A Whole lot of community
It started with a big hole in the ground.
Sure, these days the Vallican Whole is a 45-year-old activist institution housed in a bustling community centre in the Slocan Valley. But to the people who created it, many of them who put in personal labour to construct the building, it was important to remember what had been there before: absolutely nothing.
“We used to be the Vallican Hole, not the Whole, because what happened was back in the day these people got together to build this hall. The other halls wouldn’t rent to them, because they were hippies, so they needed a place of their own,” Slocan Valley resident Moe Lyons told the Star.
“They dug a big hole and made a big pile of rocks, with a huge stack of logs and then the summer was over and all there was? A hole.”
And that’s where the project stayed, for years.
“The locals would joke about the hole, but finally people said, ‘We really want this hall, we really want this as a home to start a school.’”
So they got to work.
What are all those hippies doing?
Slocan Valley journalist Rita Moir was 23 years old when she first moved to the Kootenays, and she ended up dedicating the rest of her adult life to creating community at the Vallican Whole. Along with her partner she constructed both the hall and a neighbouring cottage before serving as the caretaker for 34 years.
“Because I was the caretaker, there were always a lot of curiosity seekers who would come out to see what all the hippies were doing,” Moir told the Star.
“That’s when we started to make connections with the larger community. Some were merely curious, some weren’t pleased with the influx of new young people, but some were very helpful and friendly, like our Doukhobor neighbours.”
When the Whole was first started, it was residents like Marcia Braundy, Corky and Bonnie Evans, David Orcutt, Bob Inwood and Eric Clough who got together to make it a reality. Architect Al Luthmers, who now lives in Sproule Creek, created the design.
One of the first priorities was creating a school, under the auspices of the West Kootenay Educational Resource Society, which they introduced to the community in 1972.
“There are young people living all over North America who have attended that school over the decades.” Moir said. “I used to see the kids come back, not just because of the school but because they remembered community functions like dances, and for them it became this place they could come back to and show their kids.”
In 2008 the school ultimately moved out of the Vallican Whole to its own building in Winlaw, which demonstrates a common theme running through their work: initiatives start in their building, but go all kinds of places after that.
An umbrella organization for activism
The Whole exists under a mother organization called the Rural Alternatives Research and Training Society (RARTS), which is distinct from the non-profit centre itself.
And what are their social goals? Well, they haven’t changed much since the 70s, according to Lyons.
“We’re the counter-culture. There’s a myth, with a little bit of truth, that it was all Americans and draft dodgers, but many of us were from here, were Canadians, and it was the time of our lives when we were looking at alternative communities and living for social change,” she said.
Their goal is to create a better world.
“We’re certainly keeping the dream alive. Even with our entertainment, there’s a social aspect because it’s local. We were the first to have the locavore’s feast, which originally was called the 100-mile potluck. What we do a lot is instigate, raising consciousness, with the idea of stimulating people to continue on.”
For instance, they’re currently offering a series of talks about medical marijuana, with a panel that will include Nelson doctors Joel Kailia and Mike Smith, and Kootenays Medicine Tree dispensary owner Jim Leslie.
“Our valley is famous for pot, there’s no doubt about it. So the marijuana folks, both the local and national ones, are courting people in the valley. We want to keep things local, keep things organic and understand how to use it properly.”
They also recently held a talk on the controversy surrounding Site C.
“People don’t need to be propagandized, they just need as much information as possible and that’s what we give them. We’re also careful to cover all the bases and make sure we’re talking about both sides, always.”
Coalitions on seniors housing, food sharing
One of the biggest projects undertaken by the Vallican Whole community over the years was the creation of the Slocan Valley Seniors Housing Society, which ultimately built Passmore Lodge. They’re currently working on a new building in Slocan.
“It was a coalition of many different groups. We had realized how badly we needed seniors housing in the Slocan Valley so under the umbrella of RARTS we operated to get the work done and became another society,” Moir said.
“It was a coalition of many different groups.”
She also said the food movement that led to the creation of the Kootenay Co-op was born in the Slocan Valley, when residents began bulk-ordering food together.
“It’s a place where big ideas can go from idea to reality,” Moir said.
The best dance floor in the Kootenays
Moir recently attended an event at the Whole and was pleased to see multiple generations mingling.
“I see babies, I see people in their 80s and 90s, I see people into heavy metal and people who have just come here to meet each other,” she said.
“This is crucial for a community, because we can all get pigeonholed into own little interest group or age group and not meet each other. It’s so easy to get isolated. But whether you have family here or not, the Vallican Whole created a sense of family for our community.”
And they don’t want people to think it’s all political. Really, their main goal is bringing people together.
“We like to say it’s where you’re hatched, matched and dispatched,” said Lyons. “Ours is a very contentious community, and there were people who for years wouldn’t come to the hippy hall, but now they’ll come to support something like (local resident) Lydia Kania’s 90th birthday,” she said.
“She would say if you don’t love me enough to come to this building, you don’t love me enough.”
One other claim to fame?
“We also built the best dance floor in the Kootenays, and it’s so strong an elephant could dance on it and it wouldn’t break.”