Well, life has interfered and I haven’t got an Amazing Canadians post up for a couple of months, but it is time! Today is International Female Ride Day (IFRD) and so it seems appropriate to honour a fellow female rider.
This week, I met with Skippy, who is organizing The Pilgrimage Ride for women this summer. Riding has always been part of Skippy’s life and as she put it – “There’s always been a bike in my life, though mostly for commuting and short runs for fun”. She had just returned from a long trip by bike to promote her event, reconnect with friends, and do some partying in New Orleans! Despite the fact that she had just landed back in Canada, and must have been in need of some well-earned chill time, she graciously agreed to meet with me for a chat. We talked of my Canadian tour last year and, of course, of her upcoming ride event.
Skippy has what seems to be an inexhaustible supply of positive energy. She would have to, having spent her career as a location and event manager in the film industry. Recently, Skippy has had some significant challenges, though. While working on a film site, she was assaulted by a street person. Among other injuries, she had a concussion, resulting in a brain injury which has impacted her ability to perform her work. Taking on a couple of jobs, she realized that she had to give up her work that she has loved for many years and think about re-training for another occupation. This, along with the drawn-out process of trying to get compensation from insurance companies, caused Skippy to fall into a funk which sunk into depression.
It was while coping with this life-changing experience, and mourning the loss of her event organizer role, that Skippy had an “I wonder if” moment about an event ride for women. She had noticed that outside of IFRD and the Women’s World Relay Ride, that there were not really any EVENT rides for women in Canada. She dismissed the idea initially as a fancy, but the seed had been planted and continued to rise to the surface of her mind. She put out some feelers to some potential sponsors and found a surprisingly open and willing response and the wheels began to turn in earnest. Taking on a life of its own, The Pilgrimage Ride was born. Her long-time friend Aileen was drawn into the process, creating a patch and website to promote the ride and being the moral support that Skippy has needed to keep plugging away at the event.
Not satisfied to do things in a small way, organizing a ride wasn’t enough – Skippy wanted to give back to the community that supported her when she first arrived in Victoria 25 years ago, needing help. A limited number of tickets are being sold for the event at the very reasonable participation fee of $85 per person. Participating includes prizes, overnight camping at an exclusive campground, a BBQ dinner, ride patch and local craft beer. Proceeds will benefit the Women In Need Community Cooperative in Victoria. Skippy has worked tirelessly to get sponsors for prizes and stops along the way and organized a campsite that is not normally open to the public. She has even managed to get access to a limited number of bunks in a bunkhouse for those of us who are not so keen to sleep in a tent!
As for the ride itself, it is billed as a quest, of sorts, and Skippy has very successfully cultivated an air of expectancy and mystery-to-be-discovered. In her own words: “The pilgrimage is a two-day mindful motorcycle ride on Vancouver Island, B.C. Canada………It is our wish that the riders will be nurtured by this land, honoured by their fellow riders and feel a little more freedom in their soul for having taken this quest into nature.” She hopes to empower women to recognize themselves as a force in our world and encourage bonding, confidence, and personal awareness. As well, she hopes to foster an awareness and respect for nature, the land, and culture – to commune with the ancient and learn about ourselves. While few details about the route have been revealed, enough were “leaked” to me to understand that this is a time for us to be present on this ride. To be mindful and absorb our surroundings and connect with them. To find our own personal peace and take that feeling away with us. We have all faced personal trauma and challenges, and sometimes we have to step away into our “present” to see the way forward.
I look forward to this adventure, held on July 27 and 28th with great anticipation. You can support Skippy’s fundraising effort by going to https://www.womeninneed.ca/donate and making a donation. If you are a rider that is a female-identified person, a trans woman or consider yourself gender-fluid/non-binary, please check out the website at https://www.pilgrimageride.com/ and join us. Tickets are limited, so book soon! 😊 I look forward to meeting more Amazing Canadians!
A year ago today, my sister was killed in a car accident. So, February’s Amazing Canadians will feature her remarkable life. I thought I would have it written already, but it's been hard to get the words out, so I’m just going to wing it. No doubt I will wish I said things that I have missed. My only sibling, Tracey and I were close and I miss her every day.
Tracey was a force in life. She threw herself into everything she did with an energy that most of us only dream of. During her school years, she involved herself in school activities, taking roles on student councils and working tirelessly to help with fundraisers and programs. Outside of school, she worked at the local theatre and restaurants, taught figure skating, and developed her musical talent. With all of that, somehow there was always time for some mischief and shenanigans with friends. As an adult, her lifelong dedication to her work and her community continued to be very important to her.
