Community

A Lasting Tribute

Cumberland committee honours Japanese families by turning the No. 1 Townsite into a park…

Samara’s companionship can help bring clarity to patients suffering from Alzheimers and other types of dementia. “We’ve had people who can’t keep track of what day it is—except for Mondays, when they know exactly when the dog is coming for a visit,” say Fletcher.

Petting the dog relaxes people and helps them communicate comfortably, he says. “They put their hand on Samara, and the conversations start coming out. It gets their brains flowing again.

“People with dementia, they can forget they had kids or a spouse, but they’ll always remember they had a dog. In a lot of cases our visit will bring that out for them; they’ll scratch their head to remember the name of their first dog, and the synapses will start closing.”

Spending time with a therapy dog also brings physical benefits, he says. “There was one lady with advanced Parkinson’s. She was in a wheelchair and her arms and legs would flail around. Samara would jump up next to her, she’d wrap her arms around the dog, and her body would become still and calm.” Another man with severe arthritis in his hands gets relief from running his fingers through Samara’s fur.

Sometimes the therapy dog’s effects are truly dramatic. Fletcher recounts a case from the United States, where a mental health patient was becoming highly agitated every evening, flying into rages. “He’d end up tearing the room apart and needing sedation.”

Only the dog could prevent this. Staff arranged for a therapy dog to come visit every evening for about 10 minutes. The effect was magical: there were no more violent episodes, and no more need for sedation. This meant a far better quality of life for the patient, a more harmonious atmosphere for other residents, and a much easier time for the staff. Clearly, dog therapy is more than just a charming way to cheer people up.

Mind you, cheering up can also have dramatic benefits. As an example, Fletcher shares a story he calls “Samara’s first save.”

“We had a lady at Abbeyfield House; she was 89 years old and had been complaining that all her friends had died and she had nothing to live for. Clearly, she was depressed, and then she had a heart attack, followed by pneumonia. They said it was the end of the line for her. We went over to visit her. Samara jumped up on her bed and the woman found enough energy to give Samara a big hug. That lady went on to recover, and afterwards all she’d talk about was the dog who rekindled her will to live.”

The St. John’s Ambulance Dog Therapy Program began in 1992 in Peterborough, Ontario, and soon became so widely popular it spread across Canada, and has also been adopted by several other countries. The history of St. John’s Ambulance as an organization goes back much further, to about 1,000 years ago in Malta. Over the years it has been involved in many different activities, all centred around healthcare—building hospitals, providing battlefield medical care in both World Wars, and, today, providing certified First Aid training all over the world.

The Comox Valley Dog Therapy Program started at the end of 1999. Fletcher was among the very first group to be certified, with his dog Kara.
The Comox Valley therapy dogs provide regular visits to eight venues: the Comox Valley Seniors’ Village, Casa Loma, Glacier View Lodge, The Views at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Cumberland Care Facility, Abbeyfield House, Berwick House, and Mark Isfeld High School.

At Mark Isfeld, the dogs work with special needs youth. “Lately, we’ve been taking the kids out for a walk with the dog, so they have a chance to learn about responsibility and control. The kid holds a leash and is the one in charge; we hold another leash as back-up. As well as learning about responsibility and control, they get a bit of a break from the classroom, they get some exercise and fresh air, and often the walking draws them out and they get quite chatty,” says Fletcher.

Another program that helps young people is the Reading Tails Literacy Program at the Courtenay Library. This supports children who are having challenges learning to read, by allowing them to read aloud to the dog. This both motivates and relaxes them. Learning comes much easier without the performance anxiety attached to reading in school or to parents. Reading to a canine friend increases confidence and makes reading more fun. A trial run earlier this year was deemed very successful; Fletcher is just waiting to bring more dogs on board so the program can continue.

Eight new dogs qualified to join the Comox Valley therapy dog team in early March, bringing the total number of participating dogs to 36. This means the Comox Valley program is the largest on Vancouver Island. Nonetheless, Fletcher has to continually work at attracting more volunteers.

“We have to constantly recruit. Sadly, dogs don’t live as long as we do, and a lot of dogs don’t settle down enough till they are six or seven years old, so we have quite a turnover.

“We need to keep in the public eye. I’m the coordinator, so I’m constantly on the move, going out to speak to the Kiwanis Club or the Rotary Club, attending community events, that kind of thing. “Also we have to do fundraising. It costs about $50 to put a dog in the program; there’s liability insurance, the scarf (for the dog) and shirts (for the handler).”

At $50/dog, this is a low-overhead program. “We worked it out that it costs on average 21 cents per visiting hour. You won’t find health care any cheaper than that,” says Fletcher.

Anyone with a dog can apply to the program. Dogs and humans qualify together, as a team. All dogs go through a thorough evaluation consisting of 13 different tests for temperament, obedience and socialization. The human volunteers are given an orientation and go on a trial run with an established handler to gain experience in the field. Finally, the dog and its person go out on their first visit together, accompanied by a St. John’s Ambulance evaluator who observes, and if necessary, provides debriefing after the visit.

The minimum requirement for volunteer dog/person teams is one visit per week, but many do more than that, says Fletcher. Many of the volunteers are retired seniors who appreciate having a meaningful way to contribute to their community.

Fletcher speaks eloquently of the rewards of volunteering with Samara. “To actually work with a dog you end up with a stronger bond than you thought possible. Dogs love to work and their enthusiasm draws you in.”

Ultimately, what motivates Fletcher is his deep respect for the dignity and value of every human life. “The best thing about this work is that you are making a difference in someone’s life,” says Fletcher. “I had one chap, who’d been round on a visit with one of the therapy dogs, say to me afterwards, “I’m not doing that again. It’s too depressing. Why would you do that?” I said to him, “That’s exactly why I do it! “Because it is depressing, and Samara and I can help. It’s an abnormal environment, and you want to help people in it feel normal. To them, it’s a bright spot in their day.”

Anne Wilde, an 86-year-old resident at The Views, enthusiastically backs this up.

“I love the dogs, and I have one favorite and it’s Samara! She’ll sit in my chair beside me and look at me, and I say ‘okay’, and I get a kiss and a slurp on the cheek. She is so sweet, so sweet. But I love all of them. They know where the drawer with the cookies is and go straight to them, and then to me!

“It’s a very good program for everyone. As soon as the dog comes in people notice it and want to pet it. Even for people who can’t speak or move much, or aren’t thinking clearly, they still will recognize a dog and put their hand out to pet it. It’s just wonderful.

“The dogs love it too,” she adds. “They want to be petted; they put their heads down on your lap; and their tails wag like the dickens.”

Fletcher has no doubt that Samara loves her work. Dogs like to have a sense of purpose, he says.

