A Cooperative Harvest

Denman potato co-op effort reaping the benefits of community teamwork.

Masters’ war years, spent working as a secretary for the Air Force in London, are etched in her memory.

“Never a day goes by that I don’t think about it. London was bombed regularly. All hell would break loose in the sky; there were planes, search lights, cannons, explosions… I remember thinking, if they’re not careful they’ll kill someone, and then realizing, oh yes, that’s what they’re trying to do!”

When she returned from the war in 1945, she was happy to be home—happy to be anywhere, alive, she says. Her war experience has stayed with her, not just as an intense dislike of fireworks, but mainly as an ongoing reminder to live each day fully.

“Many’s the time I’d be listening to those bombs, and thinking, if I get out of here alive, I’m gonna give it all I’ve got. Life is a one-way trip and I’m not going to goof it away,” she says.

Masters’ war memories have been a potent ingredient in one of her most beloved activities— naming lakes and mountains in Strathcona Provincial Park. “I’ve named over 50 features on the Island, at least 10 for the war dead,” she explains. “Imagine how meaningful it can be for the relatives, and they can take their kids in there so they realize that everything we have didn’t come easy.”

The naming of things is part of Masters’ life-long relationship with Vancouver Island. She fell in love with the mountains on a family camping trip to Forbidden Plateau when she was 13. Soon after, she got involved with the Comox District Mountaineering Club where she has been active for decades. When she wasn’t out on blockades saving the lakes, forests and mountains of her beloved bioregion, she’d often be out exploring them—hiking, skiing, canoeing, snowshoeing, trail-building, and guiding others into the backwoods.

A lake in Strathcona Park—“more a puddle,” she says, self-deprecatingly—is named Ruth Masters Lake in her honor.

Her love of nature may have blossomed in the mountains, but its roots are deeply planted in the property on Powerhouse Road. “It all comes from being here,” she says, banging her cane on the ground.

The property has been in the family since 1920, when Masters’ father, a WWI veteran, received 20 acres of “stumps and rocks” as part of the Soldier Settlement Scheme for returning soldiers. His goal was to turn it into a family homestead and working farm.

“My father dug out 85 huge first-growth stumps by hand, blasting, burning, tunnelling,” says Masters. The family had a few cows and a flock of chickens, but the soil wasn’t able to support a full-scale farm.

“We were poor—I like to say we were churchmouse poor. In fact, the mice in the church were a lot better off than the ones in our house.

“But you know there’s a benefit to being poor. You learn to make and do and fix. I remember cutting up an old bicycle tire to make new heels for my shoes. We had to walk to school and back each day,” she says.

Life may have been a struggle, but there was still time to connect with nature. Masters remembers her father sitting outside late at night in the middle of winter, after a hard day’s labor, with a telescope and a star map, spotting the constellations. He had an extensive knowledge of natural history and always had the patience to explain the natural world to his children.

Masters’ playground was the property, and the Puntledge River next door. She can’t really remember a time she did not love her home.

On the sunny September day I visit her, Masters is happy to share some of the property’s history as we walk through the forest.

“Over there was the barn,” she says, pointing to an opening covered in ferns and small trees. “And that was where the cows grazed,” she waves her arm in another direction. It looks nothing like a pasture; the forest is well on its way to growing back.

Masters’ goal has been to return the whole property to a natural state. She’s left the gardens and orchards to grow over, removed all traces of the buildings, and over the years has planted hundreds of trees and ferns, all rescued from areas being developed.

“See, there along the roadside, those are yellow cedars that came from when they were developing Mount Washington,” she says.

“And in there,” she gestures into a thicket of young trees and looks at me sideways “there was a house of ill repute. When I was a girl we called it the hoor house. Back then that bit belonged to the neighbors, but later we did some boundary alterations.”

And on she goes. With her words, what I see around me takes on new meaning. Where the trail borders the ridgetop of the precipitous slope down to the river, she shows me the marks left by the logging that took place 90 year ago. “See these dips in the ground, every 15 feet or so. That’s where they’d drag the logs and then send them over the edge down to the river.”

She shows me a special tree, a massive old fir, and insists I stand right next to its deeply-ridged, gnarled trunk, so I can look up at its crown and see the way its branches spread out like spokes on a wheel, way, way up where the sunlight is.

She stops to share her favorite view with me, the river curving away to the horizon below, the forest wrapped around us, the sky opening big above.

“And this is where the trilliums grow in the spring. You must come and see them! There are so many of them, and so big!”

She points out the spot where a hiker fell over the edge, landing way below with a broken pelvis. “Luckily for him there was a fisherman right at the bend there who came to his aid. It was a classic rescue job; they had to bring him up on ropes.”

She’s reading me the history, human and natural, of this piece of earth, this land that holds her past; land whose future she has so dramatically and decisively shaped.

She pauses to catch her breath, one hand on her cane and the other on a tree trunk, and looks straight at me. There’s an earnestness in the set of her eyes that suggests that, this time, she isn’t about to make a joke:

“This here—this land, preserving it—this is truly the height of my career. It’s the only important thing I’ve ever done.”
Oh, approved
you’re interviewing Ruth Masters? I’ll bet that will be lots of fun. Just don’t expect it to go the way you’ve planned.

“It’s not just that she’s old—80-something—so she might ramble. The main thing is, artificial
she’s a helluva strong personality. She doesn’t just live on Powerhouse Road, that’s what she is—a powerhouse,” warned a friend of mine cheerfully when I told her what I was working on.

Yeah, yeah, I thought dismissively. My plan seemed failsafe. Masters is an environmentalist, so she’s bound to be a speechifier, I thought. With a few well-placed questions, she’ll launch into a vivid stream of environmental rhetoric. There’ll be the dire warnings, the damning statistics about climate change, habitat loss, pollution, etc., etc., and then, once we are suitably distraught, the call to action, the heartfelt plea to unite to save Mother Earth.

This is going to be so inspiring, I think, as I pull into up to Masters’ modest cottage. With the material she gives me, I’ll have readers dabbing their eyes with unbleached organic cotton handkerchiefs as they pledge to dedicate their lives to the environment.

Soon after, sitting with Masters at her weathered but sturdy picnic table, I realize my friend was right.

Masters is not going to make an inspiring speech, no matter how much I nudge her in that direction. Regardless of how many times (and it’s a lot) she’s been described as a “legend,” an “icon” or a “major figure” of the BC environmental movement; regardless of the fact that she’s twice been named Comox Valley Citizen of the Year, she determinedly avoids the metaphorical soapbox I keep nudging in her direction with my journalist’s questions.

In fact, she’d rather crack jokes.

“If the whole thing sinks or blows, at least I’ll know I’ve tried,” she quips, with a laugh, pithily summing up both the motivations and rewards of her extraordinary career of protesting, blockading, letter-writing, and well-intentioned mischief-making, all in defense of the earth.

And that career is far from over. The powerhouse on Powerhouse Road is still protesting, still making the news, and still a vigorous walker, now with the help of her trusty cane.

“A few months ago I was standing out on the Dyke Road [beside the Comox Estuary], where they want to put a Gas ‘N Go service station, with a sign saying ‘No Gas Here—Go!” she says. “With the knowledge gained in the last 30 years about the care of estuaries, this should be prohibited.” The issue of the Gas ‘N Go is unresolved, and Masters will keep going back until it is.

“I’m a tough old hen of 88, and I’m running for 100,” she says merrily—and convincingly.

An avid hiker her whole life, Masters last “clawed her way” up the Comox Glacier in 1991, when she was 71. Although she cheerfully admits to being too old to make the climb again (it was her sixth ascent), she has no trouble at all escorting me on a 20-minute walk through the forest next door to her house, talking all the while—no rhetoric, but instead facts and anecdotes about the land we are on, land she clearly loves.

This is one of the reasons I’m interviewing her—because of this 18-acre property, now called the Masters Greenway and Wildlife Corridor.

Masters grew up on this property and spent her adult life tending it. In 2005, she gave it to the Comox Valley Regional District to be maintained as public conservation land in perpetuity (she kept two acres for her own home). On September 12 of this year, the Regional District honored Masters’ generosity with the unveiling of a plaque thanking her, and a big interpretive sign with text and photos commemorating her work as an environmentalist and naturalist, at the entrance to the property.

