swimming against the stream

Sometimes people you met long ago just demand to be remembered. Maybe it's the impression they made on you, impact they had on your life or possibly the stories you heard from or about them that never really faded.

Sometimes people you met long ago just demand to be remembered. Maybe it’s the impression they made on you, impact they had on your life or possibly the stories you heard from or about them that never really faded. Anyway you carry them in your personal circle of elders for the rest of your life. Beresford Richards, or Berry as I knew him, sits with many others in that now mainly spiritual ring for me.

Always being a joiner it didn’t take long for me once moved into Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in the late 1970s to become involved in local activities. An eager 30-something-year-old, if open to it, gets readily recruited by local organizations of one sort or another if you even slightly poke your head above water. Parish council, food bank board, refugee support committee, and a Latin American solidarity group were among the groups taking chunks of my available community time. My wife Eva, similarly afflicted, had developed her own network of engagement including founding a counseling organization, teaching parenting programs and getting elected to a local school board. This also meant that we, of course, ended up supporting each others activities as well.

Once immersed the community current carries you along. Similarly engaged local folk become new companions on the journey through the often tumultuous rapids of the local events that you get caught up in. Berry Richards, then a retired mining engineer originally from Cornwall, England, became a mentor in this swirl.

He never seemed far from progressive initiatives as they surfaced in Prince Albert. When a group formed in support of the workers in a particularly bitter co-op strike he joined us. When controversy about the Blakeney government’s support for building a uranium refinery not far away galvanized the formation of a local alternative energy coalition in opposition to it, his voice could be heard.

Berry, I would learn, had a long history of speaking out. At 29 years of age in 1943 he had been elected as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the precursor of the NDP) member to the Manitoba Legislature for The Pas. However his advocacy of co-operation with other progressive politicians and parties in running ‘united front’ candidates against the Progressive Conservatives in 1945 federal elections got him turfed from the CCF caucus.

Berry ran in the 1945 provincial election though as an ‘independent CCF’ candidate and won back his seat in The Pas. Readmitted to the Manitoba CCF party he continued swim against the current. His opposition his parties’ support of Canada’s involvement in the then emerging NATO led other caucus members like Stanley Knowles to mount an effort to throw him out again. They succeeded in 1949.

Defeated in another attempt to run as an independent he returned to his profession as a mining engineer. After years of mining and prospecting in Northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba, he retired to his home in Prince Albert where I came to know him. His politics became the small ‘p’ politics of engaging in grassroots efforts at change.

As political parties seem naturally to morph from ‘movement’ parties with visionary platforms to mainstream ‘brokerage’ parties they often abandoning hard ideological positions as they seek to move towards the perceived centre of the spectrum in order to garner a winning percentage of votes from the Canadian mainstream. When they do it more than often falls to groups outside of the formal political process to stimulate the needed discussions and pressure to move society socially and politically forward. Berry, I believe, clearly recognized this and chose to put his energy with these groups. He knew that eventually the political parties would have to catch up.

In our drastically altered political landscape following last Monday’s elections maybe Berry Richards’ had the right perspective. He would surely urge us to hunker down and get about the business of building from the ground up the kind of society that must be created if we are to truly have the possibility of handing on to future generations a just, environmentally and economically sustainable society. With the rising flood of environmental, social and economic challenges triggered by a failing industrial age paradigm lets hope that the political parties indeed do have the time to catch up.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (yfned.ca)
Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Most Read