The history of the dog/human relationship is full of examples of working dogs –shepherds, guard dogs, sled dogs, hunting dogs—and as human society changes, it makes sense that dogs’ occupations have evolved, too. For Samara, and the many people she visits each week, this is good news.
It’s easy to see why Samara, seek a 10-year old Samoyed, pills
is a beloved pet. Her luxurious white fur calls out to be petted, her dark eyes brim with steady affection, and the curl of her bushy tale clearly says “happiness” in a language everyone can understand.

But Samara is much more than a pet. She has an occupation. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call her a health care professional.

Samara works one-on-one with seniors who face multiple, often debilitating, health challenges; she teaches life skills to youth with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder; she even helps children learn to read. She has been credited with bringing people back from the brink of death, and has helped ease the passage of those who can’t be brought back.

Samara has spent the last eight years as a therapy dog with the Comox Valley division of the St. John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog Program.

Every Monday afternoon, Samara, along with her human guardians, Dave and Carol Fletcher, is on duty at The Views, St. Joseph’s Hospital residential care unit. She also regularly visits Abbeyfield House and a number of other facilities, she assists in evaluating and training new dogs for the program, and she accompanies Fletcher to speaking engagements and community events as a canine ambassador for the program. All in all, it’s a job that requires lots of time, dedication and a variety of skills.

I see these in action one Monday in mid-February when I accompany Samara, Dave and Carol on their rounds at The Views. As we get started, Fletcher points out, with obvious pride, that this is Samara’s 701st visit.

The Views is both a heart-wrenching and a heart-warming place. Heart-warming because you can see how much care and energy goes into making the residents’ lives comfortable and meaningful. The staff is kind and attentive; there are big windows letting in light and a view of the estuary; there are bingo games, card games, manicures, visits by a hairdresser and other organized activities.

But it is also heart-wrenching, because regardless of all that, The Views is still an institutional setting, a far cry from the warm embrace of a family home. Residents of The Views often have multiple medical conditions, such as dementia and limited mobility. Quite a few are in wheelchairs.

“For most people, this is their final address. The average life-span of people who move here is five months,” says Dave Fletcher, who as well as being Samara’s guardian is also the unit facilitator of the local St. John’s Ambulance Dog Therapy Program.

Samara’s role, in this setting, is to cheer people up and encourage them to connect to the world around them.
She is very good at her job.

Dave leads Samara around The Views on a leash, stopping to meet people in the hallway, visiting residents in their rooms, and making their way around tables in the common area. It is there that Dave spots Mike, reclining on his wheelchair. His facial muscles are slack, his eyes unfocused.

Dave heads over to Mike, pulls a chair up beside him, and motions for Samara to jump up onto it. Many of The View’s residents need Samara to come to their level so they can see and touch her. For a moment Mike’s eyes remain dull, his face passive, but then a bright spark of interest shines as he recognizes who it is. Slowly, he turns his head, which is supported by a headrest on his chair, in Dave and Samara’s direction. Dave says hello and moves easily into friendly small talk as he reaches down, picks up Mike’s hand and places it into the soft fur of Samara’s neck.

As his hand connects with Samara’s warm body, Mike’s face transforms—the change that comes over him is as dramatic and uplifting as when the sun suddenly emerges from the clouds after hours of rain and gloom. His hand works in Samara’s fur, and he starts to answer Dave’s questions. Samara sits calmly, looking right at Mike, and, I would swear, smiling.

This sort of scenario repeats throughout Samara’s hour-long visit. It has been proven that therapy dogs can improve physical and mental health, enhance vocabulary and memory, and increase sociability and movement, and that petting a dog reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, distracts from chronic pain, and helps people deal with grief. But it is one thing to read these assertions in print and quite another to see it in action.

Many of the residents know Samara, and are ready for the weekly visit with dog treats stowed in their pockets.

“The dog provides emotional support for people,” explains Fletcher. “They get to know Samara and look forward to her visits.”

Samara’s companionship can help bring clarity to patients suffering from Alzheimers and other types of dementia. “We’ve had people who can’t keep track of what day it is—except for Mondays, when they know exactly when the dog is coming for a visit,” say Fletcher.

Petting the dog relaxes people and helps them communicate comfortably, he says. “They put their hand on Samara, and the conversations start coming out. It gets their brains flowing again.

“People with dementia, they can forget they had kids or a spouse, but they’ll always remember they had a dog. In a lot of cases our visit will bring that out for them; they’ll scratch their head to remember the name of their first dog, and the synapses will start closing.”

Spending time with a therapy dog also brings physical benefits, he says. “There was one lady with advanced Parkinson’s. She was in a wheelchair and her arms and legs would flail around. Samara would jump up next to her, she’d wrap her arms around the dog, and her body would become still and calm.” Another man with severe arthritis in his hands gets relief from running his fingers through Samara’s fur.

Sometimes the therapy dog’s effects are truly dramatic. Fletcher recounts a case from the United States, where a mental health patient was becoming highly agitated every evening, flying into rages. “He’d end up tearing the room apart and needing sedation.”

Only the dog could prevent this. Staff arranged for a therapy dog to come visit every evening for about 10 minutes. The effect was magical: there were no more violent episodes, and no more need for sedation. This meant a far better quality of life for the patient, a more harmonious atmosphere for other residents, and a much easier time for the staff. Clearly, dog therapy is more than just a charming way to cheer people up.

Mind you, cheering up can also have dramatic benefits. As an example, Fletcher shares a story he calls “Samara’s first save.”

“We had a lady at Abbeyfield House; she was 89 years old and had been complaining that all her friends had died and she had nothing to live for. Clearly, she was depressed, and then she had a heart attack, followed by pneumonia. They said it was the end of the line for her. We went over to visit her. Samara jumped up on her bed and the woman found enough energy to give Samara a big hug. That lady went on to recover, and afterwards all she’d talk about was the dog who rekindled her will to live.”

The St. John’s Ambulance Dog Therapy Program began in 1992 in Peterborough, Ontario, and soon became so widely popular it spread across Canada, and has also been adopted by several other countries. The history of St. John’s Ambulance as an organization goes back much further, to about 1,000 years ago in Malta. Over the years it has been involved in many different activities, all centred around healthcare—building hospitals, providing battlefield medical care in both World Wars, and, today, providing certified First Aid training all over the world.

The Comox Valley Dog Therapy Program started at the end of 1999. Fletcher was among the very first group to be certified, with his dog Kara.
The Comox Valley therapy dogs provide regular visits to eight venues: the Comox Valley Seniors’ Village, Casa Loma, Glacier View Lodge, The Views at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Cumberland Care Facility, Abbeyfield House, Berwick House, and Mark Isfeld High School.

