Calling All Elders

a legacy portrait heart project by kimberley rae, april 2023

Praise for Our Elders: The Exhibit

"This photographer has created a treasure for our community, combining story and image with skill and grace. I was enthralled at the art gallery exhibit, and am delighted it is now online. Enjoy, my friends." -Tony B.

"A must do gift for yourself , visit this show. The people I know, yes you have definitely captured them Kimberley. The people I don’t know, I feel I now have met them. -Crisanna M.

"What a beautiful representation - the stories are powerful - made me laugh, made me cry. DO NOT MISS THIS! Thank you Kim for sharing your amazing talent with our town." -Meghan O

"Kimberley, I can't tell you how much I am enjoying these! Your photography is fantastic, and the stories are so personal. Fantastic work." -Lana B.

"It was a real pleasure and honour to participate in this project. Kimberley is so professional, yet makes one feel completely at ease! I look forward to seeing where this project will lead her."Betty Seel

artist statement

I was blessed to spend hours of quality time with grandparents growing up- my four blood relations of course but also countless others who have come into my life over the years as “adopted grandparents” and dear friends.

wisdom &, stories, hugs & kicks-in-the-rear (whichever was needed more in the given moment); all gifts given to me over the years by precious-to-me Elders.

Photos are a bridge between generations- they have the power to stir up memories & feelings, to transport us back to a moment in time. I’ve always loved nothing more than to sift thru old photographs, asking questions & listening to their ruminations.

In the doldrums of February 2022, i was sitting one night, feeling aimless and weary of the winter and covid ongoings and funniness in the world; mindlessly scrolling social media. The Columbia Valley Community Foundation was accepting applications for micro-grants up to $500 for International Random Acts of Kindness Day. On a whim, I decided to apply. My idea? To invite seniors in the valley to bring in a cherished photograph of themselves in their younger days and sit for a free, 15 minute portrait. I would donate my time, and use the funds to cover the cost of printing each senior a small print to keep.

My idea was accepted. A model call was launched on social media - Calling all Elders - and the idea instantly gained momentum. A second grant was offered in December of 2022 to continue the initiative. A grateful thank you to the Foundation their support ($800 total) in this project. A print from each session was covered by the above grant to all its fixed-income participants, and the sessions were a gift of time. Initially, i would have said I gifted them to the Elders, but in hindsight, their time was a gift to me.

Here we are, a year later and I have been so lucky to share conversations with roughly 80 community elders- and counting- in studio & on site in local care homes, ʔAkisq̓nuk of the Ktunaxa Nation, and Kenpesq’t of Secwépemc Nation community centres. Conversations range from 10 minutes to a couple hours in length, and topics span from escaping communist regimes in war times to opening up about the loss of loved ones to a description of their favourite place on earth or a meal they’d share with a loved one if they had “just one more night”. I have laughed, I have cried, I have laid awake at night, and I have carried a piece from each of these conversations in my heart since.

I vowed to make conversation the forefront of this project- and photography as art took a step back. Ironically, these are some of the more powerful images I’ve had the pleasure of creating, two decades into my career.

I did not insist on anything, except a willingness to partake. I created a safe space where all emotions & topics were welcome and in all cases I endeavoured to meet folks where they were at. Enjoy the candid nature of these images- you’ll find many are curiosity-led, candid and unposed in nature, and a full range of emotions are represented. A good photo is not defined as a smiling person looking at the camera- its defined as a photo you FEEL.

One lady lamented (upon receiving her gallery back) that “my husband was only looking at the camera for one of the photos.” He was, in fact, looking adoringly at her for the majority of their session. This- his pure love and devotion- is what I observed, and I think, captured… I always include a typical portrait as well, of course.

I am so incredibly humbled by all that i have learned from their shared wisdom. It brings me such honour to share a snapshot of some of the beautiful humans who crossed my path- and a story or two which they shared with me.

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Shirley & Claude. the spark of inspiration. 2012.

