ALBERT

This interview conducted by Natalie Czuczman, Yesmine Elloumi and Jersey Manabat of The Lumen Series in partnership with Operation Friendship Senior’s Society.
September, 2019

When I was younger I was put in a residential school called Blue Quills. Then I lived in foster homes, with other families. I always lived with White people. I couldn’t speak Cree. When I was 14 I ran away to my grandparents in Saddle Lake. I just hitchhiked. It wasn’t easy to get out at first but when I got to Saddle Lake, there was no work. I had to look for work. By then I was 18 I was assistant to a baker in a cookie factory.

Did you like it?

Well yeah, they were paying me.

Do you have any good memories from residential school?

Not very many good memories but I had a twin sister and she was on the girl’s side. They didn’t allow the girls and the boys to talk to each other. I still figured out a way to see her. When they went out I would find her.

Do you still see your sister?

No, she died when she was 28. She died from lung cancer.
I had to move to the city to find a job and it was really hard to find a place to live. I was growing my hair long but I had to cut my braid when I started working at the factory. When I went to visit my grandmother, she was crying when she noticed my hair was short. They raised me with my hair long, braided. But when I turned 28, I went to Grant MacEwan to study in their communications program. It was at a different location back then. I just went for the Certificate for Journalism. With that certificate, I had to do some internships. I started at Windspeaker. They sent me across Canada where I went into Indigenous communities. I reported mostly on politics: the bands’ struggle against federal government policies. Rights to land especially up North and also rights to their own resources. They eventually got stronger when they got their own lawyers because the lawyers that used to represent them would lie to them, manipulate them.

What was one of the best stories you ever reported?

Best story I reported was talking to young people that were in foster homes and they were indigenous and they went through all the same difficulties I did. I empathize with them. We both had to survive. And my grandparents they taught me how to pray. Prayer and Cree ceremony. Because all those other times I was an altar boy, we didn’t even have ceremony! So that was good. To talk to these young people and to learn how to pray. Not many spoke Cree because in that system, they never allowed us to speak Cree. We would get hit.

Did you find that you tried to reconnect with your Indigenous culture while in the city? Did you find urban indigenous groups while studying at Grant MacEwan?

Especially university- we had a Native Student Centre and it’s still there. It’s even expanded. Louis Cardinal was the boss. I was volunteering at the UofA radio station with four others and we would have a show for half an hour. We would play music, speak Cree. I even interviewed Tantoo Martin Cardinal, I don’t know if you know her she’s an actress. I got to interview her. I asked her one last question, “What would you tell the young people so they can do what you did?” and she said, “Tell them to use their creativity!”

What did you do with that advice? Did you take it to heart?

Yeah well I took it around. I took a lot of young groups. The university hired me to go to high schools, native high schools. St. Joes, in Wabiskaw, and more. I told these young kids, “You know, what I had to do is I had to keep on with school and go on to post-secondary. And you can choose your own post-secondary. Your community is developing so when you get older, what kind of job or business do you want to run?”

Interesting. So, if we flash forward to today, what’s your day-to-day like?

Here? I don’t like this place. It’s got cockroaches. I applied for my pension. I just turned 65. I was getting a small pension, getting welfare, and they said when I turn 65 I get a full pension, which is good. Waiting for that.

Other than that, what do you still like to do for fun?

I like going to powwows, I like to round dances. They’re all over the place, more often than not. In December I went to a powwow at the Canadian Native Friendship Centre. That’s what you should check out on the 28th, they’re going to have a BBQ. I enjoy powwows, I even join the drumming group.

What does it feel like when you drum with the group?

Bringing the grandfather spirits with your drumming and spirits into that room- feels like I did something good. Cause I see all these young people there. There’s a lot more young people now getting involved in dancing, or drumming, or getting all dressed up in regalia.

That’s amazing. You can tell that the culture that is so essential to your identity is alive within generations younger than you.

Oh yes. I have grandchildren and I take them to chicken dances. My wife is from Thundertown. That’s where I used to go. I keep in contact with her. She came here two months ago. For eight months I was homeless, sleeping outside.

What led you to not having a home?

Well, I left my wife, my job, and my house. I told my wife Sarah that I could do better in Edmonton. Sadly, I was wrong. Tried to get a house at first but it was hard. It was too expensive and I had trouble with Alberta Works Welfare. I had a special address, I had to have approval. It took eight months because you have to wait for somebody to die to get housing sometimes.

So, did you decide to stay here still for the opportunities Edmonton has?

Yes. It’s been over a year that I’ve been back to Edmonton.

What opportunities do you wish to look for within the city?

Go back to writing. Write for newspapers or write a book about Blue Quills. I got all my notes and got my memories. I write every day. I write about how they treat us. There was a sister there- I’ll never forget her name: Sister Jaber. We were five or six and she was slapping us around. We tried to speak Cree, we got hit. They wanted us to speak English. Then they had to train us in Latin. Their masses were in Latin, they’re Roman Catholic Church. We had to stand up there with the priest and when he said something you had to say something too. Are we just about finished?

Sure, it’s up to you to decide when to end. But before we go, is it okay if you tell us about your tattoo?

It’s a male symbol. I had a twin sister and she had the female symbol. I did it myself and I did it for her too.

Thank you for sharing that with me. I’m sorry about the loss of your sister again.

I got over it. She has two daughters and I keep in touch with them.

To read more stories, visit: Hello Lumen Series


 

GORD

This interview conducted by Natalie Czuczman, Yesmine Elloumi and Jersey Manabat of The Lumen Series in partnership with Operation Friendship Senior’s Society.
August, 2019

What brought you to volunteer with OFSS?

It was funny. I was volunteering at this church breakfast and there was a guy in there he said, “Hey Gord, I know another place you could volunteer for people 55 and above.” And he showed me this place. Initially I walked in, and I looked at the crowd and thought well they don’t need me to do anything. But um, yeah I just said I’m available, I could do dishes or whatever. Then a few minutes they grabbed me and they took me in. There’s always something to do.

And how long have you been volunteering here?

Let’s see. Between six and seven years. It’s kind of good for me because a lot of volunteer placements you have to book in advance and schedule. For this, you just basically walk in the door. If you want to help out and do something then you just do it. I like it.

For me I find that usually when I volunteer I think, “Oh, look at the wonderful things that I’ve done!” but you’re not making a big difference but it seems that here, you do make an impact.

Well the thing is, since I’ve fallen into this age group and you look at this place and there are people from the inner city, people that are homeless, people staying in shelters, all sorts of you know challenges and things. It sort of gets me out of the zone I’m in because I’ve never been homeless or any of those things and so it puts me in their shoes and gives me a window into their world. I can’t say I’ve been there but I can empathize much better.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the project we’re doing but that was essentially the thing. We found that many people often see folks are experiencing homelessness and they immediately make judgements or that they know their stories. What we want to do is to show that these are diverse, interesting people who have had such incredible experiences. This is their life.

That’s a good point you brought up to because the homeless people or the marginalized people will probably see that but once you gain their respect, they’ll really open up to you. I found that people when I initially came here weren’t friendly to me at all. They’re really friendly now.

I think sometimes it may be hard for people to see if you actually care for them and if you want to learn about them or your just here to volunteer. Just passing through.

Well there’s different kinds of volunteers too. There are people that come here, some groups. Some groups that come in that are university students and it’s usually part of a course. Which I think is a good thing too. Then there are the people that actually come here just to help out.

In getting to know the community and gaining their trust, have there been lessons gained for you?

Absolutely. Sometimes you walk in here and say you had a conversation with somebody a few days before and everything went well. Two days later you come and they’re just looking at you weird. You got to remember that many of the people are on medications. There’s mental health issues, there’s addiction issues. To me it’s just not a problem- if I guy just doesn’t want to talk, I say have a nice day and let them go. You don’t get into a confrontation or an argument, it’s just not worth it.

It’s not worth it and it seems like they’ve had enough to deal with so to force them to talk isn’t going to help.

Another example is something that happened to me here. I went to get a coffee and I noticed that there was a paper on that floor and so I threw it in the garbage. About five minutes later a guy comes up to me and he says, “Did you throw this in the garbage?” He pulled it out and it was one of those little cardboard pieces put it had a pill in it. And I didn’t realize, I thought it was just a piece of paper so I threw it in the garbage. “I need this!” and he went on and on and on. Whatever what can I say. I just walked away. About two days later, the guy comes out to me and he apologized to me and shared that he overreacted. It felt nice to be acknowledged but I also learned a lesson. Now if I see something, I’ll take a little look before I throw it out. So I told him we both learned something.

You don’t realize the importance of things to others most times and just being mindful of that is crucial. I also want to know a little bit more about you. What’s Gord? Who’s Gord?

What’s my story? Well let’s see. I was born in Victoria. After school I joined the military for a few years so I got to do a bit of travelling there and after I got out of that, I came to Edmonton. I followed some of my military friends. Worked tons of different jobs. Worked in the rigs for a while. Warehouse. The last full time job I had, about seven years ago, I couldn’t really stand working there anymore. It was one of those jobs where it was really great when I started working there but over the years, management changes and that- it ended up being a horrible place to work. I said to myself, I’m quitting and I’m never working FT again. So I just started part-time so I could volunteer as well. I had enough money saved up that I was able to not have to worry about a full-time job. So I still work there a couple days a week. There’s a few other places I volunteer at too.

Day-to-day what do you find the most enjoyable or the most fulfilling? What brings you joy?

I think probably for the most part it’s volunteering and giving back. That’s what I like to do.

To help the community or why?

To give you an example of how it has impacted me here’s this. I like to travel and stuff but when I worked full-time you only get a week off and you go to an all-inclusive resort. But I know I won’t be able to do that anymore. If I travel it would have to be for a reason or for a real experience. I did that when I quit my last job. I walked into a travel agency and it was called Adventure Travel. The guy asked, “How can I help you?” and I said, “I want to go on an adventure. I don’t want to an all-inclusive.” and I went on. So I ended up going to Peru. I didn’t do the Inca trail but I did another trail that was similar. The tour I went on was around 17-18 days.

Did you train for it?

It was weird because the nearest city was Cusco and it’s right in the mountains and its a fairly high elevation. I could feel my whole body change. Your whole physiology changes. My leg was totally tingling and so you start on that trail and you’re just winded. I couldn’t imagine Mount Everest!

There are people who solo Mount Everest and some even climb it without oxygen and it’s remarkable. What was that experience like?

