Small town news captures life at a granular level: rescued animals, obits

On Journalism: Small Town Newspapers, Touring the Kootenays, Part Two

From the Arrowlakes News to the Lumby Valley Times, small town papers provide the human mortar that builds communities and keep locals connected. And they need your help, writes Rod Mickleburgh.

By Rod Mickleburgh

I’M BACK! Just to recap. I recently spent two weeks travelling through BC’s fascinating West Kootenays, in those halcyon days before the election call and the second wave of COVID-19. As I always do when somewhere else, I sought out local newspapers, just as the New York Times’ brilliant media reporter David Carr used to do. It was sad to see how diminished they were. The good news, however, is that they still exist, still employ reporters and continue to serve their communities.

Let us return to those thrilling times of yester-month and sample a few of the tasty tidbits I gleaned from the region’s remaining newspapers. I hope you like them as much as I did.

What’s for sale at the Lumby Public Market? According to the Lumby Valley Times, which has replaced the beloved Lumby Logger, you can find “Homemade masks, homemade jams, homemade yummy pies made with fresh fruit, homemade Jewelry, Homemade Purses. Also Doggie Cookies, Nail Polish and photography on tote bags.” My companion sniffed at all those delights, opting, instead, for seven used, coloured golf balls. “A bargain,” she said.

Lumby Public Market

Lumby Public Market: Lucie McNeil photo. Lucie McNeill photo.

Each year, Richard Cannings, the only Okanagan ornithologist in the House of Commons, spends some of the lazy, hazy days of summer touring his scenic South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding by bicycle. His down-to-earth reports were carried in local newspapers. In addition to the minor stuff about all the meetings he had, he kept followers up to date with the culinary highlights of his seven-day odyssey.

They included an ice-cream stop in Okanagan Falls, lunch in Oliver, pizza in Rock Creek, supper at the new Keg and Kettle Grill in Midway, a sidewalk patio lunch in Grand Forks, a celebratory milkshake on a hot day in Christina Lake, lunch with the mayor of Rossland, coffee in Trail, a stop at the Ruala Café in Fruitvale, a pub dinner in Rossland, a late lunch in Silverton, and finally, lunch at the Frog Peak Café in Crescent Park (I ate there, too. Recommended!) Amid his biking and modest noshing, “Milkshake Cannings” found time to canvass constituents and officials on a myriad local matters dear to their hearts. “As usual, I learned a lot from residents along the way and renewed my appreciation of what a beautiful part of the world we live in,” he wrote. According to ye olde odometer, the folksy politician cycled a total of 433 kilometres, between Naramata and South Slocan, not much of it on flat terrain. What a guy.

A fond farewell was posted in the Boundary Creek Times: “Hugs to Hardy and Rick Scott as they head into retirement after selling My Udder Store in Greenwood. Thanks for your 30 years of service to the community.”

In the Grand Forks Gazette: Carpenter Tony Kost explained his presence at a sustainable logging demonstration: “I’m here for my great-great-great grandchildren.” Clearly, an optimist this battered old world will survive that long.  And from the paper’s Archives of 1920: “John Watt of Portland, Ore. has been spending a few days in Grand Forks this week trying to get Doukhobors interested in a land scheme in Mexico. Mr. Watt represents a large estate of 220,000 acres in Rodriquez, Mexico…” Sure, he did…

Grand forks gazette reception area

Reception Area at the 110-year-old Grand Forks Gazette.

From the Arrow Lakes News: The people of Nakusp are being asked to name a new housing development that will include seniors. Speaking as an old coot, myself, my vote goes to one of the early suggestions. Koots Roots.

In the Nelson Star, there was a fetching story by Tyler Harper about plucky, 10-year Lily Nay. The young girl was born with Down syndrome, but did that mean she couldn’t swim across Kootenay Lake? Not at all. Her mom Fiona may not be able to swim a lick, but Lily is in the water every day. “On a gloomy September morning, when tourists abandoned the lake to fish and osprey, Lily put on her wetsuit and went to the water,” Harper wrote.

The crossing was not without its stops and starts. But promise of pizza on the other side and heartfelt coaxing from her 20-year old friend Ida Jenns, who swam every stroke by her side, did the trick. Swimming the kilometer and a half from the tip of Kaslo took Lily just over an hour. “When she could stand up, she reached for Ida who carried her the final steps to the beach…. Lily took off her wetsuit, wrapped herself in a towel and huddled with Ina, who rubbed her back.” The lake, she said, was just a big pool. “A big pool made small by a very special girl.” Nicely done, Tyler Harper.

There was also a feature by veteran Nelson reporter Bill Metcalfe on 14-year old high school students, Ginger Osecki and Calypso Blackman. Every Friday, for the past year, the two girls have stood on the sidewalk outside city hall, calling attention, à la Greta Thunberg, to the danger of climate change.  “If we don’t do this, the future is going to be bad, but if we keep it up, hopefully things will change,” said Blackman. “I feel that if we don’t keep the momentum up, keep striking, no one will.”

There was also a feature by veteran Nelson reporter Bill Metcalfe on 14-year old high school students, Ginger Osecki and Calypso Blackman. Every Friday, for the past year, the two girls have stood on the sidewalk outside city hall, calling attention, à la Greta Thunberg, to the danger of climate change.

So they continue to withstand hostilities from climate change deniers, including someone who threw a cup of coffee at them, and indifference even from their own schoolmates. “They think it’s stupid or a waste of time,” Blackman sighed. “They don’t think we are accomplishing anything.” There’s also the weather. “We got discouraged in the winter, and when it’s pouring rain,” said Osecki. “But it’s worth it.”  Not all students are uninterested. Said 14-year old Mason Voykin: “It is incredible they take that much time and effort for a year, for hours on end. Even if most people are just rushing by, it’s astounding.” So on they go. Will they persevere for another year? “We’ll try our hardest,” vowed Osecki , with that inspiring determination of youth.