So much might be said of many people in our lives. So, what made Tracey amazing? Tracey vibrated on a whole other level of energy. Napoleon Hill once said "If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way". Tracey did a good deal of both.
While most of us focus on our day-to-day lives and those of our families, Tracey was always looking for an opportunity to help her community and the people around her. Tracey considered her community part of her family. When she and Brad settled in Arden, Manitoba, she attempted to revive the community with an organic grain elevator project. Widely supported, this was only prevented from becoming a reality by government bureaucracy. As a property manager, Tracey worked for Manitoba Housing for several years, taking care of her portfolio and further developing training programs to help others progress in their careers. Upon her death, we received many messages of compassion from colleagues throughout her long career, who had never forgotten the impact she had on their lives. While most of us come and go from one job to another, Tracey was remembered....for her support, encouragement and dedication to people. Tracey always went at least one step further.
Eventually tiring of the commute to Winnipeg to work with Manitoba Housing, Tracey accepted the position as the Chief Adminstrative Officer for the RM of Landsdowne. She worked tirelessly, taking courses to expand her professional capacity, working long hours and supporting her colleagues.
Miraculously, Tracey always made time for her personal interests and people. Her passion for learning led her down the paths of travel, history, genealogy, writing painting, music, gardening, and her greatest passion – Reiki. She became a Reiki Master and began taking patients of all ages and ailments to help them heal. She began running Reiki classes for those interested in embracing its tenets. Throughout her life, she was the mentor and safe haven for broken hearts, wayward children and struggling spirits. While the toll on her own health was great, she never turned away someone needing help.
The impact of her life on so many was evidenced by the 500+ people who turned out for her gathering to celebrate her life, and the 100 who left because there wasn’t a square inch of space left to stand in the small-town hall. Tracey’s memory has been honoured by her community, who recognized her efforts to create an historic tour of Arden, by creating Tracey’s Trail. This trail is a sight-seeing tour of the community of Arden, Manitoba, where she spent the last 17 years of her life. It was winter, when I was visiting Manitoba and my family discovered the trail. It will be beautiful in the summer, like Tracey was. If you are passing by Arden, take the time to stop at the Crocus sculpture. Check out the little visitor box to find a pamphlet describing the trail and its sites and blow a kiss to Tracey, the most Amazing Canadian in my world. From the day of your death, Valentine's Day for me will mean wearing purple and remembering you. I am so proud to be your little sister.
I am "under the wire" for January’s Amazing Canadians feature by posting it on the last day of January. Unfortunately, attempts to have an in-person interview with Bill and Ann Peckham failed. Being such remarkable people, I am writing their story anyway and hope they will be ok with it and hope I have the story straight. Information has been obtained from publicly available sources and the Eagle Wings Children’s Village website.
Bill and Ann came to my attention through my mom, who had worked with them in the Frontier School Division in Manitoba. Mom told me of their adventures after retiring from teaching and of how they have impacted the lives of so many orphaned children in Africa.
Bill and Ann hail from Manitoba. Bill spent his career in education as a teacher, principal and special education resource teacher. Ann cared for home and children and worked in various capacities outside the home as well. Upon retiring, they moved back to Gilbert Plains, MB and became involved with missionary activities.
Being drawn to missionary work, Bill and Ann eventually travelled to Uganda to visit Rev. Christopher Muwonge, who had lived with the Peckhams in Winnipeg in the 1980s. A three month stay turned into two years, during which time, Bill and Ann travelled Uganda extensively. These travels opened their eyes to the poverty and strife of Ugandan children and they developed a personal commitment to helping the thousands of Ugandan orphans. They began to plan their own program in the Kalugu District of Southern Uganda. In 2004, their application to the Ugandan Government, to operate Eagles Wings Children’s Village (EWCV) as an official NGO (Non Government Organization), was granted. In 2005, EWCV was granted registered charity status in both Uganda and Canada. In October of 2005, Bill and Ann became residents of Uganda, committed to improving the lives of Ugandan children.
Uganda is in central Africa, with no borders on oceans. One of the best climates in the world lends itself to agriculture, which is relied upon in the EWCV to provide food and occupation for its residents. Though the entire country of Uganda could fit inside the province of Manitoba three times, there are over 27 million people, with one of the highest population growth rates in the world. The majority of the population is under 15 years of age and 2.3 million children are orphaned, due to the high death rate from HIV/AIDS.
By establishing EWCV as an NGO and charity, the organization was able to purchase 74 acres of land. This property has been used to provide clean drinking water, schools, a play structure, and agricultural land to provide food for the children. Eleven acres of this land is under cultivation and learning agricultural skills and participating in working the land are a key part of the childrens’ educations. The EWCV employs a growing staff of Ugandans in a variety of roles. Farm managers and assistants, maintenance staff, teachers, social worker, housekeepers, seamstresses, house parents and security guards are among the many staff involved in operating and maintaining the Village. Bill and Ann volunteer their services to the community.
