Ruth Jessie Masters
Ruth Jessie Masters was born in St. Joseph's General Hospital in Comox, British Columbia on May 7, 1920 to William (Bill) and Jessie Masters. Ruth was the elder of two children having a younger brother Bill. Masters' parents arrived in Merville after the First World War as her father was a returned soldier. He then bought twenty acres on the Puntledge River near the end of Powerhouse Road under the Soldier Settlement Scheme for about $1500.
Ruth Masters went to Courtenay Elementary School and then Courtenay High School. After graduating she enrolled at the Ethel Tull Business College in 1938 in the one year secretarial course. She was then employed as a secretary for the Public Works in Courtenay.
In June 1942 she joined the RCAF Women's Division where she undertook her training in Toronto. From 1943 to July 1946 she was stationed in London, England as an administration sergeant. Although far from home she was not alone. While in London Dick Idiens, a friend of Ruth's from Royston who had joined the RCAF as well, use to visit with her before his plane collided with another at night in April 1944 killing all occupants. As with most people during the war, Ruth lost several close friends. Masters always says for her WW2 was a "nice war" because she had tens of thousands of miles of free travel, she didn't have to kill anybody and they didn't get her, although she had to live uncomfortably close to the last fifteen months of the London Blitz. Whenever she heard a bomb scream in Ruth and her friends thought they would see the 'pearly gates' ahead of time but after she knew someone else was probably killed. She never considered herself a "flaming hero" but she admits it was not your average overseas vacation.
Masters then returned to Victoria and was discharged from the RCAF in December 1946 and she recalls thinking, "I'm glad to be here, I'm glad to be anywhere." Now, when criticized for blockading or protesting some environmental horror, her response is: "nobody tells me not to look after Canada." Masters then had several small jobs, one of which was fruit picking in the Fraser Valley.
In October 1947 Masters and her friend Jeanne Banham of Powell River sailed to New Zealand where for the next ten months they worked and hitch-hiked around both islands. They then traveled to Australia where they also worked before finally sailing to London. Once back in England they visited several friends they had made while stationed there and then they traveled through Holland, Belgium and France and did the Vimy Ridge Pilgrimage. Masters eventually returned to the Comox Valley in 1949 where she has lived ever since on the property her parents bought.
Ruth Masters worked as a legal secretary for the lawyers Mildred Gordon from 1952 to 1972 and then with Crispin Morris until 1992. Ruth retired in that year but didn't "fold her tent." For many retirement means taking things easy and enjoying the golden years, but Ruth's life has not slowed down and she continues to live life to its fullest. She has been a crusader for a variety of causes, and belongs to twenty-three animal rights groups, twenty-seven environmental causes, and about forty peace and women's rights groups. She has been both a silent activist and vocal activist. From her old typewriter, (Ruth has never up-graded to a computer) on her table that is piled high with news letters, she has written to local MLA's, federal ministers and politicians and letters to the editors of many newspapers, on too many subjects both local and international to note.
Masters activism began in 1987 she joined the Friends of Strathcona Park (FOSP) when Strathcona Park was threatened. The following year she was involved with the Price Creek civil disobedience blockade over Cream Lake. This received huge media coverage and eventually their actions halted a large mining company (Cream Silver Ltd) from draining beautiful Cream Lake so that they could extract silver for a few years. At the time a photo of Cream Lake with Nine Peaks in the background was on the cover of a B.C. Parks brochure for Strathcona Provincial Park. In 1990 she was involved with the Tsitika River blockade where the commencement of logging in the Lower Tsitika Valley was considered an insult to fair democratic public process. At the time there were eight public involvement processes and scientific studies directly relevant to the area still either incomplete or unresolved. The Tsitika River empties into the orca rubbing beaches of Robson Bight. She was also involved with the blockade at the Carmannah and Walbran Valley's on the west coast. In 1993 she participated in the huge demonstrations against the logging companies in Clayoquot Sound and became famous for playing "O Canada glorious and free" on her harmonica to cheer on those who were being "shovelled into the paddy wagon."
Locally Ruth Masters has been involved with MacDonald Wood Park, Willemar Bluffs, Mac Laing Park and the Comox Estuary clean-up. She was active with the Search and Rescue, served on the federal MILAP committee which provided funding for community groups to restore salmon spawning streams and is still a member of the Board of the Courtenay and District Museum. Masters also hates to see anything go to waste. When the old Women's Resource Centre building (where the Future Shop is now located) was moved Ruth received permission to go in and remove all the sword ferns off the property and replant them in her front yard. Her goal was to create low maintenance landscape and reduce her lawn area. It also provides further protection for the animals giving them cover and a place to sleep.
One of her enduring legacies has been the Ruth Masters Hero Spoon. These "hero spoons" have been presented to individuals she feels have made a difference, not only for environmental causes but for the community at large. To receive one is considered a huge honour. However, Masters is a very practical person. When she visits the office of a professional such as an Optometrist, instead of bringing a bouquet of flowers to brighten the place up she will bring a bowl of fruit, something that has a more practical value but still brightens the place and puts a smile on the staff.
Ruth's Masters has also been actively involved with the Comox District Mountaineering Club since 1938 although her first trip into the mountains was in 1933. Her father had been employed to clean up after the logging on the Plateau Road and was keen to take the family on an overnight hiking trip up to the Mount Becher cabin. Although none of them had packs, they improvised: her mother sewed up a packsack out of a potato bag for her father; Ruth's was a flour sack; her brother Bill carried a duffel bag and her mother a shopping bag.