At Mark Isfeld, the dogs work with special needs youth. “Lately, we’ve been taking the kids out for a walk with the dog, so they have a chance to learn about responsibility and control. The kid holds a leash and is the one in charge; we hold another leash as back-up. As well as learning about responsibility and control, they get a bit of a break from the classroom, they get some exercise and fresh air, and often the walking draws them out and they get quite chatty,” says Fletcher.

Another program that helps young people is the Reading Tails Literacy Program at the Courtenay Library. This supports children who are having challenges learning to read, by allowing them to read aloud to the dog. This both motivates and relaxes them. Learning comes much easier without the performance anxiety attached to reading in school or to parents. Reading to a canine friend increases confidence and makes reading more fun. A trial run earlier this year was deemed very successful; Fletcher is just waiting to bring more dogs on board so the program can continue.

Eight new dogs qualified to join the Comox Valley therapy dog team in early March, bringing the total number of participating dogs to 36. This means the Comox Valley program is the largest on Vancouver Island. Nonetheless, Fletcher has to continually work at attracting more volunteers.

“We have to constantly recruit. Sadly, dogs don’t live as long as we do, and a lot of dogs don’t settle down enough till they are six or seven years old, so we have quite a turnover.

“We need to keep in the public eye. I’m the coordinator, so I’m constantly on the move, going out to speak to the Kiwanis Club or the Rotary Club, attending community events, that kind of thing. “Also we have to do fundraising. It costs about $50 to put a dog in the program; there’s liability insurance, the scarf (for the dog) and shirts (for the handler).”

At $50/dog, this is a low-overhead program. “We worked it out that it costs on average 21 cents per visiting hour. You won’t find health care any cheaper than that,” says Fletcher.

Anyone with a dog can apply to the program. Dogs and humans qualify together, as a team. All dogs go through a thorough evaluation consisting of 13 different tests for temperament, obedience and socialization. The human volunteers are given an orientation and go on a trial run with an established handler to gain experience in the field. Finally, the dog and its person go out on their first visit together, accompanied by a St. John’s Ambulance evaluator who observes, and if necessary, provides debriefing after the visit.

The minimum requirement for volunteer dog/person teams is one visit per week, but many do more than that, says Fletcher. Many of the volunteers are retired seniors who appreciate having a meaningful way to contribute to their community.

Fletcher speaks eloquently of the rewards of volunteering with Samara. “To actually work with a dog you end up with a stronger bond than you thought possible. Dogs love to work and their enthusiasm draws you in.”

Ultimately, what motivates Fletcher is his deep respect for the dignity and value of every human life. “The best thing about this work is that you are making a difference in someone’s life,” says Fletcher. “I had one chap, who’d been round on a visit with one of the therapy dogs, say to me afterwards, “I’m not doing that again. It’s too depressing. Why would you do that?” I said to him, “That’s exactly why I do it! “Because it is depressing, and Samara and I can help. It’s an abnormal environment, and you want to help people in it feel normal. To them, it’s a bright spot in their day.”

Anne Wilde, an 86-year-old resident at The Views, enthusiastically backs this up.

“I love the dogs, and I have one favorite and it’s Samara! She’ll sit in my chair beside me and look at me, and I say ‘okay’, and I get a kiss and a slurp on the cheek. She is so sweet, so sweet. But I love all of them. They know where the drawer with the cookies is and go straight to them, and then to me!

“It’s a very good program for everyone. As soon as the dog comes in people notice it and want to pet it. Even for people who can’t speak or move much, or aren’t thinking clearly, they still will recognize a dog and put their hand out to pet it. It’s just wonderful.

“The dogs love it too,” she adds. “They want to be petted; they put their heads down on your lap; and their tails wag like the dickens.”

Fletcher has no doubt that Samara loves her work. Dogs like to have a sense of purpose, he says.

The history of the dog/human relationship is full of examples of working dogs –shepherds, guard dogs, sled dogs, hunting dogs—and as human society changes, it makes sense that dogs’ occupations have evolved, too. For Samara, and the many people she visits each week, this is good news.
It’s easy to see why Samara, patient
a 10-year old Samoyed, is a beloved pet. Her luxurious white fur calls out to be petted, her dark eyes brim with steady affection, and the curl of her bushy tale clearly says “happiness” in a language everyone can understand.

But Samara is much more than a pet. She has an occupation. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call her a health care professional.

Samara works one-on-one with seniors who face multiple, often debilitating, health challenges; she teaches life skills to youth with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder; she even helps children learn to read. She has been credited with bringing people back from the brink of death, and has helped ease the passage of those who can’t be brought back.

Samara has spent the last eight years as a therapy dog with the Comox Valley division of the St. John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog Program.

Every Monday afternoon, Samara, along with her human guardians, Dave and Carol Fletcher, is on duty at The Views, St. Joseph’s Hospital residential care unit. She also regularly visits Abbeyfield House and a number of other facilities, she assists in evaluating and training new dogs for the program, and she accompanies Fletcher to speaking engagements and community events as a canine ambassador for the program. All in all, it’s a job that requires lots of time, dedication and a variety of skills.

I see these in action one Monday in mid-February when I accompany Samara, Dave and Carol on their rounds at The Views. As we get started, Fletcher points out, with obvious pride, that this is Samara’s 701st visit.

The Views is both a heart-wrenching and a heart-warming place. Heart-warming because you can see how much care and energy goes into making the residents’ lives comfortable and meaningful. The staff is kind and attentive; there are big windows letting in light and a view of the estuary; there are bingo games, card games, manicures, visits by a hairdresser and other organized activities.

But it is also heart-wrenching, because regardless of all that, The Views is still an institutional setting, a far cry from the warm embrace of a family home. Residents of The Views often have multiple medical conditions, such as dementia and limited mobility. Quite a few are in wheelchairs.

“For most people, this is their final address. The average life-span of people who move here is five months,” says Dave Fletcher, who as well as being Samara’s guardian is also the unit facilitator of the local St. John’s Ambulance Dog Therapy Program.

Samara’s role, in this setting, is to cheer people up and encourage them to connect to the world around them.
She is very good at her job.

Dave leads Samara around The Views on a leash, stopping to meet people in the hallway, visiting residents in their rooms, and making their way around tables in the common area. It is there that Dave spots Mike, reclining on his wheelchair. His facial muscles are slack, his eyes unfocused.

Dave heads over to Mike, pulls a chair up beside him, and motions for Samara to jump up onto it. Many of The View’s residents need Samara to come to their level so they can see and touch her. For a moment Mike’s eyes remain dull, his face passive, but then a bright spark of interest shines as he recognizes who it is. Slowly, he turns his head, which is supported by a headrest on his chair, in Dave and Samara’s direction. Dave says hello and moves easily into friendly small talk as he reaches down, picks up Mike’s hand and places it into the soft fur of Samara’s neck.

