The Christina Westcott way

Excerpt from Vimy by Pierre Berton.

At Vimy, far more time was spent in back-breaking toil – endless digging with pick and shovel, toting heavy loads over difficult ground – than in firing any weapons. The Canadians easily adapted to these familiar conditions, made the best of them, and used age-old Canadian devices, such as the Indian tumpline, to alleviate the work load.

These were men whose arm and shoulder muscles had been toughened by years of playing two Indigenous Canadian games, lacrosse and ice hockey. It was no great feat for them to march for hours with a rifle at the slope or high port, or to lunge with a bayonet. There were also men who were used to working with horses, who had laboured on the railways and mines, and who had tinkered with farm machinery. All these skills dovetailed neatly into the Vimy requirements, where thousands of feet of rails and plank road had to be laid, hundreds of yards of tunnels had to be blasted from the chalk, and fifty thousand horses had to be fed and cared for.

Trench life in France was appalling for everybody, but at least a good proportion of the men at Vimy had known what it was like to sleep out in the mud and rain, to eat a cold meal in the wilderness, and, in many cases, to knock over a deer with a rifle. It was the same with those in the sky above. All of Canada’s leading flying aces came from backwoods communities, mainly from the West. In civilian life they were crack shots and good riders. After all, to manhandle a Sopwith Camel in the Great War wasn’t that different from riding a spirited steed.

 The Canadians who went off to war in 1914 from the fields and the forests were not yet soldiers; in or out of uniform they could not have prevailed against a disciplined enemy. But they had the guts and stamina and, perhaps more important, a habit of self-resilience that would help carry them through those weary months when the mud and vermin were almost unbearable, and those tense few hours when the guns roared and the trenches ran with blood.

Welcome family and friends. The Westcott Family is honoured to have you here today, and your love and support is sincerely appreciated.

My introduction today was borrowed from an important page in Canadian history, written by Pierre Berton in his book called Vimy. The credit to the “guts and stamina” and “self-resilience” of those heroic Vimy soldiers sends a message to my heart about the bravery and tenacity of another proud Canadian, my cousin, Christina Westcott.

Christina pursued life with the same passion and fortitude that Canadians, including our grandfather, Clarence Pye, and great grandfather, Samuel Pye, took to war. Christina’s “habit of self-resilience” carried her through her own epic battle.

It’s fitting that we embrace a touch of Canadian history on a day that honours Christina. She would agree that a classroom-style lesson can come at any occasion, even at her Celebration of Life service. Our promise to never stop learning is for the one who never stopped teaching.

Canadian history was very important to Christina. In 2007, she organized a student trip to the Vimy Ridge monument and the First World War battle ground in France where Canada brought victory on Easter Monday 1917. The Canadian spirit that triumphed Vimy also defined my cousin.

Life is about being true to yourself, and Christina owns this achievement. We are very proud of her. She never backed down on personal promises. She never stopped cheering on her family. She never forgot where she came from.

As a little girl, Christina’s imagination turned playhouses into school houses – and, yes, she was the teacher. Reaching out to support her family as well as classmates was just as important to Christina as the degrees she earned to achieve her teaching dream. Christina’s passion for teaching and caring about the success of others made a profound difference in the lives of hundreds of students, parents and teachers. Christina stayed true to her small-town roots, taking Brechin farm values and Westcott determination to Peterborough, Kingston and Oshawa.

Several years ago, I finished up a business meeting early in the City of Oshawa. As I drove past a high school, I thought, “Hey, I wonder…”

Christina came to mind. I knew she had accepted a teaching position with the Durham Region School Board. I turned the vehicle around, pulled into Oshawa Central Collegiate, and walked into the main office.

I said, “Excuse me. Does this school have a teacher on staff named Christina Westcott?”

“Yes, we do!”

A teacher passing through the office announced “follow me” and off we went as she guided me through the school hallways. She threw open a door and interrupted Christina teaching to a full class. Her smile lit up and Christina never skipped a beat.

She said, “Class, this is Robert Pye! He is here today to give us a talk about fish and wildlife conservation!”

