Looking Back At The Blog & Column Of 2016

Elder John Terbasket, holding his great granddaughter.
Elder John Terbasket, holding his great granddaughter.

This week I looked back along the challenging, always exhilarating path this blog has been for me in 2016. Because it is carried as a column in the Similkameen Spotlight and the Keremeos Review, I have invariably been conscious of the looming deadline. At times I’ve begun the week in a state of near bewilderment as to what I would write. Wanting to give the reader something of substance, I have at times looked up and put in a special request for wisdom.

Many of the columns have been based on conversations Linda and I have had with individuals, usually people living in the Similkameen Valley. I prefer to think in terms of conversations, rather than interviews, because they have been intimate. We have wanted to delve into values, ideas and concerns. Often I have asked “what has surprised you along the way?”

Having Linda with me has been a bonus and a delight. Sometimes she comes away with insights that eluded me. We work together on editing and she can be radical. On one occasion she suggested moving the last paragraph to the beginning of the column. At one time, editor/ publisher of the Similkameen Spotlight, Andrea DeMeer, asked if she could borrow her. I declined to share this secret to my success.

Initially when I began asking individuals to engage in a conversation for publication purposes, I didn’t expect a high rate of consent. Frequently these people didn’t know me. Why would they trust someone to write about them in a newspaper? I’m still astonished and gratified that very few have turned down my request. If someone says, “I’ll think about it,” I’ve learned it probably won’t happen. If I know the individual well and really want their story, I may (gently) harass them for a short time, although so far with little success.

Often the accounts are inspiring and really deserve a wider audience. John Merriman of Keremeos, at age 97, was still driving people to medical and other appointments. Rhianfa Riel shared her formula for combating depression. Harvey Donohue and Derek Lilly talked about their Metis heritage. On a chilly morning last winter our neighbour Barry Hildebrandt invited Linda and me to come and bid farewell to his much loved dog, Silk. If we had not had a conversation with John Terbasket of the LSIB two weeks before he passed on, some intriguing aspects of his life might never have been recorded. Often the stories reveal something of significance about the character, values, priorities and memories of the person.

Possibly many people are willing to engage with Linda and me because, as Richard Paul Evans says in ‘The Walk’, “in each of us there is something that, for better or for worse, wants the world to know we existed.” Certainly most of us hope our children and grandchildren will at times think of us once we’re gone.

Sometimes I ask myself, “Why do I write the column?” It does consume time I’d like to devote to other activities. Why, in fact, does anyone write? A thoughtful response came recently from a Syrian writer in a radio interview. “The point of writing,” he said, “is not to change the world. It is to keep truth alive.”

One truth I have sought to keep alive is that a single individual can make a difference. Anita Reddick, founder of The Body Shop said, “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.” If an issue we’re concerned about requires the power of numbers, we can join with others on SumOfUs or Change.org.

There are times when I experience an overwhelming reluctance to ask one more person to talk about their life, or when I just don’t want to write one more column. On such occasions I remind myself of the words of David Usher in ‘Let the Elephants Run’. He said, “the ability to dedicate yourself to the work part of creativity is what will differentiate you from most of your peers.”

I’ve been honoured to have people tell me their life stories in 2016. Also to have the opportunity to address some disquieting issues in our nation. I’m sure that in 2017 one major challenge will again be to squeeze some of the significant elements of a life history, or a societal issue, into a column of approximately 730 words.

Linda and I wish each reader an abundance of health and positive adventures in the new year.

Christmas A Long Time Ago

Manger Scene (Pinterest)
Manger Scene (Pinterest)

Walking by the elaborate colourful Christmas displays in Rona’s Penticton store last week, I became aware of how differently the season was celebrated by my family when I was a kid. Until I was 5, we lived in a remote, sparsely populated village in rural Manitoba. My maternal grandparents, Abram and Susana Funk lived at the centre. Scattered around them on small acreages were their 14 offspring and numerous grandchildren.

The actual village, Barkfield, consisted of only about half a dozen houses. The road through the community was little more than a dirt trail, wide enough for one vehicle. The Funks travelled mostly on horseback or by horse drawn buggy or sleigh.

