A Fighting Spirit

Local photographer donates her time and skills to create lasting memories for families of sick children

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you’re interviewing Ruth Masters? I’ll bet that will be lots of fun. Just don’t expect it to go the way you’ve planned.

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

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

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

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

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

In fact, she’d rather crack jokes.

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

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

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

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

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

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