I have no idea what I taught that day. It didn’t matter. Christina was thrilled, and I was proud of myself that day for acting upon the spontaneity and sincerity that her love encouraged.

My golden childhood memories shine because of Christina. She was the centerpiece of family gatherings with the brightest smile and greatest laugh in the room. She was the initiative to create quality family time around a simple game like checkers or Sorry.

She worked as enthusiastically as she played. From digging in the gardens to brushing on paint, no job was ever too big for Christina. Taking on the heavy lifting, putting in the overtime, and going the extra mile is the Christina Westcott way. She inspired and humbled the world around her because she never complained or looked for attention when she delivered one hundred percent.

Anyone can work their ass off. Christina worked her ass off with a smile. In the words of her favourite artist, Michael Buble, “It’s a beautiful day, and I can’t stop myself from smiling.”

We all have special memories of Christina, and her smile – that beautiful smile – is the highlight of every Christina Westcott moment in our hearts.

My cousin’s pursuit of her dreams was with grit and grace – that powerful combination is perhaps the greatest lesson this extraordinary teacher ever taught us.

CW

February 8, 1976 – January 12, 2019

Christina Westcott – you are the real deal.

You are the down-to-earth, proud and true Canadian quality that Pierre Berton wrote about in Vimy.

You are the professional who raised the bar on student success and teacher dedication.

You are the soft strong bonds of sharing at every family occasion.

You are forever in our hearts.

We love you Christina.

 

I am the duck hunter.

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I am the paddler breaking through the cattails, making way to a duck blind that calls my name. I am the anticipation in the hour of darkness that unravels into legal light. I am the steadiness, the readiness, the call and the shot as wild wings descend upon the decoys.   I am the hunting skills passed down by generations of duck callers and wing shooters. I am the spectator hidden by camouflage as Canada Geese spell V on a flight that plays the soundtrack of fall. I am the face towards an autumn sunrise that feels like an exclusive show. I am a vow that wetlands will always have my volunteer spirit, and my voice, to protect them. I am a name on a duck stamp and license fees proudly addressed to environmental action. I am the fascination for iridescent feathers, studying the profound artistic perfection of the mallard, wood duck and teal.  I am the quality time I promised a special hunting buddy, sharing a morning in the marsh as we whisper our observations of nature at work — on the water and in the sky.  I am the passion that comes from waterfowl hunting pastimes. I am conservation.

The Outdoors Journey

The White Otter Inn was in my rear view mirror and the rising sun was on my windshield.  I was up unreasonably early to drive home from a late-November OFAH membership meeting in northwestern Ontario. Slowly,  the break of dawn unveiled the full view of an empty Trans-Canada Highway… empty except for the OFAH company Jeep I was driving and a half-ton truck up ahead.  That truck was also flying my organization’s emblem.

Back bumper or top windshield corner, I can spot an OFAH membership decal a mile away. Our bright blue membership sticker is the highly recognizable “I’m proud to fish and hunt” statement affixed to boats, ATV’s, trucks and cars all throughout Ontario, especially in the north.

With a full travel mug of coffee and an extra hour on my side, I had no inclination to pass my fellow OFAH members.  After all, a weekend full of fish hatchery tours, club meetings and conservation topics couldn’t replace this anonymous OFAH membership success story being told, from the shoulders up, with backs against a truck cab window.

With every mile I paid closer attention to the OFAH members sitting side-by-side in the cab of that truck. Their blaze orange hats and jackets made it easy to tell how they were spending the morning.  A father and his son, I predicted. Going deer hunting, I assumed.

I recognized their body language from my own childhood hunting trips, sitting beside my Dad on the bench seat of his old two-toned-brown GMC Sierra. The constant bobbing of two hunting hats to the beat of their discussion made me wish I could hear it. The steady nodding of the driver’s head told me that he enjoyed listening and learning from his son. The enthusiastic expressions from the young passenger told me that today’s hunt was already successful – successful if only from the perspective of quality time between two lifelong hunting buddies.

