An award-winning children’s author will debut her memoir on a tour around the Kootenay’s later this month, sharing her story about her time in Galena Bay during the 1970s.
Galena Bay Odyssey: Reflections of a Hippie Homesteader, written by Ellen Schwartz, recounts her time spent as a ‘back-to-the-land hippie homesteader’ during the times of the Vietnam War in the 1970s.
The book’s tour will travel the Kootenays from May 24 to 27, making stops in Nakusp, Nelson, and Kaslo.
After graduating from university, Schwartz took a trip to Pennsylvania to visit a friend who was living in a commune.
Like many young people during the 1970s, those living in that particular commune were pooling their money together to leave the United States and relocate to Canada where they could ‘go back to the land.’
Lucky for her, Schwartz found another reason to tag along with this particular group – she fell in love with Bill, one of the founders of the commune.
“I began to get caught up in the excitement of this idea, even though it really was the furthest thing from my mind,” said Schwartz about making the trip to Galena Bay.
“I had never been camping before we left the U.S.”
On top of the romance of this particular move, Schwartz said she and the other members of the commune believed they would change the world by rejecting the destructive lifestyles of the urban world.
“Well, obviously, that didn’t work,” she laughed. “But, at the time, it really was a sincere and idealistic idea.”
Although she wasn’t a writer before making the trip to Galena Bay, she was an avid reader and had a university degree in teaching.
Her first job while in Canada was in Revelstoke teaching a special education class at Mountainview Elementary.
Her passion for teaching kids, especially about the environment and how to be a steward and caretaker of the natural world, led her to write a children’s book, the first of which was published in 1979.
She wrote the first draft of Galena Bay Odyssey as her master’s thesis in the late 1980s, but that draft wouldn’t end up making it to print.
“It didn’t do what I wanted it to do, even though I didn’t know what I wanted it to do. So, I put it away. And it stayed put away for about 30 years.”
All those years later, colleagues kept mentioning the ‘Galena Bay book’ to her.
Finally, she had an epiphany about how to rework the book, leading to the version that was printed – a mixture of the factual information that she wrote 30 years ago with the expertise she has gathered since that time.
“What I got all those years later was a sense of gratitude about having had that experience and having done that with my now-husband,” said Schwartz.
“If we didn’t change the world, we certainly changed ourselves.”
Ellen and Bill just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and the couple has raised two daughters, who now have children of their own.
Schwartz remarked that she’s proud of the values she’s instilled in her children.
“The most important lesson that I learned in all those years in Galena Bay was, ‘I don’t know how, but I can learn,’” remarked Schwartz .
Schwartz added that attitude towards life and learning from mistakes carried over into her writing.
Looking back, Schwartz has fond memories of the many characters she met during her time in the Kootenays.
One neighbour, Walter Nelson, stuck out in her mind as an enigma.
He lived on a homestead in Galena Bay, the only person in the area with a generator and a radio telephone, alongside sheds, full of tools and equipment to tinker with, which he knew every inch of like the back of his hand.
“He knew the land, he knew the climate, he knew gardening, he knew tools – he was just a tremendous source of information for us,” said Schwartz.
The Schwartzs remain connected to the Kootenays, as one of their daughters still lives in Nelson.
For a full list of tour dates visit www.heritagehouse.ca/ellen-schwartzs-kootenay-tour.