A Cooperative Harvest

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

This ongoing training is done throughout the organization’s search area in mountains, rivers, classrooms and anywhere they can make the training as realistic as possible.

Member Ann Nygren practices her rope skills.

Member Ann Nygren practices her rope skills.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

The result of all this practice is that CVGSAR members are some of the best-trained search and rescue technicians in the province, and they are often called upon to assist with missions in other areas. This past summer alone they responded to two calls from Pemberton to assist with technical mountain rescues, and team members were also involved in the high-profile search for William Pilkenton, a seven-year-old American boy who was swept off a rocky shoreline in Tofino last February.

The CVGSAR team, one of about 70 search and rescue organizations across the province, receives 25 to 35 calls each year and has received as many as three calls in a single day during the busy summer months. The Comox Valley team is the sixth-busiest in the province outside of the Lower Mainland, Berry says, and the frequency of calls, especially medical evacuations, is increasing.

“Generally in society there’s more of a push to be active, to be out there,” he says, offering his hypothesis on why calls are increasing. “We have prime territory for recreation and so more and more people are moving further and further into the backcountry than they may have done before. With more people out there, there’s more opportunity for things to go wrong.”

There’s no precise blueprint for how people get into situations where they’re suddenly in need of rescue, Berry says, “but in most cases it’s a lack of a complete understanding of the environment that an inexperienced person might be going into. So in swift water, for example, it’s not having taken the training that they could have taken, or not anticipating the conditions that exist in the river at that particular time.

“The same in the backcountry,” he continues. “Hikers will hike through relatively easy terrain then move into the type of terrain that you see in Strathcona Park. It moves beyond trails and into route-finding, where you really need to rely on your navigation skills.” Many backcountry hikers, he says, have outdoors skills that are not as refined or strong as they should be, and they get delayed or run out of food when they discover that the terrain is more difficult than they expected.

One positive development that’s occurred over the last several years, however, is that more people are entering the backcountry with cellular phones or GPS systems, technological tools that can assist a rescue team in the event that they are needed. A perfect example of this, though not one that involved CVGSAR directly, was the recent fatal crash of a Pacific Coastal flight in the mountains near Port Hardy. A survivor was able to use his cell phone to relay their location to the search team, which arrived at the crash site within hours.

When you consider the vast size of the organization’s geographical area, the number of calls to which it is required to respond and the intense training that’s involved, it seems incredible that CVGSAR does it all on a modest annual budget of less than $50,000. The Provincial Emergency Program covers expenses incurred while on actual missions, Berry says, and the organization receives funding for other expenses through the Comox Valley Regional District and organizations like the United Way and the Comox Valley Community Foundation. The difference is made up through fundraising initiatives.

The organization’s two major fundraisers are the Comox Valley’s annual ski swap and gear swap. The ski swap is held each November at the Filberg Centre in Downtown Courtenay and the gear swap is an annual spring event held at the Native Sons Hall. The CVGSAR team also undertakes a number of smaller fundraising initiatives throughout the year.

As well as CVGSAR has done with fundraising—they own an initial response vehicle and equipment van, and they share a mobile command centre with the Provincial Emergency Program—they still haven’t found a solution to their most pressing concern: a need for more space. The organization is currently based out of a cramped building behind Wal-Mart that is has long ago outgrown, and Berry says that the team is trying to acquire some donated land on which to build new headquarters. Similar land donation arrangements have been made by search and rescue organizations in Campbell River and Parksville, and Berry is optimistic that it will work in the Comox Valley as well. Although they’ve been involved in ongoing negotiations with the municipalities and the regional district, nothing has materialized so far.

Men and women interested in joining CVGSAR are generally accepted into the basic training program each year with little or no experience, but due to the high number of current members it’s unlikely that the organization will be recruiting volunteers this year. Prospective members are still welcome to join the team for its weekly training, although they won’t be able to respond to actual calls until they’ve completed the mandated basic training.

The best way to help the organization in the meantime, Berry says, is to support its fundraising events. The next one will be the 2008 Ski Swap on November 1 and 2 at the Filberg Centre.

