Tag Archives: Thomas Rohner

Two horror stories from Valemount

 

Kerrin McNamara and I each wrote a story starting with the same scenario. The scenario arose from a Skype conversation we were having. I had brought my computer outside to the front landing and had gone in to get a gin and tonic, leaving Kerrin to enjoy the mountain view.  When I came back Kerrin and I imagined what would’ve happened had somebody come up to the house and stolen my computer, with Kerrin still on the Skype call.

 

Our stories were written as exercises in imagination, in a pretty short time, so they’re not meant to be perfect or flushed out or well edited. Just for fun and just for the hell of it. Here they are.

 

Kerrin’s story

 

thomas’ story

Passing Through: a hodgepodge of seniors

Valemount sees its fair share of transient people.  Contractors from different industries who live in nearby communities, international tourists, Canadians making a ritualistic cross-country trek, cyclists, bikers—people from all walks of life and every corner of the globe it seems.  In this column The Goat presents a sketch of our short-term guests, observed and written by a transient himself—RMG intern Thomas Rohner. 

 

“All you see on public transit are students and old people, we’re the ones that can’t afford to drive,” an older lady, in her 60s, said to the bartender as she was paying her bill. She was part of a group of three ladies passing through the Valley, all seniors. It was impossible not to think of the movie Steel Magnolias watching these three women.

The one who spoke was the bumbling, good-natured sort. She had accidentally sent her fork flying across the patio, and her steak knife clattering onto the cobblestones during dinner, giggling at every turn. She fumbled and dropped change while paying her bill.

One of the ladies she was with—the only one wearing makeup—was the first to enter the bar and had said to the bartender, “I’ll have a glass of wine please. I’d like to be inebriated.” The other two ladies deserted her after their meal. When she was by herself, this lady said to the bartender, “I’d like you to pour yourself a glass of wine now and sit with me on the patio. I’d like some intelligent conversation, please.”

The third lady seemed to be the prudent and responsible one among the three. “I”ll come and wake you up tomorrow, Clair. We have to be on the road bright and early,” she had said to the sweet and bumbling lady during dinner. The three ladies were traveling from Edmonton to an acreage outside Kelowna for a three-week getaway. From the sounds of conversation over dinner, they were on a shoe-string budget.

When the one lady, wearing the make-up and fond of wine, came in to pay her bill, she fumbled for her glasses and with her wallet looking for money.  “I can’t count right now, you make me kind of dizzy,” she said to the bartender. “How lucky for you, you get to schmooze with people all day.”

**

An older man, with a faint Irish accent, sat at the bar talking to the bartender. He was on a business trip, from Edmonton-area to Prince George, and had taken his wife and their grandson along.

“Man, he’s a weird kid,” the man said to the bartender. “All he wants to do is play on his phone or iPad. Look around you, I say, it’s beautiful out here. We went to the pool, and he wasn’t having any fun there either. He couldn’t wait to leave to get back to his games. Now he just wants to sit by himself and eat. Pizza bread, that’s all he wants. What a weird kid. I can’t get through to him. He makes me nervous.”

He told the bartender of immigrating from Ireland four or five decades ago, of his struggles to find work, and his eventual settling near Edmonton. He recalled his days in Ireland working as a bartender.

“I used to work weddings at our local club, working until early in the morning. I was young then, maybe 18 or 19. But finally one day my mother had enough. I’d come home, inebriated, guests feeding me drinks, and fell asleep with my leg draped out the window. I could’ve fallen out of that window, my mother said, and she boxed me on the ear. Ha! Ha! That was the end of that job. I could’ve fallen out that window, it’s true.”

**

A white-haired couple sat with a woman, presumably their daughter in her late 30s. They were travelling from Alberta to Kamloops. They had just sold their acreage where they had raised their family and lived for the past thirty years.

“Just this morning we sold it,” the older lady said to the bartender. “It’s gone, just like that, we sold it.” She laughed nervously but with bright eyes.

“We had a few head of cattle, a few crops,” the man explained to the barkeep.

“But they were nice people we sold it to, weren’t they? A nice young family.”

“And now we’re going to live in Kamloops.”

“If we like it,” the wife reminded her husband. “We’ll spend a few months there, and if we don’t like it, we can always go back home.”

I wondered what she meant, since their acreage had already been sold. But it amazed me that this couple, in their 60s or 70s, were willing to relocate, to begin a whole new experience at this stage of their lives.

“Ya, if we don’t like it, we’ll go back,” the husband said.

Small town politics aren’t so different, sadly

 

“Thanks for breaking my balls,” the mayor said to me when I came home for lunch.  He cracked a smile. “Nah, It was a good article.”