Having access to no more than a rudimentary education, the Funks lived uncomplicated lives. Most owned a small flock of chickens, a few cows, several pigs, and one or two horses. They relied on gardens for much of their food. The men, out of necessity, became expert hunters and spent many frigid winter days on horseback, hoping to shoot a deer or moose to feed their families. They were skilled with axes and saws and worked in the bush, making cordwood to sell. The women cooked, baked, tended their garden and raised large families. Without exception their hair was as black as any Mohawk or Cree, and because they worked outdoors so much, their skin was deeply tanned.

Although they possessed little, Grandpa and Grandma Funk gave the children an example of unreserved hospitality, especially in winter when it was most needed. Frequently a traveling peddler knocked on their door, hoping for a bed and a meal, plus hay and water for their horse. These were always gladly supplied.

The lives of the Funks, like many rural Manitobans in the 1930’s and 40’s, were uncluttered by an abundance of income or possessions. There wasn’t much to give. I was about age 3 when I first became aware of Christmas. Mom’s brother and family stayed in our home the night of December 24. Because there were few beds, my cousin Eddy and I slept on the floor. In the morning we were astonished and delighted to discover beside each of us a small metal truck with wheels of pressed paper. Compared to what our grandchildren will receive on the night of the 24th this year it was meager, but it did not occur to us that we were deprived.

Later Mom secretly placed home made cookies, decorated with icing and sparkles, on the snow around our home. We whooped happily each time we found one. Mom, like her siblings, loved snow, family and Christmas. Already as a young boy I sensed her awe and excitement for the season.

For Mom and her siblings, there seemed to be a mystique around Christmas, a magic usually only experienced by children. As a child I caught this for a time but when we moved from Barkfield and the Funk clan to B.C., it began to recede. Now, after many years I’ve become aware of a void in my inner being during this season.

Reflecting back on those early years, I wonder if the Funk family’s excitement and joy at Christmas was possible because they were not exposed to the prosperity and sophistication prevailing in our time. Did this allow for a willingness to embrace the miraculous account of a Messiah born in a stable in Bethlehem, surrounded by sheep and other livestock? For them it was not a great stretch to believe that angels appeared to shepherds tending their flocks in the fields and proclaiming this child was the son of God.

This was all part of my Mennonite upbringing and I recall Christmas Eve scenes depicting Mary and Joseph, the baby Jesus in the stable. The Magi presenting gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. There were always angels proclaiming, “glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to all men.”

It seems an unlikely narrative. However, the stylized box store reindeer and unrealistic silver Christmas trees have no power to inspire a sense of wonder in me. Knowing something about the excitement and awe experienced by my forebears, the Funk family, I’m inclined toward the supernatural manger scene account.

A Telephone Call At Christmas

Actor Marc Lawrence as a gangster, a role model for Shefield (photo Wikipedia)
Actor Marc Lawrence as a gangster, a role model for Shefield (photo Wikipedia)

I was doing research into inmate culture at Matsqui Institution for a fourth year Sociology course at SFU. On this day Shefield and I were sitting on stiff backed wooden chairs in a cramped interview room. About 35, with an unsmiling face that was prematurely lined, he seemed a man who would never enter into a conversation with a prison guard or counsellor. After observing me a few minutes, he seemed to decide I could be trusted. Much like a penitent sinner who feels compelled to tell all in a confessional, he began talking about memories from his dark past.

Speaking out the side of his mouth with the wary mannerisms of a gangster in a movie he said, “You’re my first visit here. I’m doing a lot of time. Shot a cop in the leg in an armed robbery.” He paused and I sensed he was assessing my reaction to this revelation. I waited. “Last time I saw my parents was in the Stony Mountain Penn in Manitoba, 6 years ago. They gave us 45 minutes. The folks had come from Ontario.” His watchful eyes glanced about uneasily, as though suspecting a hidden microphone.

My life changed big time playing poker with some guys I met in a bar one night,” he said. “Got behind real bad. When my money was gone, I threw my house on the table. I knew it was a mistake, but I wasn’t going to walk out a loser. Luck wasn’t with me. Those guys cleaned me out.”