As his hand connects with Samara’s warm body, Mike’s face transforms—the change that comes over him is as dramatic and uplifting as when the sun suddenly emerges from the clouds after hours of rain and gloom. His hand works in Samara’s fur, and he starts to answer Dave’s questions. Samara sits calmly, looking right at Mike, and, I would swear, smiling.

This sort of scenario repeats throughout Samara’s hour-long visit. It has been proven that therapy dogs can improve physical and mental health, enhance vocabulary and memory, and increase sociability and movement, and that petting a dog reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, distracts from chronic pain, and helps people deal with grief. But it is one thing to read these assertions in print and quite another to see it in action.

Many of the residents know Samara, and are ready for the weekly visit with dog treats stowed in their pockets.

“The dog provides emotional support for people,” explains Fletcher. “They get to know Samara and look forward to her visits.”

Samara’s companionship can help bring clarity to patients suffering from Alzheimers and other types of dementia. “We’ve had people who can’t keep track of what day it is—except for Mondays, when they know exactly when the dog is coming for a visit,” say Fletcher.

Petting the dog relaxes people and helps them communicate comfortably, he says. “They put their hand on Samara, and the conversations start coming out. It gets their brains flowing again.

“People with dementia, they can forget they had kids or a spouse, but they’ll always remember they had a dog. In a lot of cases our visit will bring that out for them; they’ll scratch their head to remember the name of their first dog, and the synapses will start closing.”

Spending time with a therapy dog also brings physical benefits, he says. “There was one lady with advanced Parkinson’s. She was in a wheelchair and her arms and legs would flail around. Samara would jump up next to her, she’d wrap her arms around the dog, and her body would become still and calm.” Another man with severe arthritis in his hands gets relief from running his fingers through Samara’s fur.

Sometimes the therapy dog’s effects are truly dramatic. Fletcher recounts a case from the United States, where a mental health patient was becoming highly agitated every evening, flying into rages. “He’d end up tearing the room apart and needing sedation.”

Only the dog could prevent this. Staff arranged for a therapy dog to come visit every evening for about 10 minutes. The effect was magical: there were no more violent episodes, and no more need for sedation. This meant a far better quality of life for the patient, a more harmonious atmosphere for other residents, and a much easier time for the staff. Clearly, dog therapy is more than just a charming way to cheer people up.

Mind you, cheering up can also have dramatic benefits. As an example, Fletcher shares a story he calls “Samara’s first save.”

“We had a lady at Abbeyfield House; she was 89 years old and had been complaining that all her friends had died and she had nothing to live for. Clearly, she was depressed, and then she had a heart attack, followed by pneumonia. They said it was the end of the line for her. We went over to visit her. Samara jumped up on her bed and the woman found enough energy to give Samara a big hug. That lady went on to recover, and afterwards all she’d talk about was the dog who rekindled her will to live.”

The St. John’s Ambulance Dog Therapy Program began in 1992 in Peterborough, Ontario, and soon became so widely popular it spread across Canada, and has also been adopted by several other countries. The history of St. John’s Ambulance as an organization goes back much further, to about 1,000 years ago in Malta. Over the years it has been involved in many different activities, all centred around healthcare—building hospitals, providing battlefield medical care in both World Wars, and, today, providing certified First Aid training all over the world.

The Comox Valley Dog Therapy Program started at the end of 1999. Fletcher was among the very first group to be certified, with his dog Kara.
The Comox Valley therapy dogs provide regular visits to eight venues: the Comox Valley Seniors’ Village, Casa Loma, Glacier View Lodge, The Views at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Cumberland Care Facility, Abbeyfield House, Berwick House, and Mark Isfeld High School.

At Mark Isfeld, the dogs work with special needs youth. “Lately, we’ve been taking the kids out for a walk with the dog, so they have a chance to learn about responsibility and control. The kid holds a leash and is the one in charge; we hold another leash as back-up. As well as learning about responsibility and control, they get a bit of a break from the classroom, they get some exercise and fresh air, and often the walking draws them out and they get quite chatty,” says Fletcher.

Another program that helps young people is the Reading Tails Literacy Program at the Courtenay Library. This supports children who are having challenges learning to read, by allowing them to read aloud to the dog. This both motivates and relaxes them. Learning comes much easier without the performance anxiety attached to reading in school or to parents. Reading to a canine friend increases confidence and makes reading more fun. A trial run earlier this year was deemed very successful; Fletcher is just waiting to bring more dogs on board so the program can continue.

Eight new dogs qualified to join the Comox Valley therapy dog team in early March, bringing the total number of participating dogs to 36. This means the Comox Valley program is the largest on Vancouver Island. Nonetheless, Fletcher has to continually work at attracting more volunteers.

“We have to constantly recruit. Sadly, dogs don’t live as long as we do, and a lot of dogs don’t settle down enough till they are six or seven years old, so we have quite a turnover.

“We need to keep in the public eye. I’m the coordinator, so I’m constantly on the move, going out to speak to the Kiwanis Club or the Rotary Club, attending community events, that kind of thing. “Also we have to do fundraising. It costs about $50 to put a dog in the program; there’s liability insurance, the scarf (for the dog) and shirts (for the handler).”

At $50/dog, this is a low-overhead program. “We worked it out that it costs on average 21 cents per visiting hour. You won’t find health care any cheaper than that,” says Fletcher.

Anyone with a dog can apply to the program. Dogs and humans qualify together, as a team. All dogs go through a thorough evaluation consisting of 13 different tests for temperament, obedience and socialization. The human volunteers are given an orientation and go on a trial run with an established handler to gain experience in the field. Finally, the dog and its person go out on their first visit together, accompanied by a St. John’s Ambulance evaluator who observes, and if necessary, provides debriefing after the visit.

The minimum requirement for volunteer dog/person teams is one visit per week, but many do more than that, says Fletcher. Many of the volunteers are retired seniors who appreciate having a meaningful way to contribute to their community.

Fletcher speaks eloquently of the rewards of volunteering with Samara. “To actually work with a dog you end up with a stronger bond than you thought possible. Dogs love to work and their enthusiasm draws you in.”

Ultimately, what motivates Fletcher is his deep respect for the dignity and value of every human life. “The best thing about this work is that you are making a difference in someone’s life,” says Fletcher. “I had one chap, who’d been round on a visit with one of the therapy dogs, say to me afterwards, “I’m not doing that again. It’s too depressing. Why would you do that?” I said to him, “That’s exactly why I do it! “Because it is depressing, and Samara and I can help. It’s an abnormal environment, and you want to help people in it feel normal. To them, it’s a bright spot in their day.”

