Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, has released the following statement in recognition of World Cerebral Palsy Day:
“Today is World Cerebral Palsy Day. This is an opportunity to celebrate, raise awareness and take action to ensure that people living with cerebral palsy have the same rights, access and opportunity as everyone in our communities.
“Cerebral palsy is a physical disability that affects a person’s movement, posture and speech. It is the most common motor disability amongst children. There are more than 10,000 British Columbians living with cerebral palsy who deserve to live with dignity in a world without barriers.
“This year, anyone with cerebral palsy and related conditions, as well as their friends, families and communities, are encouraged to get active. The Move as One event is promoting the benefits of sport, physical activity and mental health on the quality of life for those living with cerebral palsy. People across B.C. and around the world are sharing their contributions on social media using the hashtags #CPMoveAsOne and #WorldCPDay.
“As part of the global GoGreen4CP campaign, we’re lighting up the Parliament Buildings in Victoria in green today in support and recognition of children and adults who have cerebral palsy.
“We recently launched public consultations to inform the development of legislation, standards and policies to better support people with disabilities so they can live with dignity and participate in their communities. I encourage everyone to attend a community session or provide their feedback online: https://www.engage.gov.bc.ca/accessibility
“Every person living with cerebral palsy has the right, and should have every opportunity, to have as full and complete a life as they would like.”
Premier John Horgan on the Rural Dividend Fund: “I’m not at all concerned that people would prefer to have everything right now. When I was a kid I always wanted everything right now too and I ended up turning out OK even though I didn’t get everything I wanted at the time I wanted.” Jason Payne / PNG
Climate change was top-of-mind for delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) conference, who passed a series of resolutions calling for everything from more government action on the climate emergency and stopping subsidies to fossil-fuel companies, to investments in low-emission transportation.
“The work that UBCM has been doing when it comes to climate change is really, really provocative, and I think at this time when we see tens-of-thousands — in fact millions — of people coming together, mostly young people, it’s great to see leadership like that at the local government level,” Premier John Horgan said after his closing address at the convention Friday.
However, delegates decided not to urge the province to come up with legislation that holds fossil-fuel companies financially liable for climate-related harms, with some calling it divisive and asking instead for politicians to work together.
A resolution asking the UBCM to look at a class-action lawsuit on behalf of members to recover costs arising from climate-change from fossil-fuel companies was withdrawn because a Vancouver lawyer is preparing a legal opinion with options for local governments free-of-charge.
With ride-hailing vehicles expected to hit the road before the end of the year delegates decided against urging the UBCM to oppose the Passenger Transportation Board’s ride-hailing policies and ask for consultation about licensing requirements. The resolution was narrowly defeated, with 51.7 per cent opposed.
White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker, whose city put forward the late resolution, said they’re not opposed to ride-hailing.
“It has to be a level playing field,” he said. “The taxi industry has been around a long, long time and done a wonderful service to communities throughout the province.”
However, a resolution that asks the province to come up with rules that make it easier to establish ride-hailing in small rural and remote communities — as well as other communities outside of the Lower Mainland — passed.
Enderby Coun. Brian Schreiner said his small city and others like it that don’t have taxis or transit would benefit from ride-hailing, but restrictions like the requirement for drivers to have a Class 4 licence will get in the way.
“We’re just looking for a level playing field for small communities to get involved with ride-sharing,” Schreiner said. “Yes, we do want it to be safe … but we just want to be able to get into the process.”
A last-minute resolution asked the UBCM to have the province reconsider its decision to divert $25 million from the Rural Dividend Fund to help communities affected by the mill closures and curtailments. It asked for the government to find another source of funding.
“We polled and talked to people right straight across B.C. and this was identified over-and-over again because small rural and remote and Indigenous communities cannot get dollars for their projects,” said Grace McGregor, Regional District of Kootenay Boundary director.
After the conference, Horgan said the money was reallocated because it was available and there was an urgent need. He reiterated that the program will continue at a later date.
“I’m not at all concerned that people would prefer to have everything right now. When I was a kid I always wanted everything right now too and I ended up turning out OK even though I didn’t get everything I wanted at the time I wanted,” he said.
Delegates decided against asking the province to consider eliminating or reducing fines for those under age 18, and looking at restorative justice or community service for settling fare infractions by low-income people. However, they did endorse a call for free or further subsidized transit passes for those on income or disability assistance.
A late resolution from the City of Port Coquitlam asking the UBCM to end its practice of accepting sponsorship and facilitating receptions from foreign governments was referred to the union executive.
Tabitha Montgomery with free materials she’s distributing to B.C. libraries. Francis Georgian / Postmedia News
It was during the International Overdose Awareness Day activities last year when Tabitha Montgomery really noticed it — events that had once been rallies had become vigils.
“There was a feeling that no one was listening. That it was not making a difference,” she recalled Saturday as she set up an information booth at the Vancouver Public Library.