He ran a hand through his thinning black hair, then in scarcely a whisper said, “I had to go home and tell my old lady and 2 young boys we were moving. She told me she’d had enough of my crazy life. She and the boys would move out on their own and I could go to hell or anywhere I wanted.”

He shifted uneasily in his chair. “I was a fool,” he said, his voice tinged with bitterness. “Wanted to get everything back in a hurry. That’s how the armed robbery happened. A witness picked me out in a line up. The judge wasn’t joking when he said he was giving me a lot of time to think about my life. Never saw the old lady or the kids again.” We talked further and when our allotted hour was up, a guard pushed open the door, jangled his keys and told Shefield to move out.

When I completed my interviews with inmates and staff 2 weeks later, the conversation with Shefield lingered in my mind. After handing in my final assignment, I began visiting him. In time a measure of trust developed between us and when he became eligible for citizen escorted absences, I brought him home several times.

A few weeks before Christmas, Linda and I asked Shefield if he wanted to go with us to a program in a local church on the 24th, then stay in our home over night. He was apprehensive about being in a crowd of strangers, but decided it would be preferable to staying inside the prison walls.

At the church on Christmas Eve, he became anxious so I took him downstairs where a few others were hanging out. Shefield quickly got into a discussion with Willie, a man I’d known many years. When he realized Willie was a Calgary City police officer, he became agitated and argumentative. After a few minutes I explained to Willie that Shefield was an inmate at Matsqui. Willie was as hardened against criminals as Shefield was against authority. He never spoke to me again.

Shefield slept on our couch that night and the next morning I said, “Shefield, I’m sure it would be very special for your parents to hear from you. Our Christmas present to you is a telephone call to them.”

We were able to obtain a number from Directory Assistance and as he was dialing, I left the room. From the adjacent room I could hear his voice but not understand the words. When the conversation ended I returned to the kitchen. Shefield was unashamedly dabbing at his eyes with a hankie. He seemed surprised. In a shaky voice he said, “I guess that proves I’m human after all.”

For each of us, Christmas can be a time when we reach out, reconnect, and recommit to relationships that were once precious to us.

Look Thy Last On All Things Lovely

This summer I thought of Walter de la Mare’s line, “look thy last on all things lovely every hour.” It had become indelibly imprinted on my memory when I was still in school decades ago. Although I don’t recall thinking about it consciously at that time, it probably was a reminder that the colour and beauty in people and all life have a finite shelf life.

 

img_0506

One glorious day as Linda and I were walking across the tailings that remain from the gold mining era, de la Mare’s words quietly alerted me to the spectacular splendour surrounding us. I decided to record some of the awesome scenes impacting our senses every day, in a variety of situations. The following are a few excerpts from my growing collection of personal encounters with beauty and colour.

I noticed Phaedra’s golden hair and pretty face at the potluck to raise funds for the Tillotson family after their home burned. She was at a table with her children. I didn’t know her and was hesitant to ask if I could take her picture. Feeling she would bring a touch of colour and interest, I approached her with the question. She looked at me rather quizzically. “Why?” she asked, obviously perplexed at this request from a stranger.

I’m looking for a pretty face for my blog,” I answered.

Phaedra, a lovely young lady.
Phaedra, a lovely young lady.

Her dubious expression suggested she doubted I was serious in selecting her for this role. After a moment of hesitation and consideration, she graciously agreed. Anywhere else I might have been quickly rebuffed, but this is Hedley. And she is pretty.

Beauty on Lynn Wells' yard.
Beauty on Lynn Wells’ yard.

Lynn Wells had a luxurious assortment of sunflower plants this summer. While enjoying a cup of tea with her partner Bill Day, I asked permission to get a few photos. It occurred to me I should have Bill in the midst of that brilliance. He’s a colourful character himself and has an adventurous past.

Bill Day adds his own charm to the beauty.
Bill Day adds his own charm to the beauty.