Anne Wilde, an 86-year-old resident at The Views, enthusiastically backs this up.

“I love the dogs, and I have one favorite and it’s Samara! She’ll sit in my chair beside me and look at me, and I say ‘okay’, and I get a kiss and a slurp on the cheek. She is so sweet, so sweet. But I love all of them. They know where the drawer with the cookies is and go straight to them, and then to me!

“It’s a very good program for everyone. As soon as the dog comes in people notice it and want to pet it. Even for people who can’t speak or move much, or aren’t thinking clearly, they still will recognize a dog and put their hand out to pet it. It’s just wonderful.

“The dogs love it too,” she adds. “They want to be petted; they put their heads down on your lap; and their tails wag like the dickens.”

Fletcher has no doubt that Samara loves her work. Dogs like to have a sense of purpose, he says.

The history of the dog/human relationship is full of examples of working dogs –shepherds, guard dogs, sled dogs, hunting dogs—and as human society changes, it makes sense that dogs’ occupations have evolved, too. For Samara, and the many people she visits each week, this is good news.
It’s easy to see why Samara, advice a 10-year old Samoyed, unhealthy
is a beloved pet. Her luxurious white fur calls out to be petted, hygiene
her dark eyes brim with steady affection, and the curl of her bushy tale clearly says “happiness” in a language everyone can understand.

But Samara is much more than a pet. She has an occupation. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call her a health care professional.

Samara works one-on-one with seniors who face multiple, often debilitating, health challenges; she teaches life skills to youth with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder; she even helps children learn to read. She has been credited with bringing people back from the brink of death, and has helped ease the passage of those who can’t be brought back.

Samara has spent the last eight years as a therapy dog with the Comox Valley division of the St. John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog Program.

Every Monday afternoon, Samara, along with her human guardians, Dave and Carol Fletcher, is on duty at The Views, St. Joseph’s Hospital residential care unit. She also regularly visits Abbeyfield House and a number of other facilities, she assists in evaluating and training new dogs for the program, and she accompanies Fletcher to speaking engagements and community events as a canine ambassador for the program. All in all, it’s a job that requires lots of time, dedication and a variety of skills.

I see these in action one Monday in mid-February when I accompany Samara, Dave and Carol on their rounds at The Views. As we get started, Fletcher points out, with obvious pride, that this is Samara’s 701st visit.

The Views is both a heart-wrenching and a heart-warming place. Heart-warming because you can see how much care and energy goes into making the residents’ lives comfortable and meaningful. The staff is kind and attentive; there are big windows letting in light and a view of the estuary; there are bingo games, card games, manicures, visits by a hairdresser and other organized activities.

But it is also heart-wrenching, because regardless of all that, The Views is still an institutional setting, a far cry from the warm embrace of a family home. Residents of The Views often have multiple medical conditions, such as dementia and limited mobility. Quite a few are in wheelchairs.

“For most people, this is their final address. The average life-span of people who move here is five months,” says Dave Fletcher, who as well as being Samara’s guardian is also the unit facilitator of the local St. John’s Ambulance Dog Therapy Program.

Samara’s role, in this setting, is to cheer people up and encourage them to connect to the world around them.
She is very good at her job.

Dave leads Samara around The Views on a leash, stopping to meet people in the hallway, visiting residents in their rooms, and making their way around tables in the common area. It is there that Dave spots Mike, reclining on his wheelchair. His facial muscles are slack, his eyes unfocused.

Dave heads over to Mike, pulls a chair up beside him, and motions for Samara to jump up onto it. Many of The View’s residents need Samara to come to their level so they can see and touch her. For a moment Mike’s eyes remain dull, his face passive, but then a bright spark of interest shines as he recognizes who it is. Slowly, he turns his head, which is supported by a headrest on his chair, in Dave and Samara’s direction. Dave says hello and moves easily into friendly small talk as he reaches down, picks up Mike’s hand and places it into the soft fur of Samara’s neck.

As his hand connects with Samara’s warm body, Mike’s face transforms—the change that comes over him is as dramatic and uplifting as when the sun suddenly emerges from the clouds after hours of rain and gloom. His hand works in Samara’s fur, and he starts to answer Dave’s questions. Samara sits calmly, looking right at Mike, and, I would swear, smiling.

This sort of scenario repeats throughout Samara’s hour-long visit. It has been proven that therapy dogs can improve physical and mental health, enhance vocabulary and memory, and increase sociability and movement, and that petting a dog reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, distracts from chronic pain, and helps people deal with grief. But it is one thing to read these assertions in print and quite another to see it in action.

Many of the residents know Samara, and are ready for the weekly visit with dog treats stowed in their pockets.

“The dog provides emotional support for people,” explains Fletcher. “They get to know Samara and look forward to her visits.”

Samara’s companionship can help bring clarity to patients suffering from Alzheimers and other types of dementia. “We’ve had people who can’t keep track of what day it is—except for Mondays, when they know exactly when the dog is coming for a visit,” say Fletcher.

Petting the dog relaxes people and helps them communicate comfortably, he says. “They put their hand on Samara, and the conversations start coming out. It gets their brains flowing again.

“People with dementia, they can forget they had kids or a spouse, but they’ll always remember they had a dog. In a lot of cases our visit will bring that out for them; they’ll scratch their head to remember the name of their first dog, and the synapses will start closing.”

Spending time with a therapy dog also brings physical benefits, he says. “There was one lady with advanced Parkinson’s. She was in a wheelchair and her arms and legs would flail around. Samara would jump up next to her, she’d wrap her arms around the dog, and her body would become still and calm.” Another man with severe arthritis in his hands gets relief from running his fingers through Samara’s fur.

Sometimes the therapy dog’s effects are truly dramatic. Fletcher recounts a case from the United States, where a mental health patient was becoming highly agitated every evening, flying into rages. “He’d end up tearing the room apart and needing sedation.”

Only the dog could prevent this. Staff arranged for a therapy dog to come visit every evening for about 10 minutes. The effect was magical: there were no more violent episodes, and no more need for sedation. This meant a far better quality of life for the patient, a more harmonious atmosphere for other residents, and a much easier time for the staff. Clearly, dog therapy is more than just a charming way to cheer people up.

Mind you, cheering up can also have dramatic benefits. As an example, Fletcher shares a story he calls “Samara’s first save.”

“We had a lady at Abbeyfield House; she was 89 years old and had been complaining that all her friends had died and she had nothing to live for. Clearly, she was depressed, and then she had a heart attack, followed by pneumonia. They said it was the end of the line for her. We went over to visit her. Samara jumped up on her bed and the woman found enough energy to give Samara a big hug. That lady went on to recover, and afterwards all she’d talk about was the dog who rekindled her will to live.”