Montgomery’s booth was one of several awareness activities happening in B.C. this weekend to mark International Overdose Awareness Day, a global movement designed to remember those who have died from drug overdoses. And to push for change.
However, some advocacy groups that organized activities in the past were noticeably absent from this year’s list of planned events.
Montgomery attributed that to burnout.
“It can be difficult to keep going,” she said. “I want to thank those who have been paving the path for so long.”
Montgomery’s father, her best friend and her daughter’s father all died from drugs. She believes the only way to end the overdose crisis is to remove the stigma and judgment around drug use and addiction and bring the issue fully into mainstream health care.
“This is a torch in my heart,” she said.
While she doesn’t represent any single group, the former director with From Grief to Action has had success asking B.C. libraries to display free books on grief and addiction in their community resources sections. She’s hoping to get the material into more libraries in the months ahead.
(Postmedia News photo by Francis Georgian)
In a statement, B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy recognized those who have died are “parents, children, co-workers, neighbours, partners, friends and loved ones.”
The politician said the B.C. Centre for Disease Control estimates 4,700 deaths have been averted by scaled-up distribution of Naloxone, more overdose prevention sites and better access to medication-assisted treatment, known as opioid agonist treatment.
“We have a responsibility to each other, our communities and the loved ones we have lost to keep compassion, respect and understanding at the forefront of our minds — and to continue to escalate our response,” she said.
In June, 73 people died of suspected illicit drug overdoses across the province, a 35 per cent drop from June 2018 when 113 people died, according to data collected by the B.C. Coroner’s Service.
But Montgomery said addiction is still treated like a “moral and criminal issue,” rather than a health issue.
“There’s so much misunderstanding,” she said.
Overdose awareness events were held around the world, including in many B.C. cities such as Vancouver, New Westminster, Kamloops, Kelowna, Powell River, Prince George and Quesnel.
In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the Overdose Prevention Society supported the creation of a mural in the alley near its injection site. The project wrapped up with an art show.
In the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, at least 100 people are living in tents at Oppenheimer Park located between Powell and Cordova streets, two blocks east of Main Street.
Each resident of the park has a unique story about how they ended up homeless and what they plan to do next. This is a day in the life of one of these residents, 51-year-old Stephen James Robinson who goes by the name “Red.”
It’s 9 a.m. and Red wakes up in his “zone” — which consists of two tents and all his belongings — to the sounds of garbage trucks and angry neighbours.
Every day, workers from the city’s Transient Crew along with members of the fire department accompanied by members of the Vancouver Police Department come to the park to inspect the park for fire hazards.
On Thursdays, the inspection is thorough. They arrive with garbage trucks and pickup trucks and spend hours throwing away any items that are deemed a fire hazard or simply unattended.
According to Fiona York, coordinator and administrator for the Carnegie Community Action Project, weekly city inspections cost the city over $100,000. She questions why this money isn’t spent creating housing.
Red has lived in Oppenheimer Park for two months, but has been homeless off and on since he was 35 years old. Over the years, Red has come to know many of the city workers and developed a good rapport with them. Even so, he knows he must clean up his tent to avoid having everything taken away.
Red says he doesn’t like living in the park but that he feels he has no choice at the moment. He has been homeless for so long that “sometimes it feels weird to be inside.”
Like many people living in the park and on the streets in Vancouver, Red says there isn’t a single factor that led to his current circumstances. He says it has been a combination of many events including an old hip injury and a home invasion. But now that he is here, he is trying to make the best of it.
Even so, Red finds joy in the little things. As he cleans up his tent he finds a piece of missing jewlery and gets excited at the discovery that it was not lost forever.
He also comes across a grasshopper and spends some time admiring the little creature.
Red finds joy in what he calls “urban recovery” which involves tidying pretty much any city space he comes across. His favourite piece of urban recovery is his garden.
Red adds more items to the garden as he awaits inspection. It takes several hours for the city workers to get to his tent and when they do they greet him by name.
Once the workers arrive, they inspect Red’s area and throw away one mattress. Overall, Red is pleased that he passed inspection with flying colours due to his three-hour clean-up.
It’s 1 p.m. and the inspection is over so Red can leave his tent to go get lunch.
On the way to lunch, Red stops for a snack at a blackberry bush on the side of the street. He says he stops here every day to eat berries and also do a bit of urban recovery. There is dead brush on the ground that he clears to reveal soil beneath.
Across the street from the berries is the Evelyn Saller Centre on Alexander Street where Red enjoys most of his meals. Conveniently for Red, most of the places he needs to go today are within a few blocks from each other.
In the cafeteria at the Evelyn Saller Centre, meals are only $2. Today’s lunch features burritos with rice, sour cream, salsa, a fruit cup, slaw, soup, coffee, apple juice and water. The cost of the food is charged to his account on file that is connected to his disability funds. This allows Red to come here for breakfast, lunch, and dinner most days (when he isn’t watching his tent).
After lunch, Red visits the Carnegie Centre Outreach where he picks up a copy of his Canadian citizenship, ID that he needs in order to apply for assistance such as housing services.
