Boreal

Shooting the Messenger

Till Death Do Us Part

The Road Back

After only a few short years in Ashcroft, we moved to Kamloops. Following completion of grade 13 at Kamloops High School, I applied and was accepted to Simon Fraser University. During the summer months, I would return to Kamloops where I managed a small campsite on the eastern edge of the city.

The owner of the campground was president of a small mining company, Taseko Mines, which was listed as a penny-stock on the Vancouver Stock Exchange. One share of Taseko Mines cost a nickel or less. One day, when my employer was giving me my paycheck for the week, he told me to use it and any other money I had saved to buy as many shares in Taseko Mines as I could afford. Drilling samples from a site in the Yukon looked promising, and when the word got out that gold had been discovered, he assured me, share prices would rise dramatically.

Shares of Taseko Mines had risen to twenty-five cents per share when my employer drove up to the campsite to warn me to sell all my shares immediately. The assay office in Victoria was about to make its findings public: it was fool’s gold. I sold my entire stake in Taseko just before shares plummeted into near oblivion. What I did was not illegal, but I was profiting from the illegal act of whoever in the assay office informed my employer prior to informing the public, therefore it was theoretically unethical. Should I have informed on the person in the assay office in Victoria?

Whistleblowers are neither snitches nor informers. To have exposed a junior public servant would only have jeopardized the relationship I had with a man who only had my welfare at heart and would have made little difference, and whistleblowers are about making a difference. They also know that perfection is not of this world, and that people will make mistakes, which is why they rarely jump to conclusions and tend to give the benefit of the doubt.

After my third year, when mother had died, I left Simon Fraser to work full-time for a finance company in Kamloops. Industrial Acceptable Corporation (IAC) was a finance company specializing, as its name implied, in loans for the purchase of cars, trucks, tractors, logging and construction equipment, and eventually, mobile homes. Today, IAC is unrecognizable as the Bank of Hong Kong.

My job at IAC was collections and repossessions with some credit counselling. Repossessing cars, trucks and tractors was one thing, mobile homes quite another. After a year or so, I transferred to IAC’s Kelowna office where I did my first mobile home repossession, giving a young family the standard twenty-four hours to vacate before a truck would come to haul their home back to the dealer’s lot, when I decided that this was not for me. The mobile home repossession completed a transformation that a visit to a ranch near Merritt, to make arrangements to pick up a car, had begun.

Julia AnnNight had already fallen when I knocked on the door. A young woman nursing a baby answered. She recognized me and I recognized her; she invited me in. In grade thirteen, at Kamloops High School, we had had a brief flirtation, often skipping classes to drive into the mountains or go to the park by the Thompson River to enjoy a beautiful day in each other's company. Julia Ann liked to sketch. To the left is one of her drawings. That is how I remember her, minus the hat. We were sitting on the grass beneath a tree in Kamloops' Riverside Park when she made this sketch, which may have been inspired by a magazine she was reading at the time. I liked it, so she gave it to me.

She made me a cup of coffee. We sat at the kitchen table and talked while she continued nursing her baby. The infant's father was expected at any time. When he showed up, I said hello and shook his hand, the hand of a cowboy, a genuine cowboy. We knew each other. I respected him but I doubt very much he respected me. I lost Julia Ann because I would not fight to defend her honour. Some punks, when we were returning to the car after a rock concert, made some disparaging remarks after her and all I could do was pretend not to hear anything.

When it came to physical confrontations, I always took the easy way out, the coward's way. The fact that I shied away from fisticuffs is probably why IAC kept me on for as long as it did. I could not be provoked into a fight to embarrass the company, even when dealing with their most difficult clients. I could be counted upon to embarrass myself instead. The impromptu visit with Julia Ann and her husband reminded me that I was a coward and that what I was doing was not very nice. I would leave IAC in the spring. The summer of 1972 would be my last British Columbia summer.

I am not sure why I chose to come to Ottawa when August gave way to September. It may have been the glimpse I got of the city from the train I took to Expo 67 with my sister-in-law Laurette as a teenager. I knew I had missed something. In high school in British Columbia, because I came from (Northern) Ontario, whenever Ottawa was brought up, they assumed I knew the city and what went on there. I didn’t, but I was curious about what it would be like to work for the Federal Government, even for a short time.

Before leaving, I called my old man. He wished me luck. That was the last time I would speak with him. My father, when he got drunk, often made threats. He made one too many and the woman who had replaced mom stabbed him to death.

I made the return trip in early September when I was half my mother’s age and conditions were ideal. She did it in near-winter weather during the unpredictable month of November. She drove more than two thousand miles in under three days, driving from sunrise to past sundown on a highway where four lanes were the exception; driving from dawn to dusk with four kids in the back seat, the youngest in the front sandwiched between her and an alcoholic husband who could not be trusted to help with the driving.

As I encountered one familiar sight after another from that remarkable journey, I could not help but marvel at the courage it took. Three days after leaving Kelowna, I was in Ottawa having a cold beer on the terrace of the National Arts Centre next to the legendary Rideau Canal. Now, where to stay?