One of the big experiences was when I went on a tour, I was the only one in the group. There were two porters, the guide, and me. And they didn’t really speak English and I couldn’t speak much Spanish. I didn’t really relate too much to the porters. It was bizarre being the only one. Sometimes we would get to a peak and we would just sit down and all you could hear only nature. Another thing that happens in the mountains is that it could be sunny and within minutes it could start raining. That’s one of the biggest challenges is the weather changes. The next time I actually do any traveling- other than going out to the West Coast or just within Canada- it will probably be in a volunteer type gig. But I’m not exactly sure because I don’t want to take work from someone else.

For the most part do you like the people you work with here at OFSS?

I got to work with lots of people in here. And it’s always been good. But let me tell you about the most impactful day I’ve ever had volunteering. This was about five years ago I was donating blood at the Canadian Blood Services. I made my donation and I walked across the LRT. There were these two girls standing there, maybe 15 or 16 years old, and this one girl walked up to me and asked, “Did you just give blood?” to which I responded. I asked her how she knew and she had apparently saw me walk out of the building. Then she said, “Well, my mother needed blood a couple of years ago and her life was saved because of people like you! Thanks a lot! Can I give you a hug?” When I walked away, her friend also asked for a hug. And that was probably one of the most impactful days I had while volunteering.

It takes those experiences to really see the difference that you can make.

Another time I was volunteering for the Salvation Army they have something called the Kettle Campaign in the malls just before Christmas. I was down in City Centre reading the paper and a guy walked up to be and insisted on buying me a coffee. I never seen him before. I agreed finally and he went to McDonald’s and he bought the coffee. Put it in front of me. He says, “I saw you volunteering at the Salvation Army last weekend at Bonny Doon. Ten years ago the Salvation Army saved my life.” And then he just walked away. Shook my hand and walked away.

You hear all sorts of little stories here. Challenges. Let’s say someone is staying at a shelter. You don’t have the freedom to get up and go to the bathroom during the middle of the night. If you do, you have the risk of losing your sleeping pad. So now you gotta wake up the guys next to you or try to squeeze in between them and it’s just a hassle. Whereas you and I we just get up and go to the bathroom. Those are the little challenges right there. If you’re living in a tent in the River Valley and you need to go to the bathroom it could be raining out or it could be freezing cold.

Right. These factors like the lack of proper sleep, you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. All these things are barriers.

Many people miss their appointments because they can’t use an alarm clock they don’t have one.

That reminds me of an experience I had while volunteering at the Kaye clinic. I saw a man walking outside who looked like he was slipping in and out of consciousness and he told me that he was diabetic and experiencing a sugar low. Not only that but he recently had two of his toes amputated because he had frostbite from the winter and had another appointment at the Royal Alex. So, this was far away. He wasn’t sure what time the appointment was at, he didn’t know how he was going to get there, he didn’t know the doctor. You set these things up for people but we forget about the different challenges that exist that can impede them from helping themselves. It’s great that non-profits like this exist but what about the systems such as the healthcare system? Which aren’t set up for individuals experiencing poverty?

Another thing I think- and I actually learned this from a social worker and thought it was great advice- let’s say you’re talking to somebody one day and said they just quit drinking, I haven’t drank in ten days. Then you see the same guy and he maybe shares that he fell off the wagon. The social worker I know he would always say that this doesn’t take away from those days you were sober and you proved you could do it. So he would always throw a positive spin on it. You did this, you had a setback, you move on. You remember that nobody is perfect. You try again. He always told everyone that whenever they experienced setbacks. He’s one of the managers at Boyle Street Community Service.

Do you think that the services that exist within the community actually serve their purpose. What do you think is missing?

It’s kind of tough for me to say that because I haven’t put myself in that position but I think that the help is really- there’s a lot of help out there. If someone needs a shower they can always get it here. Social workers are right there. If someone asks me about services and I don’t know, I just direct them to social workers. They’re so good at finding the resources that people need. They help people get their income taxes done for free. They give out food vouchers around Christmas. There’s a group of ladies that come in once a month to sew people’s clothes or whatever. A group that comes in to do haircuts.

Many people don’t know about OFSS so what would you like to tell people about it so that they may support it over the more popular services like Boyle or Hope Mission. You can’t put one service over the other but what makes OFSS unique?

That’s a really good question. Part of it is the age group. 55 and above so most of these people aren’t working and they’re on fixed incomes. Also with seniors there’s a lot of isolation. I know many seniors think that because they don’t work anymore that they’re not important anymore. So when people donate time or money or whatever it makes them feel like people care about them.

Loneliness is such a challenge for so many seniors, experiencing homelessness or not.

On the topic of why you should donate to OFSS, the first time I volunteered for the Salvation Army, I walked in and the Food Bank was there. First thing I said was that I’m not here to compete with you, we’re all in this together. We all work towards a common goal. Another thing he did- and he was in his 70s he probably volunteered for years- he was in a better spot for donations compared to me but he would always point people towards me so to work together.

There was another thing that happened one time. I was walking around I was picking up empty plates and this is something to always remember too. Before you go pick up an empty plate in front of somebody, always ask them first. They may want to take it up themselves. Because they want to do something! They may not be able to do anything else that day, but they can take that plate up. So when young people or students from schools come to help, I always let them know that. All it takes is looking at the person in the eyes and asking them. Create an interaction. That’s important.

To read more stories, visit: Hello Lumen Series


 

JOSE

This interview conducted by Natalie Czuczman, Yesmine Elloumi and Jersey Manabat of The Lumen Series in partnership with Operation Friendship Senior’s Society.
July, 2019

Your name is Joe but your ID says Jose-

“Josey”, it’s French.

So you’re from Belgium. How long were you in Belgium for?

I was born in Belgium 1949, was there for a year, we moved to Luxembourg, where my mother is from. We lived there until 1956, came to Canada in 1956.

Wow, so it’s been a while that you’ve been here. Did you move directly to Edmonton?

Nope. We moved to Montreal and from there to Kitchener, Ontario. Kitchener to Sudbury, all around the Sudbury area until I joined the military in ‘67.

So before the military, what were you doing? Were you young? How old were you?

I was 17.

Oh, so super young. You were in just in school. Do you have any great memories from school?

Not really. I was in trouble all the time (chuckles). A lot of fights. Just stupidity.

Why do you think you liked to fight when you were young?

I had to. Being from Europe, at that time in those years. A lot of people ended up using a term: “DP”- deported. So you defend yourself. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That’s the way it goes.

Well, I’m sorry about that. But it seems like you’ve come to terms with it. You know it was a different time.

Oh yeah! Things have changed over the years. Still changing.

Did you know you wanted to go into the military right away?

Yup. Actually, I did. When I was a young boy all I ever heard about was the United States Marine Corps because they liberated Luxembourg and Belgium. One of the sergeants in the marines was my mother’s boyfriend back then. It had a lot of meaning to me so my whole life as I grew up, I wanted to join the marines. But, being in Canada, I couldn’t do that. So, I joined the Canadian military. After the Canadian military, I went down Stateside and I did two tours with the marines: in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Let’s talk about the first part: let’s talk about when you were with the Canadian military.

I did a lot of travelling on the East coast.

Any eye-opening experiences?

Yeah, I’m actually still dealing with it. Trying to get my pension out of it because in 1967 to 1968 in New Brunswick, the United States had a unit up there that was spraying Agent Orange, testing it all over. It’s a chemical defoliant but it is also the one that causes cancer. So, now because of that- I got all the paperwork at home, I could show you if you want.

And the paperwork is for…?

For pension affairs because of this. But the thing is- if you’re not an officer, you don’t exist! Only the officers could get pension for that!

Is that something that still exists?

Oh yes! Oh, yes.

Did you get cancer from that?

No. But you get COPD and everything else. Nerve damage. I got the nerve damage, I can’t even write my name. I got all the paperwork still and I’m still fighting. And I won’t give up (laughs).

How long were you with the Canadian military? From 17 until you were 21… okay not too long of time. But then you went to the marines. Two tours.

Six years. And then I left there to Britain and ended up with another military outfit: Colonel Blackwell. Blackwell’s Mercenaries. An organization out of Britain. So I served time in Ghanda, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, the Congo, French Ghana, British Ghana. I was in my mid-20s. I wouldn’t mind going back but my health is- ha! Shot.

What brought you the most joy from being in the military?

The freedom. The comradeship, the brotherhood. I’ve got a few friends but we don’t keep in touch all that much. We’ll see each other every 5-6 years, go on a big drunk and that’s about it (laughs)! I don’t have any friends here in Edmonton. I don’t associate with anyone, I stay by myself. That’s the way I like it. There’s an old saying: “Familiarity breeds contempt”. So I stay away from people. I like my freedom. I don’t have to answer to nobody, I come and go as I please, I can pick up my stuff out of my apartment, walk out, go up North, East, whatever. I like being a free agent. Now that I got my pension, I’m even more free. I’ve got no papers to sign, money goes into my bank, I don’t got to worry about it.

That’s good. So, what do you like to do in your free time?

I used to do a lot of wildlife photography. Birds, animals, insects. A lot of fishing, camping, gold panning.

Gold panning! Where did you do that?

I do that in Kamloops, Vancouver Island, yeah. In terms of how successful I was, ehhhhh, let’s say I didn’t get richer! It was for fun, but I did make a profit off of it. The thing is: if you enjoy what you’re doing, that’s the key thing in your life. If you’re happy with what you’re doing, that’s all that matters.

So, what brings you the most joy?

Nothing, really. Just me, walking outside. Seeing the wildlife. The birds. I used to have a car to go out of town but I sold out. Gave in my license. Too much road rage!! Had to give in my license before I killed somebody (laughs). So now, I take the bus, the train. I’ll take a bus, I’ll stop off the side of a mountain somewhere, I’ll get off. I’ll stay there.

I feel like if I just got off a train, I would not be very equipped to survive. So, you tell me: how do you survive?

First of all, you have to know that there is always the possibility of you getting hurt. Whether it’s from a fall, off a cliff, off a mountain side, off a land slide, or a wild animal. You never know. Even chopping firewood, you never know. You could cut yourself and it could be severe, So the first thing you got to know is: first aid. Always keep a fresh supply with you. A minimum of food: dried goods. There’s water everywhere, so you don’t have to worry about that. A few pots. A good knife, good ax. I use a bow and arrow.

I see you have a bow and arrow being held by a very gorgeous lady as a tattoo.