Red takes this document over to Orange Hall on East Hastings Street to check in on his housing placement and charge his electronics.
As Red uses the outlet in the lounge to charge his electronics, Julie Anderson, a team assistant at Orange Hall, comes to pay a visit. Julie and Red first met while playing on the same rugby team have known each other for over 30 years.
When asked where Red is on the housing “list,” Anderson explains that’s a common misconception. There is actually a sophisticated database that lists each person’s individual needs and how those might be best paired with available housing.
When asked if she has any advice for people struggling with homelessness, she urges people to get connected to resources like Orange Hall. If they don’t, they’re invisible to helping agencies and therefore more vulnerable.
Red says goodbye to Anderson and heads north. He has decided he needs an escape from the streets so he heads to Crab Park.
He says he once lived on the beach under an umbrella for six weeks. During that time he would clean away the large rocks to reveal the beach sand underneath — some of his proudest urban recovery work.
After the beach, Red will go back to the Evelyn Saller Centre. He has to arrive before 5:50 p.m. when the doors close. There, Red will have dinner and then enjoy some TV and indoor activities such as bingo.
At 11 p.m., when the centre closes, he’ll head back to his home in Oppenheimer Park.
As Red waves goodbye, he says he would like the public not to be afraid to come visit him in Oppenheimer Park and say hello.
Bill and Phyllis Neufeld are British Columbians born and bred.
As Canadians — born in the tiny pulp-and-paper-mill town of Ocean Falls on B.C.’s Central Coast — the Neufelds never had to take an oath of citizenship.
But they have. A few dozen times in what has become an annual Canada Day tradition.
Along with 60 new Canadians from 36 different countries, the Neufelds, sitting in the audience in a ballroom at Canada Place, proudly raised their right hands and pledged allegiance to the Queen and to do right by their country.
“It’s a reaffirmation of our citizenship,” said Bill. “It makes us aware how lucky we are that we are born here.”
It’s also their way to welcome their new fellow Canucks into the family, said Bill, who derives pleasure from witnessing such a momentous occasion. It can get pretty emotional, he admitted. “But I don’t break into tears or anything.”
“I do,” said Phyllis.
A bagpiper kicked off the proceedings, followed by cadets hoisting Canadian flags, a Mountie in red serge, military officers in uniform and dignitaries.
Gabriel George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation provided words of welcome and a traditional blessing and song.
The ceremony touched on reconciliation with First Nations, the original inhabitants of Canada who had welcomed early settlers but not reaped equal benefits from the country, and the need to do better.
B.C. Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin presided over the ceremony, hearkening back to history and the initial waves of immigrants who came to Canada fleeing hardship and deprivation.
“You may have faced great hardship and adversity before coming to Canada and you all made sacrifices to be here. I thank you for answering our invitation to make Canada your home,” she told the crowd before leading them in the oath of citizenship.
Jerry and Joyce Kirby watched as their daughter Kenji, 7, performed her first duty as a Canadian: Helping cut a giant Canada Day cake studded with raspberries.
“I am so honoured to be Canadian,” said Jerry, who works in IT. “It’s a very wonderful feeling. I am very emotional I could cry right now.”
The family, originally from the Philippines, moved to Vancouver in 2015 under the federal skilled worker program. Canada, is “the land of opportunity,” said Joyce, a gateway to a better life.
Emilie Cautaert left Belgium in 2012 for what she thought would be a one-year expat stint at an aerospace manufacturing company and ended up staying for love.
She was seduced by Vancouver’s easy accessibility to nature and the diversity and multiculturalism she encountered daily in the city and in her office — a situation that would have been quite rare in her home country, she said.
“In Vancouver, all different nationalities work together. It was new for me. When you come from Belgium, everybody is from Belgium.”
Cautaert also met her husband, Alex Swinnard, on her first day at work. They are expecting their first child in August.
Coming to Canada was a dream come true for Rajesh Chakraborty, who moved to B.C. in 2014 with his wife and son.
Chakraborty wanted to work in animation, but there wasn’t much of an industry in India. He had a good job, a stable life, but his love of animation drove him to seek opportunities in Canada.
“It’s been my dream to come here and work, now I can say I am living my dream,” he said, smiling ear-to-ear.
His 14-year-old son Devraj, who attends David Thompson Secondary in Vancouver, took the occasion in stride.
When asked what he was looking forward to the most as a new Canadian, he said: “I’m not really looking forward to anything. Just living my life.”
In his remarks, defence minister Harjit Sajjan said all immigrants, new and old, share the same story “of coming here for a better life, hope and a brighter future.”
After the ceremony, he said he wanted to convey to the newly-minted citizens that in Canada, the possibilities are endless: “I want them to understand they have the breadth of Canada to choose from and to succeed.”
Even though Monday’s ceremony was his third Canada Day citizenship ceremony at Canada Place, it remains an emotional and inspiring experience for Sajjan.
