Dunster memories

Brenda Shannon (pseudonym to preserve anonymity due to her profession) moved to Dunster more than 40 years ago to live a different sort of life, a hippie’s life. Shannon spoke to the Goat last week as part of a series honoring Dunster’s 100th anniversary. Below are some of the things she said.

Arriving:
“In 1974 I was 25 years old. I was young and extremely naive and idealistic. I had been raised in the suburbs of Regina, Saskatchewan. and I came from a fairly affluent and materialistic family. And I was totally rejecting those values. I was a child of the ‘60s. There was the Vietnam War. The women’s movement was happening. The civil rights movement was happening. Rachel Carson had written that book, Silent Spring. We were very conscious of the threat to our environment from people living on the planet to excess, from consumption.”

“We wanted to not live in a city and live a simple life. We wanted to grow food and we wanted to get away from the rat race. We wanted to live in an area that wasn’t going to be encroached upon by development, the cancerous growth of cities.”

“I was naive about how difficult this lifestyle was. I was naive about my ability to live in isolation, to live without running water, to live without indoor plumbing, electricity. I basically lived in a tent for the summers for the first 10 years.”

“Jeans, tee shirts, sloppy. Long hair down to my waist. I never went shopping. I don’t know where I got my clothes from; Lots of secondhand stuff.”

“I was really getting to know myself during that time. Those were formative years. I was learning how to work. Growing up in the suburbs you don’t have a work ethic. I was learning how to do things like split firewood and stack firewood and haul water. I was making bread all the time. I was milking a cow and making cottage cheese, making yogurt. I was learning all these homesteading skills. And that stretched me.”

Daily life:

“We didn’t have TV. We had a lot of books and songs. We sang songs. There’s a Pete Seeger song, Little Bird Fly Through My Window? And so if we had ravens or robins around the kids would sing ‘raven, raven fly through my window.’ We did a lot of that. We actually had fun. We went to the backwater in Tete Jaune almost every day.”

Politics and food:

“It wasn’t just us in the Valley. There was a whole migration of hippies that came here. In Dunster there were probably 8 or 10 families. There were definitely more hippies than Mennonites in those days. We sort of established our own little community. A lot of us had at least some post-secondary education. A lot of Americans, fleeing the Vietnam War. There was a lot of intense things happening in those days.”

“We started a food co-op. We’d get together and order whole foods in bulk. We divided it up at the Dunster School. We ordered it from a wholesaler in Vancouver called ‘Fed Up.’ it was a member run co-op—we’d actually send people down there a couple times a year to work in the warehouse. There were co-ops all over rural BC in the ‘70s. All these little mountain towns where the hippies were settling. It was happening here but it was also happening in Nelson, in the Okanagan, on the coast; they all had food co-ops. We’d be talking about Communism, Marxism. It was politically-driven. We were getting rid of the middle man; we were taking control of our food system. We’d have big feasts, lots of brown rice and vegetables.”

“We come in and we’re all idealistic and disheveled and we don’t shave our armpits and we don’t shave our legs. And I gave birth at home; that was pretty edgy in those days. So how did we fit in?”

Friendships:

“Some of the older people really took us in. Most of us young hippie women hooked up with an old-timer woman and became friends with them, used them as mentors. We lived on Ray Long’s dairy farm in McBride. And I didn’t know anybody, and I’m very social, so I hooked up with Ray’s mom. She was in her 80s. and I would go and visit her every day. She was shut up in her house and I was lonely too. And it was a really neat relationship. Her name was Ethel Long. We read a lot of books together. We’d just read novels, some sentimental, dramatic—not Harlequin —about families and relationships.”

“These two sisters used to love to come over here with my daughter. And they loved to go through all my jewelry. And all my scarves. They’d go up and they’d be going through my drawers and trying on clothes and stuff. Because I had hippie clothes. They were really attracted to that because it was so different. Purple shirts. Beads, hippie beads.

“My son and [another local boy,] David used to play together all the time. David was a few years older. He went over there one time and [David’s mother] had all their houseplants out, she was repotting them. And [my son] walked in and said ‘Oh, what’re you doing?’ And she said ‘I’m repotting the plants.’ And he said ‘My dad told me that if the cops caught him with his pot plants they’d put him in jail.”

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