By Roy L Hales
More than four million people participated in the Global Climate strike on Friday, September 20, 2019. There were over 2,500 separate events, on all seven continents. At least two of these were in our area. Five hundred signatures were collected at the Campbell River Climate March and close to fifty people gathered to show their support on Cortes Island.
One of the student participants in the Campbell River March, Caitlin Johnson, told me that they had been demonstrating every Friday for months. A Carihi Secondary School student initiated “Fridays for the Future” by walking out of school at lunch time, She held a solitary protest in front of City Hall. Eventually, other students joined her. Thirty to forty – and one Friday a hundred students – now regularly participate in the weekly event.
Many of the adults came from Quadra Island.
“A good majority of Quadra Islanders are very aware of the critical situation that we find ourselves in … In the winter months we walked up and down the trails, or drove the roads, and we saw dying salal. I have approximately ten cedars that we have lost on our property. So we see the effects of Climate Change and we feel the effects as well. In March, 2019, a neighbour phoned me and said ‘Can I have some of your water, my well is dry.’ That was the 21st of March. So Quadra Islanders are very aware of the threat of Climate Change and its implications for our lives,” says Geraldine Kenny, in the podcast above.
She added, “I am just so inspired by Greta Thunberg who has spoken out, not only for her generation .. and her words, ‘When your house is on fire, you have to act. When you have to act, you have to take responsibility.”
Kenny, fellow Quadra Island resident Susan Western, Joanne Banks and Rich Hagensen, from the Council of Canadians in Campbell River, decided to organize a Global Climate Strike. The Quadra Island Climate Action Group had its first meeting on August 28, 2019. A subsequent article in the Campbell River Mirror states they were organizing a rally at Spirit Square in downtown Campbell River. A number of Carihi students were to join them. Everyone would then march on City Hall.
“It was a lot more complicated than we had thought. Spirit Square had changed its rules and regulations. We had to get insurance and book the space. We had to make sure the PA system was there and it had to be rented. How many people were we going to get? Who were we going to invite? Do we need a Traffic Marshall? It was just dealing with all the logistics,” says Kenny.
“There were signs up around our school and my teacher encouraged all of us in the outdoor education program to go downtown because it is something that we all do care about … How I got a little bit more involved … is I got a text from a friend … He said, ‘Hey, I’m at the front of the march and I need a second person to hold the sign. Do you want to do that with me?’ And I said, of course,” adds Johnson.
Morning of the Campbell River March
The Quadra Island Climate Action Group’s “Transporter and Run Around Person,” Kris Wellstein, arrived two hour before the event.
“Both of the people who are organizing on this side are friends of mine. We’ve been in cahoots on other projects. So I was just doing whatever they asked me to do, getting it all over there,” she says.
Caitlin Johnson’s friend Wyatt Parish intended to be one of the speakers. They arrived at Spirit Square about 11 AM. While Wyatt practised his speech, Caitlin “started looking at the tables that were out, signing petitions [and] getting the microphones set up.”
Some of the other Carihi students appear to have thought the rally was at City Hall. Wellstein says “there was a bit of a mix-up, but they did come down and join us. As regards the adults, “I believe there were a lot of Quadra people there and a few Campbell River people.”
Rally At Spirit Square
Kenny describes the Rally, which started about 12 PM:
“Rich Hagensen and Joanne Banks from the Council of Canadians … sang an awesome song called Climate Emergencies. Very witty; very poignant. Then we had guest speakers …”
“ … Avis O’Brien, a young Haida woman who was kind enough to come our rally in full regalia … opened the rally with a territorial acknowledgement …”
“ … We invited Andrew Nikiforuk to … be our main speaker. As you know, Andrew now lives in Campbell River and he writes for the Tyee. He gave a rabble rousing speech. It was very powerful, very meaningful and inspiring …”
“ … And then, to wrap it all up, we had a rocking blues musician … Ray Bennet, from Campbell River … While he was playing, we had some people, Quadra Islanders, walk into the crowd with clipboards … We had a petition calling for immediate climate action and … a big white board where people could write their comments about how they felt about Climate Change.”
