In June, 1941, Hitler began his drive toward Moscow by invading Ukraine. Initially many saw the Wehrmacht as liberators. Some joined Nazi units.

“The region where my family lived was under Polish rule and here the Germans were good to us,” Richard said. “It didn’t take long though, for people in other areas to decide they were only slightly better than the Russians.” The Germans forced Ukrainian men to work very hard. They pulled children off the streets and sent them to Germany to work.
Approximately 10 million Ukrainians were killed.

“When the Russians started pushing the Nazis back,” Richard said, “the retreating army destroyed everything the communists had left when they were driven out.” Fearing Stalin’s troops, about 2 million Ukrainians fled with the Wehrmacht.

Richard was 6 when he, his mother and other relatives, hid in a root cellar behind German trenches. He was lying on his grandmother’s lap when a Russian bullet hit her in the abdomen, killing her.

At this time, Richard’s father was in one of the militias, fighting Russians and Poles. Because his mother was a nurse, the Wehrmacht took them along.

“They put us in a Displaced Persons camp” he said. “Our people kept the camp clean and organized. They set up schools.” He still feels pride at the way Ukrainian people responded to difficult circumstances.

For 11 years his mother looked for his father. Eventually the Polish Red Cross informed her he had been executed by the Russians.

“In this camp mother met my step father. They were married and in 1949 we emigrated to Toronto. There was a substantial Ukrainian community and an Orthodox Church.”

In the upheaval of the war, Richard’s step-father had lost contact with his friend, Mr. Nesterenko. The man had emigrated some years earlier. It was a moment of great joy when they met again in the Orthodox Church.

“Our families spent a lot of time together,” Richard recalls, “the Nesterenkos had two children. Often we went to their cottage at the lake.”

When Mr. Nesterenko died, the families drifted apart. “I didn’t see them again. In 1958 I married Margaret, a Ukrainian girl, and in 1979 we began a new life in BC.

Richard sold cleaning products and Margaret ran their janitorial business. For 9 years they also operated a B&B in Princeton. In 2007 they moved to an idyllic setting just east of Hedley. Sadly, after a heroic battle with cancer, Margaret passed away this summer.

An avid reader, Richard continued their practise of visiting the Hedley library each Thursday. On a white board showing whose book requests had come in, he was astonished to see the name Nesterenko. Remembering his step-father’s friend, he made inquiries and learned that Natalie, the daughter of the friend, was a resident of Hedley.

Richard Lubiak and Natalie Nesterenko Visiting in the Hedley Library
Richard Lubiak and Natalie Nesterenko Visiting in the Hedley Library

They met the next day and for both it was a moment of profound joy. The Ukrainian culture is deeply rooted in them and they will have much to talk about in coming days.

The 2 Ukrainian soldiers could not have known that some 60 years later their friendship would bring about another friendship, in possibly the most unlikely of places.

A Second Look At Leroy’s 1936 Ford

In an earlier post I stated that if auto maker Henry Ford could see what Leroy Fague is doing to his cars, he’d likely want to come back and join in the fun. Leroy’s cars are practical, go fast, and charm the senses. He works alone in his garage on Old Hedley Road, relying on ingenuity and using parts he has harvested from retired vehicles.IMG_0603

When Leroy parked his 1936 Ford in front of my neighbour’s home recently, I couldn’t resist the urge to get up close.

“It was originally a one ton fire truck stationed at the Bellingham Airport,” he told me. “Front and rear suspension come from a Mustang. The engine is a chev 327 small block. I built the box myself. The seat is from a Dodge minivan.” His recitation included a dizzying array of parts from other vehicles. I gathered that this pretty pickup is a Ford mostly in name and appearance.

Before he drove away he said, “come over sometime and I’ll show you what I do. I’ll give you and your wife both a ride.”

Linda and I accepted the offer this week and found that entering his single car garage was somewhat akin to stepping back into an earlier era. A 1928 Chrysler coupe, partially finished, invited our attention.

“It was built without a roof originally,” Leroy explained. “They didn’t have the technology to stamp a roof then. Someone put this roof on it later, but it’s flawed.” He pointed to rippling in front and along the sides. He’ll fix that.

As he talked it became apparent that Leroy is meticulous and passionate, much like a Nobel Prize winning scientist. He’s an artist, a creative genius.

Pointing at the head lights on the Chrysler he said, “It took some fiddling to get the lights mounted at the height where they look best. I built the fenders, chassis and frame. You can see it has a rake (slant). That’s to make it look like it can go fast.”

“When I have a car at a certain stage,” he said, “I push it out and eye ball it from about 50 paces. If it doesn’t look right, I push it back in, take it apart and do it again.”

When I asked where he learned to build cars, he said, “I had zero training, just a desire to do it. When I started building my first car, a 1923 Ford Model T, I got a shop to create a windshield frame for it. They did a poor quality job but charged a lot. After that I read and studied and learned to make parts like this myself.”First car Leroy built 2.img

He remembers that 1923 Model T as a fun car. “It weighed 1920 pounds and had 300 horse power. It was very fast.”

“That was about 40 years ago,” he said. “One day I raced a Porsche from Whistler to Vancouver. It couldn’t keep up. My wife was pretty unhappy with me. That’s something I don’t do anymore.”

The Model T drew enough police attention to make him uncomfortable. “They pulled me over for noise, for no fenders, and sometimes out of curiosity. One officer told me he didn’t like my car. He kept me waiting more than an hour in a hot sun, in a car without a roof. After that I put an ad in the paper and sold the car.”

Leroy has obviously matured a good deal in the intervening years. He is excited about his creations, but not boastful. His approach to car building is pragmatic. “I build practical cars that can be driven anywhere, anytime. I’ve driven the 1936 Ford pickup 18 years. It’s never let me down. I expect my vehicles to be mechanically sound.”

