I’ve been working with kids my entire life, including on Salt Spring Island when I lived there decades ago. My husband Ken was a candlemaker and I was doing a number of crafty things, including batik, so we opened our home up to young folks who needed a creative outlet. At that time there was very little being offered to kids and teens and “Craft Fare” was our way of filling the gap.
Whether working through the schools, at Pacific Centre- a place for kids who needed an alternative to school, through my own studio, churches, child care centres, after school programs, summer camps, recreation centres, the alternative school I started in Victoria or my own home the focus has always been kids.
This focus was counterintuitive really. I had become an auntie at the age of four and, after being the designated caregiver for nieces that I loved dearly, by the time I was nine it seemed that my entire life was dedicated to children and very early on I was focused on pursuing my own dreams. It was at that age that I decided to take theatre classes, having written, adapted and staged productions from the time, years earlier, when I roped my shy cousin Peter into performing with me for our long-suffering parents. Our mothers, who were also sisters, encouraged our creativity and when Peter would make the four-block trip to our house my mother would offer up with paper and pencils, encourage us both to write stories. He stopped short of being part of the plays staged at Sara’s house, two doors down from him, but we did manage to rope in myriad neigbourhood kids when we put on our productions. Sara also had long-suffering parents and it was no surprise that both of us were encouraged to pursue our love of theatre and music by the adults in our lives.
Much to my chagrin, both of my brothers chose to sign up for classes and because they were so much older got opportunities that were not available to me- working on “adult” shows. My brother Stan became a stage manager for children’s plays as well, however, and I was able to join him in the scene shop where he would work his magic designing sets and making props. I was able to work in the Galley at the MacPherson Playhouse in Victoria. Lighting designer, Charlie Harper, trained me to use the spotlight and gels, something that captured my imagination from the very moment I was able to cause Rumplestiltskin to turn green with the flip of a switch. I was also the resident babysitter when the actors and crew- mostly draft dodgers living on my brother’s farm- found themselves married with children.
Stan’s building skills morphed into a business building climbing equipment and wooden toys for children and I worked at his shop on Saturdays. Then there was the inevitable question from parents who were letting their kids try out the equipment set up in the shop conveniently located in the Fernwood area of Victoria across from a coffee shop and bakery. “Would you mind watching them while we nip across the street for a coffee break?” Another serendipitous jog in the road seemed always to lead me back to the world of children.
By the time I was sixteen my theatre resume held me in good stead, having continued working back stage with a professional theatre company and at high school. In fact, between my brother’s expertise, my father’s willingness to make sets at a moment’s notice, my mother’s sewing skills and my own enthusiasm this entourage was sought after by teachers who were often put in the position of staging a play with little or no experience. So when there was a call for students to produce and host a new show on Victoria’s CHEK TV that year I submitted my application along with, according to the producer, nine hundred others. That may have been an exaggeration, but I do know that mine was one of the four names selected to create fifteen minute segments on a show that we dubbed “Hour One”. We had the resources of the television station available to us both in studio and on location and I believe that the trajectory of my life was set from that moment on.
Though appearing to be an idyllic childhood, it was my artistic and creative pursuits that offset the realities of my mother’s battle with cancer, my father’s PTSD resulting from war time trauma, expectations that were well beyond my years and maturity and the general familial dysfunction that surrounded me at every turn. Despite the circumstances I was born into, my parents- who many thought were my grandparents- were at a stage in their life when they seemingly valued any serenity that was afforded them and I was the beneficiary of those moments of calm in the storms of my early life. When we travelled through the mountains to visit my sister and her family in Calgary we would stop for tea at the side of the road, my mother preparing sandwiches in the trailer that dutifully followed us on every trip. Out would come my trusty easel and paints, both parents encouraging me to draw what I saw before me. I would carry that same easel and paints down to the waterfront or up Blueberry Hill, both only a block from our family home where I grew up in Oak Bay, recording on paper or canvas the beauty of my surroundings. I also learned the value of music via my brothers who were both accomplished pianists by the time I was old enough to read music and an appreciation of the arts generally in a family that was not as interested academic standing as in putting one’s talents to use, preferably in the service of others.
At 17 I found myself working in the Child Welfare Department, having chosen not to fritter my time away in high school. I chose rather to pursue a degree in Communications at Camosun College via night school after completing a G.E.D. My plans were cut short by yet another jog in the road. I was pregnant with my own child.