Linda and I hike up Hospital Hill or along 20 Mile Creek virtually every day. This entails crossing the bridge over the creek. Almost without exception, we stand quietly on the bridge for a few moments, enthralled by the changes that occur in water levels, colours of the trees, the towering mountains around us, the smell of clean air, etc. Each side of the bridge offers its distinctive, attention holding ambiance.

img_0514

This former tailings pond is about a 20 minute walk from town. In summer the growth takes on a shimmering golden hue. In autumn the gold colouring gives way to a rich brown. Surrounded by the green mountains, this majestic scene is always an inspiration. Sometimes we stand quietly, in contemplative awe and silence, overwhelmed by a sense of total insignificance.

Now, in late autumn with winter already whitening the mountain peaks, I’m becoming aware once again that this season, like the others, invites us to “look thy last on all things lovely every hour.”

Freedom For Christine Lamont & David Spencer

Christine Lamont & David Spencer
Christine Lamont & David Spencer

In the early 1990’s I was digging a trench in the back yard of our Aldergrove home. I had my radio tuned to Peter Gzowski`s “Morning Side” program. When he said, “my next guests will be Keith and Marilyn Lamont of Langley,” I lay down my shovel and listened. I knew that Christine Lamont and her fiancee David Spencer were serving lengthy sentences in a maximum security penitentiary in Sao Paulo, Brazil. They had been implicated in the kidnapping of Brazilian supermarket magnate, Abilio Diniz.

I felt no compassion for the young couple, but the pathos in the Lamonts’ voices that morning somewhat softened my thinking. I knew Linda and I would be devastated if it was our daughter.

Looking over my shoulder today and reflecting on my increasingly many years, I’m reminded of author Rick Warren’s words “predictability is the great enemy of adventure.” I was never good at predictability. Possibly my attention span is too limited. I have repeatedly been diverted onto unfamiliar side excursions, sometimes to Linda’s consternation. On this day I would again lapse into the uncertain realm of unpredictability.

After the radio interview I called the Lamont home, planning to say I’d write our MP. A friend of the family was taking calls. She invited us to a meeting at Christ Church Cathedral that Thursday. Our decision to attend would divert our lives onto what poet Robert Frost might have deemed “the path less taken.”

In a basement meeting room of the cathedral we sat in the back row, wanting to remain anonymous. When the MC offered an opportunity for comment though, I got up and made a suggestion. At the end of the meeting, the grey haired man sitting in front of us turned around. Smiling broadly he said, “My name is Eric. I`m chairman of Canadians for Justice for Christine Lamont and David Spencer. Ì’d like to invite you to our next committee meeting.” Having been deeply impacted by Keith and Marilyn Lamont’s account and their gracious, unassuming natures, we accepted. It would prove to be a further step into unfamiliar terrain.

Learning I was a member of a Toastmasters club, the Lamonts asked me to be their media liaison. I quickly realized how aggressively reporters were pursuing this international story. Calls from major media like the Vancouver Sun, the Globe and Mail, MacLean’s Magazine, Global TV and others, began flowing to me.

For the Canadian media kidnapping was a crime easy to report on harshly. One morning the phone awakened me at 6:30. I agreed to do an interview with a radio talk show in Toronto. Wanting to stir up controversy and arouse emotions, the two hosts attempted to frustrate me and push me into uncomfortable corners. Standing outside on the patio, I smiled, determined not to give them the satisfaction.

Some of our family and friends were mystified by our decision to work for the release of 2 kidnappers. At times we were also troubled. We did know though that people in some Latin American nations were living in extremely difficult, often dangerous circumstances. On an SFU class research project in El Salvador several years earlier, Christine had seen the bodies of homeless youths strewn along the sides of streets, shot by the police. We also learned that Salvadoran army units at times entered villages and threw babies in the air and shot at them for target practise. Christine and David had joined the Brazilian kidnapping plot to raise funds to change conditions in El Salvador.