(Laughs) It’s kind of ridiculous. I used to do a lot of drawing as a kid. I drew these. When I joined the military, I had my artwork with me. The boys took me out and got me drunk one night and when I was drunk, they had me tattooed. They’re unique. I like to say there’s a story behind it: Well she started off looking like this (points to the tattoo of a woman on his left arm), but if she would have kept on hunting instead of playing with him (points to the snake above her), she wouldn’t have got that way (points to the tattoo of a pregnant woman on his right arm). (laughs heartily!!)

That is so good, that’s funny! I like that. That’s still making me laugh- the fact that they’re related makes it even better. Jeez- I have a lot of questions about your time with the marines or with the British-

Oh, you don’t want to know.

I mean, I do want to know about at least one thing, but you get to choose. Is there anything from those years?

My trade during that time- I’m a qualified sniper. So, let’s just leave it at that. Let’s just leave it at that.

You want to just keep it as that? We don’t have to get into it. But what about before? Were you by chance trained to become a qualified sniper or what is always a goal of yours?

I’ve always had a knack with rifles. I started shooting a 0.22 when I was six years old. My dad trained me where he would take a piece of wood and pick up shells from off the ground. He would place ten shells equally apart on the wood and let it drift on a pond. So I would have to lay there and would have to hit each shell off, separately, without hitting the wood. Just pick off the shells. That’s how I was trained.

Wow. So how long was it until you became pretty good?

Not very long! Like I said, it was like a natural phenomenon.

That’s very cool! As a person to do something and feel like you have a knack for it. So that knack of yours is probably what drove your purpose in the military?

It did. But uh, over the years I’ve lost my taste of it. That’s why I don’t use a gun no more. It’s no sport. When you know you can take a rifle, or a pistol or anything, and you know that there’s a target- you’re going to hit it. No matter what.

There’s nothing competing against you.

No, there isn’t. Because in hunting, you go out for an animal in the woods, there’s a skill involved. You have to try to get close to that animal, outwit that animal. But the thing is, with a rifle, there’s no skill involved because you could shoot an animal 1500 yards away before that animal even sees you up on a hill. So where is the skill or the enjoyment in that? There’s none.

Is that why you use a bow and arrow?

Yeah, a crossbow. I’ve always had a crossbow, ever since I was a kid.

Do you still hunt?

No. I’ve shot a lot of deer and I’ve shot a few moose. I had a couple animals that I’ve seen in the woods that I have been close to. Very close. I look at them, they look at me and I just stand and watch them. A pack of wolves- I’ve been close to packs so many times. They are not as dangerous as people say. You just talk, gently. You just look at them. They won’t bother you if you don’t bother them unless they get shot at or they are especially hungry since hunting has been poor. Then, there could be a problem. But otherwise- no. It’s like any animal: if confronted by a human, who is taller than most animals, their tendency is to run away or shy away. Avoid contact. But the thing is that most contact is by accident. So that startles the animal which can cause different reactions.

Do you feel like with you time in the wild- because you are talking about a very unique experience of being very close to wild animals- do you feel like they taught you some lessons?

Oh, definitely. Number one: don’t kill unless it’s something you need. You got guys going out there hunting and they shoot everything in sight. For what reason? Target practice? Unnecessary. A wolf, cougar, or a bear will only kill what it needs for food. It doesn’t kill for pleasure. Man does. That’s why I’d rather associate with animals, frankly (laughs).

Are there any other lessons or is that the biggest one? As valuable as it is.

If you go in the woods and you got no food with ya, just watch the animals. Watch the birds. You can eat what they eat. If they don’t eat it, don’t touch it! It’s no good. Seriously. They know. Certain berries you wouldn’t even know if they’re edible or not. You watch the birds: if they can eat it, you can eat it. If the birds don’t touch it, don’t touch it because it’s poison.

When I talked to you about human relations, you didn’t really flourish. But when we started to talk about your relationship with animals-

I am closer to animal life and wild life than I am to humans. I have more respect for them, I learn more from them. An animal will not betray you. They won’t turn on you and they don’t bite the hand that feeds them. Humans? Forget it. Can’t trust them.

After talking about everything we just talked about, what was the happiest moment of your life?

Well I guess, the birth of my two kids. I got a daughter and a son, I got a grandson now. I haven’t seen him in a long time. He’s 15 now. They’re back in Ontario. My daughter is in Canola, my son is in Red Lake.

Are you still in touch with their mother?

No. I met her in Ottawa. I went down to a food bank to get some groceries. I couldn’t carry them back because my back was injured. She helped me carry my bags but she never left. Then just one thing after another, yeah.

Why do you feel it fell apart?

I couldn’t trust her. I come home from work one day, two kids at home, just little babies. My son was only a month and a half old. I come home and he’s on the floor covered in crap, my daughter is on the floor covered in crap, and I couldn’t find her. I go to the bedroom. That’s where I found her, with the neighbor! They both went out the window. Got rid of them.

So, you ended up raising your children?

Yup. This is after the military, this was 35 years ago.

They’re in Ontario but you’re here. Why did you come to Alberta?

I came here because my parents were in Vancouver, my dad had just passed away and my mother was ill so I came back here to see them. Children’s aid looked after my children back then. They told me I wasn’t getting my kids back, they said I was too violent. That’s how they classified me because of my military history. So, uhhh, I fought with them for a number of years until my daughter turned 18 and my son- they kicked him out and put him on the street in Winnipeg.

They classified you as violent why? Were you diagnosed with PTSD?

No. They classified me as a violent- I don’t have a violent history on my police record. No violence on it whatsoever. It’s only because of my military history and now being a single parent, they didn’t like that back in those days.

Did they try reaching out to your family to help with raising the kids?

Oh yeah. They wouldn’t. After a while, they said, “That’s it.” They came in, they took the kids, I got into an argument with them, the cops come, next thing I know- I’m in jail for three months.

Would you say that was the darkest time of your life?

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I’ve had a lot of misery in my life time. Seen a lot of death and everything else. But nothing in the world can compare to the hurt you feel when you lose your kids. (takes a moment)

Do they visit you while in prison? Your kids?

No. They were 8 or 9 years old. They couldn’t come to the jail because I was transferred 400 miles away to a jail. And even after I got out, it took 18 months before they let me visit. At that time they had moved my kids out of the province to another province- which is illegal. They put them in Winnipeg in foster homes.

Twenty-one months of you incarcerated then away from your kids.

The time I was away from my kids because of them, you might as well say I was incarcerated because jail has got nothing compared to what that feels like.

Of course. I’m so sorry about that.

It’s history.

What was life after those 18 months?

Uhhh, my first visit was with my daughter and I wasn’t allowed to… She was in a room with two workers and a police officer. She would come over, she stood in front of me, she put her hand on my head and tried to give me a kiss- HOLY COW! All hell broke loose. “Don’t touch her! Don’t touch her!” they would yell. “I’m not!!!!”. I’m sitting like this here my daughter comes up and goes to give me a kiss- I almost flipped out. I threatened to kill the son of a bitch right there and I got another six months.

Oh my God. I couldn’t imagine. I know that it’s history but- what you could dwell on in the positive I guess is that your daughter was very happy to see you.

Oh hell yeah! I didn’t even know where she was for a number of years. I was actually in Kelowna at the drop in centre there on a computer and I got a message. “Jennifer Peacock wants to talk to you”. I don’t remember any Jennifer Peacock! Kept on bugging me so I opened the site up and there are pictures of my daughter and my son when they were little. Who in the hell would have those pictures? It was my daughter. She married some biker by the name of Peacock.

Have you reconnected?

Ahhhh, somewhat. We talk maybe once a month. Long distance relationships don’t work, too. Because it just makes it harder. It’s even harder to talk to somebody long distance. It’s not the same sitting here talking face to face. Last time I saw Jennifer was in ‘98.

What are your last few things that you wish to do?

I don’t have any.

I think you want to visit your kids.

Actually I do and I don’t. Because I know if I go down there, there’s gunna be trouble because of her husband.

Well he doesn’t even know you.

I know him. I used to live where he did. There’s history. First thing I know is that he’s abusive, so the first thing I’m going to do when I see him is I’m gunna drop him.

But your goal is to see your daughter. Is he the only person in your way?

I’ve come to the realization that we all make our beds and we all sleep in it. She’s made her choices.

What about your son? We don’t know where he is right now.

My son is up in Red Lake, Ontario. He don’t even talk to me. He talks to me once a year or something like that. Do what you want to do, it’s your life. You have to look at reality and you have to accept what there is. Because the longer you live in resentment, it’s not going to affect them any. They’re going to be happy. Why should you be miserable when they’re happy? Sounding like Chinese philosophy, hey? (laughs). It’s true.

Unrelated to that, how long have you been here in Edmonton?

I came back here four years ago. I moved around homeless shelters: Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, over to Prince George, Prince Rupert, Kamloops, Kelowna, Vernon, Penticton, Nanaimo, Vancouver- all I did was make rounds from one shelter to another. I didn’t have a fixed income- I worked parttime because of my back and everything else. Work a little bit here or there.

This was before you could access your pension?

Yes. Six years now I’ve had access. I’m 71 now. The last six years I finally got a right around the corner here. It’s run by rotary club, it’s for veterans. Nice place there, I’ve been there since January.

Congratulations, I’m happy for you. Do you like it there?

Ehhhhhhh…

Let’s pick one good thing, and one bad thing.

It’s clean, it’s quiet, but I’m bored! (laughs)

Are a lot of the veterans older?

They’re not all veterans. It’s housing for anybody 55, 60. It’s Right to Home Housing.

So, it’s not connected to OFSS. What’s your relationship with OFSS?

I like it but there are things. Down here, yeah it serves its purpose, it’s quiet, and it’s enjoyable. Upstairs- I stayed upstairs way before I moved into the rotary- I moved in, I lasted four days, I moved out. I just walked out. I can’t handle the drunks, the garbage, the drug addicts, the guys up at 2, 3 AM drinking, people come up to your door knocking looking for a drink. You go to the washroom and there’s urine on the floor, there’s crap on the floor. Four days, I walked out.

Oh, that’s tough. I’m happy you found a good home though. “Clean” was one thing you made sure to say about it!

It was all Veteran Affairs. They have Veteran’s Canada on 97th, it’s got a newly opened drop-in centre. I visit them, I like that they look after the veterans. Not just recognition but what they do is they have coffee, you can use a computer. Things like that. Here’s their card.

Would you say they are your first point of contact if you need help?