 

Things had been tense for the past week or two while I worked on a story about an accident on an unsafe accessibility ramp at the local community hall—owned and operated by the Village—that left a 98-year-old man and a pregnant woman injured. The tension was mostly in my own my mind, but not entirely.

 

Email communication I had with the Mayor’s office and other Village staff in researching the story was chafing me.  It had been convoluted and difficult.  And the complications of living with the Mayor, being friendly with Village staff on the streets, bumping into them in the most informal of settings like the grocery store or coffee shop, was starkly contrasted with the inaccessibility and formality of official correspondence.

 

For example: I had emailed the building inspector and public works officer at the Village requesting interviews to cover this story. I got an email reply from the Chief Administrative Officer saying that all media requests went through the mayor, “his Worship”. Balking at the formality, I wrote an ironically formal email to the Mayor with the same interview requests. That irony was lost, though, as the mayor didn’t respond, and then the weekend was upon us.  He avoided the topic when I saw him at “home”, so finally on Sunday night I asked him what the status of my interview requests were. He told me the CAO was going to handle it after all. So on Monday I emailed the CAO asking when I could have an interview. She had forgotten to send me an email the Mayor sent her before the weekend in response to my questions. She had vetted the email, added some comments (who knows what other edits) and then forwarded it to me.

 

My initial response was akin to rage.  Could an interview request really be satisfied by an officially vetted email response?  If physical interaction can be made obsolete between journalists and interview subjects then journalism fails. I was angry at the Mayor, who used to run his own newspaper because it was a “great way to stir up shit”, for not acknowledging the journalistic principle at stake here. I was angry at myself for assuming that communication between media and municipal officials in a small town would be more straightforward and honest, not like the antagonistic and cynical rapport between media and municipal officials in Toronto.  And I was disillusioned with the CAO who I thought was a very sweet person on the few occasions I’d met her, and now had no choice but to view her kindness as a façade behind which she operated, foremost, as a bureaucrat.  The kind, sincere bureaucrat is a journalist’s formidable foe.

 

But whenever I have a strong emotional reaction to a situation, and especially when righteousness is involved, layers are revealed with time and the simple, strong conviction I first felt is burdened and enlightened with context.

 

“I’ve been making a documentary about my fall into politics,” the Mayor said to me on the night after my story was published.  He had been working on a documentary in private for the past few years, chronicling his transition from media into politics, which he obviously had a guilty conscience about.  In an honest attempt to be a good politician, and probably to mitigate the guilt, he was reading books on non-violence, Abraham Lincoln and diplomacy.  “Maybe you can help me with the documentary. We have to get you comfortable in front of a camera,” the Mayor said.  Unlikely, but I appreciated the Mayor’s candor and personability, despite the constraints and challenges in mixing formal and informal life.

 

In fact it inspired me to wax idealistic.  This antagonism between media and politics is unnecessary, I said.  And this situation of living with you, the mayor, in a small community was a perfect situation to prove that. What it boiled down to, I said, was being conscious of communication.  The influences that made us react defensively or offensively found controlled but unacknowledged outlet in “formal” communication.  We could hide behind the facades of our professionalism. The structures in place not only made that possible, but encouraged it; in fact nearly dictate that we nurture an antagonistic rapport. But if we committed ourselves to monitoring those defensive and aggressive reactions in our communication, which are emotionally based, we could define a new type of relationship between media and politician.

 

I’m not sure anything will come of those ideals, or even if they’ve been formulated and articulated carefully enough to be true. But in trying to navigate the complicated boundaries between reporting on municipal affairs and living with the mayor, two of his often-expressed sentiments come to mind: government can’t please everybody and shouldn’t try to, on the one hand, and the insecurity of what people are thinking about him on the other.  He has good intentions and noble ideals and his attempt to bring those to office is inspiring. But his desire to appear honest and his conviction in communicating honestly leaves something to be desired. And without an ongoing, frank dialogue on motivations, that discrepancy will only become entrenched. The best way to appear honest, after all, is, simply, to be honest.

 

Passing Through: a man, a journey and a flood

Valemount sees its fair share of transient people.  Contractors from different industries who live in nearby communities, international tourists, Canadians making a ritualistic cross-country trek, cyclists, bikers—people from all walks of life and every corner of the globe it seems.  In this column The Goat presents a sketch of our short-term guests, observed and written by a transient himself—RMG intern Thomas Rohner. 

A man, a journey, and a flood

“The highway to Banff was closed, eh?  They wouldn’t let anybody through.”

A man, probably in his late 50s, sat at the bar drinking spiced rum. His leathery face and paunched nose suggested his health had seen better days. But he was amicable and his eyes betrayed a lively curiosity and interest in the world they perceived.