While CVGSAR volunteers hope to see you out at the Ski Swap, they’d be more than happy to never have to see you out in the bush. If you ever do find yourself in trouble in the vast wilderness surrounding the Comox Valley, however, be thankful that our community has such a dedicated group of unsung heroes just waiting to jump at the call to lend you a hand. ¦

To learn more about Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue, visit www.cvgsar.com.
They’re the Comox Valley’s unsung heroes. Working for the most part in the remote Vancouver Island wilderness or during the dead of the night, sildenafil
they stay well below the radar of most local residents. They’re the ones that you never want to have to rely on, but the ones you sure will be grateful for if you ever do. They’re Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue, and they’re always on duty.

Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue (CVGSAR) is responsible for search, rescue and recovery missions in a massive area that spans the Comox Valley from Oyster River in the north to Cook Creek in the south, and from the rugged backcountry of Strathcona Park to the outlying islands of Georgia Strait.

“We’re responsible for any lost or injured person on the ground, in a lake or in a river within that search area,” says CVGSAR president Paul Berry. “We’re the quiet emergency service provider in the community.

“Most of our searches start out like a children’s story,” he adds, referencing a comment made by one of the organization’s longest-serving volunteers. “‘It was a dark and stormy night…”

Another reason you’ve likely never heard of CVGSAR is because the search and rescue limelight, as it were, is more often captured by high-profile air or marine rescues that are handled by CFB Comox’s 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron. The CVGSAR team, however, is more than happy with its low profile in the community.

“The group is not the sort of group that blows its own horn,” Berry says, acknowledging that there is no shortage of humbling moments in their line of work. “They’re pretty quiet and modest about what they do.”

The CVGSAR team is comprised of 62 volunteers who are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s a dedicated group, some members of which have been involved with the organization since its inception in 1974, with an almost equal distribution of men and women from a wide range of backgrounds, Berry says.

“We range from university students in their 20s to a couple of members in their 70s. One is a retired general, so it’s a real diverse group of people coming from many different professional backgrounds. We have people from the military, emergency services, plumbers, secretaries, bank tellers, everything under the sun.”

Berry stresses that CVGSAR members are “true volunteers.” Unlike volunteer firefighters, he says, CVGSAR volunteers never receive any compensation. They’re also responsible for buying their own equipment, which he says can cost up to $1,000, and unlike other emergency service providers, they are not eligible for any tax rebates for expenses incurred through their service.

That doesn’t stop the committed group of volunteers from donating an incredible amount of time to the cause, however. “Last year we had around 45 members and it was around 15,000 or 16,000 hours that the group committed over the course of the year in training and calls,” Berry says, adding that there is a lot more time that never gets recorded. “It’s a pretty big time commitment.”

Although many of the searches or recovery missions the team undertakes involve inherent dangers, Berry says the safety of the team is always paramount. In fact, in more than 30 years of service, CVGSAR has never had a member killed or seriously injured despite the many hazardous situations in which team members have been placed in the line of duty.“I think that says something about the level of training and the management of the searches,” he says. “You train to minimize those risks, and at times if conditions are hazardous we won’t put teams in. It’s technical and it’s dangerous, but it’s a great team to be part of.”

Every CVGSAR member must undergo a comprehensive 72-hour basic training program prior to responding to any calls. The course materials, defined by the Justice Institute of BC and the Provincial Emergency Program, consist of everything from first aid and basic search techniques to communications, wilderness survival, helicopter operations, avalanche awareness and rope training. In essence, the course covers all the skills required to be a certified ground search and rescue technician in British Columbia. Team members then have the option of signing on to one of the organization’s specialist teams, such as swift water rescue or avalanche response.

In addition to this extensive initial training, the entire 62-member CVGSAR team trains for three hours every Wednesday evening.

“It’s a cyclic training schedule,” says Berry, “so we review a lot of the basic skills on a regular basis. Map and compass navigation, GPS (global positioning system) and first aid are key things that we review regularly. We also try to provide search scenarios that give team leaders and specialist teams the opportunity to practice their skills on a regular basis. Then the specialist teams practice on additional nights as well.”

This ongoing training is done throughout the organization’s search area in mountains, rivers, classrooms and anywhere they can make the training as realistic as possible.