Oh, yeah. Definitely. My experience with them has been good, really good. I screwed up a few months ago. I hadn’t seen my men for a while and I went on a big drunk. I didn’t pay my rent for two months. I figured okay I’m gunna get the boot, no big deal. They contacted me, they talked with me, my rent’s paid. They paid the rent, they paid everything. I didn’t ask for it.

Humans aren’t perfect, we make mistakes. So to have someone have your back that way-

Well the thing is when you don’t drink for 28 years and all of a sudden you run into a couple of old army buddies, and you go on a binge- yup. It’s great to see the guys.

Are you about to show me something special? (Shows a medallion). “To thine self be true”

28 years of sobriety.

So that was your 28-year chip. Were you an addict?

No I just drank because I enjoyed drinking. It’s a big culture in the military. When my daughter was born, I was working in a bar. She was born at 2 in the afternoon, I was at the hospital in the delivery room. I went back to work, back to the bar after. Everybody in the bar knows me, “Oh, congratulations, congratulations” I had two tables full of booze. I gave them all a look, took one shot of scotch, drank it, and said, “The rest is yours. I quit.” I still worked there, but I never drank. It’s a matter of priorities, that’s all it is.

It’s like the motto about balance, it’s all about balance. It’s been a pleasure. I learned a lot. Thank you for confiding in us and we are so happy we met you. I’m looking forward to seeing you again when we come back!

Oh, I don’t come here that often. Like once or twice a day. Maybe have a coffee-

Well, we come here once or twice a month so… you definitely come here enough for us to see you again! (I place my hand on his arm)

(Laughing hard) Oh I’ve been touched by her! (Laughing) How lucky did I get!

To read more stories, visit: Hello Lumen Series


 

 

ROBYN

This interview conducted by Natalie Czuczman, Yesmine Elloumi and Jersey Manabat of The Lumen Series in partnership with Operation Friendship Senior’s Society.
June, 2019

Usually we like to ask people what the happiest moment of their life is.

The birth of my girls. That was the highest point of my life. And the lowest? Federal prison.

Alright so let’s debrief on those two experiences so, talk about your girls.

Oh well one is a receptionist for a Heart and Lung specialist and the other one is studying to become a psychiatrist, my oldest boy owns his own roofing company… yeah, I did okay. Yeah, they’re pretty smart.

So, the psychiatrist, is she in med school?

No, she’s not but she’s about to give birth.

So, you’re about to become a grandfather?

Again! That will be three grandchildren. Sophie will be three. I’m kind of looking forward to it because me and my youngest daughter are kind of, we never really connected when we were younger because I was always working, but now with her becoming a woman we’re finally starting to connect. I’m discovering that oh my God she’s got a lot of my environmental and political views and she is very outspoken on Facebook, and stuff. I go all my God girl!

When is she due?

26th of this month. It’s going to be great but she’s in Fort McMurray so I don’t think I’ll be able to be there. I’ve discovered that in my own wisdom that it’s better to leave my kids to do what they want to do and then if they need me, I’m a phone call away, right?

Honestly, that’s pretty good.

Yeah, well, my buddy said it to me best he said, “When you were 25, did you want to talk to your mom and dad?” Well, no. I was busy being in love with somebody else, right? I didn’t want to talk to my mom and dad. I didn’t realize that I was kind of intruding. All I wanted was to be part of it, but.

It’s a fine line. For me, family is very important. As much as I can appreciate wanting to have my own life I think it’s important to really respect my parents and make sure they feel they’re being respected because I know they just want to connect.
The younger generation was not taught respect like we were. I would have never spoken to my father or mother the way kids have spoken to me. Because back in those days you would have gotten a cuff right away.

It’s cultural too.

You got to respect your parents, right or wrong.

They really are the reason you’re here! So, then you said you got into federal prison because of living in the bush?

Well, no it was because you go down, down and they you get hooked up with the motorcycle boys, then you start dealing cocaine, then it gets deeper and deeper and sooner or later you hit bottom. Well no, that’s not really bottom because you end up in prison and you’re still afloat but, ah, when you get OUT of prison- that’s rock bottom. Because they don’t help you. They turn your back on you.

The rehabilitation and reintegration is not there?

It’s not there, no. You got to do it on your own. That’s why we have failures in our society. Because the support is not there; when you come out of a place like that, you’re changed as an individual. A man, a person, a human being. You’re totally different from what you were when you went in there.

I won’t talk too much about it but in one of my courses I had a guest lecture that completely opened my eyes to the incarceration system. There’s so much crazy shit that goes on in there. And so, I think we should double check before sending somebody to prison because it will honestly make them worse. Not that they’re a bad person but when you’re put in such tough circumstances, what do you expect? Someone to become a better person? Especially in the men’s prisons.

I come out with more connections with the dark side than I had when I got in. Then you get out, you go to your government looking for support, looking to rebuild my life, they turn around and say, “Well you go ahead and do it but we’re not gunna help you.

When you were in prison, how long did you stay in there for?

Three years.

And then so tell me about it. Anything you wanna say.

Well the general public’s view of the Canadian Prison System is so far from the truth. It’s pathetic. There’s more dope, there’s more everything. The guards are crooked, there’s manipulation that goes on, everything. It’s a very nasty place.

For you was there a specific memory you remember?

Oh yeah, a guy got raped from a cell across from me. Uh, guys get beat up just a bit from me. Uh, huh. Guys get stabbed in the food line.

Stabbed?! How do they get that?

They sharpen stuff and then a guy who owes money or whatever in prison they have an underground drug system. The whole prison itself is underground. Like all the illegal stuff. And the prison guards bring it in and they get profit on top of that. Everybody thinks the prison system is to rehabilitate you? No! It’s to get you out of the public eye. That’s all it is. And then they wonder why we got problems in our society, I tell my girls: “Be careful who you talk to because you could be talking to a killer and not even know it.” They let them out every day. Child molesters, killers, our whole society is fucked. That’s why us older guys that’s why we want to bring the death penalty back. Right, because there are certain individuals in our society that are so sick that they just need to be shot.

I remember having a big debate about that. When I was younger, I would be like, “Well, there has got to be a way to do it without killing people and who are we to take away people’s lives…” but, it does get to a point you know as you mature that you start to think, if someone is such a risk to society, and honestly, you’re spending a lot more funds on police funds, healthcare funds, security funds, prison funds, trying to keep them away. It sounds so mortifying that you’re okay with killing somebody but it could be that the means justify the ends. So, when you were in prison, what was one of the biggest lessons you learnt? Other than how fucked up it is?

Let’s see. No matter what I say or do it’s not my position. Right? You’re just there to do your time- mind your own business. The guard tells you to shit on the floor, you shit on the floor. He tells you to clean it up, you clean it up. You don’t even question it. Or else you go into 30 days in darkness and when you’re fighting on a rage that’s more solitary time. You don’t want to go there, because it gets worse! The general population is bad enough as it is you go off into solitary confinement, it gets worse.

What was it like being in prison with people that committed worse crimes?

They’re normal people. As long as you don’t ask what they did. There’re always the morons in the group, the troublemaker. I was fortunate that I- well, I used to wear a vest at one time.

What does that mean? Like a bulletproof vest?

No like a motorcycle vest. I had a position of authority when I went in there so they left me alone they knew I was a big cocaine dealer on the outside.

And they let you keep wearing that when you were in prison?

No, no. But everybody knows. That’s another thing. They knew exactly what I was in for before I was even in my prison cell.

How do they know that? Word of mouth?

Well, you pay the guard and ask, “What’s that guy in for? Is he a child molester what is he in for? You go on that range that’s thirteen cells, everybody knows everybody and what they’re in for. But you don’t ask, it’s not brought up at the table but, you know that the guy sittin’ across from you killed his wife and two kids. So we never bring that up.

In your cell, were you alone?

Yup.

And how was that?

Lonely. (laughs). Lonely!

But was it better than having another person with you?

It gives you a lot of time to think about what you did and why you’re there. What you’re going to do when you get out and what are your dreams and aspirations. And that’s what keeps you going like it was my kids that kept me going. They know that their dad is a fuck up, blah blah blah, but we still love ya. That’s all it took to keep me going, right?

They would visit you?

No. Yeah, they disowned me for three years. Oh, they still disown me kind of but I don’t really care. If you’re not big enough to fucking get over it well- I don’t care.

So then when you got out- that was what year?

Oh, eight years ago now so 2011.

What was it like? What did you feel? What did you feel when you stepped out?

I was mad. Mad. So mad. Eight years have gone by and I will never forgive this country for what they did to me.

Expand on that.

Well, I’m going to start an army and fucking overthrow Alberta. There you go. I’ll be the President. I’ll be the dictator of Alberta just like Hitler. Because the public has had it with all these high prices and rent… in a country like this, you know who’s – it’s the greedy mother-bleepers that run this province. Like oh, you got to go out and vote? Well, we’re voting for what! For what? We’re paying you $250,000 a year to lead us and you can’t even do it?

Since then, it’s been eight years. Anything new? Other than the grandkids?

Oh! I learned a lot about myself, as a man. I have a lot of good qualities as a man. I have been a great provider, I’ve owned houses, motorcycles, cars, boats. I can make money, but I can’t buy love. Love is earned. Respect, loyalty, all earned. And then for me to find a woman like that at my age is like fucking impossible!

To me, you find love through the experiences you set up to have and then I really like them being my friend first.

Well that’s my priority first like for example, you and me let’s say, I’d try to get to know you as a woman first before I slept with ya. Hey? Because, me, well I hate to say this but I’m a real slut. Well, my problem is that the women I end up with are half my age most the time. My buddies are patting me on the back, “Oh good for you Rob! Hey! Hohoho!” But for me it’s like, you don’t understand what I’m thinking. There is a difference and now I’ve discovered that I need to find a woman that’s 35 and older, hey? Because she’s already set in her ways, set in that. Okay fine I can adjust to her but, these younger ladies holy… slow down!

Well the younger you are the more you’re trying to find your path, right? But it is still very taxing for you because you know yourself, you’ve been through some pretty unique experiences. So, to be with someone who is still figuring it out it can be, you need a lot of patience for that. Maybe you don’t have that.

No, I don’t. I know exactly what I want in a woman and I have a hard time finding it.

Keeping your standards high is more important to me than letting myself fall for myself shorter than what I want because I want to actually be happy.

Keep my standards high, never get laid. Lower my standards, get laid all the time. You’d be surprised where you do find love, hey. It’s when you’re not looking. Like this one girl, she’s 38. I thought, “Okay, she smokes meth, fine. That’s her business.” But, I fancy on her and I invite her in my home and I introduce her to my friends but yet she did a couple of things, then I didn’t say nothing to her, but then she asks, “Well why don’t you want to be with me no more?”. It’s cause of who you are! And she couldn’t understand that.