He wants his Canadian-born kids, age 7 and 10, to witness the momentous occasion first-hand. That’s why he has been bringing his family to the ceremonies even before he was elected to office.
“I want them to understand the feeling,” he said. “When they see it through the new Canadians coming here and taking that oath, it resonates with them.”
Kelsey Lock’s ideal Father’s Day involves eating ice cream in the park with his daughter — a simple plan, but one bordering on miraculous.
Lock’s daughter, Charlie, was born with erythropoietic protoporphyria or EPP, a disease sometimes described as an allergy to the sun. Since she was a baby, ultraviolet light, even in minuscule amounts, would cause the little girl’s skin to burn, blister and swell. More insidious, it would also begin to destroy her liver.
As a result, Charlie’s life was lived inside. The world beyond the tinted glass of her Langley home was largely unknown to the toddler, now 3.
“Any time we’d see a playground, it was rough,” recalled Lock. “To see other kids playing outside and know that Charlie could never do that was really hard.”
Late last year, Charlie’s liver began to fail. It is impossible to prevent all exposure to ultraviolet light. Unseen, porphyrins had been accumulating in the toddler’s liver, causing it to swell to three times its normal size.
People with EPP have a shortage of an enzyme that metabolizes porphyrins, which help with the production of hemoglobin. Without the enzyme, porphyrins accumulate in the blood, reacting with sunlight to cause burns. In a small percentage of people with EPP, including Charlie, they also accumulate in the liver.
To save his daughter’s life, Lock was asked to donate part of his liver. The family travelled to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto for the procedure. Working in a darkened operating room, a surgeon removed Charlie’s damaged liver and gave her a piece of her dad’s liver.
“I don’t think about it too much,” said Lock, “but every now and then, it hits me. I can say that I’ll always be there for her, and it’s literally true. I will.”
But Charlie’s journey — from the family apartment with tinted windows in Langley to a park in Toronto on Father’s Day — was only beginning.
Doctors told the family they were essentially rewriting the playbook with Charlie’s case. Porphyria is rare, and EPP rarer still. Charlie’s form, which destroys the liver, hasn’t been the subject of much research. But because the toddler still had porphyria, the cause of her liver failure hadn’t been addressed by the transplant. The cycle would begin again.
So Lock was tapped to donate his bone marrow. A perfect match would give Charlie’s body the ability to create the enzyme that breaks down porphyrins, essentially curing both her liver problems and sun allergy. But no one in Charlie’s family was a perfect match. Because the girl has two exceptionally rare genetic markers, there were no matches on the international bone marrow registry either.
Still, doctors believed there was a good chance Lock’s bone marrow could at least prevent the destruction of Charlie’s new liver.
“The idea is that the bone marrow reprograms your entire blood-making system, but how well that would work was unclear,” explained Charlie’s mom, Bekah Lock.
In February, Kelsey Lock watched as blood was drawn from his body and passed through a sophisticated machine that looked like a “crazy water clock” to filter the stem cells from the rest. A few days before the procedure, he’d been given a medication that caused his bone marrow cells to leach into his blood, which left him feeling strange.
“I could feel all my bones,” he said. “When I stood up fast, I’d feel pressure in my ribs.”
Lock’s bone marrow was given to Charlie, after her own bone marrow and immune system had been wiped out by two weeks of chemotherapy.
Almost four months after the procedure, the family remains hesitant to use the word “cure.”
The transplant was largely a success. Early results showed 100 per cent engraftment, which meant Charlie’s bone marrow cells had been replaced by her dad’s cells and they were functioning as they should. The number has dropped a little since then.
“I’d say cautiously optimistic,” said Bekah, when asked how the family is feeling about the future.
After eight months in Toronto, the family wants to come home. Charlie still has several small hurdles to clear related to the liver transplant. The doctors are also monitoring her bone marrow numbers. Her immune system remains severely compromised from the transplants. But the family has been told they could be back in B.C. by fall.
Charlie’s first foray into the world outside her window was a quiet affair.
A few days before, her parents brought her to the wall of windows fronting the hospital. As they looked over the city, the little girl seemed content and comfortable despite the light flooding the corridor.
In early April, Charlie received permission to leave the hospital for a few hours. Instead of bundling her into a vehicle with tinted windows, the family walked in the sunshine to their apartment at Ronald McDonald House.
“I kept the cover off the stroller,” said Bekah. “It was kind of anti-climatic in a way, but it was also very, very sweet.”
For Kelsey Lock, the time in Toronto has been an opportunity to spend unlimited hours with Charlie. On leave from his job as a framer, he said it feels like he’s being “forced to take a vacation.”
His Father’s Day will be about simple pleasures: An ice cream cone, a park and a little girl with the whole world before her.
Karen Ward, 46, has lived in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for 12 years. She began using cocaine about three years before that, and continues to smoke “rock.”
Ward doesn’t get welfare, but she is on disability assistance while working part-time for the City of Vancouver. She says when cheque issue day — or “welfare Wednesday” — rolls around, the entire neighbourhood goes crazy; the chaos even starts a day early in anticipation.
