Cross-Canada Zoomer Nation
She’s been to Europe, Africa and South America and seen 38 of the United States during 14 years of living south of the 49th parallel. But award-winning photographer Naomi Harris, a native of Toronto, had an attack of conscience as she was boasting yet again about all things Canadian. “How can I talk like this when I haven’t seen my own country?” she asked herself. So she did the Canadian thing: she secured a Canada Council for the Arts grant and set out to find her Canada. “I got a used car, drove out to the West Coast and have been travelling ever since,” she says.
In Part Two of “Cross-Canada Zoomer Nation,” Harris encounters several citizens who’ve done their darnedest to keep their communities from becoming ghost towns. During his recently ended 40-year career as mayor of Glendon, Alta., Johnnie Doonanco, 72, decided tourists would come to see an eight-metre, 2,700-kilogram giant perogy on a fork. Turns out he was right. In Torrington, Alta., angry tut-tutting by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) focused global attention on the Gopher Hole Museum, where museum director Dianne Kurta, 66, and her volunteers run what Harris calls “the best small-town museum ever.” Patrons at the Doll Palace Tea Room and Gift Shop in Hanna, Alta., dine under the watchful eyes of the 4,000 dolls Violetta Link, 74, began collecting as a small child.
Then there are the folks who keep on keepin’ on. Beekeeper Jim Riou’s dad started the apiary in 1945, when sugar was rationed. Now the 58-year-old son’s little buzzers make about a quarter million pounds of honey a year in the area of Tisdale, Sask., the Land of Rape and Honey. (Rape is now called canola in Canada, but the bees love it by any name.) Mabel Androsoff, 87, was the only female mayor of Blaine Lake, Sask. “She’s a force to be reckoned with,” Harris says. “I stayed overnight at her place as she’s a strong believer in the Doukhobor tradition of helping one another out.” Carol LaFayette-Boyd, 69, works at the Saskatchewan African Canadian Heritage Museum. She’s also a Masters-level track and field athlete about to move into the 70 to 74 age category. She hadn’t competed since high school but was inspired at 50, when the Canadian Masters were held in Regina. Her brother, Lewis, 79, and his wife, Charline, 78, live in Rosetown, Sask., not far from the family farm near Fiske. The LaFayette forebears came to Canada from Iowa as freed slaves because they wanted to
own land. Lewis still works the farm; Charline supports this but wishes they travelled more.
Saskatchewan-grown ingredients give
people stopping at Gramma Bep’s Guest House a lip-smacking taste of the prairies and when Royals or the lieutenant-governor come to Swift Current, Sask., Gramma Bep Hamer, 69, must make her famous desserts. (She comes from a family of bakers who came to Canada from the Netherlands in 1952; by age 16, she had her own bakery-restaurant.)
A sense of tradition intrigues Harris. Ten years ago, Millie, 66, and Arnold Strueby, 84, couldn’t let the historic Danceland building in Manitou Beach, Sask., be hauled off to Alberta, so they bought it. Dancers still whirl and twirl around the 5,000-square-foot dance floor today. In Calgary’s Chinatown, social clubs where people meet to play mah jong or ping-pong are dying out. They give members like Jack Yee, 76, president of the Yee Fung Toy Society, a sense of community, something their “Canadianized” children and grandchildren don’t seem to need. Woo Kee, 87, and his wife, Yuet Ying Wong, 61, at the Woo Kee Chinese Herbs Co. run a Hong Kong-style Chinese medicine shop – with more space, of course.
And finally, what can be more traditional in Canada than a Mountie? In Regina, at age 46, a former firefighter from Nanaimo, B.C., is fulfilling his childhood dream of joining the RCMP. Better still, Steven Braid’s 22-year-old son, Const. Jordan Braid, will be the one pinning on his badge at graduation. —Jayne MacAulay