The Greenway adjoins the City of Courtenay Greenway, creating a valuable natural corridor for wildlife. As well, it connects up with a trail that continues on along the river all the way to Puntledge Park.

The property was assessed at around $2 million, says Masters. If she’d subdivided it she could have no doubt made much more. But for Masters, the knowledge that the forest would be left to grow, the animals and plants would be ensured a habitat, and the neighborhood wouldn’t be entirely chopped up and filled with cookie-cutter homes was worth a lot more than a couple of million dollars.

Perhaps this is why Masters has no need to make inspiring speeches—her actions are more inspiring than words could ever be.

And her actions on behalf of nature and all its inhabitants have been many. She’s been at the forefront of nearly every successful environmental action in BC in the last 20 years.

Her first involvement was back in the 1950s. “I was on the fringe when Roderick Haig-Brown saved Buttle Lake from being decimated,” she says.

Masters really got going as an activist when she was 68 years old. “It was in 1988 and there was a six-week blockade to protect Cream Lake in Strathcona Park. It’s the jewel of the park, and apparently it has a very nice seam underneath. A couple of mining companies were ready to destroy it. Well, we got rid of those companies,” she says.

“I made a lot of friends and learned a few strategies that turned out to be useful,” she adds. As usual, she just managed to avoid being arrested, although she had no qualms about getting right out onto the front lines.

“Each time they made a grab to get me I hopped over the fence. When they were shovelling the poor wretches in the paddy wagon, I pulled out my harmonica and starting playing Oh Canada, Glorious and Free. I managed to make quite a sound on my thready little harmonica. But we should have had a trumpet. That would be my advice to the younger generation doing these things—you need a trumpet!”

Since 1988, Masters has been at blockades at Clayoquot Sound, the Tsitika Valley, the Carmanah Valley and the Walbran. But she doesn’t always have to be right in the thick of it. A couple of years ago, when tree sitters were protesting construction of a parking lot at Cathedral Grove, she’d drive down regularly with dinner, which would be pulled up into the treetops by ropes.

Masters has her fingers in more pies than most of us could keep track of—although she seems to keep on top of it all.

“I belong to 23 animal rights organizations, 28 environmental organizations, and 30 to 40 peace, women’s rights, third-world misery and medical organizations,” she says matter-of-factly.

But for Masters, there’s nothing quite so immediately effective as the placement of her diminutive body in between a tree and a chainsaw.

“I remember the fight to save MacDonald Wood in Comox; it was 10 years ago September 1. We came within a hair of losing it. I got a call from Fran Johnson who was organizing things. She said the chainsaws are going in there—get going! Well, that was the second-fastest trip I’ve ever made to Comox—rivalling the time I almost became a midwife!

“I rushed in to stop the chainsaws. I was standing right by this big old fir, and this one logger, he said, ‘Get out of the way lady, it’s coming down.’ Well, I know enough about logging to know that tree wasn’t going to fall on me, so I stood my ground and answered right back, ‘Drop it on me if you dare!’

“The police ushered us out eventually, but the chainsaws stopped,” says Masters. Today MacDonald Wood is a 9-acre park.

Masters can be equally ferocious defending animals.

“Back when they had that insane show in the Driftwood Mall a few years ago—kids could get their picture taken with a tiger in an enclosure there—I went in to stop that,” Masters reminisces. “A big guard grabbed me. As he spun me round I popped him in the gut with my elbow.

“Well, they threw me in the police car and left me there for quite a while.”

While she waited, Masters made good use of her time. “There was a plastic barrier between the back seat and the front, and it was covered with graffiti from the criminals who’d sat back there. So to pass the time I engraved ‘Ruthie was here’ and the date.”

“They let me go later,” she adds. “I’ve never been arrested, you know. I couldn’t —I had to go to work.”

It’s the third time she’s mentioned that. I can’t read her tone of voice—is there pride, or regret? I ask her; she pretends not to hear me, in the way of older people who figure they’ve earned the right not to answer all the pesky questions put their way. I repeat the question and she just laughs and looks away.

Masters displays impressive skill at deflecting questions, offering up instead her irreverent, self-deprecating humour, generally with an underlay of down-to-earth wisdom.

Where do you get your courage? I ask her.

“Oh, I’m not being heroic. I’m just standing up to some of the bullshit out there. When people who are in charge of managing things mess up, we have a duty to rush in and save what we can. I’m just doing my duty.”

Of all the campaigns you’ve been part of, everything you’ve done, what do you think is most important? I ask.

“Let’s see… no, I couldn’t single anything out. It’s all just been a procession of trying to head off disasters of one kind or another,” she says, chuckling.

A question about whether things are getting worse or better leads to a string of gleefully-told jokes. “On the one hand, it seems that the message about global warming is sinking in. But the most powerful man on earth is an idiot… do you know who I’m referring to?” she asks.

I nod.

“I’ve got a whole book of jokes about him. Actually, they’re things he’s really said that are so stupid they’re funny. For instance, ‘The problem is not pollution. The problem is particles in the air and water.’” She laughs and goes to on share a few more favorites from her book.

One question, however, she answers with utter seriousness, even passion—what motivates her to do all this activism?

“I was in the war, you know. I saw 15 to 16 months of steady bombing in London. When I was headed oversees—it was the end of ’43 and we were sailing out of Halifax on the Mauritania; they told us there were 6500 to 8000 of us on board—you’d think they could have counted us a bit more precisely.

“I remember standing up on the top deck and looking out as Canada got smaller and smaller, and thinking to myself, ‘No one tells me not to look after Canada!’ Well, that’s how I’ve felt all these years.”

Masters’ war years, spent working as a secretary for the Air Force in London, are etched in her memory.

“Never a day goes by that I don’t think about it. London was bombed regularly. All hell would break loose in the sky; there were planes, search lights, cannons, explosions… I remember thinking, if they’re not careful they’ll kill someone, and then realizing, oh yes, that’s what they’re trying to do!”

When she returned from the war in 1945, she was happy to be home—happy to be anywhere, alive, she says. Her war experience has stayed with her, not just as an intense dislike of fireworks, but mainly as an ongoing reminder to live each day fully.

“Many’s the time I’d be listening to those bombs, and thinking, if I get out of here alive, I’m gonna give it all I’ve got. Life is a one-way trip and I’m not going to goof it away,” she says.

Masters’ war memories have been a potent ingredient in one of her most beloved activities— naming lakes and mountains in Strathcona Provincial Park. “I’ve named over 50 features on the Island, at least 10 for the war dead,” she explains. “Imagine how meaningful it can be for the relatives, and they can take their kids in there so they realize that everything we have didn’t come easy.”

The naming of things is part of Masters’ life-long relationship with Vancouver Island. She fell in love with the mountains on a family camping trip to Forbidden Plateau when she was 13. Soon after, she got involved with the Comox District Mountaineering Club where she has been active for decades. When she wasn’t out on blockades saving the lakes, forests and mountains of her beloved bioregion, she’d often be out exploring them—hiking, skiing, canoeing, snowshoeing, trail-building, and guiding others into the backwoods.

A lake in Strathcona Park—“more a puddle,” she says, self-deprecatingly—is named Ruth Masters Lake in her honor.

Her love of nature may have blossomed in the mountains, but its roots are deeply planted in the property on Powerhouse Road. “It all comes from being here,” she says, banging her cane on the ground.

The property has been in the family since 1920, when Masters’ father, a WWI veteran, received 20 acres of “stumps and rocks” as part of the Soldier Settlement Scheme for returning soldiers. His goal was to turn it into a family homestead and working farm.

“My father dug out 85 huge first-growth stumps by hand, blasting, burning, tunnelling,” says Masters. The family had a few cows and a flock of chickens, but the soil wasn’t able to support a full-scale farm.

“We were poor—I like to say we were churchmouse poor. In fact, the mice in the church were a lot better off than the ones in our house.

“But you know there’s a benefit to being poor. You learn to make and do and fix. I remember cutting up an old bicycle tire to make new heels for my shoes. We had to walk to school and back each day,” she says.

