For Barb

– by John Taylor (her spouse) –

Since Barb’s passing in the Hospice up at UBC, of pancreatic cancer, I have received so many cards and letters of support for me and expressions of love for Barb. She was an amazing person that affected many people with her kindness and generous spirit. She affected me deeply. We were very close, feeling so close as to be part of each other sharing the same thoughts, beliefs, and passions in life. We were of one mind about social and environmental justice, religion and politics. We spoke with the same position on most issues.

So how did we get together? About 50 years ago, we met at the university of Montreal, both learning French. She was there as an independent student fresh out of high school from Winchester, Virginia. I was a lucky recipient of a federal government program to send idle students to the French or English language university of our choice in Canada to learn the other official language. It was a solution by the federal government to head off possible riots in the city streets such as was happening across the border in the States. “Detroit is Burning” was one such headline. I immediately applied at the local Canada Manpower office in Halifax after learning it provided $50 a week stipend, free tuition and all expenses paid. Just get there! Next day I was out on the highway from Halifax hitchhiking to Montreal. Barb, coming from the US had to pay for the program. She was coming to seriously improve her French language skills in preparation for studying at American University in Washington, DC in Sept. She planned on majoring in International Studies but later switched to English literature with a minor in French after learning that most women graduates of International Studies ended up as typists in overseas embassies. She wanted none of that!

Montreal was a wonderful city. It was much more exciting than the small towns we were both brought up in. The classes were fun and trips around the province of Quebec were organized. Barb came to my attention when she took the initiative to organize an evening excursion to the top of Mount Royal, near the university campus to observe the ceremony of visiting the Stations of the Cross. It was part of the Quebec culture and Barb believe we would gain more understanding of what we were studying by observing this. We all agreed and joined her. About halfway through the ceremony, Barb developed an itchy throat and stood off to the side to clear it. I thought it ironic that this little Jewish teenager who had organized this adventure for the Anglo-Canadian protestants was looking like the only one emotionally affected by the ceremony. I couldn’t resist and went over to comfort her. It was the beginning of a long relationship. I ended all my other relationships with the many women in the class. This was one of those Summers of Love that characterized the 60’s and 70’s among young people. Certainly more fun than making war! We corresponded for the next 4 years while she studied at university. We visited each other a couple of times. On one trip I met her parents and got the third degree. Her mother warned her she shouldn’t get tied to the first boy that kissed her but rather “play the field” in case a better one came along. Her mother was a hard bargainer. After Barb accepted my marriage proposal her mother suggested we just live together common law so if it didn’t work out we wouldn’t need to go through a messy divorce. Barb was not convinced by her mother and a year later we were married in her parents’ home. Her father did make the comment to me that I should think twice about this as he claimed that “the women in this family are tough and very demanding.” I replied that I would take my chances and give it a try.

Before we got married, Barb visited me in Kitimat where I was working as a contract researcher for the Smelter Workers Union while serving on the negotiating committee. I suggested to Barb that she take the plant tour in the air-conditioned bus while I was busy in negotiations. She did so, but asked so many questions about the pollution in the plant and why were the trees all dead on the mountainside outside the plant. The guide told her that she would have to speak to the manager to get answers to those questions. After the tour she headed directly to the Office building, demanding to see the manager. The response to her questioning was “why did she want to know?” She replied that she was a shareholder and wanted to know what they were doing with her money. The manager learned she held only a few shares, which her father bought for her because I was working there and it might be a good investment. The manager thought that was a ridiculous amount and refused to take her seriously. However we later learned from company officials that they were afraid that she was the famous female shareholder activist that bought a few shares in bad companies and raised hell at their annual shareholder meetings. Apparently that woman caused heads to roll when the president or CEO was embarrassed at such a public event. The fact that Barb was connected to me of the negotiating committee raised the alarm and a major effort was put into investigating my background. I learned that the company police had gone coast to coast checking my resume for errors or omissions for clues to finding my true background and motives.

It reached a crisis point among management when I responded to the application by the company to pollute which was published as a notice by the province in the Globe and Mail. I wrote on the union letterhead that I intended to object to it. The company responded by withdrawing the application to pollute, and instead installed equipment to remove the dangerous pollutants from the exhaust fumes which were killing the trees on the mountainside. It became a clean plant in which to work and breathe. However, the company remained very suspicious of Barb, and her connection to me waiting for the boom to be lowered. Life heated up again when the union reopened the contract to adjust wages upward as specified in the contract to allow for matching of wage rates with the forest industry. When the grassroots workforce became impatient and started work-to-rule action, the company sued all union executives for millions of dollars in damages, things became bitter. As treasurer of the union, I moved a motion at the membership meeting to shut the plant down. The company then requested that negotiations reopen and a new contract was agreed on within hours. Since it met our demands, the workers voted to accept it. This was Barb’s exposure to serious labour battles and the high stakes involved.. We then moved south to Vancouver with myself offered a position as a Noise Inspector with the WCB and Barb as a secretary in the History Dept at UBC. Her knowledge of French being a key factor in her being hired and was relied on by the deptartment to communicate with French-speaking clients as well as editing papers of professors using French quotes. She enjoyed it. However, she was talked into serving on the Negotiating Committee for the union. Her experience was similar to what I went through – though not as much on the brinkmanship. When spring came, we made the decision to move to Nova Scotia and open up a bed and breakfast in the historic town of Annapolis Royal. It was a major change in our lives as we bought a huge old mansion, restored it with all new utilities and bathrooms in all seven guest rooms. It became quite successful and well known. At the same time, we became very active in environmental struggles, leading the campaign against uranium exploration and mining. We did win that battle, convincing the provincial goverment that it was in danger of losing the next provincial election if it did not give into our demands of banning such activity. When the rank and file of the governing Conservative Party came out against the uranium exploration and mining, the cabinet announced its banning of such activity at the height of the election. We had gained allies among the many environmental organizations across Nova Scotia including Elizabeth May’s powerful Cape Breton Land Owners against the Spray. We also had the local farmers and fisherman working with us on this issue. It was a truly good example of the power of grassroots people to affect change in government policy. Barb was also a leader in keeping the passenger train running through the Annapolis Valley. Her presentation to the Federal Transport Commission was heavily quoted in its report and decision. They loved her use of Broadway Musical songs to illustrate her points.

After eight years of running the Bread and Roses B&B, we sold it and moved to Halifax. Barb became a Library Technician at the Provincial Archives while I became a Scuba Diving Instructor and underwater filmmaker. Then the wonderful contract came up from the UU Historical Society wanting to microfilm all the Unitarian Universalist congregational records across Canada to preserve them while they still existed. This turned out to be a two-year project, ending in BC, where they settled in permanently and joined the Vancouver Unitarian Church, getting involved in Social Justice projects and many demonstrations. Barb became very active in the Raging Grannies and the Women’s International League For Peace and Freedom. We took part in most of the giant Peace Marches against the war in Iraq.

Barb was also very active with me in establishing the Socially Responsible Investment movement in Canada. We wrote the investment policy for the Canadian Unitarian Council which was adopted at its AGM with much discussion. At the AGM of 2015, the CUC awarded Barb and I the Knight Award jointly for “Outstanding Achievement in furthering Unitarian Universalist Principles in Canada”. She has greatly enriched the lives of many.

Sadly, Barb’s life ended prematurely when the stomach pains she was suffering from this past spring and summer turned out to be caused by pancreatic cancer. She died in her sleep early in the morning of September 5th., 2019.

Leave a comment

*