In 1998, after 9 years in the dangerous Sao Paulo penitentiary, they were turned over to Canadian prison authorities. That November, having served one third of their sentence, they were given mandatory parole. The Lamonts arranged a social evening for our committee to meet Christine and David just before Christmas. I didn’t look forward to this, thinking they would be hardened criminals. Amazingly, Linda and I found them to be soft spoken, uncomplaining and just wanting to again live as average citizens. They turned down all requests for media interviews, including an offer of $25,000.

By stepping onto this unpredictable “path less taken,” Linda and I gained unique experience and understanding. We also became friends with Keith and Marilyn Lamont, two of the most gracious, unpretentious people we know. Now married, Christine Lamont and David Spencer are law abiding, productive members of their community.

Penticton Vees, A Cinderella Team

Net minder Ivan McLelland in Berlin, Germany
Net minder Ivan McLelland in Berlin, Germany

Although the Penticton Vees had won the coveted Allan Cup in 1954, a huge uproar ensued when they were selected to represent Canada in the 1955 World Hockey Championship. “Some at the top of the Canadian hockey scene insisted on an all-star team,” Ivan McLelland told Linda and me during a 2 hour conversation in his comfortable Penticton home. “They complained that at 23 I was too young and inexperienced to be in the net. They wanted Harry Lumly of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Canada had lost to the Soviets the previous year and winning was a matter of national pride.”

Ivan McLelland in his home in Penticton, BC
Ivan McLelland in his home in Penticton, BC

Born in South Porcupine, a small Ontario community, Ivan has experienced a good deal of success in his 85 years, but he certainly didn’t get off to an auspicious start. “My dad worked away from home a lot,” he said. “We lived in what was virtually a shack. With 14 kids, my mother’s life was difficult. I got in a lot of trouble. When I was hauled before a judge it really scared me.”

Fortunately, hockey attracted his interest at a young age. “We played on the ponds all winter,” he told us. “When the ice melted, we played road hockey and baseball. Father Les Costello noticed me and asked me to try out for the local juvenile hockey team. Hockey turned me around.” Like a lot of Canadian boys, he started thinking NHL. “Often I lay on the floor of our home, dreaming about playing at that level.”

He wasn’t a good student. “In grade 10 the principal suggested I quit school and find a job.” He was hired by the local gold mine and worked underground. To help his Mom keep the family together, he handed over most of his earnings to her. For 2 years he played for the mine team, the Dome Porkies.

In the net he was agile, with quick reflexes. He was developing an ability to focus intensely on the puck. A New York Rangers scout noticed his skill and grit and he was sent to the Vancouver Canucks, at that time a New York “farm” team.

He smiled at this point. “I made the team but Gump Worsly was in goal. This was 1951 and there was no place for a backup goalie. Coley Hall, the owner, wanted to send me to Penticton where the Vees were being assembled as a team. He told me it was the most beautiful city in B.C. and the only place in Canada where I’d see girls in 2 piece bathing suits. He also told me I’d have to be tough minded because many of the players would be cast-offs from other teams, so we weren’t likely to win a lot.”

Ivan reflected for a moment, then said, “I was the first player to ever put on a Vees uniform. We were an assortment of disparate characters. Some quiet, some crazy partyers. That first season we won 15 of 54 games. The fans cheered us whether we won or lost.”

Goal tending is as much mental as physical,” Ivan observed. “In 1954 we played 102 games. In the playoffs for the Allan Cup we were the underdogs. We shouldn’t have been there. Every team was better, on paper. We had to come from behind at each level.”

After winning the Allan Cup they were selected to represent Canada in the Hockey World Championship in West Germany. Wanting to squeeze them out, the top hockey people required the team to raise $30,000 in 2 months, a virtual impossibility. An Alberta radio DJ drew attention to this and said he was sending the team $10.00. People responded and in one month the money was in place.

Coach Warwick courageously insisted on taking the entire team and the players rewarded him with a determined, high calibre effort. Ivan confounded Canadian hockey brass, posting 4 shutouts, a record which still stands. He allowed only 6 goals. The Vees defeated the Soviets’ “Big Red Machine” 5-0.