“People are getting loans. People are getting fronts — it’s mayhem,” said Ward. “Everyone finally has a little bit of money to spend. These people are so poor for so long … They spend it right away; they spend it recklessly.”
Cheque issue day has long been tied to spikes in overdoses, taxing first responders and emergency rooms. According to the B.C. Coroners Service, fatal overdoses increase by 35 to 40 per cent in the five days after income assistance payments.
But new research shows that the issue isn’t so simple.
Lindsey Richardson is a researcher with the B.C. Centre on Substance Use and an associate professor at the University of British Columbia. Since 2015, she’s been carrying out a study on the effects of changing assistance cheque schedules for people who use drugs.
Richardson recruited 194 volunteers — mostly based in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside — who participated for six months each.
They were randomly split into three groups: a control group that kept the regular assistance schedule, a group that received assistance once a month, but on a staggered schedule, and a group that received assistance split into two separate cheques over the course of the month.
Richardson found that those who were taken off the regular government schedule were significantly less likely to increase their drug use on the government payment days, and were about half as likely to increase their drug use on their own payment days.
People with altered payment schedules showed much larger decreases in overall quantity and frequency of drug use than the volunteers whose assistance cheques remained on the regular schedule.
But, according to Richardson, there was a downside for people who were out of sync with welfare Wednesday in their neighbourhood. Some people experienced more drug-related harm, including violence, negative interactions with police, overdose frequency, and interruption of health treatments.
“What might be happening is when you pull people out of [the] predictable regular scheduled system you’re disrupting social relationships — you’re disrupting economic relationships,” said Richardson.
“We know that cheque day is one of the days in which people often settle their drug debts,” she said. “What could potentially happen if a drug dealer goes to a person who holds a debt with them and says, ‘It’s time to pay up,’ and that person says, ‘Oh but I’m not being paid until two weeks from now,’ that could potentially put that person at risk.”
Richardson also said that the randomized selection for how and when people received assistance may have been difficult on some participants.
“Changes to the income assistance system really could produce changes to drug use patterns,” she said. “However, there is a strong potential for unintended consequences.”
Richardson said the study revealed that a “one size fits all” cheque payment schedule is likely to increase harms, while flexibility could help reduce negative impact.
According to Ward, reducing poverty would go a long way toward reducing many of the harms drug users in the Downtown Eastside experience.
She said disrupting entrenched routines like when people get their cheques could be risky, but if people have choice about the issue, it could improve the situation.
Georgia Pike is fed up being stopped in public and asked for identification.
The fourth-year student at the University of Victoria is visually impaired and relies on her service dog, Grainger, to get around.
But not everyone believes her.
“People will come up to me and say, ‘is your dog a service dog?'” she said. “I say yes and they say, ‘can we see some I.D. for it?'”
It’s become an almost daily occurrence.
Pike was recently stopped multiple times in the same mall by different security guards and, once, was asked three times for identification while trying to board a ferry.
“It’s become quite debilitating, recently, because it happens so often,” she told Gregor Craigie, the host of CBC’s On The Island.
“I’ll sometimes just opt out of trips with friends because I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
She carries a wallet stuffed full of IDs — one from the training school and one from the government for her dog and four indicating that she is visually impaired — but said constantly being asked to prove herself points to a larger issue.
“People with disabilities in B.C. … have to prove to random strangers day in and day out that they have the right to be in a public location,” she said.
“It’s constantly reminding people that they have a disability and that we’re different.”
It’s easy to prove that Grainger is a guide dog — he has two pieces of ID indicating it — but the bigger question, Pike says, is why it’s necessary to always have to keep producing them. (Gregor Craigie/CBC)
Pike is not the only one being stopped and asked to prove the legitimacy of their service animal, according to the CEO of B.C. and Alberta Guide Dogs, William Thornton.
He said he’s heard of several similar cases, recently, with at least one person being denied entry to a business.
“This subject really is more about fraudulent dogs than it is about the legitimate dogs,” Thornton said.
“There’s great abuse out there with people buying equipment online — I.D. cards and jackets and then saying that they are a legitimate dog.”
His organization runs education programs to help businesses distinguish between legitimate service dogs and fraudulent ones.
Pike agreed more education is key.
When she’s out with Grainger, she said, there are keys signs that he’s working: he’s not sniffing around or misbehaving, he doesn’t bark, and they are constantly communicating with hand signals.
“What I would love to see is that businesses are trained and educated on how to spot a service dog,” she said.
“I feel so safe being guided by him and it’s people around me who are interrupting our work and interrupting our day.”
Georgia Pike is a 4th year student at the University of Victoria, who is visually-impaired and says she is increasingly stopped in public and asked to prove that her guide dog, Grainger, is really a guide dog. Georgia has all of the proper documentation, but she says she’s asked for ID every day, sometimes multiple times a day. She tells Gregor Craigie why she’s tired of being asked, and what she would like to have done about it. 8:49
My work as your “special tanned elf” — and my memorable time as a Vancouver fun run blogger — is done. Let me just say I’m not doing fist-pumps today about either.