The St. John’s Ambulance Dog Therapy Program began in 1992 in Peterborough, Ontario, and soon became so widely popular it spread across Canada, and has also been adopted by several other countries. The history of St. John’s Ambulance as an organization goes back much further, to about 1,000 years ago in Malta. Over the years it has been involved in many different activities, all centred around healthcare—building hospitals, providing battlefield medical care in both World Wars, and, today, providing certified First Aid training all over the world.

The Comox Valley Dog Therapy Program started at the end of 1999. Fletcher was among the very first group to be certified, with his dog Kara.
The Comox Valley therapy dogs provide regular visits to eight venues: the Comox Valley Seniors’ Village, Casa Loma, Glacier View Lodge, The Views at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Cumberland Care Facility, Abbeyfield House, Berwick House, and Mark Isfeld High School.

At Mark Isfeld, the dogs work with special needs youth. “Lately, we’ve been taking the kids out for a walk with the dog, so they have a chance to learn about responsibility and control. The kid holds a leash and is the one in charge; we hold another leash as back-up. As well as learning about responsibility and control, they get a bit of a break from the classroom, they get some exercise and fresh air, and often the walking draws them out and they get quite chatty,” says Fletcher.

Another program that helps young people is the Reading Tails Literacy Program at the Courtenay Library. This supports children who are having challenges learning to read, by allowing them to read aloud to the dog. This both motivates and relaxes them. Learning comes much easier without the performance anxiety attached to reading in school or to parents. Reading to a canine friend increases confidence and makes reading more fun. A trial run earlier this year was deemed very successful; Fletcher is just waiting to bring more dogs on board so the program can continue.

Eight new dogs qualified to join the Comox Valley therapy dog team in early March, bringing the total number of participating dogs to 36. This means the Comox Valley program is the largest on Vancouver Island. Nonetheless, Fletcher has to continually work at attracting more volunteers.

“We have to constantly recruit. Sadly, dogs don’t live as long as we do, and a lot of dogs don’t settle down enough till they are six or seven years old, so we have quite a turnover.

“We need to keep in the public eye. I’m the coordinator, so I’m constantly on the move, going out to speak to the Kiwanis Club or the Rotary Club, attending community events, that kind of thing. “Also we have to do fundraising. It costs about $50 to put a dog in the program; there’s liability insurance, the scarf (for the dog) and shirts (for the handler).”

At $50/dog, this is a low-overhead program. “We worked it out that it costs on average 21 cents per visiting hour. You won’t find health care any cheaper than that,” says Fletcher.

Anyone with a dog can apply to the program. Dogs and humans qualify together, as a team. All dogs go through a thorough evaluation consisting of 13 different tests for temperament, obedience and socialization. The human volunteers are given an orientation and go on a trial run with an established handler to gain experience in the field. Finally, the dog and its person go out on their first visit together, accompanied by a St. John’s Ambulance evaluator who observes, and if necessary, provides debriefing after the visit.

The minimum requirement for volunteer dog/person teams is one visit per week, but many do more than that, says Fletcher. Many of the volunteers are retired seniors who appreciate having a meaningful way to contribute to their community.

Fletcher speaks eloquently of the rewards of volunteering with Samara. “To actually work with a dog you end up with a stronger bond than you thought possible. Dogs love to work and their enthusiasm draws you in.”

Ultimately, what motivates Fletcher is his deep respect for the dignity and value of every human life. “The best thing about this work is that you are making a difference in someone’s life,” says Fletcher. “I had one chap, who’d been round on a visit with one of the therapy dogs, say to me afterwards, “I’m not doing that again. It’s too depressing. Why would you do that?” I said to him, “That’s exactly why I do it! “Because it is depressing, and Samara and I can help. It’s an abnormal environment, and you want to help people in it feel normal. To them, it’s a bright spot in their day.”

Anne Wilde, an 86-year-old resident at The Views, enthusiastically backs this up.

“I love the dogs, and I have one favorite and it’s Samara! She’ll sit in my chair beside me and look at me, and I say ‘okay’, and I get a kiss and a slurp on the cheek. She is so sweet, so sweet. But I love all of them. They know where the drawer with the cookies is and go straight to them, and then to me!

“It’s a very good program for everyone. As soon as the dog comes in people notice it and want to pet it. Even for people who can’t speak or move much, or aren’t thinking clearly, they still will recognize a dog and put their hand out to pet it. It’s just wonderful.

“The dogs love it too,” she adds. “They want to be petted; they put their heads down on your lap; and their tails wag like the dickens.”

Fletcher has no doubt that Samara loves her work. Dogs like to have a sense of purpose, he says.

The history of the dog/human relationship is full of examples of working dogs –shepherds, guard dogs, sled dogs, hunting dogs—and as human society changes, it makes sense that dogs’ occupations have evolved, too. For Samara, and the many people she visits each week, this is good news.
It’s easy to see why Samara, weight loss
a 10-year old Samoyed, is a beloved pet. Her luxurious white fur calls out to be petted, her dark eyes brim with steady affection, and the curl of her bushy tale clearly says “happiness” in a language everyone can understand.

But Samara is much more than a pet. She has an occupation. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call her a health care professional.

Samara works one-on-one with seniors who face multiple, often debilitating, health challenges; she teaches life skills to youth with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder; she even helps children learn to read. She has been credited with bringing people back from the brink of death, and has helped ease the passage of those who can’t be brought back.

Samara has spent the last eight years as a therapy dog with the Comox Valley division of the St. John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog Program.

Every Monday afternoon, Samara, along with her human guardians, Dave and Carol Fletcher, is on duty at The Views, St. Joseph’s Hospital residential care unit. She also regularly visits Abbeyfield House and a number of other facilities, she assists in evaluating and training new dogs for the program, and she accompanies Fletcher to speaking engagements and community events as a canine ambassador for the program. All in all, it’s a job that requires lots of time, dedication and a variety of skills.

I see these in action one Monday in mid-February when I accompany Samara, Dave and Carol on their rounds at The Views. As we get started, Fletcher points out, with obvious pride, that this is Samara’s 701st visit.

The Views is both a heart-wrenching and a heart-warming place. Heart-warming because you can see how much care and energy goes into making the residents’ lives comfortable and meaningful. The staff is kind and attentive; there are big windows letting in light and a view of the estuary; there are bingo games, card games, manicures, visits by a hairdresser and other organized activities.