That’s hard. I feel a lot of young people are afraid to say that: “Honestly, I think that you as a person and me as a person we just don’t fit!” Cause it seems like such a personal attack but, you gotta be real if you are going to let yourself be so vulnerable with another person.

That’s my problem, I’m too honest. After what I’ve been through, I don’t sugarcoat nothing. I tell you straight up if you do something I don’t like. I’ll tell you straight up. And if you don’t want to correct that then I’ll just walk away from you I don’t got the time. I’m about to be 60 in a couple months but I still feel like I’m 25.

Bangin’! What is it? Bitchin’. (laughs)

Bitchin’ yeah. I can go down to Whyte Avenue, me and my boys, and nobody messes with us alltimers because they know they’re going to get a man’s licking not a boy’s hit. You fight with us, you’re going to get hurt.

Where do you like to go to on Whyte Ave?

We go to Commercial a lot for Blues Night. It’s beside Hudson’s. We go down to Whyte, all the university boys say, “What you doing messing with our women??” Oh, yeah! They’re jealous! And when we go out the women will group around us because I mean if I was a woman I would hang out with us. We got money, they’re laughing, they’re having fun. We’re not boring!

When was the last time you went out?

Oh, last night I went over to my buddy’s place. We used to ride together; he was position thirteen I was position twelve in our motorcycle club.

Can you tell me about this motorcycle club you were a part of?

Oh, well I shouldn’t. You go up the ladder. As you go up the ladder you go up ahead in the positions in the gang. As you get up to the front, there’s President, Vice President, Treasurer, Road King, they all ride up front. Then us subordinates ride behind them.

Are you still in your motorcycle club?

You’re asking the wrong question!

It’s okay, you don’t need to answer that.

No, I won’t.

So then, what’s it like? Being part of a motorcycle club?

Oh, it’s the greatest feeling on Earth. To have 65 brothers like that? It’s like a pack of wolves right behind you all the time, it’s power. These are the friends I was talking about. We all used to ride together at one time but it faded away. You can only have so much fun in your life before your body catches up to you then you realize, “Oh, I partied my life away!”

Is that the worst thing?

(Laughing) True! Look at that guy (points to another man who I was speaking to before).

Oh yes, that guy wouldn’t stop talking when I was talking to Tad.

He’ll sit on the corner and make $150 bumming change. Yeah well he holds up a sign at an intersection, “I want to go back home to Ontario…” or something. You’re from Alberta, ya fucker! Everybody is so gullible, giving him money. He goes after and buys a beer. Like, jeez.

That’s funny from the perspective of the people who know him, you’re all probably thinking like, “You’re not even from Ontario! What are you saying?” However, it just makes it that much harder for the people who actually need that help. That’s a big reason why we collect and share these stories-  to share the diversity of people in this community. Or to share a conversation with someone who went to federal prison. Thank you so much for opening to me about that experience.

No problem, thank you for sitting down and talking with me. It also doesn’t ruin my image to sit and talk to a beautiful woman, now is it? I have alternative motives here, it makes me look good. So, when the other girls come around, the boys don’t bother me so much.

That’s interesting to think about… We’re pretty good talkers too.

Oh yeah, like I’m Scottish. We’ll stick up for injustice, it’s bred into me.

For the motorcycle club, are there a lot of people in there that are also the same background?

Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I hate to say it but we’re kind of White Supremacist. Not in a racist way, but more like we, as a group, try to stick to the White theme, right?

So, why is that?

Well, it’s because it’s the only ones we can honor. The rest that – from what we’ve gathered… uh, I mean I’ve got nothing against immigrants. My father was an immigrant. Some of the immigrants coming into our country are just making our country look real bad. It’s hard to accept it. When stuff happens in the community that motorcycle gang related- a guy gets killed because he didn’t pay his debts, he’s a Somalian let’s say- to us, just another foreigner fuckin’ up in our country. Which is very hard and it’s very cruel. But for us that’s the reality of the world, that’s the reality of Alberta. That’s the reality of this block. Racism and bigotry runs rampant down here.

So why do you think it’s so strong?

Once a dog has been kicked or whipped a bunch of times it gets numb to it and then you become hardened to it and then you become part of it.

So, you’re saying it’s social.

It’s a social thing. Mind you though, all these people down here we’re all low-income earners so we know our path is set for us. Like for me I can get out of here. But for many others, this is it. This is the end. This is where you’re gunna end up. And after 45 years of working? And you have a hard time getting a cup of coffee at a senior’s house? What did I work for? What did I put all that effort into? Life, family, kids? To have it all thrown out. And then this year, we already know who is going to win the election. We all know. It’s going to be the UCP cause you know why? The money and the power is going to flex today again. We know this just like since 1982. You watch- it’ll be UCP in power by the end of the day. The younger generation with the money, they want to make more money. Because wants you start making money your greed kicks in. Then you got the bigger house, the bigger truck, the bigger this, the wife, the kids. But in reality, you don’t any of that. That’s what the federal prison taught me. I don’t need any of it. I don’t need your government, I don’t need your public anything. You people aren’t worth my time. Federal prison straightened me out real quick about what is what.

How do you feel those lessons affect your day to day?

I walk around cautious. Don’t trust the cops, I hate the government. Fellow man, I don’t respect.

Do you feel like if you lived somewhere else you might be different?

No, it’s all across Canada now. We, Canada, like the rest of the world, come to Canada. Now we have the rest of the world’s problems in Canada. Sure, I agree, yeah, we need immigrants. Do you know that when you hit retirement age, your Canadian Pension Plan will be non-existent?

You think so? Related to that I recently learned that the Canadian population has more people that are old than people that are young. So, we need to find people who can pay taxes to support this older population.

That’s why we bring immigrants in because we build our population base up so the older generation like us gets taken care of. But, girls like your age and my daughter’s age- I feel sorry for them. Because that isn’t going to be there.

Why?

Politics. Politics. That money has to go somewhere else… but still they’ll spend millions on a hockey fucking arena. Are you kidding me, eh? Right across from the inner-city. And then oh, we need to build a tall skyscraper. What the fuck’s with that, Alberta? You tell me you care about the elderly, the homeless, this, that. The government cares? You’re nothing but a bunch of liars. Blowing sunshine up your ass. But they’re good at it, that’s why they’re politicians. But the problem is us, our generation, we see right through that. This is why half of the older generation won’t vote today- because of that very fact.

If it seems hopeless to do so…

You’re not going to listen to us anyways when we tell you what we think. You’ll come up with an excuse.

I hear you. So then, what’s your day to day like right now? Do you come to OFSS often?

Oh, all the time, all the time. The folks around here are good, you know? We’re all on the same kind of boat, really. We’ve seen a lot in our lives and we know to mind each other’s’ space and manners. That was taught to us when we were kids. The generation behind us has no clue what that’s about. You see people nodding their heads? I’m not the only one. But then, there are people like you that keep our optimism high! Like my daughters, they’re very well-mannered and very polite. Very respectful to elders.

You should respect others. Just like right now: you are sharing with me-  I felt you were uncomfortable sharing how you and your biker gang feel you identify as White Supremacist and I feel many others would immediately become offended or triggered. But, I’ve learned that it’s important to explore views rather than define a person by the label they’ve offered.

I worked two years for a Shia stone mason on the Southside. I worked Dave Jahal at Wildrose Masonry for two years. I went down and integrated myself with the Muslim community to understand what all this fighting is about. Why is everybody fighting? And then you realize, “Oh! Jeez! He takes care of grandma, he paints houses, kids go to school… they do nothing different from what we do! What is this battle about!” But, once again, we’re back to politics and money and religion. I never used to look at a Muslim woman as a potential partner but now, in the new generation, I’m opening to the Muslim nation. These women are loyal, good-looking, knows how to treat a man, and that’s taught as young ladies in the Muslim nation.

If you look at people with their labels, you won’t get too far. But if you look at people’s values, there is more that is revealed and more that can open up. You told me that from prison you learned to be cautious, to not trust people around you. But, you will have to trust people eventually. Right now, you’re trusting me in this conversation. The best way to relate to someone is to let someone feel respected when they interact with you. You see the eye-contact happening here? I feel valued. Then, I feel like “boom” I can connect with you.

I know an interesting moment when I meet one. I don’t speak to many people who can’t keep up their end of the conversation. You know, I used to be one of those guys who used to drive by and yell, “Why don’t you go get a job, you bum!” But now I’m one of those guys and I realize that oh, I was totally wrong in if these people are lazy. That’s the problem with our society, we assume too much.

My mom, she’s a funny lady. She loves quotes and the other day she shared a quote with me that said, “It’s too hard for most people to think, so they assume.”

I get lots of that. A lot of people assume I’m still in the motorcycle club but I’ve been retired for 25 years. So, last night I was looking at my vest with my buddy. We were drinking beer, laughing about the old days. We were looking through old photo albums from 79’. We rode together lots and I would be like, “Oh I remember that wife of yours!!” We were laughing. Then you look at a picture of yourself from 25 years ago and you think oh my god, I was really good looking! (laughs).

I have one more question to ask. What’s your experience with OFSS?

Oh, here? I like the place. It’s like any family- you become part of the family and you have your ups and down. But people are very well-mannered here. I’d rather come here than anywhere else- I don’t eat at the Hope. I barely go to the Bissell. I never go to Boyle Street.

Why?

I have to get away from the drugs and alcohol and there is where they all have it. Then the government says we have to go there to eat well- I have nothing against Christians but when three of your Black folks are ganging up on one Native and I come up to tell you to get off him and you don’t so I punch you in the face then you call the cops- go ahead.

So, it seems like a sink for conflict. A lot of people we spoke to here at OFSS say it’s much calmer so it’s nice to catch a break and to let down your guard a bit.

Oh, yeah. Definitely. I went to three NDP bar meetings, you know that? I was advocating for the homeless because I’ve been in both worlds: the rich world and the poor world.

But you’re not homeless right now? From what I gather? You said you could step out of this if you wanted to?

Yeah.

So, why don’t you? What keeps you here?

It’s the government and the walls they put up. I was making $120,000 a year working in Suncor then they took $47,000 out my bank out, made me sell my truck, took my driver’s license away all in about 48 hours.

Why?