The first photo in this {he}ART project, came about as the idea of dear friend and mentor, Shirley Campbell. Her and Claude wanted to celebrate their wedding anniversary by donning their wedding clothes from a few decades earlier. They sat for a quick snap and then we enjoyed tea and a lively conversation.

They’ve both since passed, and I miss this dear friend terribly; she believed in me at a time when I didn't believe in myself. She is the reason my studio exists- she was an angel here on earth and now above.

Here’s to those who lift others up, dust them off, and push them off in the direction of their dreams. Be that person, today and always, friends. The world needs more of that.

I miss you dearly, Shirley. This project exists because of you.

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Alice Sam. Calling all Elders project, 2023.

Alice is the eldest Kenpesq’t Elder. She doesn’t act like it. She had the whole room giggling with her shenanigans and incredible facial expressions. She told of how great she was in her younger days at packing apples, and when i asked if I could take a photo of her hands, she wondered why.

“Because, Alice, your hands tell a story!” I laughed.

“Keep quiet!” she whispered to her hands, erupting into a fit of giggles.


Andy & Kelly. Calling all Elders project, 2022.

What 60 years of matrimony looks like.

Which is adorable to me, because when I met Andy, he was the Marriage Commissioner in town (and I, a wedding photographer!).

He was always there at the front of each wedding, greeting me with that big grin and tucking me under his arm with a hug. He made all my nervous butterflies go away in those early years and I’ll always have a soft spot for Andy. He’s a spark, a bright spot.

Newly engaged back in 2013, I eagerly reached out to Andy to officiate our wedding ceremony. Sadly, it wasn’t to be as he was retiring- or “put out to pasture”, as he says.

On our last wedding together, Andy read his signature blessing for the couple before they left the alter- and then folded it up, pressing it into my hand as we shared a departing hug.

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Gerry. Calling all Elders project, 2022.

These are working hands, and Gerry is working man. His ‘retirement’ job was splitting firewood.

I first met Gerry about 20 years ago when i was a barista at Tex’s Coffeeworks. Back then, all of Tex’s regulars had their own named mug that hung in the coffeeshop; they’d walk in, grab their mug, fill it up and gather to solve the world’s problems. Gerry was one of a few that never missed a day, as reliable as the night turns to day.

Last year, his wife of 65 years was placed into a local care home. Gerry faithfully visits her, cup of coffee in hand, every morning at 9am. He is quite proud to say he’s never missed a day, not one, for a whole year.

When asked if he had any regrets, Gerry mused that “he wished he’d stopped working sooner.” Finally retired and with time to travel & explore, he is sad that his wife is now unable. And so, he faithfully, lovingly, visits her each day.

This coming May 24th, they will celebrate 66 years married.

Gerry’s advice for the young folks? “..just get along.”

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Lenore & Dan. Calling all Elders project, 2023.

Lenore first met Dan because he whistled at her on the street. Later, he really amped things up when he knocked her over at a rollerskating rink in Regina, SK. He must have really swept her off her feet all those years ago- they’ve been happily married for 65 years and credit having “common goals, things in common, and being agreeable” for their matrimonial success. What are they most proud of? Their kids & grandkids, of course.

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Beverly & Martin. Calling all Elders project, 2022.

54 years married, these two. I visited Martin and a few others in our local long term care home early April of 2022. Martin suffers from Parkinson’s and for most of the session he sat quietly while Bev led the conversation.

On their wedding day, friends and family were gathered for their reception luncheon. Napkins had been forgotten (oops!). No problem, Martin jumped in the car and ran down to the druggist to pick some up quickly. In those days, the items came wrapped in brown paper.

Imagine the surprise when they unwrapped a package of … sanitary napkins.

54 years later, he still gets teased for that one.

Towards the end I asked them if there were any other stories they thought they might like to share with me - and suddenly Martin’s eyes lit up like Canada Day Fireworks.

He sat a little straighter and those sparkling eyes just came to life.