“And the Saddle Dome, well that’s ruined. All the way up to the 14th row was under water. They wanted to replace it already, it’s old, but now they’ve got no choice.”

Paul was travelling from Calgary to Vancouver to visit his son, a trip that just happened to coincide with the worst flooding Calgary has seen in decades.

“I don’t know what they’re gonna do about the Stampede. You know how much money they’re gonna lose? Billions probably. They have massive grounds, tents as big as this building I bet, and real western stars, cowboys, top stars come out. They’re gonna lose a ton of money.”

“I bought tickets,” he said, as an after thought. “Are they gonna refund my ticket if it’s cancelled?” passing through pic2

Our conversation was interrupted by another man roughly Paul’s age.  “He’s a happy fellow,” this new patron said, nodding towards Paul, then sauntered over to him and had a five minute conversation that began with the exclamation, “My name is Paul too!”

When our conversation resumed, I told him that I was interning at The Goat and in school for journalism.

“That’s something I bet I would’ve liked doing,” Paul said. “That’s something, if you like doing it, you can just do it forever, can’t you? If you’ve got your hunch, you just dig and dig to find your story, stick to your story. I can see a man being really happy doing that. A lot of sacrifices, I bet. But we need people like you to keep them straight and honest, because without that, without journalists hounding them, they won’t be.” I gathered Paul was referring to politicians and business moguls and anyone who’s accrued substantial power.

“Lookit all the stuff that’s come out in the States, about the phone taps and stuff. They know exactly what you’re doing, where you are, if you’re sitting at a computer, what you’re buying. I was listening to the radio just the other night, and they had this guy on who nailed it, who said it just right. Eventually they want to make it so that you can’t do nothing, buy a house or a car or get a job or anything, without having some chip scanned in your hand or your neck or some place.  And it’s already started, you bet.” Paul raised his eyebrows above the frame of his spectacles in incredulity.

“But that’s great, we need journalists to watch out for us like that. We need open-minded people, because they’re sure not open minded.”

Paul works as a security guard for an information database in Calgary, a building filled with servers with clients from all over the world.

“You wouldn’t believe the information in that building, it’s just a normal-looking building. My nephew, he’s a security guard in Toronto at a college, and you should’ve heard him when I told him how much money I make. He couldn’t believe it,” Paul chuckled.

Paul told me of another nephew of his, in his 40s. “He’s always in school, he’s in school now to learn some…systems…” Paul trailed off. “But he’s an artist…you know, well… no, ya, he’s an artist.” It seemed his nephew had struggled to have the right to be called an artist. “He spent time on Vancouver Island with the Natives, learning some of their crafts, he was really interested in that.”

Despite being delayed by the flood—“I could’ve sworn there was a turn off to Highway 1 around here,” Paul said—he planned to be in Vancouver the following night. “I’ll leave when I wake up, I guess.” He reached for yet another napkin and wetnap, finished with his plate of honey garlic wings. “These wings were great, but I hate sticky, icky things.”

Volunteer animal group’s funding request hijacked by Village administration

A partnership between the Village of Valemount and the Robson Valley Spay and Neuter Society (RVSNS) to tackle animal control has fallen through.

At the May 14 Council meeting Council decided not to continue to pursue a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the RVSNS or provide them with the $1,000 in financial assistance the Society requested.

Wendy Cinnamon, a founding member of the RVSNS, said in a phone interview that what the Village asked for in the original draft of the MOU was well beyond the scope of the Society and included bylaw enforcement. The Village cannot comment on any specifics relating to the decision because the negotiations were held in camera—closed to the public.

“I think there were just differing expectations,” Village Chief Administrative Officer Anne Yanciw said. “It was a mutual decision not to pursue this.”

The Society, a four-person organization, has been in existence since October 2012, and was initially created in response to a cat colony of about 80 cats living near the home of one of the founding members, Chris Dolbec. Since its inception the Society has helped deal with two cat colonies in the Tete Jaune area, have spayed or neutered cats whose owners can’t afford the vet bill, and, as of last week, have begun an initiative for dogs.

“We’ve done about 59 cats,” Cinnamon said, referring to the Society’s catch, fix and release program. “Right now, we’re limited as to how many cats and dogs we can do per week, so that’s what is holding us back at this point. We do have a list of people waiting.”

In December, the RVSNS requested $1,000 in funding for their volunteer initiative addressing the feline population. The Society was applying for an SPCA grant of $5,000, which the Society was required to match with their own fundraising efforts. They had already secured $1,500 from the Regional District, and planned to fundraise the remaining $2,500.