Whether it was mugging for fun photos in my elf-fit with smiling strangers in humid downtown Bangkok and all the wonderful women at Kalavin Thai Massage in toasty Phuket, Thailand earlier this month, or standing with 525-plus costumed characters Saturday afternoon in chilly Stanley Park at the fourth annual Big Elf Run, it struck me that being surrounded by happy people in a sometimes troubled world should never be seen as a bad thing.
Esteemed Elf BaxterBayer, the brains and thin wallet behind the Vancouver-based Running Tours Inc. that never fails to put smiles on faces, was at his very best Saturday pumping up the kids and later the adults with his enthusiastic (and very original) warmups, hospitality and festive ambience at Lumberman’s Arch. You’d never know that seven days earlier, after the City of Vancouver revoked his event permit at the 11th hour, he was reeling and worried sick this superb show might not go on.
And while the turnout took a bit of a hit by the one-week delay, there was a lot to be said Saturday afternoon about quality over quantity. To those who couldn’t make it, for whatever reason, you missed a sweet upbeat Christmas party that included dogs and strollers — and lots of colour and imagination. If I had to pick one event to say goodbye, this was the perfect one to drop the microphone at.
One little girl told me she was going to kick her brother’s butt in the 1K Wee Elf kids’ race, and did just that. One teenaged girl told me she was going to kick my butt in the 5K, and then did (showoff!). One much older gal (smile) said my wedgie-tight elf suit wouldn’t last the 5K without a “wardrobe malfunction.” Thank gawd she was wrong!
The Big Elf Run, which checks all the boxes for having a good time, also raised awareness and funds for Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, a place where courage really lives. For the serious runners, and there were some real Dashers, Startline Timing ensured those “racing” in the 5K and 10K had accurate times to send to the North Pole, or wherever Garmin’s elves hang out! To check out all the finishing times, click HERE.
“Was a bit bummed out we had to delay this run a week,” admitted Bayer moments before the entertaining kids’ race wrapped up. “You try to avoid holding events this time of year what with last-minute shopping, vacations, the weather and traffic, but the schedule change was totally out of our control. My objective today was to put the best show on for those who could still make it, and hope everyone liked it!”
Well, mission more than accomplished. Judging by comments at the event, and later on social media, Bayer’s crew crushed another one out of the park. There were several who took advantage of the virtual run component, too.
This year Bayer’s small company launched a Big Fun Run Series that included the spanking-new La Gran Fiesta Run (Burnaby) and Big Superhero Run (Richmond), along with the established Big Easter Run (Jericho Beach). And if you took part in all four events, which my family did, you received a sweet Big Fun Run Series Go Big medal. And speaking of medals, this series had must-have bling that far exceeded expectations.
Tricia Barker, a new commissioner for the Vancouver Park Board and participant in Saturday’s run, said she had a ton of fun taking part in the fourth annual event, which American Express ranks in the top 14 worldwide as “seasonal events with a twist.”
“Great crowd, lots of spirit, great costumes and love the big medal,” she said, while joking out after inspecting my way too tight elf-fit that she’s also a personal trainer for getting people in shape. No problem, I get that a lot Santa!
One of my final official duties for the Big Elf Run was naming a new Mr. or Mrs. Santa Claus, having won the prestigious ambassador title at this event last year. This year’s winner is Shelley Hatfield of Aldergrove, the brains and beauty behind the Over The Top Fitness crew that dressed up as reindeer (along with Santa’s musical sleigh) on Saturday. Hatfield and her motley crew, who take the fun to every run, also raises funds throughout the year for a cat shelter in Richmond.
A couple of the Sole Girls leaders in Saturday’s run, who said they loved my pirate outfit at the Moustache Miler last month, made me promise that I won’t stop running or wearing new costumes in the new year. Told them my budget-wise wife now has full say on the wardrobe expense account after discovering additional hidden gems in my man cave! But I promised to keep running and surrounding myself with positive people.
Here are some other festive gems from Saturday’s Big Elf Run:
Folks do the festive thing, again!
My work colleagues gasped out loud after mentioning I just spent 2½ weeks in toasty Thailand with the in-laws.
“Did you lose a bet?” was the most common reaction, followed closely by “was it your choice?” and “wife forced you to play along?” (No, yes and no are the politically correct answers to those questions, by the way! And I refuse to take a lie detector test.)
Linda and Dennis Hill, great people to call family, really got into Bayer’s Big Fun Run Series. Initially it was because my father-in-law wanted a La Gran Fiesta Run bottle opener medal, and then it was to try out new costumes, a thing most in the family found shocking.
“You’ll never ever catch me wearing a run costume,” said Deadpool Dennis one short year ago. “Who does that stupid stuff?”