“When I was young, I had a truck. It was a great truck. But the seat…the seat had a squeak. I’d be driving around and that seat would always squeak. Then I met Beverly. When she sat on that seat with me, it didn’t squeak. So I married her! to fix the squeak!” He laughed. We cried.

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Julia. Calling all Elders project, 2023.

Julia is a GEM. When invited to take part in the project, she took the time to go to the fabric store and purchase material to sew herself this dress, in her favourite color and traditional style. She sewed this, by hand- in the week or so worth of notice she had.

You’ll notice the majority of the images from this project are in black and white- but Julia’s initiative spurred me to represent and celebrate her pride in her Secwépemc culture by displaying her image in full color. There’s another reason for this.

Julia was ‘scooped’ in the sixties scoop at the age of 5 of 6, and taken to St.Eugene Residential School. The uncomfortable and buried truth of these institutions was their mission to assimilate indigenous children into a westernized way of life, to “take the Indian out of the child,” as Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald is quoted.

Julia spent 7 years at the school, only seeing her mother in the summer if a ride could be arranged. The photo she holds would have been about the time she left St. Eugene, at the age of 13.

The third youngest of 22 siblings, Julia lost her older brothers in the smallpox epidemic, and her father passed when she was just a baby. Her step-dad was a hard working woodsman who logged and cut Christmas trees; he would supply firewood to those in need and Julia would often help.

Julia learned to sew while at McKim School, but had to leave grade 12 only 2 months in because she was pregnant (the school wouldn’t allow her there with child). She did later finish her grade 12 education and went to Secretary School. She sewed her daughter’s graduation dress- something she’s very proud of.

Julia, you SHOULD be proud, even if you claim time management is your struggle. You pulled it off! Isn’t her grin adorable?


Pauline. Calling all Elders project, 2022.

My eldest elder to date, and possibly my favourite (shhhhh). Precisely 96 3/4 years young in this photograph. I say young, because if you know Pauline, you know. She’s as young at heart as they come. She’s locally famous, and I don’t even recall how we met (probably at a Pynelogs show!) but I know I’ll never forget Arlo (my then 2 year old son) stealing her prize organic Caiman tomato from her greenhouse and eating it like a big juicy apple while her and Joe laughed till they cried.

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Ken & Carol. Calling all Elders project, 2022

Ken and Carol were married in Riondel, BC on February 19, 1972. Her sister came all the way from Victoria, armloads of daffodils in hand to decorate the day. They honeymooned to Radium Hot Springs and upon arrival were surprised to see absolutely no restaurants or shops open.

They settled for milk, peanut butter, and bread from the corner store in their hotel room that weekend.

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Brenda. Calling all Elders project, 2022.

Brenda shared some very moving stories and thoughts in the studio this day. She’s a vibrant, heart-led human with a zest for life. Like me, she doesn’t waste time on small talk.

When reflecting on her relationships with her mother figures- her adoptive mother and her biological mother, Brenda had this profound realization. “..her beliefs in what were possible for me were so contrary to what was possible for her. She saw nothing in me but possibilities, but couldn’t find her own. I suppose she…passed on permission.”

Brenda, you’re a spark. I can see why your first sentence was “Do it my own self!” You’ve got this life thing sorted.

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Phyl. Calling all Elders project, 2023.

Phyl and I found common ground initially discussing our passion for all things gardening. Once we’d discussed our preferred varieties of beets to grow in the local climate, we moved on to other things. Like how she was the 1955 May Queen, and was escorted to the legion dance by Ktunaxa chief Dominic Nicholas. She reminisced of her hard working teamster father nearly going thru the ice on lake windermere with the team once in mid-March. Of meeting future-husband Chuck on the first day of grade one at Edgewater school; She’d had her eye on him since the age of 12 or so (her daughter corrected her chidingly here-apparently 9, not 12). He always seemed like the tough guy, strong and athletic, and always in a good mood. If she could have one more evening with Chuck (he passed several years back), she would cook him his favourite meal- ribs and red cabbage.

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Lyla. Calling all Elders project, 2022.