World Hockey Championship Trophy awarded 1953 - 1959
World Hockey Championship Trophy awarded 1953 – 1959

Ivan has received many forms of recognition, including induction into the BC Sports Hall of Fame (2005). His book “From Gold Mine to Gold Medal” sold out very quickly. He speaks to community groups 25-30 times a year. His awesome power to focus is still in place. “I’m telling the story of the Penticton Vees to inspire people to believe they too can rise above difficult circumstances and beat the odds.”

Ivan with a plaque presented by City of Penticton in 2010 to the 6 members of the team still alive at that time.
Ivan with a plaque presented by City of Penticton in 2010 to the 6 members of the team still alive at that time.

Hedley Community Club Potluck Fundraiser

3 year old Joey & his birthday cake
3 year old Joey & his birthday cake

The blaze that destroyed the aged Tillotson home in Hedley on Remembrance Day is still stirring hearts in the Similkameen valley and beyond. It was the home of Joan Tillotson, her daughter Amy Schindel, and Amy’s 3 year old son Joey. There were many hugs for the two women at a fund raiser potluck Sunday evening. The highlight for Joey was a cake with candles to celebrate his 3rd birthday.

Amy holding Joey
Amy holding Joey

In a conversation with Amy after the meal, the young mother said “We lost everything, but I have Joey. That’s the most important thing. He was sleeping on a couch when my mother and I stepped out onto the porch for a couple of minutes. I suddenly noticed a glow and ran in. Joey was crying. The fire was spreading so quickly all I could do was pick him up and run out.”

Joey was traumatized,” Joan said. “For a few days, he didn’t talk. He just made noises. Even now he’s frightened when he sees fire, or if there is a loud bang.”

Joan Tillotson
Joan Tillotson

 

I know I should have grabbed my wallet to save my ID,” Joan added, “but it was hot and the house was filling with smoke. It all happened so quickly my mind went blank. We got out with only the clothes we were wearing.”

The Tillotson family moved into the two story house in 1954. Joan was age 4 at the time. Later, as a young adult she moved out.

Amy was the daughter of my sister,” she said. “When my sister died, I adopted Amy. She’s my daughter. My Dad passed away when he was 93 and the house was empty, so we moved back in.”

The potluck, held at the Hedley Community Club, was one of several ongoing fundraisers in the community. It was spearheaded by Doug & TJ Bratt, owners of the Hedley Country Market. TJ said, “The donation box at the store has already garnered approximately one thousand dollars. Pointing to a large jar brimming with donations, she said “There’s probably another five hundred in there.” About 60 people were at the event.

Funds are also being raised by the Hedley Seniors’ Centre and the Hedley Grace Church. Because there was no insurance on the home and everything was burned, there is also a need for clothing and household items. Online donations can be made by transferring funds to amyschindel1008@gmail.com.

The moral support of so many people has been wonderful,” Amy said at the end, a note of emotion in her voice. “There are a lot of good people in this valley.”

Government Paralysis Not Fatal

I’ve observed that politicians and bureaucrats at times appear to develop an instant case of political paralysis when citizens seek help in protecting their community. This is likely what prompted my friend Suzanne to adopt a confrontational approach in her numerous quarrels with government.

A gentle, generous white haired lady, now a grandmother, she has been a community activist much of her life. She decided early that being nice got her no respect or results. When I suggested it would be less stressful if she backed off a tad, she just smiled, probably thinking I was astonishingly naïve. She was certainly right about that. However, subsequent experience has convinced me hers is not the only strategy, or the most effective.

Corky Evans (Nelson Star photo)
Corky Evans
(Nelson Star photo)

Meeting former MLA Corky Evans in Hedley recently, I was reminded of a few lessons I learned in the early1990’s about community activism. It began when Linda and I became aware of a plan to develop a mushroom composting operation on the periphery of our Abbotsford neighbourhood. I wasn’t concerned until I was invited to visit a similar operation on Sumas prairie, east of Abbotsford. The plant was situated no more than 200 paces from the home of an elderly couple, Joe and Angie. They had lived there some 20 years. The odour from the plant was so obnoxious that, to retain their physical and mental health, they needed to go away for several months at a time.