Retroactive Child Support Order. Power of Canadian government. They come into your bank account. You go look in my bank account, right now I got $20 in it but I got $1000 in a tobacco can over at my buddy’s place. I don’t trust the bank, I don’t trust the government, and I don’t trust the politicians.

That’s a reason I haven’t heard yet but, that makes sense. Do you come here every day?

Pretty much, yeah. You discover in your old age that unless you have a driver’s license, truck, tickets- you’re not working. And it’s hard to get work right now in Alberta because of the pipeline bullshit. I don’t feel sorry for Alberta because I watched them milk Alberta for all its money for years. I worked in the oil patch, right? And the big players with the money- they just milk milk more and more the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Do you trust him? Jason Kenny? I don’t! I don’t even know the man and I can tell!

Did you know that there are four RCMP investigations going on about the UCP party candidates?

I believe that. I believe that. Any smart man knows to put the woman in control.

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Tad

This interview conducted by Natalie Czuczman and Yesmine Elloumi of The Lumen Series in partnership with Operation Friendship Senior’s Society.
May, 2019


Can we ask you to spell your name for us? We don’t want to get it down wrong!

T – A – D – E – U – S – Z: “Tad” as in “Great”, “Deus” as in “God”. And who are you girls?

We’re a couple of university students.

You are? In what, drama? Literature? Sciences?

Sciences. Both of us we’re doing Immunology and Infection. Yesmine graduated, I’m almost graduated. Learning about disease, and the body, how it works, how it doesn’t work. You seem very well read and very well spoken — did you study literature?

Well I ended up spending some time at U of A but I didn’t finish. It was a short stay due to circumstances… (rubs fingers together). Abrupt changes in family too, I had to quit. But, the thing is I got the concept of a good reading list, how to follow a bibliography to get to expand on subjects.

I went to UofA and I got a job with a big construction company as a civil engineering technologist. But that was something that I worked myself into on my own. Meaning in lieu of taking advantage of some of the possibilities that had been in our education, I had a scholarship to attend Banff School of Fine Arts then and I had art exhibits all over the city.

What kind of art, what was your medium?

Crayon, mostly. There’s a recent artist that’s quite famous that is Canadian that drew similar sorts of things, yeah. His name starts with a “K” he does interesting landscapes. He brings in people doing activities. My activities and my people were children, and they were at play, usually. Children on snow hills, you know. A lot of color.

What drew you to crayon? Was it just that it was there?

Yeah. I have no technique in any type of way and I’m glad I didn’t because, why? One of my good friends he became quite a famous artist actually. He started in Poland, he went to Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts and then he stayed in France in Paris with this guy named Holice. Anyways, he was a good buddy of mine we travelled together a little bit through Africa and Europe. But, he ended up dying a few years ago from brain cancer. You know? And I keep on saying it’s from sniffing too much fumes, paint fumes! It can happen! You expose yourself to a lot of harm!

Oh my goodness, yes I can imagine all the solvent fumes can’t be good for you! I’m so sorry. Are you still drawing?

Very rarely. Here and there I need to do a technical drawing but nothing more.

Technical drawing?

Yeah it’s a sort of schematic. My original entry into the civil engineering field was I did a few courses of drafting in high school and circumstances at that time weren’t allowing me to go on with education, I went working for at that time it was called Department of Highways but today it’s Alberta Transportation, right? And I joined a survey crew and I ended up surveying with this mobile crew just moving around all over the province and doing measurements. And that led me very quickly into a job with municipal affairs in their Planning Department and I get the Alberta Library of Maps surveys. All the surveys being done in the province needed a stamp from our office.

For one thing, Department of Highways was a beautiful place to visit because it was unusual in its set-up. The interior consisted of really long tables about waist high and overlaid with mylar, a paper type on which you draw with India ink. I have I think two or three tattoos, these pinpoints. That’s India ink embedded in skin from cleaning my pen, you know?

I was also going to ask about family actually. You came here to Canada when you were 12. Anybody else come with you?

Oh, yes. A whole gang of people. My parents were carrying the baggage and I was surrounded with children, you know? Hands full of children at the age of 12, I was taking care of them. Half-siblings. The German army took my dad out to work as a labourer on the Eastern Front and they brought him back a year later when they were returning and they just threw him over the fence like a sack of potatoes, you know and this was probably late ‘44 and in ‘49 he died.

Oh my. Did he get sick or was he…?

Uhhh, you know the conditions of his death are a little sketchy to me, you know? I went back to Poland looking for people who have known the location of my birth, the house, it should still be there. But, I didn’t find nobody in the vicinity that was old enough. There was an old lady but someone told me, “You can’t talk to her, she’s senile.”

So, a lot of information went by me and me missing it by one year I think. There was a guy who was coherent and well-spoken but he wasn’t there anymore.

To me, as an immigrant, those years: the 1950’s in Poland were so dear to me, there was such reality that I carried with me on every day type of basis. It was constantly in my memory so going back, walking around the areas, like I spent 60 days just walking 12 km a day. It was a beautiful place to grow up.

Are there any memories that are so strong and clear that affect you? Because I know for me sometimes I go back to these memories in Croatia that are just so peaceful and so beautiful.

Absolutely, absolutely. I have a very strong memory of my very early years. Oh, very early. When I spoke to people walking around two years ago, I was asking whether they have seen any ghosts in their backyard. Because if they have, it was me, visiting them in my dreams, you know!

Is there any family here with you?

Oh, yes. Yes! I have that bunch that I brought from Poland — they’re quite successful people. We still speak, we have a fairly large extended family. And my son is a big rock and roll star.

Oh! Who is he?

Yeah, he plays for a group called Kobra and the Lotus out of Calgary. They play all over the world. They tour with Kiss, they opened for Metallica in Barcelona, Judas Priest in London. That’s the type of group.

And what’s your son’s name?

Jasio. J – A – S – I – O.

We proceed to look up Kobra and the Lotus on Google Is this him?We show a picture of him on our phones

Oh! A picture of him! Hahaha! With the hair and face he looks like a skinny boy! I got to give him a call! I spoke with him half way through. Yeah, he’s always out of town, you know? Here he phoned me the day of the Junos. They were participating in the Junos, they came in second in their group, to a group that was from Quebec that has been doing this heavy metal for thirty years, you know.

Wow! This is crazy! I am so blown away!

Yeah. But I have sisters that one did become a legitimate artist. She studied at U of A but she also studied in Warsaw School of Fine Arts. She came here and did a lot of ceramics. She did ceramic mosaics, walls, murals.

Are they still up anywhere we could see?

I don’t know where her art is, publicly. But she became a housewife and three children with a big yard.

Now I have to ask you, and you can feel free to decline if you’re uncomfortable, but I have a pen and notepad in my backpack if you would like to draw anything. I would love to see your work.

Ohh I haven’t draw since 1972! Speaking of the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral you see, at that time in 1972 I was in Marseille. Where my buddy the artist, we sat down. We drew some roof tops. And one image that I really remember forever I think, we were pushing off the port of Marseille to Tunisia and we were travelling with a group of Tunisians, actually. Above the port there is a very tall hill with a golden figure and the sun was coming off of that but, there was a clothesline and the clothing from that clothesline I saw this shirt, hanging there. And the sleeve was waving goodbye, hahaha!

Oh, that warms my heart. That seems like a good place to end our interview. That was lovely.

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Helen

This interview conducted by Yesmine Elloumi and Jersey Manabat of The Lumen Series in partnership with Operation Friendship Senior’s Society.
April, 2019

No wonder you wanted to take a picture of me, I’m too good looking!

Yes, your hair piece!

Oh this? I just curled it this morning.

First question we always ask: what is the happiest moment of your life?

Um, my happy life was when I was younger. I used to do a lot of housework, a lot of changing, cleaning, and I used to live in an old-fashioned way. It was lots of fun. My younger days I was living with my grandmother, went to school at Residential School, come back, I have to learn to speak my own Native tongue and I’m from Yellowknife, NWT. So, I moved here with my husband and years later, 1964, after we had kids all over this province. We raised our kids. Now I got 27 grandchildren and 14 great grand kids and they’re scattered all over the country. Some in Saskatchewan, some in BC, some in Alberta and they’re all over the place I don’t get to see them much but, someday I will!

So, when you went to Residential School you got to go back home?

Yeah, I came back home, lived with my grandmother. I went to the school for 8 years and then four years at a day school. Then I moved to BC! I worked all over the place. As a chambermaid, as a cook helper, and I had a good life.

You’re the first person I’ve spoken to in my interviewing who has attended residential schools. Did you enjoy it there?

I enjoyed it but some of them are just sad you know the way they treated us. Like my grandmother is better at looking after any kids because she was a good grandmother. My mom died when I was 2 years old so I was in Child’s Council for TB for three years. They flew me from Yellowknife to Edmonton. I stayed there till I got better then they flew me back and I was living with different people like foster parents and I was moved around then finally the government got after my grandmother, forced her to look after me. If she didn’t look after me I would have been raised in a white community. My grandmother looked after me pretty good, she taught me a lot of things.

Oh okay! Tell me some of the best things she taught you.

She taught me how to make dry meat and cook and clean white fish and clean the caribou meat, clean the ducks, everything! I lived with her in the bush, hunting for muskrats, cleaning the skins and all that, all kinds of things, it was beautiful!

Wow, I love it! Look at the smile on my face! It’s great! What was your mother tongue?

My mother tongue is Dogrib.

How do you say hello in Dogrib?

“Danatay”!

So, how long have you been here?

I moved here in 1992 from Prince George, BC. I lived there for thirteen years so wherever I worked, I had a job, I stayed there for a while. And then move on, keep moving, finally I settled down here in Edmonton.

And do you like it?

I like it. I like that in Edmonton I do a lot of volunteering here. I volunteered since 2004. I still volunteer: I make sandwiches, I cut potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips, whatever they have in the kitchen. I’ve been volunteering for a long time with them [OFSS].

Do you volunteer anywhere else?

No, just here [OFSS] because it is senior specific. Now, I just celebrate my birthday on December 15, 1947 I was born in Fort Resolution, NWT. I just turned 71!

And you’re looking great! You’re full of life.

Because I quit drinking four years ago! And I quit smoking one year ago. When I got sick a year ago, I had a bleeding ulcer and I just about died. My ex-boyfriend was taking care of me and I told him, “Call the ambulance I have to go to the hospital.” I got there in time they had a bed for me and when they got me in bed they had all the IV’s set up. I was just wired all over. They said you know Helen if you didn’t show up, you would be dead. I’m better now but I went back a couple times. Now, I eat better, I gained a little bit of weight because I had lost up 118 pounds! Now I weigh about 125 pounds. I feel good but my stomach when I eat food I get so much gas. I’m allergic to milk, I can’t have milk or cheese and I LOVE CHEESE!

