[From the Archives: Dec 9, 2021]

In the third instalment of Cortes Currents Reel Youth series, Mark Vonesh and Erica Køhn talk about Youth and Seniors programs.

“Our youth and senior film programs, or youth and elder film programs, are probably about 30% – 40% of the work we do. It’s one of the most powerful projects that we’ve done,” said Vonesch.

The interviews with Trude Albright Sweeney, Diane Hanson and Ed Piggott were in a 2015 series devoted to the rich history of Cortes Island and its residents.

“Why are you so amazing?” filmmaker Bonnie McKibbon asked at the beginning of the film ‘Trude the Amazing.”

“That’s a silly question, I am not amazing,” chuckled Sweeney.

The film follows the almost 82-year-old through her garden, around the house and into the kitchen where she made a cake.

“People think if you are coming from Vienna, you know how to bake,” she said.

In her case they were right and Trude’s Cafe Konditorei became a favourite stop for many visitors to the island.

“I moved to this island in 1987, but I visited every summer since 1976. When I moved here, it was like moving in with friends – it was very nice” she said.

(Left to Right): Bonnie McKibbin, Trude Albright-Sweeny – courtesy Reel Youth

The Youth and Seniors programs grew out of Vonesch’s experiences in an enrichment program, during grade 3. The bond he forged with the 93-year-old woman he was matched with lasted until her death a decade later. She filled the gap left by the fact his own grandparents were far away in England.

“As I was thinking about new innovations for Reel Youth, I thought about  that experience and started a new program that brought different generations together,” he explained.

Diane Hanson was born on Cortes and, aside from going away to school,  remained here all of her life. She describes herself as a clamdigger’s daughter, and the wrist muscles she developed shucking clams were invaluable during an Elvis Imitators concert. (When Hanson caught a towel that the singer tossed into the audience, a redhead and a brunette tried to tear it out of her hands.)

“Our childhood was way different from what children have now. I didn’t see a TV until I was sixteen years old. We played outside a lot and invented our own fun,” she said.

Hanson loved to draw, dreamt of becoming a fashion designer and married her childhood sweetheart Jimmy Hanson.

“We had oyster leases all around Marina and Cortes Islands and we used to pick oysters and send them down to Sooke. After a few years, my husband decided instead of sending oysters all the way, why don’t we provide employment on the island here.”

For the next nine years they hired people to manage their clam and oyster leases.

One day a friend said he was going to bring a camera to get a picture of them shucking.

“Because it was called ‘Hanson Brothers Fresh Seafood,’ we decided to wear bikinis. We had a strip of tape on our behinds that said ‘Hanson Brothers Fresh Seafood.’”

In 1985 they launched a seafood restaurant called ‘the Happy Snapper Restaurant,’ which was renamed ‘The Shell and Fin.’”

(Left to Right): Tara Warkentin, Hannah Hansed, Diane Hansen – courtesy Reel Youth.

Erica Køhn was not a facilitator in either of the Cortes Island Youth and Seniors programs, but has taken part in communities where the generations are more segregated.

“Ageist stereotypes are super unhelpful, but they’re some of the most tolerated forms of discrimination in Canada,” she said.

One of the things she loves about the Youth and Seniors program is it fosters real communication.

“In order to make a documentary,  the young people have to listen deeply to what the older adult is saying. They have to empathize with them, they have to ask deepening questions and they have to deeply connect. That’s the only way for them to actually effectively do what they’re trying to accomplish, but it also happens to be a similar process to developing a deep friendship,” explained Køhn.

“It’s so exciting to see what they come back with and then see the film that they co-create, which ends up being almost a gift to the older adult of reflecting themselves back to them through the young people’s lives.”

The late Ed Piggot moved to Cortes Island in 1974, to become the first principal of the Cortes Island School.

“I had a really good time in this school. In not many schools would you see a grade ten boy walking along, down the hallway here, holding the hand of a kindergarten girl,” said Piggot.

He remembers the day the secretary interrupted his science class to tell Piggot his pigs had gotten out. All of the grade 9 and 10 boys piled into the back of Piggot’s pickup truck so they could help round them up.

Forty years later, Piggot started his day with a cup of cocoa before heading out to feed the animals on his farm.

“I think being self-sufficient is very useful, it is invaluable,” he said. “I like selling eggs because  I know how to grow good eggs, which have very rich nice yolks and people like to buy them.”

Fifteen stray cats have settled down at Piggot’s farm, which does not have any rats.

He likes to grow potatoes, “because I like chips.”

(Left to Right): Ester Strijbos, Ed Piggot, Mari Geraghty – courtesy Reel Youth

Vonesch says “The beauty of youth and senior film programs on Cortes Island is that the older folks, the film stars in the program, are often still chopping their own wood, living by themselves, very independent and sort of carry that Cortes spirit that I think we all really love.”

Top photo credit: (Left to Right): Diane Hansen, Hannah Hansed, Tara Warkentin, Helen Hall – courtesy Reel Youth

This broadcast was originally scheduled for December 7th and delayed until December 9th as a result of a power blackout.