This spark walked in, sat down, and proudly held out her arthritis-deformed finger, begging me to tell her what it resembled. This beautiful & bubbling human had me giggling right along with her, finding the humour in getting old. Lyla’s advice for the young generation is simple. Be Kind. If the phone line from heaven rang today, Lyla would love to hear her mama’s voice tell her she is proud of her.

….sidebar: parents- tell your children you’re proud, like REALLY spell it out. You’d be surprised how often this idea came up in conversations!

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Alice. Calling all Elders project, 2022.

Meet Alice. Isn’t she darling? She’s a bit of a celebrity artist around these parts.

Alice could not recall much of anything this day- but she recognized herself right away when we handed her this old photo of herself. When asked how old she was in the photo, she replied “oh! that was just taken a couple weeks ago!”

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Nelda. Calling all Elders project, 2023.

It goes against my photographer instincts to share photos where folks aren’t …happy. perfect. put together. poised.

But I think this is part of what’s wrong in the world. We hide our imperfections, our dark sides; we’ve been conditioned to think that showing up as anything less than composed and happy is less than ideal- and to share a photo of our broken selves is….wild. unheard of.

It’s not.

Nelda was dressed impeccably. Her makeup, her hair- not a strand out of place.

When she was 6, her father died. The family loaded up an old two-ton Fargo truck and a homemade camper, and set off from Brooks Falls, Ontario to Creston, BC. It was cold, it was March. One person would keep driving, and someone else would ride in the camper preparing the meals. When the meal was ready, this person would open up the back camper door, and chuck a tin can forward so it smacked the windshield of the Fargo, singling it was time to pull over and eat.

Nelda is absolutely beaming proud of the people her kids have become. She raised them to be honest, hard workers and she wishes them faith, happiness and love in their lives.

When asked about regrets or left-to-do bucket list items, Nelda initially responded with the idea of traveling to Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. She trailed off on this subject, however, and I noticed a sadness creep over her.

Gently, I asked what thoughts had come up. Grief. Regret. For not enough time with her now passed husband, Reg. For more slow mornings, homemade dinners, afternoon walks and cozy nights in. You know, the good stuff.

If Nelda could have one more evening with REg, they would share a rum & Pepsi, maybe some bubbly wine. And he’d want steak and potatoes, because he was a “country bumpkin”, after all.

Nelda, your ‘proper’ portraits are stunning. but this image of you missing Reg so deeply, so completely….it shows us such a beautiful side of you. that broken can be beautiful, and it’s a part of who you are today. each of those tears that fell for him is unexpressed love- just another “I love you, I miss you” headed up to him.

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Buzz aka the “Conversation Officer” . Calling all Elders project, 2022.

I’m at a loss for what to write about Buzz.

I mean, he’s a local legend, right?

If you enjoy the ‘chimney property’, thank this guy. He’s the one who mows, cleans up the broken glass and party evidence- he just CARES. We need more young Buzz’s.

Be like Buzz. Give a shit. Show up.

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Irene. Calling all Elders project, 2023.

Irene said she always felt bad for not following the rules her French-Canadian grandmother had. Apparently she ruled with an iron fist and a side of strong Catholic guilt for her first 4 years. Irene was second oldest of five kids; her dad was a section man for the CPR. Her relationship with her mum was strained, and she thinks her dad compensated in some ways. He thought she was great at playing ball, always supporting her, asking the coach “Why aren’t you playing my daughter?” from the stands. He came to all her games, and once told her to skip church and go to a ball tournament, tucking the $20 fee into her hands while saying, “Church will always be there. Go play ball.”

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Mike. Calling all Elders project, 2022.

Meet Mike.

The kind of guy you need to sit and have a pint with. Pensive. Polished. Personable.

This dapper fellow wishes for his kids lasting and loving marriages.

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Pat & Len. Calling all Elders project, 2022.

I’ve typed and retyped this one a few times. Pat & Len are navigating a few of the many challenges of old age, and the word grace comes to mind.