Louden Wainwright III may have sung about a “dead skunk in the middle of the road,” but Tracy Chivers encountered a live one in the middle of the road. The poor creature was beset by plastics. Tracy recounted what happened next in a letter to the editor. “With some beautiful love from neighbours, we managed to shift the little thing toward me to hold it down, take off multiple 7-11 lids, and lastly a container around its face.” But not before injuring herself, as she charged towards the ailing skunk. “I’m nursing a swollen cheek and chin, for that matter, my whole left side that skidded across the road in hopes of saving this poor skunk!” she told readers of the Star. Was it worth it? You bet!  “After many weeks of trying, all I can feel is absolute elation of the skunk’s freedom of plastic,” said his heroic rescuer. And there was no need for tomato juice…

Rest in Peace, Roderick Murray (Mur) Pearson of Kalso, who died suddenly at age 63, while fly fishing at his favourite spot on Fry Creek near Kootenay Lake. According to his obit, “Mur” bounced around a bit, before “finding his sweet spot outdoors with a 31-year career as the custodian for the Meadow Creek spawning channel” (a wonderful site, by the way…). He loved sports, particularly baseball. During a trip to Panama, he knocked on the door of former big leaguer Chico Salmon to talk about his few years with the Baltimore Orioles, and his brief appearance in the famous 1969 World Series, when the Miracle Mets knocked off the heavily-favoured Orioles. I especially like this bit: “He did his part for the environment by not owning a car for probably 40 years, and although he had a casual awareness of technology, he never owned a phone or a computer.” My kind of guy.

In recognition of his many years as a local coach and “appreciation for his character,” the Murray Pearson Ball Park is now named in his honour. A celebration of his life was held beside the park on Sept. 26 and live streamed all over Kaslo. “Mur” was one of those people who leaves such a mark on their community, just by being himself.

While we’re remembering the dead, let’s also salute Jean Kathleen Grevstad, who died in Nelson at 92. During a long, accomplished banking career, she became the first female bank manager in Western Canada. “What a trail blazer!” her obit proclaimed. Raised by foster parents on a farm in Pleasantdale, Saskatchewan, “she always remembered her horse and her dog and remained a prairie girl at heart.” In her 80s, she tracked down the identity of her birth mother and met her long-lost sisters. A life well lived.

COVID restrictions Kootenays

They take COVID-19 seriously here.

Meanwhile, of course, COVID-19 has had its impact on the Kootenays, too. Some examples follow.

Normally, the opening of an impressive, $19 million, new Emergency Department at the local hospital in Trail would be an occasion for celebration, speeches and ribbon cutting. “Instead, a handful of staff gathered outside to mark the day with a masked-up cheer,” reported the Trail Times, whose own reporter was told to stay away.

The pandemic has been tough on the Inonoaklin Valley Reading Centre in Edgewood. It’s been closed since the first COVID shutdown in March. The Centre’s annual fund-raising plant sale also had to be cancelled, costing it hundreds of dollars in revenue. (Some late breaking news: the reading centre has just re-opened, staffed by volunteers. “We will be having hand sanitizer that people can use when they enter the facility,” said treasurer Penelope Penner. Yay!)

Fewer than 50 international students are enrolled at Selkirk College in Castlegar this fall, a third of the normal number. Wondering how they get there, in these days of restricted travel? According to the Trail Times, they fly to Kelowna, get picked up by a shuttle bus, then driven to the Sandman Hotel for their 14-day quarantines, forced to watch mind-numbing TV and spend endless hours on their phones. Meals are dropped off at the hotel. No picnic.

The annual Fall Fair in Creston was replaced by a month-long photo campaign.

Despite the pandemic, the Kootenay-International Junior B Hockey League plans to begin its season on Nov. 13. Missing in action will be the Spokane Braves, Beaver Valley Nitehawks, and the 100 Mile House Wranglers. There will be no fans in the stands to roast the ref.

Skiers at the popular Red Mountain Resort near Rossland will be required to wear masks this winter, except when eating at a restaurant or dodging death on the slopes. Mixing with anyone outside your wintry bubble is verboten.

But Baldface Lodge, the well-known cat ski resort in the Selkirk Mountains, will remain closed. Goodbye, 110 jobs. “I’m sad for all my employees, all my friends,” said disheartened owner Jeff Pensiero. “This is a pretty tight-knit group and that’s why more than anything, I made the call early.”

Good news for Kalesnikoff Lumber in Castlegar. (That’s “Kalesnikoff”….not, you know, that Russian rifle name…). The mill recently specialized production to take advantage of more buildings being built of wood these days. Smart move. Kalesnikoff has now secured three major contracts to supply “fir glulam beams” to these innovative projects: a new elementary school in Kitsilano, a student residence and dining hall at the University of Victoria and an 8-story building for Humber College in Toronto. Yahoo.

It may only have been a by-election for a single spot on the school board in tiny Nakusp, but to winner Steve Gascon, the outcome was as big as any in the recent provincial election. “I was pretty nervous and my emotions were wavering between confidence and insecurity throughout the day,” the local pastor told the Arrow Lakes News. “After I saw the results, I was overcome with happiness and excitement.” There’s no truth to reports that a golden shaft of light descended from heaven when the vote totals were announced.

So that’s a nice positive note on which to end our short snippets of life in the Kootenays. Plus this heartfelt plea: Please support local journalism. It’s never been more important.

For more Mickleburgh, please visit the archives or the one and only

THE EX-PRESS, November 30, 2020



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