But it is also heart-wrenching, because regardless of all that, The Views is still an institutional setting, a far cry from the warm embrace of a family home. Residents of The Views often have multiple medical conditions, such as dementia and limited mobility. Quite a few are in wheelchairs.

“For most people, this is their final address. The average life-span of people who move here is five months,” says Dave Fletcher, who as well as being Samara’s guardian is also the unit facilitator of the local St. John’s Ambulance Dog Therapy Program.

Samara’s role, in this setting, is to cheer people up and encourage them to connect to the world around them.
She is very good at her job.

Dave leads Samara around The Views on a leash, stopping to meet people in the hallway, visiting residents in their rooms, and making their way around tables in the common area. It is there that Dave spots Mike, reclining on his wheelchair. His facial muscles are slack, his eyes unfocused.

Dave heads over to Mike, pulls a chair up beside him, and motions for Samara to jump up onto it. Many of The View’s residents need Samara to come to their level so they can see and touch her. For a moment Mike’s eyes remain dull, his face passive, but then a bright spark of interest shines as he recognizes who it is. Slowly, he turns his head, which is supported by a headrest on his chair, in Dave and Samara’s direction. Dave says hello and moves easily into friendly small talk as he reaches down, picks up Mike’s hand and places it into the soft fur of Samara’s neck.

As his hand connects with Samara’s warm body, Mike’s face transforms—the change that comes over him is as dramatic and uplifting as when the sun suddenly emerges from the clouds after hours of rain and gloom. His hand works in Samara’s fur, and he starts to answer Dave’s questions. Samara sits calmly, looking right at Mike, and, I would swear, smiling.

This sort of scenario repeats throughout Samara’s hour-long visit. It has been proven that therapy dogs can improve physical and mental health, enhance vocabulary and memory, and increase sociability and movement, and that petting a dog reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, distracts from chronic pain, and helps people deal with grief. But it is one thing to read these assertions in print and quite another to see it in action.

Many of the residents know Samara, and are ready for the weekly visit with dog treats stowed in their pockets.

“The dog provides emotional support for people,” explains Fletcher. “They get to know Samara and look forward to her visits.”

Samara’s companionship can help bring clarity to patients suffering from Alzheimers and other types of dementia. “We’ve had people who can’t keep track of what day it is—except for Mondays, when they know exactly when the dog is coming for a visit,” say Fletcher.

Petting the dog relaxes people and helps them communicate comfortably, he says. “They put their hand on Samara, and the conversations start coming out. It gets their brains flowing again.

“People with dementia, they can forget they had kids or a spouse, but they’ll always remember they had a dog. In a lot of cases our visit will bring that out for them; they’ll scratch their head to remember the name of their first dog, and the synapses will start closing.”

Spending time with a therapy dog also brings physical benefits, he says. “There was one lady with advanced Parkinson’s. She was in a wheelchair and her arms and legs would flail around. Samara would jump up next to her, she’d wrap her arms around the dog, and her body would become still and calm.” Another man with severe arthritis in his hands gets relief from running his fingers through Samara’s fur.

Sometimes the therapy dog’s effects are truly dramatic. Fletcher recounts a case from the United States, where a mental health patient was becoming highly agitated every evening, flying into rages. “He’d end up tearing the room apart and needing sedation.”

Only the dog could prevent this. Staff arranged for a therapy dog to come visit every evening for about 10 minutes. The effect was magical: there were no more violent episodes, and no more need for sedation. This meant a far better quality of life for the patient, a more harmonious atmosphere for other residents, and a much easier time for the staff. Clearly, dog therapy is more than just a charming way to cheer people up.

Mind you, cheering up can also have dramatic benefits. As an example, Fletcher shares a story he calls “Samara’s first save.”

“We had a lady at Abbeyfield House; she was 89 years old and had been complaining that all her friends had died and she had nothing to live for. Clearly, she was depressed, and then she had a heart attack, followed by pneumonia. They said it was the end of the line for her. We went over to visit her. Samara jumped up on her bed and the woman found enough energy to give Samara a big hug. That lady went on to recover, and afterwards all she’d talk about was the dog who rekindled her will to live.”

The St. John’s Ambulance Dog Therapy Program began in 1992 in Peterborough, Ontario, and soon became so widely popular it spread across Canada, and has also been adopted by several other countries. The history of St. John’s Ambulance as an organization goes back much further, to about 1,000 years ago in Malta. Over the years it has been involved in many different activities, all centred around healthcare—building hospitals, providing battlefield medical care in both World Wars, and, today, providing certified First Aid training all over the world.

The Comox Valley Dog Therapy Program started at the end of 1999. Fletcher was among the very first group to be certified, with his dog Kara.
The Comox Valley therapy dogs provide regular visits to eight venues: the Comox Valley Seniors’ Village, Casa Loma, Glacier View Lodge, The Views at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Cumberland Care Facility, Abbeyfield House, Berwick House, and Mark Isfeld High School.

At Mark Isfeld, the dogs work with special needs youth. “Lately, we’ve been taking the kids out for a walk with the dog, so they have a chance to learn about responsibility and control. The kid holds a leash and is the one in charge; we hold another leash as back-up. As well as learning about responsibility and control, they get a bit of a break from the classroom, they get some exercise and fresh air, and often the walking draws them out and they get quite chatty,” says Fletcher.

Another program that helps young people is the Reading Tails Literacy Program at the Courtenay Library. This supports children who are having challenges learning to read, by allowing them to read aloud to the dog. This both motivates and relaxes them. Learning comes much easier without the performance anxiety attached to reading in school or to parents. Reading to a canine friend increases confidence and makes reading more fun. A trial run earlier this year was deemed very successful; Fletcher is just waiting to bring more dogs on board so the program can continue.

Eight new dogs qualified to join the Comox Valley therapy dog team in early March, bringing the total number of participating dogs to 36. This means the Comox Valley program is the largest on Vancouver Island. Nonetheless, Fletcher has to continually work at attracting more volunteers.

“We have to constantly recruit. Sadly, dogs don’t live as long as we do, and a lot of dogs don’t settle down enough till they are six or seven years old, so we have quite a turnover.

“We need to keep in the public eye. I’m the coordinator, so I’m constantly on the move, going out to speak to the Kiwanis Club or the Rotary Club, attending community events, that kind of thing. “Also we have to do fundraising. It costs about $50 to put a dog in the program; there’s liability insurance, the scarf (for the dog) and shirts (for the handler).”

At $50/dog, this is a low-overhead program. “We worked it out that it costs on average 21 cents per visiting hour. You won’t find health care any cheaper than that,” says Fletcher.