Love is many things-but growing old together, growing *with* together, to rise and fall and travel and move together like the ocean… this is my favourite love to see.

A quiet embrace, over five decades strong.

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Pheb & “Awesome” Austin. Calling all Elders project, 2022.

An interesting reoccurring thread during this project was women struggling to find images of themselves. Too often mothers fall into the roll of ‘picture taker’ or perhaps are avoidant of the camera for a multitude of self-aware reasons. Regardless, even though Pheb had a hard time finding a photo of herself, I love that she sat for this one. I know her family will appreciate the effort.

Pheb has some fantastic advice for young mothers: Don’t worry about having a clean house with little ones running around. Enjoy the noise & mess; it’ll be clean in twenty years.

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Ken Cameron. Calling all Elders project, 2022.

He was 20. She was 15. This is a photo taken before they left for the Riondel School Christmas Dance in 1969, where he whisked her around the dance floor for the better part of the night.

They fell in love, got married three years later, had a couple kids. And Ken still carries this photo of Carol around in his wallet 54 years later.

Why? I asked? What do you love about it?

“her legs” he laughed.

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Bruce Knowlden. Calling all Elders project, 2022.

Bruce was born and raised on the prairies and he always wanted to be a sailor- on his perfectly manicured pinky finger is a Japanese nautical compass. Which seems fitting, because this grounded and calm and kind human has been guided to this genuine and authentic and unabashed version of himself. And I love that.

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Lucille & Lola. Calling all Elders project, 2023.

Lucille is “right there, with the great hairdo.” In 1978, at 27 years old, she was playing competitive fast-pitch and “…It was great being together with all the other girls, traveling all over Alberta, the Okanagan, and Vancouver playing tournaments.”

“Every time we played ball, it was fantastic. If we won, it was even better.”

She went to residential school at St. Eugene for ten years, and has limited memories of her mother, whom she says tried very hard to be a good mother, despite struggles with alcoholism. There were 12 in the family- 3 girls and 9 boys, “a ball team,” she laughed.

“My mind is young, but my body tells me different. I mean, I’ve had a good life; I can’t complain. I’m still alive!”

Lola, also in the team photo, sat in next- rocking her hot pink hairdo, laughing. “We had a great team, i see.”

When asked what advice she would give to her younger self in the photo- she wasn’t sure at first, and then landed on wishing she’d stayed in school to pursue being a Recreation Director. Upon high school graduation, she did one semester in Lethbridge before having to leave when family matters came up.

While ruminating on this, Lola mentioned she’d wished she’d brought her high school graduation photo.

“I wore a buckskin dress for graduation, borrowed from Sophie Pierre, the Sam Steele Sweetheart and Chief of the St.Mary’s band near Cranbrook. I didn’t like dresses or gowns, so I borrowed Sophie’s with the moccasins and the whole thing. I felt like myself in that outfit, and the way everyone was like, “Oh it’s so different, not wearing a gown!”

I braided my hair into two braids, it wasn’t very long-just shoulder length or so. It was comfortable, myself. A lot of people were taking pictures of me. One of my friends in school, we were basketball rivals- she always used to try to beat me. But that day, she was my best friend. Hanging onto me, saying “Let’s get our picture taken!”

I heard she took the picture to Scotland or something, to show her family she had an Indian friend.”

I’ve sent a note to Lola asking if we can get a copy of her in the buckskin dress- I’m as keen to see it as you must be.

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Tony. Marguerite. Murray. Calling all Elders project, 2022.

Tony and his older sister were “one of the scoops” during the sixties scoop. He was 2, she was 3. They would have put them in a residential school, but they were too young. So they entered the foster system out in Grasmere- and it wasn’t a good one. If their parents tried to visit, the foster family would send them out in the bush to hide, even in winter for up to an hour with no outside clothes or shoes. He never did see his birth mum & dad again. From 1960- 69 he lived near St Mary’s lake on a chicken farm; in 1968 his sister ran away. She asked if he wanted to come, but he stayed. He was eleven, she was 12.