Life may have been a struggle, but there was still time to connect with nature. Masters remembers her father sitting outside late at night in the middle of winter, after a hard day’s labor, with a telescope and a star map, spotting the constellations. He had an extensive knowledge of natural history and always had the patience to explain the natural world to his children.

Masters’ playground was the property, and the Puntledge River next door. She can’t really remember a time she did not love her home.

On the sunny September day I visit her, Masters is happy to share some of the property’s history as we walk through the forest.

“Over there was the barn,” she says, pointing to an opening covered in ferns and small trees. “And that was where the cows grazed,” she waves her arm in another direction. It looks nothing like a pasture; the forest is well on its way to growing back.

Masters’ goal has been to return the whole property to a natural state. She’s left the gardens and orchards to grow over, removed all traces of the buildings, and over the years has planted hundreds of trees and ferns, all rescued from areas being developed.

“See, there along the roadside, those are yellow cedars that came from when they were developing Mount Washington,” she says.

“And in there,” she gestures into a thicket of young trees and looks at me sideways “there was a house of ill repute. When I was a girl we called it the hoor house. Back then that bit belonged to the neighbors, but later we did some boundary alterations.”

And on she goes. With her words, what I see around me takes on new meaning. Where the trail borders the ridgetop of the precipitous slope down to the river, she shows me the marks left by the logging that took place 90 year ago. “See these dips in the ground, every 15 feet or so. That’s where they’d drag the logs and then send them over the edge down to the river.”

She shows me a special tree, a massive old fir, and insists I stand right next to its deeply-ridged, gnarled trunk, so I can look up at its crown and see the way its branches spread out like spokes on a wheel, way, way up where the sunlight is.

She stops to share her favorite view with me, the river curving away to the horizon below, the forest wrapped around us, the sky opening big above.

“And this is where the trilliums grow in the spring. You must come and see them! There are so many of them, and so big!”

She points out the spot where a hiker fell over the edge, landing way below with a broken pelvis. “Luckily for him there was a fisherman right at the bend there who came to his aid. It was a classic rescue job; they had to bring him up on ropes.”

She’s reading me the history, human and natural, of this piece of earth, this land that holds her past; land whose future she has so dramatically and decisively shaped.

She pauses to catch her breath, one hand on her cane and the other on a tree trunk, and looks straight at me. There’s an earnestness in the set of her eyes that suggests that, this time, she isn’t about to make a joke:

“This here—this land, preserving it—this is truly the height of my career. It’s the only important thing I’ve ever done.”

Jeff Lucas and Meaghan Cursons get down and dirty to demonstrate how bad single-use plastic bags are for the environment.

Jeff Lucas and Meaghan Cursons get down and dirty to demonstrate how bad single-use plastic bags are for the environment.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Plastic or paper? The correct answer is “Neither, Hepatitis
thank you—I have my reusable bag with me.”

The “scourge” of plastic bags is an issue making headlines across the country and around the world. Just this past week four major retail associations in Canada pledged to work to reduce plastic bag use by 50% before 2013. But as industry and government scramble to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of disposable plastics and race to develop alternatives, patient some communities are taking the issue into their own hands. The Comox Valley is one such community.

The biggest problem with plastic bags is that unless they are picked up by wind, water or wildlife, they don’t really go anywhere. Plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to break down. When you think about how many of those plastic bags go to our landfill each week, then multiply that by the population of the Comox Valley and then by 52 weeks in a year, you begin to see the size of the problem. Magnify that by six billion—the population of the world—and it becomes unfathomable.

The upside of the plastics story is that both the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) are launching campaigns in which the business community and the public can work together to make better choices— for a better future.

“The Chamber of Commerce Advocacy Committee set some exciting goals for this year. These goals include a focus on environmental sustainability and pro-active business leadership,” says Jeff Lucas, Chamber board member and Chair of the Comox Valley EnviroBag Project. “After much discussion we set our sights on a campaign to dramatically reduce and eventually eliminate single-use plastic bags in our community. To achieve this we needed to come up with a strategy to support business of all shapes and sizes in their ability to provide an affordable reusable option for their customers.”

To this end, the Chamber is brokering the one-time purchase of 75,000 recycled, re-usable bags, which are to be sold at cost to participating businesses in the Valley. Each participant—whether they are a multi-national corporation or sole trader—will pay the same price for these bags. Some can opt to personalize them with individual logos while others are working with the valley-wide branding offered by the Chamber. The launch date for these bags to appear in retail outlets is February, 2009.

“To date more that 45,000 bags have been ordered and the rate of participation is growing exponentially,” says Meaghan Cursons, who is working with the Chamber to bring this initiative to life. “This has caught on like wildfire because when it comes down to it, we see that the business community really wants to so the right thing! Too often the issues and the options related to waste reduction can seem overwhelming. That’s why we are focusing on a tangible and ‘doable’ step.”

The Chamber’s deadline to secure participants in the Comox Valley EnviroBag order is October 20. Retailers and client centred businesses or organizations can order any number of the uniquely designed Comox Valley EnviroBags and become part of a community-wide campaign to promote their use.

As part of this campaign the Chamber will work with the CVRD and others to spread the word to their members and to the public about the importance of the community working together to dramatically impact the number of single-use bags distributed and disposed of in the Valley.

Simultaneously, the Comox Valley Regional District is working on their own public education campaign—The Power of R; Rethink, Reuse, Recycle, Reduce. The annual Waste Reduction Week, running right across the nation from October19 to 25, focuses on waste management issues and providing the public with an understanding of choices available and how best to utilize them.

Their campaign will detail how we, the consumer, can cut down on real waste at the local landfill. “Solid waste generation in the CVRD Waste Management Area has increased 50 per cent over the past five years,” says Wendy Schebel, CVRD coordinator, operational education and events. “If it continues at this rate both of our landfill sites will be full by 2015.”

A landfill, Schebel explains, is an ecosystem in itself, and although there is very advanced technology available for their management, it is not all available here in the Comox Valley. “There are all sorts of risks in creating another landfill, so anything we can do to reduce our waste generation is very important. If we use items that are recyclable then everything can be put to better use,” says Schebel. “We can’t afford not to be good at rethinking, reducing, reusing and recycling.”

The CVRD is also engaging with the youth community in this educational process—both as students and teachers. A video competition for 8-12 year olds, which winds up on October 17, asks youngsters to submit a 60 second video clip as individuals or as a school class with their viewpoint on the Power of R—transit, water or nature issues. There are great prizes to be won, including a waste free lunch for an entire class.

Working toward a ‘greener’ Halloween, the CVRD has also purchased 1,000 reusable bags that will be given away with every purchase of a book of 10 tickets for a youth swim or skate at the Comox Valley Sports or Aquatic Centres. The tickets, valid until December 31, 2008, are $10 for a book and provide a healthy alternative to candy.

The CVRD has also pledged to purchase 5,000 of the Chamber’s Comox Valley EnviroBags, which they will distribute through various promotions next year.

And there is more good news for this initiative. Later this year The Home Depot is piloting their own scheme to ban single-use plastic bags in their stores; that’s quite a lot of bags from a corporation that has more than 2,000 outlets. That plan starts in just three branches, one of which is the Courtenay store.

Other local businesses have also already taken steps to reduce bag use. Seeds Natural Food Market in Cumberland has been 100 per cent single-use bag free since they opened. They are working with other Cumberland downtown retailers to participate in a group order. From liquor outlets to gift shops and from hardware stores to realtors—the Comox Valley business community is stepping up to the challenge.

There is a staggering amount of information available about the costs of single-use plastic bags—all of which leads to a clear conclusion. We must address our rate of consumption and start making better choices about the waste we make in order to ensure the health of our communities and the planet. The Comox Valley is known as one of the most beautiful places in the world and is seems only right that the residents of this community would want to help keep it that way—driving a citizen and business-led campaign that pre-empts legislation or a bag tax from our government

“That is why the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce is focusing their energy on a business-led voluntary campaign,” says Lucas. “We hope to be catalysts for an important step in the way we think about single-use bags. It is not our goal to be long-term managers. This one time initiative aims to get the discussion going so that we can start to work together to make better choices and create a better future for our children and grandchildren.”