Before getting a response from the Village, the Society had the opportunity to help the Village with an impounded dog in early January. Dolbec was able to get the help of the SPCA in Kamloops, where she used to work, in finding a home for the dog.

The Society’s work with the impounded dog elicited glowing reviews from council and Village administration.

Village Deputy Corporate Officer Braden Hutchins presented a memo to Mayor and Council on January 22, entitled “Animal Bylaw Control Implementation.” Noting the time and money saved by partnering with the RVSNS, Hutchins wrote that creating an MOU with the Society was necessary “to ensure this partnership continues into the future.”

But from that point the negotiations took an unexpected turn, from the Society’s perspective.

“I don’t know how it morphed into the MOU,” Cinnamon said, “because my feedback was that council was supportive of helping us fund the feline initiative and it became something big and difficult.”

Cinnamon said the Village wanted the Society to be responsible for placing or euthanizing impounded animals that were surrendered or not claimed. Cinnamon said this was beyond their capacity– especially with just $1,000 coming from the Village to cover these costs. The Society doesn’t euthanize healthy animals either, Cinnamon said, unlike the
Village’s animal bylaw which says after 72 hours and “reasonable efforts” to find a home, an impounded animal can be euthanized.

But that wasn’t all the Village administration asked the Society to do for the $1,000 funding, according to Cinnamon.

“They also wanted us to step into the bylaw enforcement roll,” Cinnamon said, saying the Village wanted the Society to cite bylaws to residents. “And we’re not qualified to do that. We can educate people on what they should be doing … but we’re not bylaw officers…We just wanted to help with the cat population.

Cinnamon said helping the Village in January with the impounded dog was the result of a favour from the Kamloops SPCA—not something legally binding or consistent.

“They help us out when they can,” Cinnamon said of the SPCA.

The biggest factor in rejecting the village’s first proposal, however, was $2-million liability insurance the Village required the Society to purchase. Cinnamon said as a small new volunteer organization, they couldn’t afford to.

Hutchins could not be reached for comment; CAO Yanciw and Mayor McCracken were the spokespeople from Council and Village administration on this issue.

No bylaw officer

The Village made an effort to hire a bylaw enforcement officer earlier this year, even advertising outside of Valemount for the position. But with the limited resources the Village can allocate to bylaw enforcement, and the qualifications needed for a successful applicant, the Village “simply couldn’t find anyone who would be able to fill the position,” Yanciw said.

Mayor McCracken said the lack of a bylaw officer poses a number of nuanced challenges. The last bylaw enforcement officer didn’t catch any animals reported to the Village, he said.

“It’s not because he wasn’t doing his job; he was really trying to do the best he could. But you show up and the dog’s not there anymore.”

“So we’ve been working on a system, trying to do something smarter, using education.”

Yanciw said they are doing a trial period of bylaw enforcement without a bylaw officer, focusing instead on education.

“If education alone is not enough, then we’ll go back to council and look for a decision.”

Yanciw said she hopes the Village’s general Bylaw Enforcement Strategy, currently under development, will be ready by this fall.

Prof. Annie Booth, in the Ecosystems Management Science program at UNBC, has worked on municipal animal bylaw strategies and said that a combination of education and enforcement is “usually the only way to go.”

Prof. Booth says relying on education alone “relies on people wanting to do the right thing, and people do a lot of things even if they know they’re wrong.”
RVSNS  expands efforts

Prof. Booth said enforcing animal control laws is often dangerous, and SPCA officers get special training at the Justice Institute of BC. The former bylaw enforcement officer for the Village attended a 10-day course on bylaw enforcement at the Justice Institute. Special training was also part of the qualifications the Village was looking for in an attempt to fill the role earlier this year.

“There’s a lot of skill required,” Prof. Booth said, “To expect a volunteer to do that, if that’s the expectation the Village had of the Society, then I would agree … that would be an unreasonable request.”

Mayor McCracken could not comment on the in camera deliberations, but said, “The Robson Valley Spay and Neuter Society is doing excellent work, independently of us. Would it be better, in an ideal world, to do that work together? Yes. But ultimately, they’re free and they want to do it unencumbered by the Village so we support them.”

Cinnamon said the Society redrafted the original MOU with Hutchins to their satisfaction, but that Council voted to drop the potential partnership for reasons she is still unaware of; she was told a letter would be sent to the Society from the Village about the decision but hasn’t yet received it. In the meantime, the Society was able to fundraise the additional $1,000 to match the SPCA grant.

Mayor McCracken said that partnering with the Village is tough, especially for small organizations, because it inevitably involves a lot of paper work, rules and regulations.

“To a small organization that must feel like a total encumbrance, I totally understand that. But if we’re going to have a formal relationship with you, it has to have certain pieces.”