Anyone with a dog can apply to the program. Dogs and humans qualify together, as a team. All dogs go through a thorough evaluation consisting of 13 different tests for temperament, obedience and socialization. The human volunteers are given an orientation and go on a trial run with an established handler to gain experience in the field. Finally, the dog and its person go out on their first visit together, accompanied by a St. John’s Ambulance evaluator who observes, and if necessary, provides debriefing after the visit.

The minimum requirement for volunteer dog/person teams is one visit per week, but many do more than that, says Fletcher. Many of the volunteers are retired seniors who appreciate having a meaningful way to contribute to their community.

Fletcher speaks eloquently of the rewards of volunteering with Samara. “To actually work with a dog you end up with a stronger bond than you thought possible. Dogs love to work and their enthusiasm draws you in.”

Ultimately, what motivates Fletcher is his deep respect for the dignity and value of every human life. “The best thing about this work is that you are making a difference in someone’s life,” says Fletcher. “I had one chap, who’d been round on a visit with one of the therapy dogs, say to me afterwards, “I’m not doing that again. It’s too depressing. Why would you do that?” I said to him, “That’s exactly why I do it! “Because it is depressing, and Samara and I can help. It’s an abnormal environment, and you want to help people in it feel normal. To them, it’s a bright spot in their day.”

Anne Wilde, an 86-year-old resident at The Views, enthusiastically backs this up.

“I love the dogs, and I have one favorite and it’s Samara! She’ll sit in my chair beside me and look at me, and I say ‘okay’, and I get a kiss and a slurp on the cheek. She is so sweet, so sweet. But I love all of them. They know where the drawer with the cookies is and go straight to them, and then to me!

“It’s a very good program for everyone. As soon as the dog comes in people notice it and want to pet it. Even for people who can’t speak or move much, or aren’t thinking clearly, they still will recognize a dog and put their hand out to pet it. It’s just wonderful.

“The dogs love it too,” she adds. “They want to be petted; they put their heads down on your lap; and their tails wag like the dickens.”

Fletcher has no doubt that Samara loves her work. Dogs like to have a sense of purpose, he says.

The history of the dog/human relationship is full of examples of working dogs –shepherds, guard dogs, sled dogs, hunting dogs—and as human society changes, it makes sense that dogs’ occupations have evolved, too. For Samara, and the many people she visits each week, this is good news.

Calling like the blossoms on the cherry tree are the leaves of the pages of the history of the Comox Valley.  It is a history most profoundly connected with the multi-cultural heritage of the original community of any substance: Cumberland.

And it is apt that it is in Cumberland where members of the community are diligently working to restore historic ties with cultures seemingly forgotten, with perhaps the most poignant tale concerning the members of an ethnic group that was literally driven away in the name of a misbegotten patriotic fervor combined with the bigotry of the day. That day came in the months following the attack by Imperial Japan on Pearl Harbour on December 7th, 1941. Among the victims of an unrepentant bias on the part of both the Canadian and provincial governments were the Japanese of Cumberland.

“When the people were finally obliged to leave they were driven to the wharf in Royston and loaded on a freighter destined for Vancouver,” says Ray Iwaasa (sic), whose uncle owned the Iwaasa Store in No. 1 Town in Cumberland.  “Nobody came out to wave goodbye.”

Fortunately, however, there are those living in Cumberland and elsewhere that are not about to let this bit of cultural legacy die out completely. They are the members of the Coal Creek History Park Advisory Committee and they, along with assistance from the Village council and the Cumberland Museum, are continuing with their plans to complete a heritage park that includes the old Japanese No. 1 Townsite.

Ray Iwaasa never actually lived in Cumberland in the years before World War Two—he came later, he says as a “curiosity seeker.”  Although by the time of his birth his father had moved on to Alberta, he does have a connectedness with No. 1 Townsite, and the legwork he has done has proved invaluable, says Coal Creek Committee chair, Grace Doherty.

His connectedness lies in the fact that Cumberland was his father’s first Canadian home. His uncle was the first in the family to arrive, and his father followed the uncle in 1898.

When Iwaasa arrived in Cumberland in March 2004 he was asked by Mayor Fred Bates and the Village administrator if he would be interested in getting involved with the study commissioned by the Village to establish a plan to develop the Perseverance (Coal) Creek Historic Park site.  He notes that he was the only visible Asian to be so involved. The irony of that being that the parksite would encompass the area that once contained both the Chinese and Japanese communities of Cumberland, equally vibrant in their day.

Specifically, they wanted him to develop a vision for the No. 1 Japanese Townsite. Iwaasa agreed, but with obvious reservations arising from the fact, as stated, he’d not been born there, nor had he ever lived there.

In those early days Iwaasa was put in contact with George Penfold who was in the process of completing his report: Cumberland Chinatown Japanese Settlement Historic Park Plan (released in August 2004).  In that report Penfold expressed disappointment at the paucity of input from the former Asian communities. Needless to say he was delighted to be contacted by Iwaasa, and ultimately, following the release of the report an ad hoc committee was formed.  That report was accepted in principle by the council in September 2007, and the members of the advisory committee, including by this point a more extensive representation from the former Asian communities, began meeting regularly in early 2008.

Members include: Grace Doherty (chair), John Leung, Ray Iwaasa, May Gee, Joyce Lowe, Marie Lowe, Bernice and Katsaoki Takahashi, Tats Aoki (whose father was the principal of the Japanese language school, and whose mother was a teacher there), Josephine Peyton, Florence Bell, Carol Snaden, Dwayne Rourke, Tako Kiyono (who was briefly a resident of No. 1 Japanese Town), Imogene Lim, Donna Le May, Mas Aida and Lillian and Doug Tosoff.

Iwaasa confesses that he “came in starry eyed” at the concept of the project, and was a little blindsided by how complex the political scene was in Cumberland.

“I was eager to embrace all, but realized there were some issues between individuals and groups that were not easily surmounted,” he says.  “At the same time, however, despite disputes over other issues, almost all of the people I dealt with were well-meaning and intelligent.”

Determination to not let the matter die or be pushed aside lies in the diligence of Grace Doherty.   “I made a commitment to be vigilant,” Doherty says.  “I made a point of literally attending all council meetings just to make sure the concept didn’t evaporate.  We may have seemed impatient but the reality was that many of the people involved were not of an age to wait.”

At times, she says, she felt they were being stonewalled and it seemed that the park vision might never be realized if they didn’t get the support needed.  Then former mayor Bronco Moncrief came into the mix and his input on the matter of the parks was of huge import to the park proponents.

According to Doherty, Moncrief told her he had walked down to the old Chinatown area and was struck by the beauty of the natural setting and told her he had come to the conclusion: “Why fool around any longer?”  Moncrief had earlier told Iwaasa that he had lost a number of good friends when the Japanese were exiled in 1942, and he was motivated by their memory.