While many retailers now supply degradable or biodegradable bags, these bags still place pressures on our landfills and require certain conditions to break down properly. While paper may be a better option in terms of decomposition, paper bags still require energy to produce, not to mention the cutting down of trees for materials. A reusable bag, on the other hand, can be used again and again—and only needs to be used five times to make a positive impact on the environment.

Giving up the plastic bag is not a new idea and is already working in other communities and countries. In January this year Whole Foods Market, the world’s largest natural-food retailer, announced the end of plastic bag use at their checkouts in a total of 270 stores across North America and the UK. Around the same time China introduced a ban that stopped shop owners from giving out single-use bags. Similar bans have been introduced in Ireland, Scandinavia, Australia and several other countries. Awareness is clearly growing. In London, England, more than 30 municipalities are working to initiate a ban and the same process is happening in New York. San Francisco became the first US city to adopt a ban earlier this year.

Closer to home, similar voluntary bans are happening in Rossland and Whistler, BC thanks to the efforts of Tracey Saxby, an Australian who now calls BC her home. The village of Coles Bay in Tasmania, which attracts about 25,000 tourists every year, successfully banned bags in 2003.

Residents in Leaf Rapids, Manitoba became ‘Bag Free’ in April 2007 when the council there gave out more than 5,000 reusable bags to the 500 residents.

Easy for a small community to achieve, you might say, but if every single person in the community made some effort to give up on plastic bags, to say no thank you to plastic or paper, what a difference that could and would make to our Valley.


For more information about the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce’s EnviroBag Project, or to place an order for bags, please email bagless@comoxvalleychamber.com or call 250-334-3234.

Bags are for sale for 82 cents each for the Comox Valley branded bags, in any quantity. Company logos and artwork can be added for an additional fee. Deadline to order EnviroBags is October 20, 2008.

For more information about the CVRD waste management initiatives visit www.comoxvalleyrd.ca.
Oh, pilule
you’re interviewing Ruth Masters? I’ll bet that will be lots of fun. Just don’t expect it to go the way you’ve planned.

“It’s not just that she’s old—80-something—so she might ramble. The main thing is, drugstore
she’s a helluva strong personality. She doesn’t just live on Powerhouse Road, that’s what she is—a powerhouse,” warned a friend of mine cheerfully when I told her what I was working on.

Yeah, yeah, I thought dismissively. My plan seemed failsafe. Masters is an environmentalist, so she’s bound to be a speechifier, I thought. With a few well-placed questions, she’ll launch into a vivid stream of environmental rhetoric. There’ll be the dire warnings, the damning statistics about climate change, habitat loss, pollution, etc., etc., and then, once we are suitably distraught, the call to action, the heartfelt plea to unite to save Mother Earth.

This is going to be so inspiring, I think, as I pull into up to Masters’ modest cottage. With the material she gives me, I’ll have readers dabbing their eyes with unbleached organic cotton handkerchiefs as they pledge to dedicate their lives to the environment.

Soon after, sitting with Masters at her weathered but sturdy picnic table, I realize my friend was right.

Masters is not going to make an inspiring speech, no matter how much I nudge her in that direction. Regardless of how many times (and it’s a lot) she’s been described as a “legend,” an “icon” or a “major figure” of the BC environmental movement; regardless of the fact that she’s twice been named Comox Valley Citizen of the Year, she determinedly avoids the metaphorical soapbox I keep nudging in her direction with my journalist’s questions.

In fact, she’d rather crack jokes.

“If the whole thing sinks or blows, at least I’ll know I’ve tried,” she quips, with a laugh, pithily summing up both the motivations and rewards of her extraordinary career of protesting, blockading, letter-writing, and well-intentioned mischief-making, all in defense of the earth.

And that career is far from over. The powerhouse on Powerhouse Road is still protesting, still making the news, and still a vigorous walker, now with the help of her trusty cane.

“A few months ago I was standing out on the Dyke Road [beside the Comox Estuary], where they want to put a Gas ‘N Go service station, with a sign saying ‘No Gas Here—Go!” she says. “With the knowledge gained in the last 30 years about the care of estuaries, this should be prohibited.” The issue of the Gas ‘N Go is unresolved, and Masters will keep going back until it is.

“I’m a tough old hen of 88, and I’m running for 100,” she says merrily—and convincingly.

An avid hiker her whole life, Masters last “clawed her way” up the Comox Glacier in 1991, when she was 71. Although she cheerfully admits to being too old to make the climb again (it was her sixth ascent), she has no trouble at all escorting me on a 20-minute walk through the forest next door to her house, talking all the while—no rhetoric, but instead facts and anecdotes about the land we are on, land she clearly loves.

This is one of the reasons I’m interviewing her—because of this 18-acre property, now called the Masters Greenway and Wildlife Corridor.

<–nextpage–>

Masters grew up on this property and spent her adult life tending it. In 2005, she gave it to the Comox Valley Regional District to be maintained as public conservation land in perpetuity (she kept two acres for her own home). On September 12 of this year, the Regional District honored Masters’ generosity with the unveiling of a plaque thanking her, and a big interpretive sign with text and photos commemorating her work as an environmentalist and naturalist, at the entrance to the property.

The Greenway adjoins the City of Courtenay Greenway, creating a valuable natural corridor for wildlife. As well, it connects up with a trail that continues on along the river all the way to Puntledge Park.

The property was assessed at around $2 million, says Masters. If she’d subdivided it she could have no doubt made much more. But for Masters, the knowledge that the forest would be left to grow, the animals and plants would be ensured a habitat, and the neighborhood wouldn’t be entirely chopped up and filled with cookie-cutter homes was worth a lot more than a couple of million dollars.

Perhaps this is why Masters has no need to make inspiring speeches—her actions are more inspiring than words could ever be.

And her actions on behalf of nature and all its inhabitants have been many. She’s been at the forefront of nearly every successful environmental action in BC in the last 20 years.

Her first involvement was back in the 1950s. “I was on the fringe when Roderick Haig-Brown saved Buttle Lake from being decimated,” she says.

Masters really got going as an activist when she was 68 years old. “It was in 1988 and there was a six-week blockade to protect Cream Lake in Strathcona Park. It’s the jewel of the park, and apparently it has a very nice seam underneath. A couple of mining companies were ready to destroy it. Well, we got rid of those companies,” she says.

“I made a lot of friends and learned a few strategies that turned out to be useful,” she adds. As usual, she just managed to avoid being arrested, although she had no qualms about getting right out onto the front lines.

“Each time they made a grab to get me I hopped over the fence. When they were shovelling the poor wretches in the paddy wagon, I pulled out my harmonica and starting playing Oh Canada, Glorious and Free. I managed to make quite a sound on my thready little harmonica. But we should have had a trumpet. That would be my advice to the younger generation doing these things—you need a trumpet!”

Since 1988, Masters has been at blockades at Clayoquot Sound, the Tsitika Valley, the Carmanah Valley and the Walbran. But she doesn’t always have to be right in the thick of it. A couple of years ago, when tree sitters were protesting construction of a parking lot at Cathedral Grove, she’d drive down regularly with dinner, which would be pulled up into the treetops by ropes.

<–nextpage–>

Masters has her fingers in more pies than most of us could keep track of—although she seems to keep on top of it all.

“I belong to 23 animal rights organizations, 28 environmental organizations, and 30 to 40 peace, women’s rights, third-world misery and medical organizations,” she says matter-of-factly.

But for Masters, there’s nothing quite so immediately effective as the placement of her diminutive body in between a tree and a chainsaw.

“I remember the fight to save MacDonald Wood in Comox; it was 10 years ago September 1. We came within a hair of losing it. I got a call from Fran Johnson who was organizing things. She said the chainsaws are going in there—get going! Well, that was the second-fastest trip I’ve ever made to Comox—rivalling the time I almost became a midwife!

“I rushed in to stop the chainsaws. I was standing right by this big old fir, and this one logger, he said, ‘Get out of the way lady, it’s coming down.’ Well, I know enough about logging to know that tree wasn’t going to fall on me, so I stood my ground and answered right back, ‘Drop it on me if you dare!’

“The police ushered us out eventually, but the chainsaws stopped,” says Masters. Today MacDonald Wood is a 9-acre park.

Masters can be equally ferocious defending animals.