Tony likes to fix things. He would make his own bikes from parts he found at the dump; he says he always wanted to put a steering wheel on a bike. One day he finally saw someone who did it, and he thought, it IS possible! He never did get around to it, as the steering wheels were always too hard to get off the old trucks. by design, we suppose.

a bright spot in his childhood? hanging out with people he knew, swimming in the lake when they moved to Canal Flats (where Tilly’s beach is now). Back then it was a dusty path, so after biking back into town after a swim they’d arrive home as dirty as before.

Tony was Chief of the Kenpesq’t , or Columbia campfire of the Secwépemc nation, at one point . He says, if you’re going to work for the people, make sure all of the people are involved & cared for. “Corruption is easy,” he said. “Keeping things honest, you’re going to run into lots of people who don’t like you and that’s just the way it is. Have to keep it on the straight and narrow. If you’re going to cheat and steal and lie, you’d better have a great memory.”

Tony thinks the young kids don’t initiate enough these days and that internet and technology are to blame for too much time sitting inside. He would like to see young kids offer to help out their elders more, and get outside more.

Marguerite didn’t quite seem to understand just why her grandkids had brought her in, but she willingly obliged to sit and look over cherished family memories- her eyes lighting up with sparks of recognition and memories here and there.

Murray mistakenly thought he was here for a updated Status Card photo. He had somewhere else to go and wasn’t up for much of a conversation, but was happy to let me snap a few photos anyhow.

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Herb & Betty. Calling all Elders project, 2022.

There were some emotional moments in this session; one of the earliest ones in February 2022. Our elders are not okay. I mean, they’re amazing, but this past few years have been hard. Our elders miss their families and gathering and togetherness SO MUCH. It was a very common thread in this project (post covid), and it was touching to hear all the meaningful stories and moments.

Check in on your elders. Pay a visit. Spread some cheer. Plan a get-together with the whole family again. Make the time friends. Because we know our time is the most precious gift we have to give.

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Livia & Nick. Calling all Elders project, 2023.

go grab a beverage. go pee. trust me. then come back, I'll wait. this one is worth it.

Livia walked in one day, proud and upright, confident and clear. “I’d like to book a session!”, she asked. She has this thick, rich voice, like melted chocolate, and a commanding presence, considering her slight stature. She’s like a magnet, she’s draws you in.

Fast forward to her session, and in she comes, polished and prepped and proud. Beside her, her bundled up husband, Nick. Nick insisted he was not here for the photo, “just Livia!” and promptly settled into the studio sofa in the corner.

But Nick was not quiet. Nick had things to say. I would ask Livia to tell me about her cherished photo, and Nick would start into a [marvelous] story from stage right. About 10 minutes in, I stopped and turned to him. [insert scratching record sound].

“Nick,” i said, “either you need to shush & let Livia talk or you need to come sit with us and be a part of this. Which is it? Because I hope you’ll join.”

He joined. Off the touque came, he tidied the thinning hair, brushed a couple breakfast crumbs off his sweater and i pulled him up a seat next to his wife. And they sat in a sweet embrace and shared the most amazing story.

Budapest, the city of his birth. Destruction & chaos; the Hungarian Uprising. Leaving his brother & parents behind, Nick boards a train headed for the border, desperate to escape his city under siege by the Soviet Regime. Russian soldiers are everywhere looking to stop people from leaving illegally, and the train is stopped about 18km from the Austria border. Leaving the train and walking into the village, peasants told them to wait for nightfall and further assistance to cross the border. They led them 18 km in the dark, through a forest, hiding from Russian soldiers the whole journey. They would capture those they caught, but only had so much room in the vehicles so it was a waiting game, one move forward at a time. At 4am they came to an old farmhouse for a brief rest. At the end of this harrowing journey lie a creek to cross- the Russians had blown up the bridge [the Bridge of Andau]. “We had to climb up and over the wooden remnants, but I was 18, so [Nicolas shrugs his shoulders like this wasn’t so bad] , we went thru & on the other side people were pulling people up by a rope, so when they pulled me up, I had to wait & pull the next guy up. Then we walked another kilometre or so, I fell into a big muddy hole. Then we bumped into three Austrian soldiers. We didn’t know the language, we had no money, we had nothing. There were hundreds of people [fleeing], the restaurants were offering hot chocolate and whatnot. I bumped into a guy in a car who offered to take us to Vienna. I had to translate all day as we picked up refugees- I only knew about ten words, but this is better than nothing. November 23 we arrived in Vienna. The city was decorated for Christmas. Here I am; I’ve come from a destroyed city, destroyed by tanks, everything. And here I am, young people on Vespa’s, my age, I remember this to this minute. Looking at the plenty, and all of it.”

