Our Health Movement & How it Started

Rosemary’s decades of recollections

By Rosemary Barker

Our immune system is that amazing complex network of cells and proteins that defends the body against infection. It keeps a record of every germ, bacteria, virus, fungi and toxin it has ever defeated, so that it can recognize and destroy the microbe quickly, should it enter the body again.

Many things contribute to the good health of our immune system, and here, I am going to discuss the role of nutrition and some of the cultures and people who have supported us in our knowledge of health along the way. It all starts when we are born. If we are really fortunate, we will have good genes and have been breast fed. I always like to equate our bodies to house building. If we start with a good foundation, and care for our house, then it will last well into old age. My lifetime of eating ‘sensibly’ was inspired by my father, who was born in 1889 and shopped in health food stores in London when I was a child. He wouldn’t allow any pop, potato crisps or junk food — there wasn’t much around then — and I had to chew each mouthful of food fifty times. Digestion starts in the mouth. Consequently, I am in good health, and rarely see a doctor.

We are all part of nature. Our early ancestors knew this, and used the plants that they found growing nearby for healing. Plants have been used to treat people since the Paleolithic age, approximately 60,000 years ago. The Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese and native people around the world have used herbal remedies and recorded plant names and uses. India uses not only herbs and spices but also diet and yogic breathing to treat disease; This is called Ayurveda.

Nicholas Culpeper, (1616-1654) — was the man probably most responsible for our modern herbal knowledge. His main work, The English Physician, has been continuously in print since the 17th century. He wanted to educate the people about maintaining and keeping their good health. Modern pharmaceuticals have evolved from herbal plants. In a synthetic form, much has been taken from the original plant. We are all an integral part of nature, and as such, plants which have been nurtured by the sun and the rain resonate with, and heal our body. Culpeper’s book, The Complete Herbal was held in high esteem by the settlers to the New World who introduced many of the species mentioned in the book to North America.

Native healers have a long history of using indigenous plants. Beyond their medicinal benefits, indigenous plants were a staple of native peoples diets before Western contact. They knew that certain roots or plants were beneficial to the system; Today these same plants are being used to improve our dietary health.

One indigenous plant, whose history of use is archived from the 18th century, is Echinacea or Purple Coneflower. This amazing plant was used by the native population for many internal and external applications. Settlers were very drawn to it, and the first Echinacea preparation known as Meyers Blood Purifier arrived on the market around 1880. It’s indications were for rheumatism, neuralgia and rattlesnake bites. At the beginning of the 20th century, Echinacea was the most frequently used plant preparation in North America. Around 1950, the famous Swiss herbalist A. Vogel cultivated it and introduced it commercially to herbalists and eventually, to the health food shops worldwide. Today, millions of people use Echinacea as an immune booster against colds, flu and septic complaints.

We have been very fortunate here in Canada, as many people over the years have dedicated their lives to the natural health of others.

In 1920 Rene Caisse, a Canadian nurse from Bracebridge, Ontario, had a patient who had recovered from breast cancer, which was unheard of at that time. She was introduced to an Ojibway man, who showed her certain herbs growing in the area of Northern Ontario. He told her to make a tea out of the herbs, to be drunk every day. Rene started using the remedy on patients that had been referred to her by various doctors. Subsequently, she had fifty years of struggle with the Canadian Medical Association to have Essiac (Caisse spelt backwards) approved. “It is my honest opinion that if apple cider vinegar were found to benefit cancer patients, it would be banned from the public!”, Rene Caisse

In the same era in Vancouver, B.C, Doctor Herbert Nowell, a local Naturopath, established the Dominion Herbal College. He taught Botanical Medicine to medical doctors prior to 1918, when such medicine was accepted and practiced by the medical profession. Dr. Nowell’s work was admired and appreciated by doctors in England, Canada and the U.S.A. In 1962, Ella Birzneck, who apprenticed with Dr. Nowell became President and Instructor of Advanced Herbal Therapeutics and Clinical Practice. It was under her guidance that the College grew into being one of the leading herbal colleges in North America. Many student herbalists who studied there went on to become well known leaders in their field. Dr. Christopher, who founded Nature’s Way; Dr. Earl Mindell author of the famous Vitamin Bible; Dr.Terry Willard founded Wild Rose Herbal; Chancel Cabrera founded Gaia Garden; and Dr. Ryan Drum aka Fucus Man, Island Herbs author and lecturer. One of Ella Brizneck’s earliest students was Jethro Kloss, author of Back to Eden, a timeless classic.