“Back when they had that insane show in the Driftwood Mall a few years ago—kids could get their picture taken with a tiger in an enclosure there—I went in to stop that,” Masters reminisces. “A big guard grabbed me. As he spun me round I popped him in the gut with my elbow.

“Well, they threw me in the police car and left me there for quite a while.”

While she waited, Masters made good use of her time. “There was a plastic barrier between the back seat and the front, and it was covered with graffiti from the criminals who’d sat back there. So to pass the time I engraved ‘Ruthie was here’ and the date.”

“They let me go later,” she adds. “I’ve never been arrested, you know. I couldn’t —I had to go to work.”

It’s the third time she’s mentioned that. I can’t read her tone of voice—is there pride, or regret? I ask her; she pretends not to hear me, in the way of older people who figure they’ve earned the right not to answer all the pesky questions put their way. I repeat the question and she just laughs and looks away.

Masters displays impressive skill at deflecting questions, offering up instead her irreverent, self-deprecating humour, generally with an underlay of down-to-earth wisdom.

Where do you get your courage? I ask her.

“Oh, I’m not being heroic. I’m just standing up to some of the bullshit out there. When people who are in charge of managing things mess up, we have a duty to rush in and save what we can. I’m just doing my duty.”

Of all the campaigns you’ve been part of, everything you’ve done, what do you think is most important? I ask.

“Let’s see… no, I couldn’t single anything out. It’s all just been a procession of trying to head off disasters of one kind or another,” she says, chuckling.

A question about whether things are getting worse or better leads to a string of gleefully-told jokes. “On the one hand, it seems that the message about global warming is sinking in. But the most powerful man on earth is an idiot… do you know who I’m referring to?” she asks.

I nod.

“I’ve got a whole book of jokes about him. Actually, they’re things he’s really said that are so stupid they’re funny. For instance, ‘The problem is not pollution. The problem is particles in the air and water.’” She laughs and goes to on share a few more favorites from her book.

One question, however, she answers with utter seriousness, even passion—what motivates her to do all this activism?

“I was in the war, you know. I saw 15 to 16 months of steady bombing in London. When I was headed oversees—it was the end of ’43 and we were sailing out of Halifax on the Mauritania; they told us there were 6500 to 8000 of us on board—you’d think they could have counted us a bit more precisely.

“I remember standing up on the top deck and looking out as Canada got smaller and smaller, and thinking to myself, ‘No one tells me not to look after Canada!’ Well, that’s how I’ve felt all these years.”

<–nextpage–>

Masters’ war years, spent working as a secretary for the Air Force in London, are etched in her memory.

“Never a day goes by that I don’t think about it. London was bombed regularly. All hell would break loose in the sky; there were planes, search lights, cannons, explosions… I remember thinking, if they’re not careful they’ll kill someone, and then realizing, oh yes, that’s what they’re trying to do!”

When she returned from the war in 1945, she was happy to be home—happy to be anywhere, alive, she says. Her war experience has stayed with her, not just as an intense dislike of fireworks, but mainly as an ongoing reminder to live each day fully.

“Many’s the time I’d be listening to those bombs, and thinking, if I get out of here alive, I’m gonna give it all I’ve got. Life is a one-way trip and I’m not going to goof it away,” she says.

Masters’ war memories have been a potent ingredient in one of her most beloved activities— naming lakes and mountains in Strathcona Provincial Park. “I’ve named over 50 features on the Island, at least 10 for the war dead,” she explains. “Imagine how meaningful it can be for the relatives, and they can take their kids in there so they realize that everything we have didn’t come easy.”

The naming of things is part of Masters’ life-long relationship with Vancouver Island. She fell in love with the mountains on a family camping trip to Forbidden Plateau when she was 13. Soon after, she got involved with the Comox District Mountaineering Club where she has been active for decades. When she wasn’t out on blockades saving the lakes, forests and mountains of her beloved bioregion, she’d often be out exploring them—hiking, skiing, canoeing, snowshoeing, trail-building, and guiding others into the backwoods.

A lake in Strathcona Park—“more a puddle,” she says, self-deprecatingly—is named Ruth Masters Lake in her honor.

Her love of nature may have blossomed in the mountains, but its roots are deeply planted in the property on Powerhouse Road. “It all comes from being here,” she says, banging her cane on the ground.

The property has been in the family since 1920, when Masters’ father, a WWI veteran, received 20 acres of “stumps and rocks” as part of the Soldier Settlement Scheme for returning soldiers. His goal was to turn it into a family homestead and working farm.

“My father dug out 85 huge first-growth stumps by hand, blasting, burning, tunnelling,” says Masters. The family had a few cows and a flock of chickens, but the soil wasn’t able to support a full-scale farm.

“We were poor—I like to say we were churchmouse poor. In fact, the mice in the church were a lot better off than the ones in our house.

“But you know there’s a benefit to being poor. You learn to make and do and fix. I remember cutting up an old bicycle tire to make new heels for my shoes. We had to walk to school and back each day,” she says.

Life may have been a struggle, but there was still time to connect with nature. Masters remembers her father sitting outside late at night in the middle of winter, after a hard day’s labor, with a telescope and a star map, spotting the constellations. He had an extensive knowledge of natural history and always had the patience to explain the natural world to his children.

Masters’ playground was the property, and the Puntledge River next door. She can’t really remember a time she did not love her home.

On the sunny September day I visit her, Masters is happy to share some of the property’s history as we walk through the forest.

“Over there was the barn,” she says, pointing to an opening covered in ferns and small trees. “And that was where the cows grazed,” she waves her arm in another direction. It looks nothing like a pasture; the forest is well on its way to growing back.

Masters’ goal has been to return the whole property to a natural state. She’s left the gardens and orchards to grow over, removed all traces of the buildings, and over the years has planted hundreds of trees and ferns, all rescued from areas being developed.

“See, there along the roadside, those are yellow cedars that came from when they were developing Mount Washington,” she says.

“And in there,” she gestures into a thicket of young trees and looks at me sideways “there was a house of ill repute. When I was a girl we called it the hoor house. Back then that bit belonged to the neighbors, but later we did some boundary alterations.”

And on she goes. With her words, what I see around me takes on new meaning. Where the trail borders the ridgetop of the precipitous slope down to the river, she shows me the marks left by the logging that took place 90 year ago. “See these dips in the ground, every 15 feet or so. That’s where they’d drag the logs and then send them over the edge down to the river.”

She shows me a special tree, a massive old fir, and insists I stand right next to its deeply-ridged, gnarled trunk, so I can look up at its crown and see the way its branches spread out like spokes on a wheel, way, way up where the sunlight is.

She stops to share her favorite view with me, the river curving away to the horizon below, the forest wrapped around us, the sky opening big above.

“And this is where the trilliums grow in the spring. You must come and see them! There are so many of them, and so big!”

She points out the spot where a hiker fell over the edge, landing way below with a broken pelvis. “Luckily for him there was a fisherman right at the bend there who came to his aid. It was a classic rescue job; they had to bring him up on ropes.”

She’s reading me the history, human and natural, of this piece of earth, this land that holds her past; land whose future she has so dramatically and decisively shaped.

She pauses to catch her breath, one hand on her cane and the other on a tree trunk, and looks straight at me. There’s an earnestness in the set of her eyes that suggests that, this time, she isn’t about to make a joke:

“This here—this land, preserving it—this is truly the height of my career. It’s the only important thing I’ve ever done.”
Plastic or paper? The correct answer is “Neither, oncologist
thank you—I have my reusable bag with me.”

The “scourge” of plastic bags is an issue making headlines across the country and around the world. Just this past week four major retail associations in Canada pledged to work to reduce plastic bag use by 50% before 2013. But as industry and government scramble to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of disposable plastics and race to develop alternatives, some communities are taking the issue into their own hands. The Comox Valley is one such community.

The biggest problem with plastic bags is that unless they are picked up by wind, water or wildlife, they don’t really go anywhere. Plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to break down. When you think about how many of those plastic bags go to our landfill each week, then multiply that by the population of the Comox Valley and then by 52 weeks in a year, you begin to see the size of the problem. Magnify that by six billion—the population of the world—and it becomes unfathomable.

The upside of the plastics story is that both the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) are launching campaigns in which the business community and the public can work together to make better choices— for a better future.

