Flash Back Fridays
This story has a relation to a previous Flash Back Friday which can be read here.
BARBARA WALLINGTON late 1970’s
Barbara had a connection to the baby delivery story. The PR was something that Jim didn’t dare miss out on. He took Barbara to the phone that was in our apartment in town. Her task was to phone newspapers and tell them of the amazing story that she had just gotten wind of. It was hilarious as Barbara pretended to have no connection to the Lodge. It is lucky that there was no call-display in those days.
Like many people, the ‘Strathcona connection’ began with Barbara long ago and has carried on in often surprising ways.
I first went to ‘the Lodge’ when I was still a teenager, in the late 70’s. I had been living on the island for a short while and had taken an apartment in Courtenay as a transition until I found a place where I felt more comfortable spending my time., I was idealistic and driven to find ‘my place’ and then to allow opportunities to unfold. Strathcona turned out to be the place. Fortunately money was not my motivator, as money was not part of initial months at the Lodge. I began working at the start of the winter, when there were only a skeleton crew and the Bouldings to maintain the facilities. The atmosphere was warm, intimate, and felt like home.
I brought youthful defiance, as I smuggled my cat along with me. I lived in a cabin on the waterfront, and naively thought it would be a non-issue. That was until Nancy began to notice her wandering about. It was hard for Nancy who liked birds and did not like cats, not to notice, as my cat decided that Nancy’s balcony was a lovely place to hang out. The more Nancy didn’t want her to be there, the more my cat was determined to torment Nancy. Several times she even managed to find her way into Nancy’s house and take up residency on her bed. She truly thought that she and Nancy were best of friends. Lucky for me, Nancy and I managed to become friends instead. She will never let me forget that cat.
As the weather began to warm, more staff began to arrive, and I actually started to get paid. After having been trained in Banff, I ended up assuming the role of head housekeeper. Although it seemed the work never ended, I was excited to have the benefit of being able to tag along on some amazing trips on time off. There was excellent camaraderie amongst the staff, which periodically climaxed with some mighty silly practical jokes. In some I was a victim, and in others I was a co-conspirator. Once the ‘groups’ arrived, the staff tended to barely have a day off. During those few spare hours, trips to town were inevitable for either beer or ice cream, or both. There was no alcohol available at the Lodge at that time. I remember laughing with Roger figuring that the staff would do anything for a beer on their time off. So, the question then became–what would they do for a beer? We decided to be creative and find out. I am reluctant to admit that it was Roger and I who crafted this really stupid prank. We took a sheet of plywood, and painted on it a sign that said “Free Beer”. Then we drove to town and got some beer. We drove along the logging road on the other side of the lake, and placed the sign on the bank of the hill below the road, so that it would be visible with binoculars from the Lodge. Then we planted several cans of beer in the gravel. We wanted to see if anyone would actually go over and dig around to find the beer. It was one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time. Most of the day passed apparently without anyone noticing. Then a commotion arose, as someone did in fact notice something on the bank. From the distance they could not tell what it was, so the first assumption was that a car had gone over the bank. Before we knew what was going on, a rescue boat was sent off across the lake, hoping to find survivors. Yikes, this was not how it was supposed to go! The rescue team came back quite ‘pissed’ when they discovered what it really was. Fortunately there were no accusations that this may have originated from someone from the Lodge. At that point Roger and I felt mighty stupid, but we didn’t dare fess up—ever. We did take a drive over there the next evening to remove the sign, and to discover that every one of the hidden beers had been taken. We never did discover who got the beers but it did go to show how far folks would go. We stopped master-minding pranks after that.
I returned for many years to spend Christmas at the Lodge. As I have little family on the island, it was the nicest place for me to be. I was always welcomed by Myrna and Jim. I would go up to work over Christmas for the ‘Christmas Adventures’ that were offered at the time. Guests would come to stay for some adventures, mixed with some home-grown seasonal activities such as looking for the swans or the elk. I offered guests an array of handicraft sessions. I always brought my spinning wheel and coached people while they tried it out. We always had an enormous tree, which required many decorations. Guests could make their own from a clay mixture that I cooked up. It was called ‘dough art’. It was a two part process where we would make and bake the decorations one day and then paint them the next. The guests were happy to be a part of decorating the tree and to have their own creations to take home. Although I had been making these for many years, I was no creative match to Nancy. She always made the most amazing little decorations.
A requisite part of the Christmas program was candle making. I have no idea how many hundreds of people made candles with me over the years but they ranged in age from 3 to more than 90. One year a friend went and did it in my place…with disastrous results, when apparently some wax got poured down the kitchen sink in the library. The drain didn’t work properly for years, and apparently it had to be ripped apart and a new drain system put in. I was always blamed…but it wasn’t me!!!!!
Although I migrated away from doing the crafts, my circumstances continued to take me back to Strathcona. I worked for several years with Canada World Youth, and the Lodge was the perfect place for our ‘mid-project retreats.’ It was very convenient as my programs were located in Campbell River and the Comox Valley. It was fun to take my groups there and to visit the Lodge through the eyes of people who were the same age as me when I first arrived at Strathcona.
I left my work Canada World Youth when my son, Jasper was born. I was very excited when in Grade 5 he brought home a note saying the class would be doing a trip to Strathcona. I just had to go along. It was a great opportunity to go and visit Myrna, and help her with her gardening. I was even more impressed when the following year, at a new school; he got to go on another trip up there. Naturally I tagged along again, to have more enjoyable times with Myrna in the garden.
I feel that, even at home in Merville, I am never far from my Strathcona connection. My next door neighbour is Myrna’s cousin. My other neighbour/friend has a brother who worked up there in the early years, and who happens to be married to an- other of Myrna’s cousins. In fact, most of my friends in Merville have interacted with Strathcona in some way or another, despite whether I initially knew them from there or not. It is a great connection, and one that I feel privileged to have.