Soon I received a visit from Roger. He ardently urged that we gather a few neighbours and picket the local plant. I was willing, but argued we should do it only when we had sufficient numbers so we appeared strong. To this end,we partnered with others in the neighbourhood and developed a motivated, cohesive group. We then linked up with a group irate about a large composting plant in Surrey.

John van Dongen (photo Abbotsford Today)
John van Dongen
(photo Abbotsford Today)

On a wet Saturday morning we began picketing the plant being built in our neighbourhood. A car pulled onto the shoulder of the road. It was John van Dongen, then a Liberal MLA and Opposition Critic for Agriculture. For an hour he stood under a large umbrella and explained the Farm Practises Act. We were deeply troubled by what he told us. The Act gave immense protection to agriculture. It seemed to have the power of an 11th Commandment. For us it was the beginning of an understanding that the government would not be able to simply move a few political chess pieces to produce the results we wanted.

In the ensuing months, John van Dongen came to understand our concerns. Although deeply committed to farmers, he agreed to represent our issues to Corky Evans, then NDP Minister of Agriculture. We stressed we didn’t want it to become a partisan issue. That would cause the government to close ranks and adopt a defensive position. Van Dongen patiently worked behind the scenes and Evans began to understand we had a legitimate cause.

We came to understand that governments are constantly dealing with expectations and demands from various quarters. If we didn’t continue to apply pressure, the politicians and bureaucrats would turn their attention to other pressing issues.

Unlike the feisty Suzanne, we didn’t make disparaging remarks about political decision makers. We did continue to picket strategically though, giving the impression of large numbers and drawing favourable media attention. Those in positions of power began experiencing the discomfort that comes from public attention and scrutiny. The agricultural engineer who had initially discounted us, now spoke with near awe of our impressive numbers.

Seeking further allies, we asked Environment B.C. to intervene. We also did a presentation to City Council, with many supporters present. The mayor agreed to our request for a committee of stakeholders, including representation from council.

We kept up the picketing and stayed in touch with Corky Evans through John van Dongen. When the political dust had settled, the owners of the large Surrey composting plant threw in the towel and moved to a sparsely populated area. Due to pressure from the City and the legal efforts of Environment BC, the operation near Joe and Angie also relocated. The plant being constructed next to our neighbourhood collapsed under a heavy snowfall and was not rebuilt.

I still think Suzanne could be less combative and more cooperative with government officials. She’s a loving grandmother but I think feistiness must be in her DNA.

Fire Destroys Hedley Home

Fire on hospital hill, photo by Gary Lecomte
Fire on hospital hill,
photo by Gary Lecomte

We virtually never hear the blare of the siren at the Fire Hall, except to announce fire practice Tuesday at 7:00 pm. When we heard it Friday, Nov. 11th, we found it hard to believe there might actually be a fire. Probably not, I thought, but I hurriedly put on shoes and jacket and rushed out to be sure. A huge glow on Hospital Hill quickly caught my attention. In the light of the fire, a black plume of smoke was visible, rising several hundred feet into the dark sky.

It was the Tillotson house, a large, very old 2 story wood structure, the home of Amy Schindel, her young son Joey, and her mother. Set against the mountain, bright orange flames had already engulfed the entire building. The fire department had arrived quickly, and was spraying the trees to ensure the fire would not spread up the mountain.

Fortunately, the 3 occupants had managed to get out of the building safely. We learned later that it had started as a grease fire in the kitchen. It was reported later that they had attempted to extinguish it  with baking soda. But this was not successful and the fire continued to spread quickly.

In the Sunday morning service at the Hedley Grace Church, Pastor Graham Gore, former manager of the Fire Department advised “the best way to extinguish a grease fire is to smother it with a blanket. Never throw water on a grease fire. It just makes it spread more rapidly.”

House destroyed by fire. Photo by Gary Lecomte.
House destroyed by fire. Photo by Gary Lecomte.

Unfortunately the building was not covered by insurance. Several organizations in town are raising money for the family. There is a jar for donations at the Hedley Country Market. The Seniors’ Center and the Hedley Grace church are also inviting contributions. The church has pledged a donation of $200.00 and members are adding to it. Lydia Sawicki has also set up an account for donations to be made directly to Amy by etransfer at amyschindel1008@gmail.com Although several outbuildings were saved, the fire entirely destroyed the main structure.