“The Chamber of Commerce Advocacy Committee set some exciting goals for this year. These goals include a focus on environmental sustainability and pro-active business leadership,” says Jeff Lucas, Chamber board member and Chair of the Comox Valley EnviroBag Project. “After much discussion we set our sights on a campaign to dramatically reduce and eventually eliminate single-use plastic bags in our community. To achieve this we needed to come up with a strategy to support business of all shapes and sizes in their ability to provide an affordable reusable option for their customers.”

To this end, the Chamber is brokering the one-time purchase of 75,000 recycled, re-usable bags, which are to be sold at cost to participating businesses in the Valley. Each participant—whether they are a multi-national corporation or sole trader—will pay the same price for these bags. Some can opt to personalize them with individual logos while others are working with the valley-wide branding offered by the Chamber. The launch date for these bags to appear in retail outlets is February, 2009.

“To date more that 45,000 bags have been ordered and the rate of participation is growing exponentially,” says Meaghan Cursons, who is working with the Chamber to bring this initiative to life. “This has caught on like wildfire because when it comes down to it, we see that the business community really wants to so the right thing! Too often the issues and the options related to waste reduction can seem overwhelming. That’s why we are focusing on a tangible and ‘doable’ step.”

The Chamber’s deadline to secure participants in the Comox Valley EnviroBag order is October 20. Retailers and client centred businesses or organizations can order any number of the uniquely designed Comox Valley EnviroBags and become part of a community-wide campaign to promote their use.

As part of this campaign the Chamber will work with the CVRD and others to spread the word to their members and to the public about the importance of the community working together to dramatically impact the number of single-use bags distributed and disposed of in the Valley.

Simultaneously, the Comox Valley Regional District is working on their own public education campaign—The Power of R; Rethink, Reuse, Recycle, Reduce. The annual Waste Reduction Week, running right across the nation from October19 to 25, focuses on waste management issues and providing the public with an understanding of choices available and how best to utilize them.

Their campaign will detail how we, the consumer, can cut down on real waste at the local landfill. “Solid waste generation in the CVRD Waste Management Area has increased 50 per cent over the past five years,” says Wendy Schebel, CVRD coordinator, operational education and events. “If it continues at this rate both of our landfill sites will be full by 2015.”

A landfill, Schebel explains, is an ecosystem in itself, and although there is very advanced technology available for their management, it is not all available here in the Comox Valley. “There are all sorts of risks in creating another landfill, so anything we can do to reduce our waste generation is very important. If we use items that are recyclable then everything can be put to better use,” says Schebel. “We can’t afford not to be good at rethinking, reducing, reusing and recycling.”

The CVRD is also engaging with the youth community in this educational process—both as students and teachers. A video competition for 8-12 year olds, which winds up on October 17, asks youngsters to submit a 60 second video clip as individuals or as a school class with their viewpoint on the Power of R—transit, water or nature issues. There are great prizes to be won, including a waste free lunch for an entire class.

Working toward a ‘greener’ Halloween, the CVRD has also purchased 1,000 reusable bags that will be given away with every purchase of a book of 10 tickets for a youth swim or skate at the Comox Valley Sports or Aquatic Centres. The tickets, valid until December 31, 2008, are $10 for a book and provide a healthy alternative to candy.

The CVRD has also pledged to purchase 5,000 of the Chamber’s Comox Valley EnviroBags, which they will distribute through various promotions next year.

And there is more good news for this initiative. Later this year The Home Depot is piloting their own scheme to ban single-use plastic bags in their stores; that’s quite a lot of bags from a corporation that has more than 2,000 outlets. That plan starts in just three branches, one of which is the Courtenay store.

Other local businesses have also already taken steps to reduce bag use. Seeds Natural Food Market in Cumberland has been 100 per cent single-use bag free since they opened. They are working with other Cumberland downtown retailers to participate in a group order. From liquor outlets to gift shops and from hardware stores to realtors—the Comox Valley business community is stepping up to the challenge.

There is a staggering amount of information available about the costs of single-use plastic bags—all of which leads to a clear conclusion. We must address our rate of consumption and start making better choices about the waste we make in order to ensure the health of our communities and the planet. The Comox Valley is known as one of the most beautiful places in the world and is seems only right that the residents of this community would want to help keep it that way—driving a citizen and business-led campaign that pre-empts legislation or a bag tax from our government

“That is why the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce is focusing their energy on a business-led voluntary campaign,” says Lucas. “We hope to be catalysts for an important step in the way we think about single-use bags. It is not our goal to be long-term managers. This one time initiative aims to get the discussion going so that we can start to work together to make better choices and create a better future for our children and grandchildren.”

While many retailers now supply degradable or biodegradable bags, these bags still place pressures on our landfills and require certain conditions to break down properly. While paper may be a better option in terms of decomposition, paper bags still require energy to produce, not to mention the cutting down of trees for materials. A reusable bag, on the other hand, can be used again and again—and only needs to be used five times to make a positive impact on the environment.

Giving up the plastic bag is not a new idea and is already working in other communities and countries. In January this year Whole Foods Market, the world’s largest natural-food retailer, announced the end of plastic bag use at their checkouts in a total of 270 stores across North America and the UK. Around the same time China introduced a ban that stopped shop owners from giving out single-use bags. Similar bans have been introduced in Ireland, Scandinavia, Australia and several other countries. Awareness is clearly growing. In London, England, more than 30 municipalities are working to initiate a ban and the same process is happening in New York. San Francisco became the first US city to adopt a ban earlier this year.

Closer to home, similar voluntary bans are happening in Rossland and Whistler, BC thanks to the efforts of Tracey Saxby, an Australian who now calls BC her home. The village of Coles Bay in Tasmania, which attracts about 25,000 tourists every year, successfully banned bags in 2003.

Residents in Leaf Rapids, Manitoba became ‘Bag Free’ in April 2007 when the council there gave out more than 5,000 reusable bags to the 500 residents.

Easy for a small community to achieve, you might say, but if every single person in the community made some effort to give up on plastic bags, to say no thank you to plastic or paper, what a difference that could and would make to our Valley.


For more information about the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce’s EnviroBag Project, or to place an order for bags, please email bagless@comoxvalleychamber.com or call 250-334-3234.

Bags are for sale for 82 cents each for the Comox Valley branded bags, in any quantity. Company logos and artwork can be added for an additional fee. Deadline to order EnviroBags is October 20, 2008.

For more information about the CVRD waste management initiatives visit www.comoxvalleyrd.ca.
Plastic or paper? The correct answer is “Neither, decease
thank you—I have my reusable bag with me.”

The “scourge” of plastic bags is an issue making headlines across the country and around the world. Just this past week four major retail associations in Canada pledged to work to reduce plastic bag use by 50% before 2013. But as industry and government scramble to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of disposable plastics and race to develop alternatives, some communities are taking the issue into their own hands. The Comox Valley is one such community.

The biggest problem with plastic bags is that unless they are picked up by wind, water or wildlife, they don’t really go anywhere. Plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to break down. When you think about how many of those plastic bags go to our landfill each week, then multiply that by the population of the Comox Valley and then by 52 weeks in a year, you begin to see the size of the problem. Magnify that by six billion—the population of the world—and it becomes unfathomable.

The upside of the plastics story is that both the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) are launching campaigns in which the business community and the public can work together to make better choices— for a better future.

“The Chamber of Commerce Advocacy Committee set some exciting goals for this year. These goals include a focus on environmental sustainability and pro-active business leadership,” says Jeff Lucas, Chamber board member and Chair of the Comox Valley EnviroBag Project. “After much discussion we set our sights on a campaign to dramatically reduce and eventually eliminate single-use plastic bags in our community. To achieve this we needed to come up with a strategy to support business of all shapes and sizes in their ability to provide an affordable reusable option for their customers.”

To this end, the Chamber is brokering the one-time purchase of 75,000 recycled, re-usable bags, which are to be sold at cost to participating businesses in the Valley. Each participant—whether they are a multi-national corporation or sole trader—will pay the same price for these bags. Some can opt to personalize them with individual logos while others are working with the valley-wide branding offered by the Chamber. The launch date for these bags to appear in retail outlets is February, 2009.