In addition to addressing the health needs of the children by providing good food, water, clothing, and cots with mosquito netting, the EWCV also has an on-site clinic provided by Hellenic Ministries. A doctor and nurse attend to the additional health needs of the village children and staff.
Education is provided, free of charge, to the orphaned children in the village, as well as the neediest children in the neighbouring community. Text books, supplies, uniforms, shoes, food and health care are provided at no cost. All students begin with English, Literacy (Reading and Writing), Math, Luganda, Christian Education and Physical Education. Once promoted to Senior One level, studies expand to include Integrated Science, including agriculture, and Social Studies.
Heading into their 14th year, Bill and Ann’s remarkable achievements have provided hope and life for hundreds of orphaned Ugandan children, who would otherwise be facing a life of poverty and ill health, if any life at all. I am truly humbled by their generosity and tenacity in seeing their dream through, and the selflessness with which they have committed themselves to their task. If you are seeking inspiration, search no further than this remarkable couple.
The operation of the EWCV relies on charitable donations and volunteers. If you would like to support their work by volunteering, sponsoring a child, or making a donation, please visit their website at: http://eagleswingschildrensvillage.com/. If you are not able to volunteer or donate, please visit the site anyway and see the pictures and newsletters for the feel-good moments of making a difference in a child’s life.
OK, this post is waaayy overdue! I wanted to do it as a video, but it appears my skills as a videographer and editor currently leave much to be desired, so I have to resort to stories and pictures again.
The Amazing Canadian series of my Explore My Nation blog is to continue the spirit of my cross-country trip by meeting new people who are doing cool things and telling their story on my blog. My first interview was with Kirsten Atkins, (pronounced keer-sten), whom I met at the Nightmare Before Xmas market in New Westminster, BC.
Kirsten is a dressmaker, designer and costumer who owns and operates KLA originals. She began sewing when she was 6 years old and began her first professional business in 1988, doing alterations, mending and custom sewing projects. Her grandfather was a Master Tailor, and she attests that that is likely where she got her talent (as well as the most gigantic pair of shears I have ever seen!). Kirsten takes her grandfather’s talent one step further, though. In the words of her grandmother “He never had your imagination!”
For many years, Kirsten lived in Dawson City where she first established KLA Originals as a retail store. Not surprisingly, her main business was the design and creation of authentic turn-of-the-century costumes. With Dawson City being a National Historic Site, many businesses required their staff to be in period costume. Among others at the time, the gorgeous costumes of Diamond Tooth Gerties’ girls were benefactors of Kirsten’s considerable talent.
In more recent years, as an adult with 2 “tween-to-teen” daughters, she received a bag of clothing from a friend. In it were sweaters that the girls didn’t want and didn't fit Kirsten. This was the birth of her idea to upcycle sweaters into unique designs. The design of that first sweater drew so many comments and frequent “borrowing” by her daughters, that Kirsten decided to pursue the idea in earnest. Inspired by designers that she found online, she began to produce full-length and mid-length carousel coats, cardigans, boleros, fairy dresses, elf coats and hoodies. She uses sweaters that don’t sell at thrift stores because they “have holes in them, stains on them, or are just too ugly to sell”. She purchases them at discounted prices from thrift stores and a small number are occasionally donated. She sanitizes them, sorts them by colour and type, then cuts them into her required pattern shapes and repurposes them into beautiful and unique creations. Mostly, they are adult-sized garments, but once a year around Christmas she will produce kid size carousel coats and hoodies. In spite of the smaller sizes, the kids ones take way longer to make.
Kirsten uses every bit of sweater that can possibly be incorporated – reusing buttons and zippers, turning broken zippers into design elements and cutting out feature pieces for accents. It can take up to 8 sweaters to create one full-length carousel coat! Other bits and pieces are turned into hats and mitts. The hours of work put into these beautiful garments clearly indicate it is a labour of love as much as a business.
Kirsten’s designs can be viewed online at www.klaoriginals.com, or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/klaoriginals/. She says Facebook will have a much broader variety of pictures than the website and she updates it more frequently. Product can be purchased from her website using VISA, Mastercard or Paypal. Keep in mind that stock may be low leading up to Christmas, (I'm speculating), but please check out her amazing designs, modelled by her beautiful daughters, and place your order for a truly unique, Canadian creation!
Thanks, Kirsten, for being on Amazing Canadians!