Did you develop the allergy?

I got that quite a while ago. I’m on lactose tolerance pills.

Oh, yes, I have a lot of friends that are lactose intolerant and they drink their pill too so they can still have their cheese.

… I still get a lot of gas. (giggles). But I love eating I love doing things. I was so busy yesterday oh! I was cleaning all my ornaments, washing all my artificial flowers, I just throw them in the tub and wash them all with laundry soap. On Sunday, the caretaker said we’re gonna spray your place for bedbugs. So they’re going to do that Thursday morning. My neighbour got it next door, she got it and passed it down to me.

Oh, that’s horrible! At least they’re treating it!

Yeah, but I got a lot of work this weekend. Put all the ornaments back, ohhh so much!

In one week, you’ll be bed bug free and a clean home! Think about that!
Tell us about your beautiful hairpiece, because we were really attracted to it!

Oh! I bought this in Yellowknife! I bought two! And they were $75 each! It’s worth it. They got a little souvenir stories, that’s where I got it from.

What do you think about this place?

It’s okay. For a while, we weren’t getting any entertainment but now we get bingo, we get crosswords, you know? Watch TV, get the pool table. You know.

What do you like so much about OFSS? The people? The programs? The housing?

The people are good. Some get kind of grumpy, but it’s just the minor details. We all get along really good, just like a big family. And we all talk to each other, sometimes we get mad at each other but that passes.

What’s one of the things you think OFSS should improve on?

They should work on people that should get along, not argue on small detail, should just accept what we have. You know, we get treated well here. We get the best food, we get the best clothes, items, we get entertainment by other people coming in and we get to meet, you know, different people. I don’t like them when they get mad because they fight each other and that’s no good for other people and it gets really irritating. I like everybody get treated equal. Not criticize each other! I like when people get along with each other, just like one big family. Because I talk to everybody, I’m not shy. I got good personality and I show who I am and I let them be who they are and that’s the way we should be treated. Treat the best in each other and treat good with everybody. That’s how we should get along today. Not to be greedy, not to be selfish, you know. I like people get treated equal and get the best. And we love each other and we show we are good friends, that’s what I want!

The people that know you probably know you feel that way and so they act that same way when they are with you. I wanted to ask you one more thing, because I was really impressed with how you quit drinking four years ago and quit smoking a year ago. So I wanted to ask you: did you connect with a service to help? You can choose to not answer this, but: Was it an addiction or no?

No, no I just quit on my own. I didn’t need no help, I quit the smoking, I just didn’t bother!

You didn’t experience withdrawal or anything like that?

I never did smoke much because I only started when I was 27 so I wasn’t much into smoking because I had small kids and I looked after my family well.

Right, so you didn’t really have space for that!

No, I didn’t have time for that! When I started drinking with my husband, I got to the point where I can’t drink with my husband or kids no more. I said, “To hell with it!” and I just quit. But I asked the good Lord, like Jesus, to help me to be strong. I said I want to quit now, and I did. After when I quit, I saw Virgin Mary, was right beside my bed. And I seen the good Spirit with her to help me to be strong and I just quit like that. I never even missed it or nothing, just like I never drank before. When you ask the good Lord for help, he will always be there for you.

A lot of the people I spoke to, they also told me about how they really turned towards religion much more and it really helped them find strength in achieving the goals they had.

My daughter went through it too, eh? She used to drink, she used to smoke marijuana, all that. She just quit everything too. She quit drinking, she quit the drugs, she quit smoking, and now she raised two kids. She’s doing good.

I’m going to ask you something a bit different. With you being the first person to talk a lot more about your grandma and learning about your Indigenous culture, what do you think you do now? Do you talk to many other Indigenous people and talk to them about your culture?

I do talk to a lot of my friends and my daughter. She doesn’t want to listen to me but the other ones they will. I give a lot of people advice and I hope they listen to me and they understand how I feel about them and about their side of the story too. I got lots of good friends.

So, would you say your grandma is your number one role model?

She is. She is number one to ME! She took care of me and she done everything for me.

What is your best memory of you and your grandma?

Oh, I love going with her when her boyfriend came and got her with the canoe. With him, we went to the cabin and this guy he had a little garden. I seen the garden, I went and looked at it, I sat in the garden, I was eating those green peas. I was sitting there and her and her boyfriend they talked together, so I left them alone. That was my best time being with them.

Do you have anything else you want to talk about?

No, that’s it!

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Rick

This interview conducted by Yesmine Elloumi and Jersey Manabat of The Lumen Series in partnership with Operation Friendship Senior’s Society.
March, 2019

The happiest moments of my life? Hmm. Playing in high school. Sports. I was an athlete back in my days. Soccer, basketball. Played things like that. Those were the happiest moments of my life. High school. My favourite sport was soccer.

What’s your favourite sports team?

Montreal and Edmonton. For soccer, Juventus. Rome, Spain, any good team. Even Argentina, Boca Juniors. I played one game with Boca Juniors when I was 16 back in the 70s.

So you travelled to Argentina?

Well, my mother’s parents lived there. When we came to Canada in 1957 my dad’s sisters and brothers were here, right? So they sponsored us. So we came here and my mum’s parents went to Argentina with her two brothers so she was the only one here. So in 1970 my dad got tired of being treated like “Go back to your own country” and all this. There was that negative story that everyone that comes to Canada goes through that stigma. That “Go back to your country” attitude. So, he got tired of being called all that so we went to Argentina. So, we sold everything here and we moved over there.

How long did you live there?

Well for two months. He didn’t want to stay there anymore, right? I didn’t want to go cause I had my friends and everything else here. I was only 16 at the time. I didn’t want to go, but then when I got there, I didn’t want to come back!

Was this in Buenos Aires?

Buenos Aires, yes. I seen the machine guns at the Parliament building. It’s a nice country. That’s why I wanted to stay there. I had a chance to play soccer. Here in Canada it’s either football or hockey, right. But there I had a chance to play. Then we had to come back to Canada. Then we bought another house and started all over again. Got the place in Castledowns.

I also lived in Castledowns. We were basically neighbours! Did you ever feel like you wanted to go back to Argentina?

Of course.

And did you?

No. I ended up staying here. I ended up working here being a foreman. Then volunteering and then I worked over at the Mustard Seed as a caregiver and outreach and a part time pastor.

Oh, how was that?

Just like everything else. You just give what you got inside you. That’s all. I give from here *points to heart*. I speak what it is inside.

So what are you up to these days?

Uh, honestly? I’ve been lost for a few days. I just buried my mum on Saturday. And my dad is still in the hospital he’s been there since January. So the two of them were in the same place. One’s on one side one’s on the other side. My mom was 85 my dad is 88.

I’m so sorry.

That’s ok. It happens. We have to go once in a while.

How have you been coping?

It’s just like I said. I’m lost. It’s not that I see them every day I used to see them every day because they had their life and I had mine. So I just live day to day. I do my thing. Come here, volunteer, do whatever I have to do to keep myself busy. As long as I keep busy, I’m okay. Seeing that I got all these little problems that I got. COPD, gout. My legs all gave out yesterday I was on crutches all day. I couldn’t even move around. It’s like gout. It’s a touchy thing.

I mean I’m depressed and I gotta do what I gotta do inside I gotta try to be happy. I’m too serious, I’m a serious kind of guy. I am still able to open up.

I appreciate it, I really do.

Be as honest as I can be. If you ask me something else I’ll tell you the truth about something else but I think that’s enough, hey?

So then, do you have any goals? Or dreams?

My dreams are gone. My dreams were to play professional soccer. And I didn’t have a chance because I couldn’t go no where. Not here in the city you couldn’t go. I could end up being a coach I wouldn’t mind coaching a team. Stuff like that, I’d coach.

A lot of people that I’ve spoken to in the community have told me they realized that there’s a lot of change in the demographics we’re getting so many more families now and a lot of the kids want to play sports. So I was talking to a lot of parents and they’re thinking, “Damn would it be good to get subsidized leagues.”

The Boys and Girls Club, they do that. They need funding too. When I was at the Mustard Seed I had a kids program through Alberta Alternatives. It was funded by a man from Calgary who took me under his wing and he gave me a job. That’s what I had I had the kids every Tuesday I used to bring them to St. Albert from two o’clock to eight o’clock. I had the kids. We had a bus that was donated to us so we took the kids. Sometimes it was to the theatre, sometimes to the museum, bowling alley. Wherever I could fit them in, I took them there. At five or six o’clock whenever the doors were closed we had a BBQ at Borden Park. So we had some parents there that had everything prepared for us and we would get there and start munching with the kids and we would do arts and crafts. Then that got taken away because well — the funding! You’ve got Boys and Girls Club, The Big Brothers and Big Sisters, so where are we going to fit?

That sounds like such a valuable program if they could fit that into something that already existed?

That’s what it’s all about right? It’s for the kids. That’s what I’ve always told the Mustard Seed. The kids have to be involved. That’s when the parents started bringing the kids in to help out with the meals so to show the kids. You have to start with the kids. The parents already know what should be happening. It’s the kids that have to learn, to share.

In the Mustard Seed coffee area that’s where I had my couch and chairs and TV. A lot of people around here don’t have TV, so, on Saturday I had permission from whatever time to whatever time and, people came. And then I started Hockey Night Canada Trip. They showed Hockey Night Canada every Saturday. I started Safe Night for Halloween, for the kids.

So what is that? What do they do on Halloween Night?

The kids they just come over [to the Mustard Seed] and they have fun. They [parents] don’t want it over there anymore because, well, devils. That’s how they look at it. That’s how they see life. I didn’t see it like that *chuckles*. It’s a fun time for the kids! If the city has it, why can’t the inner city have it? So that’s why I started it. It was our 25th anniversary this year. The McCauley school let us have it this year and that’s where we can get it that’s where we put it. But yeah, I started that. And Meet the Street.

Meet the Street? I’ve never heard of that or been to it

They started off with $3. Before it was with nothing, but now the people that sponsor the Mustard Seed they get $3 and that’s all you get for the whole night. So you take a scenario: you’re a prostitute, you’re a drug dealer, you’re this, you’re a homeless guy. So you take that and you go around pretending you’re one of those people. And then you see how far it goes.

 So what does the money have to do with it?