The result of all this practice is that CVGSAR members are some of the best-trained search and rescue technicians in the province, and they are often called upon to assist with missions in other areas. This past summer alone they responded to two calls from Pemberton to assist with technical mountain rescues, and team members were also involved in the high-profile search for William Pilkenton, a seven-year-old American boy who was swept off a rocky shoreline in Tofino last February.

The CVGSAR team, one of about 70 search and rescue organizations across the province, receives 25 to 35 calls each year and has received as many as three calls in a single day during the busy summer months. The Comox Valley team is the sixth-busiest in the province outside of the Lower Mainland, Berry says, and the frequency of calls, especially medical evacuations, is increasing.

“Generally in society there’s more of a push to be active, to be out there,” he says, offering his hypothesis on why calls are increasing. “We have prime territory for recreation and so more and more people are moving further and further into the backcountry than they may have done before. With more people out there, there’s more opportunity for things to go wrong.”

There’s no precise blueprint for how people get into situations where they’re suddenly in need of rescue, Berry says, “but in most cases it’s a lack of a complete understanding of the environment that an inexperienced person might be going into. So in swift water, for example, it’s not having taken the training that they could have taken, or not anticipating the conditions that exist in the river at that particular time.

“The same in the backcountry,” he continues. “Hikers will hike through relatively easy terrain then move into the type of terrain that you see in Strathcona Park. It moves beyond trails and into route-finding, where you really need to rely on your navigation skills.” Many backcountry hikers, he says, have outdoors skills that are not as refined or strong as they should be, and they get delayed or run out of food when they discover that the terrain is more difficult than they expected.

One positive development that’s occurred over the last several years, however, is that more people are entering the backcountry with cellular phones or GPS systems, technological tools that can assist a rescue team in the event that they are needed. A perfect example of this, though not one that involved CVGSAR directly, was the recent fatal crash of a Pacific Coastal flight in the mountains near Port Hardy. A survivor was able to use his cell phone to relay their location to the search team, which arrived at the crash site within hours.

When you consider the vast size of the organization’s geographical area, the number of calls to which it is required to respond and the intense training that’s involved, it seems incredible that CVGSAR does it all on a modest annual budget of less than $50,000. The Provincial Emergency Program covers expenses incurred while on actual missions, Berry says, and the organization receives funding for other expenses through the Comox Valley Regional District and organizations like the United Way and the Comox Valley Community Foundation. The difference is made up through fundraising initiatives.

The organization’s two major fundraisers are the Comox Valley’s annual ski swap and gear swap. The ski swap is held each November at the Filberg Centre in Downtown Courtenay and the gear swap is an annual spring event held at the Native Sons Hall. The CVGSAR team also undertakes a number of smaller fundraising initiatives throughout the year.

As well as CVGSAR has done with fundraising—they own an initial response vehicle and equipment van, and they share a mobile command centre with the Provincial Emergency Program—they still haven’t found a solution to their most pressing concern: a need for more space. The organization is currently based out of a cramped building behind Wal-Mart that is has long ago outgrown, and Berry says that the team is trying to acquire some donated land on which to build new headquarters. Similar land donation arrangements have been made by search and rescue organizations in Campbell River and Parksville, and Berry is optimistic that it will work in the Comox Valley as well. Although they’ve been involved in ongoing negotiations with the municipalities and the regional district, nothing has materialized so far.

Men and women interested in joining CVGSAR are generally accepted into the basic training program each year with little or no experience, but due to the high number of current members it’s unlikely that the organization will be recruiting volunteers this year. Prospective members are still welcome to join the team for its weekly training, although they won’t be able to respond to actual calls until they’ve completed the mandated basic training.

The best way to help the organization in the meantime, Berry says, is to support its fundraising events. The next one will be the 2008 Ski Swap on November 1 and 2 at the Filberg Centre.

While CVGSAR volunteers hope to see you out at the Ski Swap, they’d be more than happy to never have to see you out in the bush. If you ever do find yourself in trouble in the vast wilderness surrounding the Comox Valley, however, be thankful that our community has such a dedicated group of unsung heroes just waiting to jump at the call to lend you a hand. ¦

To learn more about Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue, visit www.cvgsar.com.
As the dancers line up waiting for the music to commence, sickness the sense of excitement is palpable. One last check on the outfits—vests done up, order
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.