Not sure what changed his mind, but he dressed up for the La Gran Fiesta Run, then the Superhero Run, then the Big Elf Run, plus the Moustache Miler and a few other events along the way. In fact, he began calling from costume shops asking if I or his daughter needed anything for upcoming runs!
Yep, welcome to the “who does that stupid stuff” club big guy. And sincere thanks to you and mom for being some of the biggest run/walk boosters out there.
Dora the Explorer was a Blitzen
This year I took part in 45 weekend races, some so serious I actually wore real running clothes!
Along the way you meet people who become familiar faces, people who make race day brighter, better and memorable. One such lady is Dora Velazquez of Surrey who continues to improve, and amaze, and inspire.
She was worried Saturday that some of her speedy friends wouldn’t be at the seawall to push her efforts to crush the 10K. This friendly elf offered to be her pace bunny but when she mentioned shooting for the low 40s, I backed out, citing a need to make sure everyone at the back of the 5K race was safe!
Dora, who said her outfit “became super hot” as she burned up the course, finished in 42:18 — the first female elf across the finish line.
She gave me a quick lesson on proper warmup stretching, then asked what my running plans are for January and February, 2019.
“Which ones will you be wearing costumes for,” laughed Dora, who rolled her eyes when I told her I’d likely be the Chafing Cowboy for the half marathon!
Francis focuses on running elves
Francis Georgian, a photographer and video guru with my employer —The Vancouver Sun/Province newspapers — spent some time hanging out at at Stanley Park on Saturday.
Besides doing a full-page colourful photo spread in Sunday’s Province about the run, Georgian filed this fun video, too, which features Bayer and a lot of people you might know:
‘Potty animal’ gets ‘er done — with a smile
The good folks at iPOLPOPHOTOS, who were the official photographers at Saturday’s Big Elf Run, have been very supportive of this blogger, and this blog over the years.
Katia Reinhardt of Fort Langley, who I met while taking her photo four years ago before an MEC Vancouver race on the seawall, had this dream to expand the company and its app and has made major gains since. The co-founder and chief marketing officer of the company has been a regular race fixture on the Lower Mainland in the past couple of years.
“You have such an awesome happy and supportive spirit,” Katia said Sunday, before sharing a photo of me finishing the 5K. “The smile says it all about you and running. I don’t think I have ever taken a photo of you not smiling!”
Katia is way too kind. On Saturday, at the 2.5K mark, she missed a non-smiling moment as I had to find a washroom to get rid of the coffee, juice, water and tea intake! Eventually found one, wasted three precious minutes getting in and out of the elf onesie, and then ran like made to make up lost time.
Finished the 5K in 33 minutes, which is not bad given the detour. In fact, my Garmin says I ran 5.10 Ks and actually shows the zig-zags when I began the potty hunt mid-race!
Check out more on iPOLPOHOTOS great service and Apple/Android app by clicking HERE.
End of the blogging road for Uncle Elfie
So, as mentioned, this is the end of the road as a run blogger for yours truly.
Like all fat, out of shape people who work at The Vancouver Sun, you’re approached to be a Sun Run “guinea pig” and blog about your couch-to-starting line experience, which happened to this scribe four years ago.
After crawling through that Sun Run, I was pointed toward the first Big Elf Run as a starting point for this Fun On The Run hobby blog. And some 200-plus events later, and pumping the tires of many a runner, run company, elite and novice athletes and community events on my “spare time and own dime,” I’m back wearing green and calling it a day.
Baxter Bayer has been, without a doubt, my biggest supporter. He totally understood the concept of this fun blog’s intent — trying to push couch potatoes or weekend warriors to races to improve their physical and mental health, to socialize, to have fun, to improve, to appreciate the sport and race-day vibe no matter your skill level, to put down social media devices for a morning, to embrace the West Coast lifestyle and just do it. He also said thanks, which was pure money in my world.
Truth be told, I really suck as an adult runner most days. My feet are sore, my “strict” diet is iffy, my training routines leave plenty to be desired. But I have fun and never, ever have I regretted being at a race, or catching up with people, or hearing their success stories or future plans.
Bayer let me inside the so-called ropes at several of his and other neat events, shared valuable information that helped me do a better job, and always kept a positive attitude that rubbed off.
As mentioned last month, he also stepped up big time when my younger brother died unexpectedly last year and he made sure this writer and my family didn’t curl up and get lost in grief.
Some people asked why I bother to cover “non serious runs” and some mocked me for wearing costumes at “dumb events” or for not running faster. Isn’t social media grand? Good thing I have thick, well-padded skin as some critics pointed out! I wouldn’t have missed this awesome experience, and adventures, for the world.
With love from “Uncle Elfie,” and my forever grateful family, have a great Christmas holiday and super New Year. Keep smiling, keep embracing life and see you all down the road at a race day near you.
And for Star Wars nut Baxter and the lovely Jana, may the force always be with you and thanks for making a huge difference in this crazy world.
Worn by everyone from young children to aging veterans, the poppy has been a symbol of respect and gratitude for the last century. But when you see all the poppies on lapels today, you may also want to consider: Who sells the poppies and why, who benefits from the proceeds, and what more can be done in Canada to support veterans and their families.