Rationing after the end of the second World War ended in 1954 in the UK and in 1947 in Canada. In order to feed the burgeoning population and to use up the excess nitrogen (one of the prime components of TNT and other high explosives) based chemical fertilizer was sprayed onto the crops to make them more productive.  Sir John Bennet Lawes (1814-1900) had previously developed a super phosphate that would mark the beginnings of the chemical fertilizer industry.  However, over the years it has almost seen the demise of traditional farming methods, thereby depleting the quality of the soil, diminishing the insects, and harming humans with food that has been chemically treated and genetically modified.

As early as the 1920’s, farmers in Germany were already noticing the impact that chemical fertilizers and agro farming practices were starting to have on their soil and yields. Convinced that a more holistic way of farming and working with nature was possible, they approached philosopher, Rudolf Steiner for his input and inspiration.  (Waldorf schools and anthroposophic medicine stem out of this same philosophy) He described soil as the digestive organ of a plant, indicating that agriculture should focus on nourishing soil and not the plant itself. Only in vital soil can food grow harmoniously. As a result of this, the Demeter symbol was introduced and registered in 1928, thereby setting the highest standard and quality control for agriculture. In 2020, Demeter International joined forces with the International Biodynamic Association to form the Biodynamic Federation — Demeter International, uniting Biodynamic and Demeter organizations worldwide.

Demeter was the chosen name for the fledgling organization, since in ancient Greek religion and mythology, Demeter is the Olympian goddess of the harvest and agriculture, presiding over grains and the fertility of the Earth. She is also goddess of sacred law and the cycle of life and death. The first loaf of bread from the harvest each year was often sacrificed to her. Demeter’s symbols, or attributes, include an ear of wheat, a winged serpent and cornucopia. Her emblem was poppy and wheat. Barley, mint and poppy were sacred plants to Demeter.

This concern for the health and wellbeing of people and the Demeter movement, was the basis for the health food industry here in Canada. We are so familiar with seeing the word ‘Organic’ on our store shelves, and out of concern for our and our planet’s health we gravitate towards those products. Years ago I owned Country Health in Lynn Valley, North Vancouver. I remember that supermarkets in Vancouver started selling similar products and there was an outcry from many health food store owners. The awareness of looking after one’s health has become ‘mainstream.’ However the ‘grass roots’ people started it all. In 1964, the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) was founded by Ella Brizneck (Dominion Herbal College) Ken Ward, and, Art and Margaret Trum. CHFA hosts health food industry conventions in Vancouver and Toronto, which showcase the latest products.

There were (and are) so many men and women throughout Canada, who have established businesses that shaped the health industry as we know it today. In what is a very caring profession, they have devoted themselves to educating the public, introducing amazing foods, herbs and supplements for our good health and wellbeing. Too many to mention here, but I have listed a few that are well known.

In Vancouver, many companies had humble beginnings. One is Nature’s Path, now seen on grocery shelves everywhere. Aaran and Ratana Stephens owned the well loved Lifestream grocery, at the corner of 4th and Burrard with their popular vegetarian eatery Mother Nature’s Inn. They out grew it, and moved to a larger premises at Broadway and Trafalgar, with Woodlands restaurant upstairs. Now Nature’s Path has grown into one of the largest organic cereal and snack food companies in North America.

On Robson street, another enterprising man, Jack Gahler owned a health food store in the 1950’s. At the time he was importing Swiss Herbal products, but later went on to form his own supplement line, Natural Factors. Under the guidance of his son Roland Gahler, it has grown to become one of Canada’s leading supplement companies.

Siegfried Gursche was the founder and publisher behind the popular monthly Alive magazine. His photography was beautiful and sensitive, and the articles on health and nutrition were extremely informative. He was passionate about health, photography and business, and in 1992, he founded the Alive Academy of Nutrition. His philosophy was to help people take responsibility for their own health through education.