I asked my last question and then reminded him of the promised ride in the pickup. He took Linda first. When it was my turn, he found a quiet road and stepped on the accelerator. The ride remained smooth and comfortable. “We’re doing 70 mph now,” he said. “Should I do 100?”.

Appraised at $36,500, this pretty truck is well beyond my budget. Anyway, Leroy says it’s not for sale. I can understand why.

Photos Of The Arctic Circle

Bill Day is a recipient of the Order of Canada. He has been a college President and a Citizenship Judge. His professional achievements are considerable.  Of at least equal interest to me is his sense of adventure. The accompanying photos of his trip to the Arctic Circle

Bill Day on left
Bill Day on left

 

are selections from a number of fascinating shots he shared with me. I’d love to visit the Arctic Circle but this may be the closest I’ll get.

Tombstone Mountain
Tombstone Mountain
Hart River, Richardson Range
Hart River, Richardson Range
Driving in the snow
Driving in the snow

 

A Passion for Dragon Boat Racing

Vi Woods is a consultant in autism, a grandmother, and at age 69,

Dragon Boat Racing
Dragon Boat Racing

a member of a world champion Dragon Boat racing team. Anyone needing inspiration to achieve a difficult goal will certainly find her to be a valuable role model. She provides ample proof that with determination, perseverance and a vision for something significant, great things are possible.

Entered in the 60 plus women’s category, her team competed in this summer’s Club Crew World Championships in Italy. The competition was organized by the International Dragon Boat Federation.

Standing at 5 feet, 1 inch, Vi needed to train with exceptional diligence to make the team. It is her grit and strong will that attracted my interest.

Approximately 40 women, including some from Penticton, Victoria and other centres tried out for the championship team that made the trip to Italy. “Besides the Drummer who is at the front of the boat and the Steerer at the back, there are only 20 available positions,” Vi told me in a telephone interview from her daughter’s home in Winnipeg. “I wasn’t at all certain I’d make the team. The women trying out for it were highly skilled, very strong and fiercely competitive.”

“ My personal training included 4 strenuous sessions in the gym each week, one with a trainer. I also paddled 2 times each week with my regular team, the Grand Dragons, and once per week with the competition team. There were also two day camps, spaced several months apart. I needed to be totally disciplined in honing my paddling skills and in my physical conditioning.”

To be named to the team, Vi needed to successfully complete a series of rigorous tests. These included a solo paddle on an outrigger boat. There were also strength tests such as an 80 pound lat pull, weight lifting and pushups (she can do 20). Much like an Olympic athlete, she had trained for some 8 years to achieve the skill and fitness levels required to win a greatly coveted place in international dragon boat competition.

“When we are training for a competition,” she said “it becomes consuming. It’s what I think about and talk about.”

Dragon Boat racing dates back some 2500 years and is still part of religious ceremonies and folk customs, especially in areas of East Asia where there are ethnic Chinese populations. One purpose is to venerate the Chinese dragon water deity and to encourage rainfall.

“We have to work closely as a team,” Vi said. “Our strokes must be

Vi Woods wearing a gold medal for winning a dragon boat race
Vi Woods wearing a gold medal for winning a dragon boat race

synchronized. The Drummer plays an important role in achieving this. We are all friends and help each other.”

She concluded by saying, “it’s very exciting going into a competition. These boats go really fast. We have to be totally fit and focused. All our strength goes into the race.”

Apparently their boat did go really fast. Her team wasn’t defeated in any of the races. Vi and her team mates each came away with 3 gold medals. Her reason for being in Winnipeg at this time is to spend time with Olin, her newly born grandson. Even Dragon Boat racing must step aside for this.

Leroy’s 1936 Ford

If automotive tycoon Henry Ford could see what Leroy Fague of Leroy Fague and 1936 FordPrinceton, B.C. has managed to do, he’d surely be more than a little green with envy. A few days ago I saw this pretty 1936 Ford pickup parked on the street in front of my neighbour’s place. I couldn’t resist the impulse to get up close. Dwight (better known as Whitey), introduced me to Leroy, the truck’s owner. Leroy invited me to sit behind the wheel. What comfort and pleasure! He has certainly improved on Henry Ford’s creation.

“Originally it was a Bellingham Airport fire truck,” Leroy told me. “A one ton. I built it on a 1953 Ford F1 frame. Built the box myself.”

Listening to Leroy talk about the pickup, I quickly realized he is focused, serious and meticulous in re-building vehicles from the past. “I don’t do muscle cars,” he said. “I build only hot rods. That way I can select parts off any vehicle I choose.”

As he talked about the parts he had installed on the pickup, I concluded that in fact this really is a 1936 Ford mostly in name and appearance. “It’s got Mustang front and rear suspension,” he said. “The engine is a Chev small block 327. It has a turbo 350 GM 10 bolt differential.” I’m not mechanical but I understand that in assembling such a variety of parts to create a very special vehicle, he has accomplished something remarkable.

The ride is unique he told me. “It’s visceral.”

Leroy began this interest by building custom Harley Davidsons. When he switched to cars, the first one was a 1923 Ford. “No fenders. No top,” he said.

“I wanted to learn about the science of building a car,” he continued. “I learned to do welding, engineering and fabrication.”

At one time he had a business in Surrey, doing it for others. “I didn’t enjoy that,” he told me. “I don’t like selling what I build. I rarely make exceptions.”

You’d need a hefty stash under your mattress to buy this 1936 Ford pickup. It has been appraised at $36,500. In my case, looking at it admiringly is the limit. Anyway, it’s not for sale. Leroy did say he’d give Linda and me a ride in it though, and that’s an offer I plan to accept very soon.