Johnson adds, “People were taking pictures. There were people from our local radio station and the newspaper interviewing people.”
While estimates of the crowd size vary, 500 people signed the petition subsequently sent to the BC Union of Municipalities.
“We were so disappointed. One of our group … hoped we would get at least 2,000 people out. I, and Susan [Western], hoped we would get 700 and it was 500,” says Kenny.
Students Take The Stage
“But the most inspiring part of the whole thing was after all the old ladies had got up and made their speeches and the old men had made their speeches, the students stormed the stage with their placards. They stood up in front of the microphones and told what they thought and what they feel. That was just so powerful,” says Kenny.
“One girl, aged 15, stood up in front of 500 people, in front of a microphone and said, ‘I know I will not have children.’”
“I would say there were 30 or 40 students there, but there were six or seven who came up on stage and took ownership of the stage and, to a certain extent, ownership of their part of the event.”
March on City Hall
The march on City Hall started about 2 PM. Wellstein says she was more than happy to hand her bullhorn over to a young student. “She had a lot of good things to say on her way up there, to put it mildly.”
They found a microphone already set up at City Hall.
Someone came out to say, “It is great that all you guys are here. There is a craft fair for World River’s Day next week…”
“And he was booed. We had not marched to Campbell River City Hall to be told they are running an art festival. The 400 or 300 who marched up to City Hall … marched to demand action on Climate Change,” says Kenny.
“… A Quadra Islander, Carol Wolfe, got up in front of the microphone and said, ‘Campbell River Council purchases a $200,000 urinal – And we are fighting Climate Change, we are fighting single use plastics: where are the priorities.”
“Okay, this is your event. Would you like to hear anything more from Campbell River Council?” said the city employee.
Kenny laughs, “And the whole crowd said no!”
Kris Wellstein’s Poem
This may be where Kris Wellstein read out her poem:
Open the windows and open your eyes
Climate change has arrived
To our precious land and surging tides
The birds, the bees, the salmon, the trees, the starfish and Salal
All are dying away
We can't wait for our leaders or corporate bottom feeders
And we can't run hide, I know cause I've tried
We have to talk to each other
Make a hundred new choices
WE must be Leaders
WE can be Strong
WE will turn this Climate Crisis around
On To Osler Park & Home
After 20 to 30 minutes, the demonstrators walked back down through the city.
“We planted our signs in Osler Park, so that everybody who was on the Island highway could see that there had been an action in Campbell River,” says Kenny.
“We waved at cars. We had cars honking [in solidarity] with us … and that is when everybody started to go home,” says Johnson.
Cortes Island Climate Events
The Cortes Island events were less organized and would not have occurred if it were not for Nancy Beach. She arrived at the BC ferry terminal in Whaletown, at 9 AM, to send off anyone intending to join the march in Campbell River. When that didn’t occur, she gathered up half a half dozen people to express their solidarity with the march through a photo-op.
At noon, around three dozen adults responded to Nancy’s appeal and assembled in the courtyard of Cortes Natural Food Co-op in Mansons Landing. They marched up to the elementary school, where they were joined by a small group of students.
Minutes later, I found close to 50 people back in the Co-op courtyard. Mark de Bruijn, the Green Party candidate for our riding, joined us in time for the photo below (front row, extreme left). Nancy invited him to share a few words.
What Does It All Mean?
While the numbers of demonstrators seem small, an old adage suggests multiplying them by ten to get a clearer idea of what they represent. If 500 people showed up for the Campbell River march, there are probably 5,000 of a like mind in the area. A large portion of these come from Quadra Island. Similarly, the 50 participants on Cortes represent close to half the island’s population.
Top photo credit: Campbell River Climate March – Courtesy Quadra Island Climate Action Group