Well the money like that you only have $3? Well that’s to buy yourself a coffee, to see how far you could go on $3. Or nothing.

Last question. In terms of OFSS, how has your experience been with it?

Fine, good. Not excellent. They have their problems.

Do you have one nice memory of your time here at OFSS.

See how long I have to think about it? Just being around certain people, some of the staff, that see what I see.

Which is?

Realism. But they don’t do nothing about it. They could be doing more but they don’t. Either they’re afraid of being canned for speaking up. We have all these meetings every month. What’s the point of having these meetings if nothing is done.

Let’s say you were one of these people — the staff — what would you do?

I would start programs. Education. The individuals that need help with their life. If they’re just users, if they’re just using the premises for whatever reason then it’s not a sustainable solution. These guys [OFSS Staff] can only do so much! Right? They can’t start sending people to some kind of class. Life skills. They should be sending more people to get life skills, show them what life should be all about so they can help themselves. Not to depend on other people. Someone walking around with a cane just so they can be first in line? Heh? And then they’re walking around that pool table like nothing happened! You know! You got to open your eyes. Two words in life: common sense. How are you going to teach common sense? As long as you have common sense, you’ll go far in life.

And social supports.

Ahhh social supports.

Not government ones, necessarily, I meant personal ones.

Community! But with heart. You need real people, you need people that just care about keeping their jobs. Saying what you want to hear. Isn’t it time that the good people start coming out of their shells? And I didn’t even go to school for all this. It comes from in here *points to heart*.

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Judy

This interview conducted by Yesmine Elloumi and Natalie Czuczman of The Lumen Series in partnership with Operation Friendship Senior’s Society.
Dec 20, 2018

We always try to start by asking people if there’s a moment in your life that’s really awesome or that made you really happy or that you were in awe of?

Probably the birth of my son, I would guess.

And how old is he?

54.

And is he in Edmonton?

No, he’s in Dawson Creek and he has four children.

Do you see your son often?

That’s one of my saddest parts, I haven’t seen him for 5 years. I’ve never met my grandchildren, and I’m planning on trying to open that door. Whether it will open or not, I don’t know. ‘Cause I was with some very violent men when he was little. I had him and at 4 years old I sent him back to his dad, because the fellows were scary. The safety of my child was first and foremost. And my family rejected me. And yeah, I was quite rejected, by the community also, because women didn’t do that. But all I knew was that I had to get my son out of the mess that was happening and his dad was a good man. So that’s what I did.

How did that feel? That’s a heavy question, I know. But I don’t think many people our age know how it feels to be condemned by a group. You know, you’re usually accepted by the group because you live in a bubble. But as you grow up you start to make decisions that go against the group. How did that feel?

Well, terrible. Horrendous. Especially about my son. But even prior to that I was the “bad girl” in the town. There were a few of us. But my dad being the boss of all the men in town made it doubly as shameful. Yeah it wasn’t pretty.

How did you get through that?

You know, I can honestly say that I probably really didn’t. That’s why I ended up down here, because all of that.

Do you think now you have a little bit of perspective?

Oh yes. Much. This landed me in a — because I was always saved, eh. Whether it was by a friend or by a … somebody. Somebody. Somebody was always giving me money, so I always had a way out. This time I didn’t. But my brother did come, I was in hospital for a few days, and he rejected me. Now I’m left… and I’m scared, I’m really scared. You know I’ll be 70 and I’ll …

What’s hopeful though, even a little, is that you have perspective and awareness.

Oh well thank God for that.

There are a few senior places where there are seniors who are in trouble like myself. But I went there and there were all states of brokenness. Physically and … It made me ill so I had to get out of there.

So why do you keep coming back here [OFSS]?

Because this is … it’s older people and it’s a safe haven.

Well at least I’m glad you can come here and feel safe. And I think it’s important to cultivate those spaces.

Oh absolutely. I feel very safe here. And I really need that now. I do a lot of journaling, and a lot of stuff has come out that has even surprised me. Well because I’m in a different space in my life now.

Are there any people that have been allies for you here?

Oh yes plenty. Well this gal here *points to Giselle*, she’s at the Hope. And I met her a long time ago at WEAC, Women’s Emergency Accommodation. There’s been a couple. It’s comforting to have a little bit of something.

So how did you start reading cards?

Well there was a woman in north Edmonton and I befriended her. Her name was “just Mary” — that’s what she called herself— and she lived in a big beautiful house. And somehow and I grasped it from there and I started reading.

So it’s tarot cards?

No just ordinary playing cards.

Can you do it for us?

Well… I really don’t [feel comfortable]. Sorry.

No don’t you talked about how the right energy has to be there!

I’m all buggered up right now, I’m all over the map.

Can you explain the process?

People choose cards and they represent different things and eventually the personality comes out. And then eventually the person starts talking, and the cards correlate with what the person is saying.

So you must be able to read people really well?

Well they tell me that I am. I’m a channel I guess, they tell me. It’s what I’ve been told. I’m not saying that it always, always works. Some people never open up. They’re just shut and that’s it. If I’m not aware of my own — duding reflexology or reiki or any of that — you can’t get any of your energy in there or you’re dead in the water. You can’t do it. Because you’re taking on the other person’s energy now, plus your own, and you’re dead. You have to put a — some put a white circle around themselves… there’s a bunch of methods, whatever works for them.

That’s such a good metaphor for life [and relationships], because you can’t give someone all of your energy, you need to have your own barriers. Or else you get lost.

Oh absolutely. Even you girls interviewing people, you have to be aware. The word “closed” isn’t the word I’m looking for, but you can pick up other people’s energies and you can become very ill. So dealing with people you have to be very aware of your own stuff. And if something is cropping up you have to deal with it. Because inevitably you’re working with people, you’re going to get something. Something is going to trigger something else. So you have to be fully aware.

And I think that takes knowing yourself fully.

Absolutely, you have to know is triggering for you and not push it aside. Because you can become very ill with all sorts of things.

Well hopefully you can get back to practicing soon. We really hope that for you.

Oh thank you girls, I hope so too.

To read more stories, visit: Hello Lumen Series

 

 

Bob Whyte

This interview conducted by Yesmine Elloumi and Natalie Czuczman of The Lumen Series in partnership with Operation Friendship Senior’s Society.
Dec 20, 2018

We always like to start by asking people to talk about their happiest moment of their life

I guess there was a sense of aw when I was at Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda. I came to the falls and the animals were so enormous, the crocodiles were the biggest I’ve ever seen in my life, huge hippos and almost invisible flies that could get into your eyes and cause you blindness. But, that part of the Nile I saw my first hippo walking along the bottom of the Nile. When I first came to the Nile, after passing a sign saying, “Elephants have right of way on the road.” Now, no one is going to challenge an elephant but the signs were needed because there were elephants around.

How did you end up in Uganda?

I had left Canada on a trip for four months as a delegate to a conference in the near East and after that while I was over there I wanted to learn more about my own Western European culture so I decided to spend a year and three months in Europe, which I did. And then I felt I was not ready to come back to Canada yet but I didn’t know where to go — and the answer came in a dream! The dream was to go to Africa. And so I went to Marseille, France to take a maritime boat towards Reunion but the boat was full so I had to wait one month and I got a seat on the next boat, but then the military displaced me! And I’m glad they did because that boat sunk and a lot of people lost their lives! So I took the third boat and that took me all the way down to past Egypt and down past Djibouti and then to Tanganyika where I left the boat and visited there a while before going over to Zanzibar and then up to Kenya and then to Uganda and that’s how I got to Uganda!

What pushed you to go and leave for a year?

When I was young, growing up, even before going to school I had a sense of some kind of a path that I was following and being a little boy about four years old they said “What are you going to be when you grow up?”. It’s a common question. My answer was: “I’m going to the school that is after school.” I didn’t even know the word for university. So, I knew what path I was going to and then I was working in a farmer’s field in Saskatchewan and the farmer asked me, “What are you going to do when you finish school?” I was in grade 11. I said, “Well, I think that I’m going to university. I don’t know how but I I’m going to go to university.” And he said, “What are you going to take?” and I said, “I don’t know. Law, I guess?” And it came out of nowhere but that turned out I did well in four subjects: music, geology, and law, and one other subject and then when I was in grade 12 my English teacher was married to a lawyer and he took me into his office and he told me about all the good work he was doing for the Boy Scouts — and that caught my interest. So, I applied to go to university and I got enough scholarships so that I went year by year.

Did you go to the University of Alberta?

The first two years at the University of Alberta, then UBC, then two more years at the University of Alberta. I got a scholarship to go from university to another and then to go back. That’s what that scholarship was for, to go to a different university and get ideas and bring them back to the first university and the idea that I brought to save a lot of students money on books by having a book exchange. It was at UBC but not at U of A and I brought it back to U of A and it saved a lot of students a lot of money, I bet.

It still exists, we still have book exchanges!

That’s the one I’m talking about! I guess I’m the author for the Alberta one!

And then you worked as a lawyer?!

Yes, but don’t tell anybody because too many people will ask me for free legal advice and I’m not in practice right now! *Laughs*.

We also wanted to ask everyone about their experience at OFSS.

Well when I came back to Canada after leaving for a four month’s trip but coming back seven years later instead *laughs*. I didn’t know where to start and so I went to the Boyle Street Co-op and the lady there in charge of housing suggested I go to OFSS. So I came to speak to a housing officer and she took me to one place that I didn’t like because it was too dark but then took me to another place, which I liked! So, I moved into there and I so appreciated OFSS and their attitude to things that I wanted to help them and at that point in my life I was stronger than I am now so I did a lot of volunteering. I’ve been coming here for I think this is my 19th or 20th year. It’s because I feel that there is a lot of good value that this organization brings to our community and I’m willing to be a helper, an assistant to them in serving a lot of needy people. In particular, there are some people that are hard to house. They will deliberately let things run over because they feel it’s some way of expressing themselves in their great freedom although they’re destroying their own home. And yet, these people need help. They’re part of us and OFSS is willing to help them and because of that, I’m willing to help them.

Do you come here every day?

No. I try to come here Monday to Friday. I do not want to come here normally on Saturdays and Sundays. I meet a lot of people here, people that have become my friends. I like these people. I feel part of them. I want to help them. I feel this part of my life. Part of the reason why I am here in my life at this stage in my life is to be the help I can. It makes for a fulfilling life. I feel good about what I’m doing here.

Is there one thing that you like to do on the weekends?

A very harmless, tame thing. I like to read! How can you get more harmless than that?

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