“To date more that 45,000 bags have been ordered and the rate of participation is growing exponentially,” says Meaghan Cursons, who is working with the Chamber to bring this initiative to life. “This has caught on like wildfire because when it comes down to it, we see that the business community really wants to so the right thing! Too often the issues and the options related to waste reduction can seem overwhelming. That’s why we are focusing on a tangible and ‘doable’ step.”

The Chamber’s deadline to secure participants in the Comox Valley EnviroBag order is October 20. Retailers and client centred businesses or organizations can order any number of the uniquely designed Comox Valley EnviroBags and become part of a community-wide campaign to promote their use.

As part of this campaign the Chamber will work with the CVRD and others to spread the word to their members and to the public about the importance of the community working together to dramatically impact the number of single-use bags distributed and disposed of in the Valley.

Simultaneously, the Comox Valley Regional District is working on their own public education campaign—The Power of R; Rethink, Reuse, Recycle, Reduce. The annual Waste Reduction Week, running right across the nation from October19 to 25, focuses on waste management issues and providing the public with an understanding of choices available and how best to utilize them.

Their campaign will detail how we, the consumer, can cut down on real waste at the local landfill. “Solid waste generation in the CVRD Waste Management Area has increased 50 per cent over the past five years,” says Wendy Schebel, CVRD coordinator, operational education and events. “If it continues at this rate both of our landfill sites will be full by 2015.”

A landfill, Schebel explains, is an ecosystem in itself, and although there is very advanced technology available for their management, it is not all available here in the Comox Valley. “There are all sorts of risks in creating another landfill, so anything we can do to reduce our waste generation is very important. If we use items that are recyclable then everything can be put to better use,” says Schebel. “We can’t afford not to be good at rethinking, reducing, reusing and recycling.”

The CVRD is also engaging with the youth community in this educational process—both as students and teachers. A video competition for 8-12 year olds, which winds up on October 17, asks youngsters to submit a 60 second video clip as individuals or as a school class with their viewpoint on the Power of R—transit, water or nature issues. There are great prizes to be won, including a waste free lunch for an entire class.

Working toward a ‘greener’ Halloween, the CVRD has also purchased 1,000 reusable bags that will be given away with every purchase of a book of 10 tickets for a youth swim or skate at the Comox Valley Sports or Aquatic Centres. The tickets, valid until December 31, 2008, are $10 for a book and provide a healthy alternative to candy.

The CVRD has also pledged to purchase 5,000 of the Chamber’s Comox Valley EnviroBags, which they will distribute through various promotions next year.

And there is more good news for this initiative. Later this year The Home Depot is piloting their own scheme to ban single-use plastic bags in their stores; that’s quite a lot of bags from a corporation that has more than 2,000 outlets. That plan starts in just three branches, one of which is the Courtenay store.

Other local businesses have also already taken steps to reduce bag use. Seeds Natural Food Market in Cumberland has been 100 per cent single-use bag free since they opened. They are working with other Cumberland downtown retailers to participate in a group order. From liquor outlets to gift shops and from hardware stores to realtors—the Comox Valley business community is stepping up to the challenge.

There is a staggering amount of information available about the costs of single-use plastic bags—all of which leads to a clear conclusion. We must address our rate of consumption and start making better choices about the waste we make in order to ensure the health of our communities and the planet. The Comox Valley is known as one of the most beautiful places in the world and is seems only right that the residents of this community would want to help keep it that way—driving a citizen and business-led campaign that pre-empts legislation or a bag tax from our government

“That is why the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce is focusing their energy on a business-led voluntary campaign,” says Lucas. “We hope to be catalysts for an important step in the way we think about single-use bags. It is not our goal to be long-term managers. This one time initiative aims to get the discussion going so that we can start to work together to make better choices and create a better future for our children and grandchildren.”

While many retailers now supply degradable or biodegradable bags, these bags still place pressures on our landfills and require certain conditions to break down properly. While paper may be a better option in terms of decomposition, paper bags still require energy to produce, not to mention the cutting down of trees for materials. A reusable bag, on the other hand, can be used again and again—and only needs to be used five times to make a positive impact on the environment.

Giving up the plastic bag is not a new idea and is already working in other communities and countries. In January this year Whole Foods Market, the world’s largest natural-food retailer, announced the end of plastic bag use at their checkouts in a total of 270 stores across North America and the UK. Around the same time China introduced a ban that stopped shop owners from giving out single-use bags. Similar bans have been introduced in Ireland, Scandinavia, Australia and several other countries. Awareness is clearly growing. In London, England, more than 30 municipalities are working to initiate a ban and the same process is happening in New York. San Francisco became the first US city to adopt a ban earlier this year.

Closer to home, similar voluntary bans are happening in Rossland and Whistler, BC thanks to the efforts of Tracey Saxby, an Australian who now calls BC her home. The village of Coles Bay in Tasmania, which attracts about 25,000 tourists every year, successfully banned bags in 2003.

Residents in Leaf Rapids, Manitoba became ‘Bag Free’ in April 2007 when the council there gave out more than 5,000 reusable bags to the 500 residents.

Easy for a small community to achieve, you might say, but if every single person in the community made some effort to give up on plastic bags, to say no thank you to plastic or paper, what a difference that could and would make to our Valley.


For more information about the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce’s EnviroBag Project, or to place an order for bags, please email bagless@comoxvalleychamber.com or call 250-334-3234.

Bags are for sale for 82 cents each for the Comox Valley branded bags, in any quantity. Company logos and artwork can be added for an additional fee. Deadline to order EnviroBags is October 20, 2008.

For more information about the CVRD waste management initiatives visit www.comoxvalleyrd.ca.

Jeff Lucas and Meaghan Cursons get down and dirty to demonstrate how bad single-use plastic bags are for the environment.

Jeff Lucas and Meaghan Cursons get down and dirty to demonstrate how bad single-use plastic bags are for the environment.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Plastic or paper? The correct answer is “Neither, physician
thank you—I have my reusable bag with me.”

The “scourge” of plastic bags is an issue making headlines across the country and around the world. Just this past week four major retail associations in Canada pledged to work to reduce plastic bag use by 50% before 2013. But as industry and government scramble to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of disposable plastics and race to develop alternatives, some communities are taking the issue into their own hands. The Comox Valley is one such community.

The biggest problem with plastic bags is that unless they are picked up by wind, water or wildlife, they don’t really go anywhere. Plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to break down. When you think about how many of those plastic bags go to our landfill each week, then multiply that by the population of the Comox Valley and then by 52 weeks in a year, you begin to see the size of the problem. Magnify that by six billion—the population of the world—and it becomes unfathomable.

The upside of the plastics story is that both the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) are launching campaigns in which the business community and the public can work together to make better choices— for a better future.

“The Chamber of Commerce Advocacy Committee set some exciting goals for this year. These goals include a focus on environmental sustainability and pro-active business leadership,” says Jeff Lucas, Chamber board member and Chair of the Comox Valley EnviroBag Project. “After much discussion we set our sights on a campaign to dramatically reduce and eventually eliminate single-use plastic bags in our community. To achieve this we needed to come up with a strategy to support business of all shapes and sizes in their ability to provide an affordable reusable option for their customers.”

To this end, the Chamber is brokering the one-time purchase of 75,000 recycled, re-usable bags, which are to be sold at cost to participating businesses in the Valley. Each participant—whether they are a multi-national corporation or sole trader—will pay the same price for these bags. Some can opt to personalize them with individual logos while others are working with the valley-wide branding offered by the Chamber. The launch date for these bags to appear in retail outlets is February, 2009.

“To date more that 45,000 bags have been ordered and the rate of participation is growing exponentially,” says Meaghan Cursons, who is working with the Chamber to bring this initiative to life. “This has caught on like wildfire because when it comes down to it, we see that the business community really wants to so the right thing! Too often the issues and the options related to waste reduction can seem overwhelming. That’s why we are focusing on a tangible and ‘doable’ step.”

The Chamber’s deadline to secure participants in the Comox Valley EnviroBag order is October 20. Retailers and client centred businesses or organizations can order any number of the uniquely designed Comox Valley EnviroBags and become part of a community-wide campaign to promote their use.