Amassing Wealth By Spending

Charging Bull Statue, sometimes known as the Wall Street Bull (wikipedia)
Charging Bull Statue, sometimes known as the Wall Street Bull (wikipedia)

Apparently many of us in this wealthy nation agree with our Prime Minister that if we spend enough money, there will be endless sunny days ahead. Given that, according to the TD Bank, Canada’s deficit for the current fiscal year could be $34 billion, and the debt load of individual Canadians has jumped upward again, we must be well on our way to a state of exquisite euphoria. Possibly I’m experiencing some puzzlement at this thinking because I grew up under the influence of parents who lived through the Great Depression and weren’t aware of this “amassing wealth by spending” formula.

Having some experience with life’s evasive curve balls, I’m inclined to agree with Aldous Huxley’s observation “reality doesn’t cease to exist just because we ignore it.” Anyone living a high roller life style based on high limit credit cards could benefit from reading “Great by Choice. Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck: Why some thrive despite them all.” Based on unstinting research, authors Jim Collins and Morton T Hanson offer a perspective that would likely be disconcerting to those at the highest echelons of most governments, and also some deep in debt citizens. They suggest “the dominant pattern of history is not stability but instability and disruption.” They contend we need to expect chaos and upheaval in our lives, and plan for them.

Collins and Hanson compare the strategies of highly successful companies operating in turbulent conditions, with others that have achieved only mediocre results in similar circumstances. It’s when they step away from the corporate world and examine the strategies of 2 polar expeditions that their findings and recommendations become fascinating and useful at a personal level.

In June, 1910, two rival expeditions set out for the South Pole, one under the leadership of Roald Amundsen and the other led by Robert Falcon Scott.

Amundsen’s philosophy is succinctly captured by his statement “Victory awaits him who has everything in order. Luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time. This is called bad luck.”

Amundsen’s preparation fully backs up his words. To condition his body, he rode 2000 miles on a bike. He lived with the Inuit to learn about surviving in extreme cold weather. Knowing he might be forced to eat food to which he wasn’t accustomed, he ate raw dolphin meat. He enlisted expert, well conditioned skiers for the expedition and used dogs because they were suited to harsh polar conditions. Also, he could shoot penguins and seals to feed the dogs. For the crew he took along plenty of extra food and set up 7 depots. He made a decision to travel 20 miles every day, when the sun was shining and also in snow and cold wind. Along the trail he erected 6 foot high cairns as markers for the return journey.

Scott followed a less rigorous, less disciplined approach to preparation. He didn’t require his crew to become proficient on skis. He chose ponies and motorized sleighs to haul supplies. All feed for the ponies needed to be hauled. Because, unlike dogs, they sweated, they needed to be dried with blankets. The ponies didn’t have the stamina and died along the way. The engines on the motorized sleighs cracked in the frigid temperatures. When the ponies and motorized sleighs gave out, the men needed to haul the sleighs. Scott had not taken extra food so there weren’t sufficient calories for the more strenuous labour. He set up only 2 depots.

Roald Amundsen & his dog team at the South Pole (coolantarctica.com)
Roald Amundsen & his dog team at the South Pole (coolantarctica.com)

Amundsen arrived at the South Pole on December 14, 1911, Scott on January 17, 1912. On the return trip, Scott and 4 men died due to starvation, only 10 miles from the next depot. Amundsen and his entire crew returned safely and had actually gained weight.

Collins and Hanson point out that like Amundsen, the best corporations understand there will be unanticipated, potentially calamitous difficulties. They plan for these “Black Swan” events with such measures as building a substantial contingency fund that enable them to survive and even thrive, while other companies are failing.

Unfortunately, our politicians may not choose to follow this advice. I do believe though that each of us can benefit by evaluating our borrowing and spending, and thereby ensure we have control of our family budget. Meticulous planning and preparation will give us balance, decrease stress and create greater satisfaction in life.