Ben’s Stories

Community Service:  Paramedics without Borders

In 2007, I was the Director of Projects for the BC Ambulance Service. In this role I had a chance to explore the evolution of the paramedic profession with others from North America, Australia, and New Zealand. I also had previous exposure as an instructor to Malaysia and Hong Kong systems. I had a vision of a world where the paramedic profession would not have borders. 

At this time, Canada was trying to remove its own internal labour mobility borders through the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) – and the paramedic profession was seen as non-compliant. Forget barriers between countries – there were barriers between provinces without crosswalks to make it easy to move between provinces. My vision of Paramedics without Borders, and working in BC, put me in the lead role to sort out the requirements for the paramedic profession to comply with the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement with Alberta (TILMA). In less than a year, we had made significant progress in becoming compliant when the Federal Government decided that the work should extend across Canada for the AIT. I became the Project Manager to lead the initiative to get all provincial regulators to comply with AIT. 

The regulation landscape varied across provinces and there was no agreement on education standards. To complicate things, there were 19 different license levels. It took three years working with the federal government and all the provinces to persuade the regulators to recognize a paramedic license from another province. 

Convincing provinces to agree was not easy. It required communication, understanding and transparency. In these three years, we formed the Canadian Organization of Paramedic Regulators (COPR); agreed on four license levels; created and implemented a national entry to practice exams for two of the levels; and became compliant with the AIT. My vision for Paramedics within Canada had been realized. 

I believe I have made a lasting contribution to my profession. I have retired and am exploring new ways to contribute to my community through open communication, understanding and transparency. 

Ben receiving his Long Service Award from the Lieutenant Governor – BC Ambulance Service

Neighbourhood: Community and Shared Experience

When Jan and I moved to Yellow Point in 2005, we were invited by our future neighbour Irene Trudell for a come-as-you-are potluck dinner. We thought this was a nice gesture and were surprised to show up to a house full of people. We quickly learned that all the people who lived on Michael Road were invited. We were being welcomed and checked out all at the same time. Who we were, what we did, how we dressed were the unspoken criteria by which we were measured. I’m sure their thoughts were: “Hmmm, the wife is a teacher – high school councilor – we have a teacher already. But she’s wearing bib jean overalls – probably ok. Oh, he’s a paramedic; that’s useful. We could use one of those. He wears jeans too.”

I since learned they would – and have – welcomed anyone into the Michael Rd. community. It was just interesting to learn what had value. Being down-to-earth had value. Practical skills had value. But what had most value to me was being welcomed into a community. It was such a fantastic feeling and had never happened before for me. 

Neighbours were there to help one another, share what they had, and look for ways to help. Jan recalls the neighbour leaning over to say, “I know Ben’s away soon and your dog is sick. Call me anytime.” 

Fifteen years later the tradition continues, and the neighbours are all there for each other. Community is a shared experience – one that needs to be nurtured and cherished. Sustaining it takes dedication and action. We make it fun – early access to the blueberries, an annual pumpkin growing contest, and hot dog roasts as frequently as possible. 

With Irene Trudell at Irene at a local gathering at Soggy Bottom Farm

The Environment: For the Love of Trees

I grew up in Errington, on Vancouver Island. For me and every other kid I knew, the forest was our playground. There were no adults and we could do what we wanted. We built tree forts, dug fox holes, and plotted hideouts. Pinecones and bracken spears were our ammunition in case of invasion. We knew every inch of our territory. 

But what I really loved were the trees. They allowed me to escape into their branches and daydream. I learned their magic – which ones oozed pitch, which ones had branches that would bend and not break (important when a fast exit was needed), which ones had bird nests, which ones could shelter you best from the rain. Each had its own smell, something I have never forgotten. Fir, cedar, hemlock – each with its own perfume. 

In Beacon Hill Park circa 1969, with my siblings

When we moved to Central America I quickly adapted. I learned to climb differently. Coconut trees became my new sanctuary. I learned to master the “walk” up trees, and how to navigate the dead branches to climb to the very top. I climbed many other trees to reach their bounty. I learned how other creatures liked the protection of the branches – I was constantly on the lookout for snakes, scorpions, and ants. I realized that so many things I enjoyed from the trees were also enjoyed by other species. I felt connected. It was in the trees and forest where I learned how everything is interdependent, not solely motivated by self-interest. It has informed my approach to how I engage with people and issues.

In Belize, 1976

Today, alas, I only climb trees in my mind. My family is glad because I took some major falls as I got older.  But I cherish the trees on our farm as old friends. I am dismayed as some old growth firs and maples are starting to die. If they all die, how will I be able to pass the magic of trees to my grandchildren? To be there with them as they explore the trees and be amazed by their secrets. Trees can only be sustained if they have clean water, nutrients and the right climate. I can look after the first two, but it will take all of us to tackle climate change. It can’t wait – the trees need us and we need them. 