As part of this campaign the Chamber will work with the CVRD and others to spread the word to their members and to the public about the importance of the community working together to dramatically impact the number of single-use bags distributed and disposed of in the Valley.

Simultaneously, the Comox Valley Regional District is working on their own public education campaign—The Power of R; Rethink, Reuse, Recycle, Reduce. The annual Waste Reduction Week, running right across the nation from October19 to 25, focuses on waste management issues and providing the public with an understanding of choices available and how best to utilize them.

Their campaign will detail how we, the consumer, can cut down on real waste at the local landfill. “Solid waste generation in the CVRD Waste Management Area has increased 50 per cent over the past five years,” says Wendy Schebel, CVRD coordinator, operational education and events. “If it continues at this rate both of our landfill sites will be full by 2015.”

A landfill, Schebel explains, is an ecosystem in itself, and although there is very advanced technology available for their management, it is not all available here in the Comox Valley. “There are all sorts of risks in creating another landfill, so anything we can do to reduce our waste generation is very important. If we use items that are recyclable then everything can be put to better use,” says Schebel. “We can’t afford not to be good at rethinking, reducing, reusing and recycling.”

The CVRD is also engaging with the youth community in this educational process—both as students and teachers. A video competition for 8-12 year olds, which winds up on October 17, asks youngsters to submit a 60 second video clip as individuals or as a school class with their viewpoint on the Power of R—transit, water or nature issues. There are great prizes to be won, including a waste free lunch for an entire class.

Working toward a ‘greener’ Halloween, the CVRD has also purchased 1,000 reusable bags that will be given away with every purchase of a book of 10 tickets for a youth swim or skate at the Comox Valley Sports or Aquatic Centres. The tickets, valid until December 31, 2008, are $10 for a book and provide a healthy alternative to candy.

The CVRD has also pledged to purchase 5,000 of the Chamber’s Comox Valley EnviroBags, which they will distribute through various promotions next year.

And there is more good news for this initiative. Later this year The Home Depot is piloting their own scheme to ban single-use plastic bags in their stores; that’s quite a lot of bags from a corporation that has more than 2,000 outlets. That plan starts in just three branches, one of which is the Courtenay store.

Other local businesses have also already taken steps to reduce bag use. Seeds Natural Food Market in Cumberland has been 100 per cent single-use bag free since they opened. They are working with other Cumberland downtown retailers to participate in a group order. From liquor outlets to gift shops and from hardware stores to realtors—the Comox Valley business community is stepping up to the challenge.

There is a staggering amount of information available about the costs of single-use plastic bags—all of which leads to a clear conclusion. We must address our rate of consumption and start making better choices about the waste we make in order to ensure the health of our communities and the planet. The Comox Valley is known as one of the most beautiful places in the world and is seems only right that the residents of this community would want to help keep it that way—driving a citizen and business-led campaign that pre-empts legislation or a bag tax from our government

“That is why the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce is focusing their energy on a business-led voluntary campaign,” says Lucas. “We hope to be catalysts for an important step in the way we think about single-use bags. It is not our goal to be long-term managers. This one time initiative aims to get the discussion going so that we can start to work together to make better choices and create a better future for our children and grandchildren.”

While many retailers now supply degradable or biodegradable bags, these bags still place pressures on our landfills and require certain conditions to break down properly. While paper may be a better option in terms of decomposition, paper bags still require energy to produce, not to mention the cutting down of trees for materials. A reusable bag, on the other hand, can be used again and again—and only needs to be used five times to make a positive impact on the environment.

Giving up the plastic bag is not a new idea and is already working in other communities and countries. In January this year Whole Foods Market, the world’s largest natural-food retailer, announced the end of plastic bag use at their checkouts in a total of 270 stores across North America and the UK. Around the same time China introduced a ban that stopped shop owners from giving out single-use bags. Similar bans have been introduced in Ireland, Scandinavia, Australia and several other countries. Awareness is clearly growing. In London, England, more than 30 municipalities are working to initiate a ban and the same process is happening in New York. San Francisco became the first US city to adopt a ban earlier this year.

Closer to home, similar voluntary bans are happening in Rossland and Whistler, BC thanks to the efforts of Tracey Saxby, an Australian who now calls BC her home. The village of Coles Bay in Tasmania, which attracts about 25,000 tourists every year, successfully banned bags in 2003.

Residents in Leaf Rapids, Manitoba became ‘Bag Free’ in April 2007 when the council there gave out more than 5,000 reusable bags to the 500 residents.

Easy for a small community to achieve, you might say, but if every single person in the community made some effort to give up on plastic bags, to say no thank you to plastic or paper, what a difference that could and would make to our Valley.

 


For more information about the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce’s EnviroBag Project, or to place an order for bags, please email bagless@comoxvalleychamber.com or call 250-334-3234.

 

Bags are for sale for 82 cents each for the Comox Valley branded bags, in any quantity. Company logos and artwork can be added for an additional fee. Deadline to order EnviroBags is October 20, 2008.

For more information about the CVRD waste management initiatives visit www.comoxvalleyrd.ca.
As the dancers line up waiting for the music to commence, buy cialis the sense of excitement is palpable. One last check on the outfits—vests done up, glands
shoelaces tied, collars straight. With the first couple beats, a half dozen partners jump right into their performance. Finally, they get to put their practice to work.

Moving around the show area flawlessly, you can catch a glimpse of some of the dancers counting time as they execute their choreography…1, 2, 3, 4… 1, 2, 3, 4….

Working hard to maintain their synchronicity, the troupe carries out a number of classic elements—inward side passes, 360 degree turns, forward figure eights, high stepping, left and right pivots—finishing with the ever-popular heel–sit–stay.

Come again?

Yes, the heel–sit–stay is a staple of any performance when it comes to Canine Freestyle, a dance craze that has gone to the dogs.

Magi Schoffield-Reid practices for the Island Fling with her dog, Diva, a Coton de Tulear.

Magi Schoffield-Reid practices for the Island Fling with her dog, Diva, a Coton de Tulear.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

A little more “dancing with the strays” than Dancing with the Stars, Freestyle is a relatively new dog sport that combines basic obedience training with the added dance elements of composition, choreography and costuming.

Of course, the dogs that are in the ring this day at the Comox Valley Fall Fair are hardly strays. It is easy to see that there is more than a little bit of love and pampering that goes on between the dogs and their handlers in each and every performance.

As noted, Canine Freestyle is a choreographed dance performed to music by handlers and their dogs. The dance can be done either as part of a larger group or as a solo. The objective is to present the bond between dog and owner in an original dance, using intricate movements to display artistry, athleticism, style and teamwork while interpreting the theme of the chosen music.

Put another way, it’s a pretty fun excuse to get a little exercise, chat with friends and get your groove on while hanging with your dog. Little wonder that interest in the sport is growing worldwide.

While the majority of organizations in North America are in the East, particularly in the States, BC is believed to be where the sport first originated in the 1990s. Within the Comox Valley alone, there are a couple of different dance groups, as well as less formal recreation classes.

Glenda Gentleman is one of the original members of a group called Wee Paws for Applause that has been doing Freestyle since 2000.

“Our group got started after attending a dog show at Tradex in Abbotsford. There were some people doing drill work with some bigger dogs and we thought that we should show them that little dogs can do it as well as big dogs,” she says.

Drawing on their personal experience—two of the four members of Wee Paws for Applause are obedience trainers and one is a choreographer of human dancers—they put together a couple of different routines. Sounds easy enough, but we are talking about getting a total of 24 feet and paws in synch here.

While most of us wouldn’t know where to even begin, Gentleman says it actually isn’t too tricky if you follow a couple basic guidelines.

“The first thing is to pick a piece of music that you enjoy and seems to be the right kind of beat for your dog,” she says. “If you have a great big dog that moves kind of slowly you don’t want to have a piece that is too quick, because they won’t be able to keep up. So you pick some music that is appropriate.

“The next thing is to teach your dog some tricks. The dogs that have had a little bit of obedience training and have learned to respond to their owners and they know that sit means sit; they manage much better and have more fun.

“Then you teach yourself some steps to go along with the music, and you just coordinate the three. So it is a blend of the music and movement of the dog and the handler. The key thing is the relationship that you develop with your dog and having fun.”