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.”

Wee Pause for Applause has been having fun performing around town and all over the mid-Island for years now. They can often be seen appearing in local parades and outdoor events, such as the Fall Fair, as well as putting on demonstrations for schools and senior care homes. In addition to appearing locally, they also participate in Canine Freestyle competitions that take place in various places throughout the Pacific Northwest.

“As a group we really enjoy the competitions,” says Gentleman, “but we always have to travel or send our videos in. So recently, during an informal get-together with other Island freestylers, we decided that it was about time to have a competition here on the Island.”

With that thought in mind, the group got together to discuss a location—they decided on the Comox Valley. “We were really proud and happy about, and it will be held at a wonderful venue in the Native Sons Hall,” Gentleman says.

The Island Fling will take place on the afternoon of October 19, with the Vancouver-based group Paws 2 Dance sanctioning the event. The organizers anticipate that this first Island competition will attract participants from all over Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, Alberta and western US.

“In order for the awards that will be won to be credible, we have to be affiliated with an organization that offers titles,” Gentleman says, explaining the choice of Paws 2 Dance as the sponsoring organization. “They gave us some seed money and our judges are coming from them. Ray Underwood was one of the originators of Freestyle in the 1990s, and he will be one of the judges.

“So the entries go through Paws 2 Dance and they will keep a record so that they know who has passed, and the people who achieve a title will get an award through them.”

While different sanctioning organizations have their own particular interpretations of what is needed to achieve certain titles, they are all based upon the relationship between the handler and their dog during the performance of their routine.

The judging of the performance focuses on a number of components, including heeling position of the dog, dog attitude and workability, movement with the music, smooth transitions, a variety of moves and pace as well as coverage of the entire ring area (which is typically 30×60 feet). The handler is also evaluated for their ease of movement and composure in the ring.

Within the competition there are various levels at which the handlers and dogs compete—for example, Junior, Novice, Intermediate and Advanced—so beginners don’t have to compete against more experienced teams. The more advanced the level, the longer the performance and the dogs are expected to participate off-leash. Most levels offer the opportunity for dog and handler to compete individually or as part of a team.

Like many sports that are viewed by the general public, participants must behave with appropriate sportsmanship, and respectful treatment of the dogs is mandatory. Likewise, dogs are expected to be kept under control at all times and should not be aggressive. Dogs also have to be healthy and over the age of six months.

The local people involved in organizing the Fling hope this competition will be just the first of many to be held on the Island, with groups from other areas continuing the event in the coming years. And, of course, they hope the contest will garner more attention for the sport and draw in new members and participants.

Gentleman feels that the more that people know about Freestyle, the more they will see that it is a great sport for people and dogs alike. “People of all ages and abilities are able to enjoy the sport. It is very special to watch a junior out on the floor with their dog, just enjoying themselves. It is amazing how creative young people can be devising new moves that no one else has thought of.

“I’m 74 years old now and hope to be doing this with my dogs for many more years to come,” Gentleman adds, noting that the oldest person she knows practicing Freestyle is in their 80s. “The older person’s movements may not be as graceful or agile as those done by young people in their 20s,” she says, “but we have just as much fun and success.”

And according to Gentleman, it doesn’t matter if you have two left feet—or four left paws. “You don’t have to be a ‘dancer’ to enjoy doing a routine, you just have to be able to move to the music. Freestyle also can accommodate both people and dogs with handicaps. I know of Freestylers who work with their dog from their wheelchair or walker. The dogs really don’t care as long as they are doing things with their person.”

Magi Schoffield-Reid, another member of Wee Paws for Applause, agrees that people and dogs of any age can enjoy the sport. As a choreographer and instructor of Freestyle, she has worked with a broad range of people and she currently coaches a new group called the Island K9 Freestylers, whose ages range from 25 to 60-plus.

“They just started working together last September and we entered our first competition in April and we got first place in Cloverdale,” says Schoffield-Reid proudly. “Right now we are going to be working on a new routine for the upcoming year.”

