In 1973 Len and Jean Roberts, founders of the One Way Adventure Foundation, began offering camping, cycling and canoeing expeditions.
Several provincial probation offices contracted with them to work with youths on probation. Soon recalcitrant adolescent clients were being dropped off at the Roberts home in Surrey. With these often rowdy youths assembling in their back yard each morning, anxious neighbours across the street peeked through slits in closed curtains, concerned about their property and personal safety.
Len quickly realized these adolescents required a more tranquil, secure setting. When the Gold House and Colonial Inn, at that time derelict properties on the outskirts of Hedley, became available, he was able to acquire them.
Just prior to the purchase, the Inn was seriously vandalized. One of the young vandals was placed in the Foundation’s Surrey program for other unlawful activities. Wanting to establish a tough guy image, he foolishly boasted to Len about his part in the vandalism. Len immediately sent him to Hedley to help staff clean up and make repairs.
The Hedley setting now became the hub of foundation activities. Youths were assigned to work projects such as fence mending, building trails, cutting grass etc. In time there were food prep, mechanics, retail and riding courses. Rigorous back packing and canoeing expeditions, skiing, rock climbing and rappelling were added to the mix. An educational component was also provided.
Although not charismatic in the usual sense, Len was able to convey his vision, purpose and methods in a manner that appealed to individuals eager to devote their lives to a significant purpose. Several youths returned after graduating from the program. They completed a one year training course, and were then taken on as staff.
Possibly it was the organization’s success and acquisition of neglected buildings that aroused the ire of a small cadre of elderly men in Hedley. In 1986 they complained to the two major Vancouver dailies that the OWAF was a cult. Always watchful for the dramatic, one reporter managed to make the allegation a front page story, based entirely on unproven speculation. A government inspection team, sombre faced men in dark suits, quickly descended on Hedley. They spent a week meticulously sifting through financial records and interviewing youths, staff and residents. In the end they completely exonerated the foundation.
In the early 1990’s, Len reluctantly folded the organization when the government moved from a regional to a community model.
Now, some 20 years later, we might ask if the foundation made a real difference. In response to this question, a resident said, “if it wasn’t for the foundation, some of our larger structures would not have survived. They did major upgrades on neglected buildings.” The presence of young staff, usually carrying two-way radios, helped seniors feel more secure. Also, there was no garbage collection and one program provided this service for staff, seniors and the disabled. Finding someone to replace a door or toilet, or fix a leaky tap was often difficult. The OWAF filled this need. Certainly, the most important contribution lay in preparing youths to return to their community more able to live productive lives. Currently there is growing curiosity concerning this almost forgotten aspect of Hedley history.
– Art Martens