Simple moments like these that remind us why a passion for hunting comes from the heart. Hunting is about the fulfillment of the journey not the squeeze of the trigger. Hunting builds character and a deeply rooted respect for nature.  Hunting connects us to the family and friends who cared enough to pass down the hunting heritage. Hunting is our identity. It is a core value for millions of Canadians.

National Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Heritage Day

20170720_120625The need to express the importance of our outdoor heritage has always been the OFAH motivation to push for federal and provincial recognition of those who fish, hunt and trap and serve fish and wildlife conservation.

In Canada, on the third Saturday of September, our great traditions are saluted with an official “Day.”  That Day is the new National Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Heritage Day, presented by the Government of Canada.

Even when the occasion has come and gone, our pride in Canada’s outdoor heritage, and the great conservation story of anglers, hunters and trappers, deserves to be told every day.

National Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Heritage Day gives the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and its conservation allies another opportunity to put long overdue public attention on how our members and supporters contribute to our natural resources.

Conservation leadership

Yes, we love to fish and hunt but anglers, hunters and trappers have done more than that.

When wetlands were considered wastelands, it was duck hunters who were the first to demand the protection of wetlands and the international Migratory Birds Treaty.

When some people didn’t care about cold water streams and its value to fish and wildlife, it was trout fisherman who volunteered to plant trees, prevent erosion, built spawning beds and fish ladders.

When an entire industry was built on the decimation of wildlife for commerce, it was hunters who demanded seasons and limits and the prohibition on selling wild meat.

When catch and release wasn’t even a concept, it was fishing club members who built hatcheries and stocked lakes with fish and locally promoted conservation and responsible angling.

When our delicate waterways and forest ecosystems faced the threat of invasive species, it was the OFAH that built partnerships, programs and awareness to stop the spread.

Improving local streams and wetlands, stocking lakes, planting trees, building nesting boxes, picking up litter from rivers and forests, volunteering for habitat restoration programs, promoting hunter education and teaching kids about responsible fishing and conservation are all examples of how the outdoors community makes a difference.

Right now, somewhere in down-to-earth-rural-Canada, there’s a valuable conversation happening between two life-long hunting buddies. Perhaps they are sitting side-by-side on the bench seat of truck as they’re heading into deer camp. Perhaps they’re reminiscing about past hunts, legendary bucks and all the special family memories that the great outdoors provides. Respect for nature and quality time with family and friends is never taken for granted, and National Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Heritage Day helps express our passion for the outdoors journey.

Pull!!! A party with a bang.

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A Canada Day party calls for fireworks but, at Pye Acres, we prefer 12 gauges. PULL!!! I think we just started a new summer long weekend tradition. The 1st annual Pye Acres Skeet Shoot & BBQ was… wait for it.. a blast. Over 20 new and experienced gunners cracked clays on our back-forty skeet range. When the shooting irons were safely stored away, we cracked beers. What could be more Canadian than shotgun sports, a potluck BBQ and a campfire? Enter in a mix of backyard kite flying, pellet gun plinking, marshmallow melting and bush-buggy riding for the kids, and you’ve got the kind of family fun event that Pye Acres was designed to host. The skeet shooting event is nothing new for our property. Since we bought the land in 2006, dozens of shooters, young and old, have pounded their shoulder with some basic wing shooting practice. We always welcome new shooters. The only thing more exciting than blasting your first flying target is watching a first time skeet shooter dust theirs. It’s an experience that is perhaps underrated, not just in terms of outdoor hobby interests but in terms of building self confidence. It’s particularly rewarding when a new shooter trades in their previous firearms fears for firearms respect and a fascination for this timeless target shooting tradition. Meanwhile, back at the house, everyone is welcome to pull up a lawn chair around our new campfire. Appropriately, it was officially lit during the most memorable Canada Day long weekend ever. Thanks for coming out! Let’s do it all over again next Canada Day.

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Our new backyard feels complete with a great campfire pit. It was officially lit this past weekend.

Our new backyard feels complete with a great campfire pit. It was officially lit this past weekend.