Back in the spring of 1969, an enterprising young school teacher from Penticton published the first issue of a remarkable little magazine. Bill Barlee called it Canada West, and vowed that it would tread the fine line between a "geographic" and a "western."
He promised, in that first issue, to cover British Columbia "from the far north to the border country," and "from the west coast to the Rockies."
Barlee said there would be articles on "ghost towns, general history, landmarks, gold creeks, authentic treasures and lost mines, fauna, historic trails, Indian artifacts and campsites, bottle regions, famous characters, gemstone sites and a host of other related subjects."
The early issues had just 36 pages, filled with photographs, maps, drawings and text – produced on, it appears, an electric typewriter.
Barlee had just seven subscribers when he produced his first quarterly issue. Three months later, he had sold about 400 subscriptions at $2.75 apiece, including one to my Uncle Morley in Cranbrook.
It was my uncle who first told me about Barlee and Canada West, back in 1969, but within a few years it seemed that Barlee's name was everywhere. Barlee had a keen interest in our province, and made thousands of people aware of the wonders close to our homes.
Barlee also defended us from foreign invaders, as best he could. For several years Barlee refused to sell Canada West in the United States, because he believed that Americans were stripping our artifacts, and did not want to help them.
Canada West's own history was not without its bumps. Barlee sold the magazine to Garnet Basque in 1975, and bought it back in the 1980s to produce a few more issues. By 1985, Canada West was back in Basque's hands, merged into his Canadian West magazine.
All of this comes to mind because of the news of Barlee's death in Victoria at 80 years of age. He was one of the sharpest, most inspiring, most likable people I have known.
Barlee made a difference through the many stages of his life.
Along with teaching high school and publishing his magazine, he wrote bestsellers on gold creeks and ghost towns, co-hosted a television show on history and artifacts, and ran his own museum.
Barlee was also a politician. A New Democrat, he was elected the MLA for Boundary-Similkameen in a 1988 byelection. Three years later, after the ridings were redistributed, he won in Okanagan-Boundary.
Premier Mike Harcourt knew cabinet material when he saw it. Barlee was the minister of agriculture, fisheries and food for a couple of years, then was moved to small business, tourism and culture.
Yes, we've had other cabinet ministers promoting the province, but no one could ever match Barlee's knowledge and enthusiasm. We need more politicians like Barlee.
On May 28, 1996, Barlee's political career came to an end in the tightest race in the general election.
I was in Okanagan-Boundary that night, and stopped in to see both Bill Barisoff, who won it for the Liberals, and Barlee.
Barisoff was celebrating with a bunch of his supporters, while Barlee and his wife spent a quiet evening in their home in Osoyoos.
Quiet, that is, except for me, and several phone calls. He assured everyone who called that he was fine with his personal defeat, since his party had won the election.
He was justifiably proud of the job he had done, and it was evident that he had seen his political life as a means to making B.C. even better.
Barlee moved to Victoria after his defeat. In time, his health started to fail, and his fine mind lost its edge.
And now, one of the greatest champions this province has ever seen is gone.