In 1938, her friend Katherine Capes invited Ruth to join a group from the Comox District Mountaineering Club to climb the Comox Glacier. The trip was led by Katherine's father Geoffrey Capes and W.A. (Adrian) B. Paul. They motored up to Comox Lake then received a boat ride to the head of the lake. From there the party hiked up to the Comox Gap above Cougar Lake then climbed Kookjai Mountain and followed the ridge up over Blackcat Mountain, through Lone Tree Pass then onto the glacier. This was the first of many trips she was to make to the glacier as she fell in love with the local mountains. The next year (1939) Masters spent the summer cooking at Eugene Croteau's guest camp at Croteau Lake above Paradise Meadows and guided the occasional party on some of the easier trips. She has been involved with the CDMC ever since leading both hiking and canoe trips; she was the club secretary for a number of years and made many of the wooden trail signs and summit signs. She was also made a honourary member of the Island Mountain Ramblers club.
Over the years while climbing and hiking in the local mountains, Masters has been active in naming several mountains, ridges and lakes after local people as well as honouring about a dozen of the valley's local war dead. Hand-in-hand with this she has contacted many of the families informing them of her goal and asking them to see that the young people go in and appreciate the lake honouring their descendant. In a couple of places: Century Sam Lake, Greig Lake, Capes Lake and Idiens Lake, Masters, along with the CDMC, has been involved with commemorative cairns with plaques. Although she has meant well, it has become somewhat of an issue with B.C Parks and some of the mountaineering community as they believe it takes away some of the intrinsic wilderness value and leads to wanton construction and placing of inappropriate memorials. Masters also believes naming features in the wilderness is important because people are then able to leave the name of their destination with friends in the event that something happens. For a complete list of the named features visit the CDMC's website at www.comoxhiking.com under local history. Masters has also participated in and encouraged others to work on many miles of hiking trails the mountaineering club has been involved with.
If one had to choose Ruth Masters crowning glory achievement - a difficult task indeed - it would be her gift in 2004 of eighteen acres of her property bordering on the Puntledge River to the Comox-Strathcona Regional District as a Greenway and Wildlife Corridor in perpetuity. This was to avoid another one hundred houses being built on her small green patch of paradise. "That would have finished me off," she says, "so I put my land where my big mouth is." The value of this property in 2004 was estimated to be at least $1.5 million. With this donation, deer and bears and other wild animals will continue to wander freely.
However, her devotion to wildlife extends well beyond her property line. In 1995 she joined a party of animal protectors that challenged some north island game-guide outfitters near Port McNeill who had guaranteed their clients a successful bear hunt. As a bear was about to be shot, Masters threw rocks at the animal and blew her rescue whistle. Masters and nine others were charged but planned to plead not guilty, refuse to pay the resulting fine, and go to jail if necessary. However, the judge eventually stayed the charges. Ruth Masters then became known as the "bear lady," however, her compassion goes beyond the animals as she regularly visits the residents of the Extended Care Unit at St. Joseph's Hospital where she plays her harmonica: first a hymn for their souls then a lively march.
In 1985 Ruth Masters was named Comox Valley's Citizen of the Year and then twenty years later in 2005 the Chamber of Commerce again honoured her as Citizen of the Year. The Citizen of the Year award recognizes outstanding volunteer service by a full time resident of the Comox Valley to the community at large over a significant time. Although a little sheepish about accepting the award the second time she told reporters later that she's just a self acknowledged "senior shit disturber and animal defender."
In the Comox
Valley Ruth Masters has a wonderful core of friends that would make many
envious. There are those who love her for standing up for her causes while
there are those who think she is an outspoken "busy-body" with
nothing better to do then stir-up trouble. The phone in her little, as
she calls it, "pig pen" never stops ringing and to meet with
her she has to check her calendar to make sure she will be home. However,
no matter what one feels about her, without Ruth Masters the Comox Valley,
Vancouver Island and British Columbia - her "little part of the world,"
wouldn't be as rich as it is.
Masters, the ultimate mama bear
Hagen, Judy. "A Generous Gift to the Entire Valley." Comox Valley Echo. [Courtenay, B.C.] (November 23, 2004.) p. A5.
Quinn, Susan. "Activist Donates Prime Puntledge River Land." Comox Valley Echo. [Courtenay, B.C.] (November 24, 2004.) p. A4.
Scott, Christine. "Master of her Greenway." North Islander. [Campbell River, B.C.] (December 3, 2004.) p. C1.
Shaw, Ralph. "A Special Lady's Gift to the Valley." Comox Valley Record. [Courtenay, B.C.] (December 24, 2004.) p. B18.
MacInnis, Bruce. "Elks Park Saved After Marathon Fundraiser." Comox Valley Record. [Courtenay, B.C.] (November 26, 2004.) p. A3.
Vare, Mia. "Citizen Ruth." Comox Valley Echo. [Courtenay, B.C.] (February 1, 2005.) p. 1-2.
MacInnis, Bruce. "Masters Named Citizen of the Year." Comox Valley Record. [Courtenay, B.C.] (February 2, 2005.) p. A3.
L.G. "Ruth Masters. The Voice of Concern." Senior Living
Magazine. June, 2005. Victoria, B.C.. p. 8.