1. Poppy sales and programs they support
Thick rows of poppies grew over soldiers’ graves in Flanders, France, and were the inspiration for the now famous poem that Canadian medic Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae wrote on a scrap of paper in 1915 during the First World War. Today, most schoolchildren can recite the first two lines of McCrae’s poem: In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row. The poem was also the inspiration for wearing poppies on lapels every November as a sign of remembrance.
Thousands of volunteers with the Royal Canadian Legion sell these poppies across Canada each year. In the 2016 Poppy Campaign, more than 21.5 million poppies were distributed, and $16.7 million in donations were used to support veterans and their families between October 2016 to October 2017.
48,300 served in the Second World War or Korean War.
601,000 are Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) veterans, from regular and primary reserves.
B.C. has the third-highest number of veterans with 91,700, behind Quebec (120,600) and Ontario (235,700).
10 per cent of veterans are women.
93 — Second World War
86 — Korean War
60 — Regular CAF
55 — Primary Reserves
Veterans Affairs Canada provides services to about 18 per cent of Canadian vets for issues such as disability pensions or rehabilitation services. Since 2010, it has assisted more modern-day CAF veterans than traditional war service veterans.
In 2017/18, services were provided to 20,139 war vets and 96,644 CAF vets.
By 2022/23, that difference is expected to increase as war vets continue to age, when Ottawa anticipates serving only 5,500 of them, but 119,700 modern-day CAF vets.
More than 40,000 Canadian Armed Forces personnel were sent to Afghanistan, the largest deployment since the Second World War. The mission ended in 2014.
There are 16,500 Afghanistan veterans, and 10,550 of those receive disability benefits.
Mental health conditions were the most common reason for disability benefits, followed closely by PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
3. Royal Canadian Legions: then and now
Legions organize poppy sales and support for veterans, but as the veteran population declines so, too, do legion memberships. Across Canada, the number of members peaked in 1984 with 602,500 but dropped to 550,000 by 1996, according to a Vancouver Sun story written at the time. Today, legions count just 270,000 members across Canada, but are trying to get that number back up to 300,000, said David Whittier, executive director of the B.C. Yukon Command.
The trend has been similar in the B.C.-Yukon region:
There are about 5,000 new members registered a year in B.C. and Yukon, Whittier said, but that’s not enough to offset the number who leave each year. The biggest growth has been in affiliate members — those joining the legion without a military background — who now represent more than 30 per cent of the local membership. The other members include veterans and active CAF (24 per cent) and their relatives (44 per cent).
To retain existing members and attract more, the B.C.-Yukon branches have explored changes to some locations to make them more popular with younger generations, such as a coffee shop model with lattés and free Wi-Fi.
“We really want to reach out to veterans of all ages and eras, and we really want to reach out to their families and the community,” Whittier said.
A slide show prepared for the legion’s 2017 convention, entitled New Era, New Legion, discusses new potential revenue streams such as bakeries, lunch-box delivery services, and community shuttle services. It said one branch makes $20,000 annually by holding farmer’s markets.
Suggestions also include trying to recruit new members through commercials, and transit advertising, and through new creative evening activities such as open-mike, trivia contests and dance lessons.
Whittier’s message is that people should consider joining the legion for all the good community work it does, such as those programs supported by poppy sales. “The legion does a lot of really tangible, useful things,” he said.
4. The War Amps turn 100
The War Amps, which began helping military amputees, now raises money to help a variety of people who have lost a limb, including children. Some of its history:
1918: On Sept. 23, 1918, the Amputation Club of British Columbia held its first meeting for war amputees, the start of many similar groups that would form across Canada and eventually amalgamate into a national organization.
1932: The War Amps and four other veteran groups lobbied the federal government for improved rights for war veterans, especially those with disabilities.
1946: The Key Tag Service began. It raises money and also provides jobs for amputees, who make the identification tags that Canadians attached to valued items. To date, 1.5 million sets of lost keys have been returned to their owners.
1962: The War Amps started to help all Canadian amputees, not only war veterans.
1975: The CHAMP program was started to offer support services to child amputees and their families, including financial assistance, regional seminars and connections with peers.
2016: In this year alone, there were 1,072 amputees enrolled with the War Amps, and it granted 3,355 requests for financial help to buy prosthetics.
2018: On its 100th birthday, the War Amps says it is serving an increasing number of amputees. “There is still much to do to ensure amputees have the artificial limbs they need to lead independent and active lives,” its website says.
There are seven events in Vancouver. One of the most popular is the ceremony and parade that begins at 9:45 a.m. at the Victory Square Cenotaph downtown, which has major historical significance. The tiny park was filled with recruiting tents for the First World War, and later soldiers returned there to re-enact the conditions in the trenches and to fire rockets into the air in an effort to raise money for charity. In 1922, the park was named Victory Square and the cenotaph was built two years later.
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