Willie Pelzer, whose German family emigrated from Poland to Canada in the late 1940’s, worked on the land in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Eventually, he and his wife moved to Ontario, where he worked in the grain business. He remembered his grandmother’s recipe for oats, to which she added honey and served it warm, so he experimented in his kitchen and came up with ‘Granola’.

Willie came to be known as the ‘Granola King.’ He persevered in marketing his granola, despite many rejections from supermarkets. Some said, “It’s bird seed, not fit for consumers, the public will never buy it.” However, the public DID buy his granola, and so Sunny Crunch Foods was born, it is now a leading producer of many other grain products, energy bars and protein products. So, thank Willie Pelzer and all his hard work, as you enjoy the granola in your cereal bowl!

Many know the name Croft Woodruff, of Croft’s Health Products. You may have heard him speak on his weekday radio health show called ‘Healthy Living’. Croft would interview many authoritative guests, who imparted a wealth of information on all matters of health and nutrition. Croft was absolutely dedicated to imparting information to the public and rooting out injustices.

“I’ve gotten involved in different fights; fluoride, vaccines, food irradiation, the nuclear power industry and now biotechnology. These are all government sponsored technological hazards and, if pursued, their consequences are going to come back to haunt us in a big way”, he warned. Any time quackbuster types questioned him, he would always refer to the library, citing his accuracy. Croft served as a director of the Canadian Health Food Association for nine years, and president in 1981-1982.

As with many of our natural health pioneers, Thomas Greither, owner and president of Flora Manufacturing comes from three generations of health entrepreneurs. In 1916, his famous grandfather, Dr Otto Greither, founded the world-renowned Salus-Haus in Germany. His father, also named Otto, continued to build the Salus Haus health tonics into a worldwide distribution network.

In 1983, after earning a degree in nutrition, Thomas opened a health food store in Burlington, Vermont. There, he pioneered a process for cold-pressing unrefined flax oil. In 1986, he acquired Flora, which was then a small distribution company for European health tonics. He soon transformed Flora into a manufacturing company, producing herbal teas, seed oils and nutritional supplements. In 1988, Flora expanded to Lynden, Washington, growing their own organic herbs on five acres. Flor* Essence is exported to over 30 countries, with more than 1,500 testimonials from grateful customers. Teaming up with Udo Erasmus, Udo’s Choice oils soon became well known for promoting digestive health and wellbeing. Their primary manufacturing plant is now in Burnaby, B.C, and is a 40,000 square foot modern facility with the world’s most advanced equipment for processing teas, tonics and encapsulating herbal extracts and unrefined cold-pressed organic seed oils.

Lorna Hancock, in 1980, was the founding member and director of Health Action Network Society (HANS). This was formed to promote health awareness and freedom. Lorna was at the first meeting of groups across Canada when the Charter of Health Freedom was unveiled. She continues to support it to this day.

Their mission is “To support our members and the public, to take responsibility for their own well-being by empowering them to make informed decisions, protecting their right to informed consent and preserving their ability to access safe and effective health care options; plus, to work to raise awareness of environmental issues that impact Canadians health and wellness.” Their values are “The conviction that the human potential for moral, physical, and mental growth is the capacity to achieve a level of health beyond the absence of disease”.

In conclusion, this article must give accolades to the founder of this amazing magazine that you are reading. It’s the best bargain you’ll have all day – it’s free!

Forty years ago, an enthusiastic young Joseph Roberts came into my health food store, introduced himself and his fledgling magazine. “Do you think it’s a good idea?” he asked. “Oh yes” I replied, “I think it’s an excellent idea.” And with that, I became the second advertizer in Common Ground. Since then, Common Ground has kept us all awake to what’s really going on in the world with amazing articles and information on the environment; politics; health; social issues; to mention just a few. Joseph is a brilliant, dedicated journalist and visionary, and we must all be grateful for his wonderful contributions. Here’s to another 40 years!

Remember always — the body is the temple of the soul, and the eyes are the windows of the soul. Life is nothing without our good health and immunity.

Rosemary A. Barker

Rosemary’s experience includes Country Health, Quest Vitamins, Health Care Manager at Capers, CHFA Director, Food for Thought manager (UK), Consultant.

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