It’s a sweltering hot July 3 afternoon in Keremeos, and a small number of transient farm labourers are relaxing under some shade thrown by an immature cottonwood at the east end of the Burlington Northern rail trail.
It’s not only the temperatures heating up under mostly clear, sunny skies in Keremeos these days. In what can best be described as an annual event, a number of residents are objecting to the transient farm labourers – and other transients – that make temporary homes for themselves in Keremeos every summer.
This year, resident’s reactions are similar to those of years past – with one exception. Recent attempts to control access to the former Farmworkers Campground on the Similkameen River flats has made the transients’ presence on the village side of the dike far more visible, and that seems to be a major reason behind a 125 -plus signature petition being presented to Keremeos Village Council on July 7 that seeks to have the transients evicted.
At the end of Veterans Avenue this afternoon, a half dozen vehicles sit in the hot sun in an impromptu parking lot. The vehicles, older models for the most part that look like they’ve seen a lot of hard use, but are still viable, are a reflection of their owners, some of whom are at rest under the tree.
The five labourers relaxing in the shade this Thursday afternoon (they do not wish to be named or photographed out of fear of reprisal) are upset about the petition. Most of the group are from Quebec; one man in particular has some opinions he is more than willing to express on the subject.
“We’ll show up en masse to the council meeting on Monday,” he promises in easily understood English. “We may not pay taxes in the village, but we invest here. Seventy-five per cent of what we make as pickers goes back into the community, because we buy everything we need to live here.
“They say we are lazy people who don’t do anything – well, maybe they should go ask the farmer whose orchard we worked in all morning, what we do.”
In speaking to the garbage issue, he said village business should devote a portion of their charitable goodwill towards the placement of a dumpster near the dike, as most of the garbage that accumulates comes from local retailers.
“When I’m down at Pine Park I’m constantly telling others to move away from the playground and the east side of the park,” he continued. “We’re as respectful as we can be, yet we still have people who see us on the street and yell at us to ‘go home.’
“This is my home.”
The man went on to say he had been coming to Keremeos for 39 years.
“Treatment is the same here as it was in 1976,” he said, “when they closed Froggy Beach in Cawston. The difference is, we’ve changed a bit. There’s no need to show disrespect to us.”
He said he wanted to talk to petitioner Ted Douglas, but Douglas refused to speak to him.
“We saw them building the enclosure for the dog park,” he continued, gesturing towards the new fencing across from the sewage treatment plant.
“We thought they were building that to put us in.
“We were going to name it the Manfred Bauer Campsite.”
“I’d like to have a debate,” the farmworker said, adding he doubted he would have an opportunity to present his arguments at the council meeting on Monday.
“I will be there,” he promised, nonetheless, “this is getting us nervous and excited.”