She is currently holding classes in the upper level of the Cumberland Cultural Centre on Tuesday evenings at 7:00 p.m. Like many of the participants, her involvement in the sport was a coming together of two of her passions. “I’ve always danced and I’ve taught a lot of dancing, so that is the part that I really enjoy. I like the choreography and making it look like a real dance between the dog and the handler,” she explains. “And I’ve been training my dogs for about 15 years, so it was a combination of the two. Once I saw other people doing it, I decided I could combine the two and have a good time with it.”

And how do the dogs like it? Schoffield-Reid says her five dogs all love it. “The dogs really do enjoy themselves because everywhere we go they get to have fun, have a treat and feel special… so it really is most enjoyable for the dogs, the handlers and the audience.”

Gentleman agrees wholeheartedly. “The dogs really seem to like it. I’ve got two very different kinds of dogs and they both have fun with it. As soon as I turn the music on, my one dog is right at my side and she wants to get started right away. Of course, it’s got a lot to do with the fact that we give a lot of positive reinforcement, pet them and say how good they are.”

And, as she says, it’s amazing what a dog will do for a little piece of cheese.

The Island Fling will be held at the Native Sons Hall on October 19 starting at 1 pm. Admission is free and everyone is welcome.


For more information about the event contact Glenda Gentleman at sheltiewink@shaw.ca.

To find out more about Canine Freestyle classes email Magi Schoffield-Reid at magi44@shaw.ca.
Cooking, salve like dance or music, physician
is a form of expression that truly shines when infused with creativity and love. And like so many artistic pursuits, it is also best when shared.

Lisa and Martin Metz, founding owners of Tita’s Mexican Restaurant, have been sharing their passion for food with local residents since their business opened in the spring of 2000. They didn’t know what to expect when they first hatched the idea of bringing a taste of Mexico to the Comox Valley, but they should have had some inkling when they decided to name the place after the main character from the Mexican novel and movie Like Water for Chocolate.

Lisa Metz takes a break on Tita’s vine-covered patio to sample some restaurant favorites, including the popular Molé con Pollo.

Lisa Metz takes a break on Tita’s vine-covered patio to sample some restaurant favorites, including the popular Molé con Pollo.

Photo by Photo by Boomer Jerritt

“Tita is the youngest daughter, so she has to do all the cooking for her family. She falls in love with a man but isn’t allowed to be with him, so he ends up marrying her sister just to be near her,” says Lisa Metz. “So Tita uses her cooking as an outlet, and that is how she conveys her love for him and the whole range of her emotions in this horrible situation.”

In a classic example of Mexican literature’s magic realism, Tita’s quail in rose petal sauce fills her sister with such passion that she has to leave the dinner table to have a cold shower and the shower ends up bursting into flames.

You might not find rose petal sauce on the menu at Tita’s Restaurant, but you may just feel a little bit of magic when you spend an evening sampling their authentic Mexican fare. Then again, maybe it was the tequila… but I digress.

So, just how did a small, stucco Sixth Street house transform into a brilliant yellow Latin jewel surrounded by fruit trees and a lush patio garden, busy every night of the week with an ever-growing and constantly contented clientele? What’s the story behind this Tita?

Lisa Metz spent her teenage years in Courtenay and had family here when she returned to the Valley in 1999. “I came back because my mother had cancer and was dying, and this was my last chance to spend some time with her,” Metz says. “Then she started to get better and, of course, we wanted to believe she would continue to get better, so I had to get busy—I couldn’t just sit around doing nothing. So we decided to open the restaurant, which was a rather large thing to take on. She did eventually pass on, but here I am still doing this.”

“Rather large thing” is a bit of an understatement. It took eight months to turn the house into a fully functioning restaurant, nevertheless when they opened the doors people were literally standing in line to get in and have a meal.

“It was a little overwhelming at first. Right from the beginning we were outrageously, painfully busy—we had line-ups out on the sidewalk. And we were serving people very slowly because we didn’t know how to do things that fast,” Metz remembers with a laugh. “So that was the first thing that changed. We had to come up with very efficient systems to feed people more quickly.”

With Lisa working in the kitchen and Martin handling the bar and dining area, it was all hands on deck as they worked to catch their breath. After being open for just two years, they decided to add an addition to the east side of the house and expand the dining area—two very busy and successful years, obviously.