Barlee’s accomplishments won’t soon be forgotten

I often witnessed the high-scoring games of Scrabble between George Ryga and his neighbour Bill Barlee

Kudos to Tom Fletcher on his July 11 column on Bill Barlee and the great headline Nuggets from Barlee’s Goldpan.

A collector and reader of Canada West too, I got to meet and know Bill on my weekend visits with George and Norma Ryga at their Caldwell Road home in Summerland, during the ‘70s. So I often witnessed the high-scoring games of Scrabble between George and his neighbour Bill Barlee.

From their acquaintance and friendship came 12 radio drama scripts by George from Bill’s magazine stories, under the banner title Miners, Gentleman and other Hard Cases.

CBC Radio Vancouver assigned direction of the series to the then-retired Esse Ljeong who had pioneered radio drama for the corporation in Toronto, but now lived in Victoria.

I had the pleasure and privilege of singing the several songs (which laced George’s scripts), picking and strumming on my old five-string banjo during a two-day studio stint with Ljeong and a recording technician.

More than a decade later, retired myself, I landed at Summerland’s Legion Village on March 1,1988.

Next thing I know, another retirement precipitates a byelection locally and the NDP choose Barlee as their candidate over Jake Kimberley (later to be mayor of Penticton). Bill defeated three others for the legislative seat in Victoria.

From recording history for decades to making history, his win marked the beginning of the end for B.C.’s Social Credit government and eventually the party too.

A second NDP byelection win in the Caribou (following the demise of highways minister Alex Fraser) becomes a second nail-in-the-coffin for premier Bill Vander Zalm and later his successor Rita Johnston.

So if our next B.C. general election call comes in 2013, it will be 25 years since Barlee’s local breakthrough.

Remember the adages about history repeating itself and the peril waiting to those who ignore it?

Dick Clements