Originally published as a column in the AM News on October 2, 2014.
She said ‘I have something for you to borrow’ and walked to the hallway closet. From the top shelf she got a book. Green and old, hardcover, with writing that spilled the secret: a Kamloops directory from the late ‘40s.
I am visiting with my nonagerian friend I met when we moved to Kamloops. One sunny day in September of 2012 I walked barefoot across the street to her home and introduced myself. We’ve been close since.
We recently said goodbye to our first Kamloops home and I said goodbye to walking across the street to my friend’s home. It’ll be weekly visits from now on, just as good and pleasantly anticipated. Every time I visit with her she tells stories of old Kamloops, and we have a good laugh about many of them. She’s a keeper of memories like no one else. And sadly, one of the few left.
The house we moved into is a 1905 house in a downtown area where old houses still stand, hence my friend’s suggestion that I borrow the book and look up former residents. Our house comes with a soul and it seems logical that we look into finding out who added to it over the years.
My elderly friend always talks of the old days and reinforces my belief that we need to mind them more than we do nowadays. Because history is very hard to keep track of, true history, she says. And knowing how a place and its people came to be, helps us understand how we should shape the future so that it honours us, those before us and those who are still to come.
Kamloops has plenty of history still, and much of it stands right in front of you in shape of old buildings. Some are truly decrepit but some are not. Sadly, many will never make it past this decade.
Just two days ago, a close friend told me of the house her grandfather built and she grew up in. It came down to make room for an apartment building. If you’re ready to picture an old derelict unsafe house that had no future, you’re risking a false, gross assumption.
The house displayed beautiful features of old craftsmanship, mahogany walls and the kind of solid design that could make it through another century. It didn’t, unfairly so.
My nonagerian friend tells me of a friend who moved into a house just down the street that was built by W Jas Moffat, a former mayor of Kamloops and skilled home builder. She read about that in the book she gave me to peruse.
I drove home with the book and a car full of herb planters, drift wood and rocks I had left behind yesterday when we moved. I sat on the front steps among boxes and other paraphernalia, glanced at the river winding its way through the ever-growing new Kamloops and the beautiful hills rolling as far as the eyes could see and then I read through the book. I was struck by an interesting feature: each person had their occupation listed also.
You might be thinking about privacy and such. Oddly enough, it doesn’t violate any privacy concerns of mine. I consider myself a private person and wary of prying eyes in general. But a directory where everyone was listed with their occupation, rather than just an address, revealed a level of transparency that pointed to accountability and citizenship rather than gratuitous exposure.
The book I was holding had been a Kamloops directory, and nowadays is a history book. Not bad of a transformation.
There are stories written on every page, next to each name, just like there are stories written in the dark chocolate wooden floors I step on in our new dwelling. They have been here since 1905 and I consider it a privilege to be able to offer my sons a slice of old Kamloops, since as every recently transplanted resident knows, being new comes with feeling rootless.
Well, it turns out that you can grow roots if willing. Through people who share stories, and through places that you can love and are willing to work hard to bring back to life.
If I am to instill in my sons respect for the values that made Canada what it is and help them grow into citizens who know how to honour it, and demand the same from their political leaders, I figure it’ll be from the ground up, literally. The reverence an old building can inspire is not one we should take for granted. It’s the portal to the days when openness was not considered lack of privacy but civic responsibility. We need more of that.
If you are willing to accept that as truth, then it’ll make sense that the lack of transparency we see nowadays, from a neighborhood or town level to the highest political tier, leads to lack of accountability, damaging in the long run and clearly capable to hurt the solidity of our community and country, and transform the values our anthem reminds us of.