Standing up for Others

From an old letter that I wrote home when I was backpacking in Europe, age 20:

“I ended up in the [Florence] train station trying to sleep. About five am a couple of guys, around my age, began hassling the old winos in the waiting room. They’d twist paper and set it on fire in the wino’s hand or in the bottom of his pants. I woke up to this and sat there not believing that the people in the waiting room (and it was crowded) were just sitting there doing nothing. I couldn’t just sit there, so when they went to light another torch I stamped in out and almost took the guy‘s fingers off. I’ll tell you these guys didn’t appreciate my interference and I picked up the flack. I wasn’t looking for a fight, but I wasn’t going to sit around and watch them burn drunks. They gave me a warning (fingers across the throat etc.) and went at it again. So, I repeated my intervention — what a troublemaker I am! — and a shoving match started up. It was only two to one so I figured the odds weren’t too bad — if I couldn’t talk it out or bluff, I could always run away. Discretion and valor, right?  I stood my ground and gave them shit in my best Italian. To my relief, they ended their torment and left the waiting room – peer pressure, who knows. Interesting that in all this ruckus (lasting about 15 minutes) not a single other person got involved or backed me up. Jesus, what a world!  (European Chronicles 1979)

Blacksmithing: Forging the Generations 

I have always been fascinated with blacksmithing. When we moved to the farm on Michael Lake, I had a chance to pursue this ancient craft, joining the Vancouver Island Blacksmith Club and creating my own forge. The forge developed slowly: it takes years to find all the components needed in any decent forge. 

When I finally had the forge ready, I told all the neighbours, thinking the guys would come down on Saturday morning for a coffee and metalwork. Well, there was a good turn out – but the average age was 10-years old! All the neighbourhood children showed up. We had a great time. We created a main trophy for the pumpkin growing contest and smaller ‘keeper’ trophies. While interest comes and goes to see the forge in action, there is one boy who keeps coming back. Perhaps he will be the one to carry the torch?

And that to me is reason enough to keep the forge open. It’s a chance to connect the past with the future. And to instill a sense of respect for those who work with their hands. But the forge also provides a chance to instill self-respect and respect for each other. In the blacksmith shop there is no room for being careless or absent-minded. You must be in the moment – blacksmithing teaches careful planning and patience. And you must watch and listen as you forge metal. Red hot metal is unforgiving.

Children are the future of any community. The more they are valued and connected into the community, the stronger the neighborhood. 

In strong communities, all the generations feel connected to each other.

Development: Improving on a Good Thing?

Before we moved to Yellow Point, my partner Jan and I lived in Nanoose Bay for almost 30 years. We were attracted to Yellow Point because it had the same feel as Nanoose in the 1970s. Prior to the Fairwinds Golf Course and subsequent development, Nanoose was similar to Area H – most of the people lived along the waterfront, and there were miles of forest and trails, dotted with untouched lakes that were later to become reservoirs for the development of the 80s and 90s. 

Personally, I would like Area H to maintain the same feel of forests, lakes, walking trails, farms, homes on five to ten acre parcels, and smaller size properties along the water. Yes, the status quo would be my perfect world. Maybe that’s a bit utopian, but it’s important to have a vision for the future.

Many of the residents who came out to the first steps in the renewal of the CVRD’s Official Community Plan (OCP) seemed to favour the status quo. But I also believe that it’s an elected official’s job to listen to members of the community, and to respect and honour the direction they want in the new OCP. There may be sensible initiatives for clustered housing – where and what should be part of the new OCP. I’m not against development, just cautious in the knowledge that what is allowed for one person often must be offered to all.

Currently, in Saanich, there’s a woman who had a popular roadside stand where she sold her home-made jams. Saanich received a complaint that her stand contravened a bylaw, so they closed it down despite huge support from many of her neighbours. Just recently, that ruling was overturned, since COVID-19 is changing our attitudes, teaching us to be more accepting of local enterprises that support the surrounding community.

Ben and Jan with their horse XXX and one of their Hereford cows

Michael Lake: Community Stewardship

Every five years, the Ministry of Environment asks permission to access Michael Lake from our property. Each time they visit, I receive an update on the health of the lake. It’s not good news – the lake is gradually collecting sediment and getting shallower. The lake is slowly dying. 

Meanwhile, the farms on the lake that have water licenses draw for irrigation during the summer months, lowering the level of the lake.

On top of this, we have, and will continue to have, warmer summers….

But every year the beavers dam up the only creek exiting the lake, that happens to run through our farm. The beaver dams hold the water back to such an extent that the farm fields remain flooded into the summer and can’t be used. Each year, I wait later and later to remove the beaver dam.

The climate crisis, water management, and nature are all impacting the sustainability of the lake and food production. Maybe it would be a good for the farmers on Michael Lake to meet together, to discuss what good stewardship of the lake would look like?

Michael Lake. Photo by Jogn Anderson

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