Three months later, Nick is flown to Canada as a refugee. He lands outside of Montreal on an army base, and stays only one night. The red cross offers about $5, enough for a couple days food. He has $19, because he had worked in Vienna, saving up. He purchased a bus ticket “and so begins the start of my journey from Montreal. Three days later, I was working as a night watchman, making $53 a week, which was fantastic at the time. Anyway, I met my wife, we got married, I went to University and Livia finished high school.”

Livia was only 16 during the uprising in Hungary, and her parents wouldn’t let her go alone. After the revolution, she went to Paris to live with an aunt and uncle for a few months, and then came to Canada.

“..just my thoughts,” Nick passionately continues on. “When I see people here with the Canadian flag - I mean I’m a proud Canadian and I fly the flag- but the flag they fly here against covid-19 and the government mandates- you know….It’s the wrong symbol for me.” Livia chimes in. “It’s so annoying to see that. They’re desecrating our flag. It’s…it’s so inappropriate!”

These two are proud Canadians of 66 years. Happily married for 63. Livia brought a photo from their first vacation they took together. They drove a Peugeot 403 from Montreal down to Washington. Livia recalls the ferry ride, Chesapeake Bay, and moreover- how behind the times & uncomfortable it felt. “There was still coloured / white bathrooms, segregation!” she said, disturbed.

Their advice for young couples? Be tolerant. Put up with each other. “The big word here is Commitment,” says Nick. “I’ve been ill for the past four years; I’m not the person I used to be. Livia has looked after me, but now Livia is not well today. It’s horrifying! Just horrifying.”

Nick is now learning new skills, learning to help Livia out around the house and lighten her load- still learning new things, everyday.

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Laverna & Louis “Basil’ . Calling all Elders project, 2023.

Louis leads the dances as the Sun Dance Chief. He loves working on cars in the backyard- his current projects are a ’62 Mercury and a couple of other small trucks, one of which he drove in the Radium classic car show last September. He received his mechanic credentials back in the ’80’s, but chose to keep it as just a hobby. He figured if he worked on other people’s cars all day long he might not want to work on his own at the end of the day. He worked his way up from stacking lumber to forklift operator at the Radium Sawmill for 36 years. I asked Louis, aka, Basil, when he felt like he’d ‘made it’ and got the position he really wanted. “The day before I retired,”he laughed.

Laverna loves to bead. Her friend, Patsy, taught her the skill ages ago and she’s always loved seeing how the beads come to life as they take shape. She can still recall patterns she sewed for work decades ago- they’re etched in her memory to this day.

I asked them what they think the secret to their 50 year marriage is. Laverna says “we live in our own worlds, we walk side by side. I don’t make him become something I want him to be, and he’s the same with me.”

And what about bucket list items left yet to accomplish? “We’re not extravagant people,” Laverna laughed. “I think I’ve done everything i want. I can’t imagine laying on a beach in Hawaii when I’d rather be harvesting {in nature}.”

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Laverna. Calling all Elders project, 2023.

I asked Laverna to tell me about her happiest place in the world. She paused for a moment.

“You know, what I really like is our Sun Dance, when the music…. When the men are singing and dancing, and I’m sitting there in the arbor. That’s a really nice feeling. Of course, [Louis] has to work during that time. but, yeah. There’s a full moon, and there are two cedars by the riverbank, and you can see the moonlight on the Old Man River. You could sit there forever talking to each other, watching the river run by in the moonlight.

They’re Blackfoot. We’re Shuswap. But we come together as a big family.

Yeah. That’s my happy place.”

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Linda & Hayden. Calling all Elders project, 2023.

48 years together, and 17 officially married, this adorable couple. They met many years ago in the Adirondacks, when Linda graduated & left home to go find herself traveling.

They met at a camp in upstate New York, reclaiming their land “from the state and the feds, making a statement,” Hayden said, “but it started out with a clash with the KKKlan. We had shootouts and things like that, and a few other people got shot, clan members, so the feds and the police and everybody got involved and they set up checkpoints so they couldn’t come bother us anymore. So we stayed there about 5 years; no electricity, no running water, no drugs, no booze. This is where we met. Jane Fonda, Marlon Brando, Harry Belafonte, a bunch of them and other Native Support groups were sending us donations and everything you can think, from insulation to nails to clothes. Everything you can think of. Chainsaws. Whatever we needed to help build a community.”

Once things settled down they returned to Hayden’s Haudenosaunee (Mohawk or people of the longhouse) reserve near Montreal. He went to New York for a time doing high steel work, which he did for the rest of his working career. They traveled all over the country while Hayden did steel work- New York, Texas, Tennessee,Florida. They owned a restaurant together for almost 18 years on the Saint Lawrence river, across the river from Montreal. All the ships and big yachts would sail right by on the way up to the Great Lakes. They eventually sold it and retired back to Linda’s home ground, here on her traditional Kenpesq’t lands.

They had two boys, and nine grandchildren and two (third on the way!) great grandchildren - Hayden likes the part of grand parenting where “when they cry you can send them home,” he laughed.

They’ve traveled all over turtle island- I asked them where their favourite place is.

Without a moment’s hesitation, “here.”

Hayden lived in cities most of his life, and he finds the quiet here so enjoyable after the noise and bustle of his younger days. “In our community across the river from Montreal, there used to be chokecherry trees all over the place. Today you can’t find them because there’s too much pollution in the air. My grandfather says there used to be flowers, certain kinds of flowers that would grow in the fields; they don’t grow today. It’s the pollution. As soon as they touch the air, they disappear, and these flowers were used for medicine. But this pollution, it’s too much. You’ve got to get away from the cities if you want to relax.”

When asked what she wishes for her next generation, Linda hopes they learn their language & culture, and avoid the peer pressure of drugs and alcohol, and have necessary support & treatment available.

She hopes the younger generation can be free of pollution and have the ability to express their voice in regards to cultural identity-and for them to instill this in their children and grandchildren.

They’ve watched a shift take place in their Haudenosaunee community (around 10,000 strong) towards embracing and building their cultural values and education since the 90’s. They believe that much like how the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, that this shift will spread west like the light and First Nation’s across Turtle Island will rise to embrace their culture wholeheartedly. Hayden even pointed out that as Residential Schools were beginning to close in the east, they were still running in the west. The changes are slower to come out west, but they’re coming.

“The safety of a mothers arms and a loving father is priority. We are all human beings. We all bleed the same colour, we all have a heart. It’s too bad our eyes and our ears don’t follow thru with what our heart is intended for. I try to help as much as I can here, but sometimes it falls upon a deaf ear. I want to make sure these young people know that they have a reason to be here.” -Linda

“Our job as human beings is to take care of Mother Earth, to make sure that she functions for seven generations ahead of us to come so that they have a nice place to live. Everything out there is living, it has a purpose in the natural world.” -Hayden

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To be continued!

this is mere snapshot of over 80 elders who have been brave enough to sit with me and my inability to do "smalltalk" in 2022 and 2023 so far. The above were hung for the month of March in Invermere's sweetest little gallery, Pynelogs. I'll be opening up more dates for willing elders in the near future. to get on our wait list, please call 250-342-5102.