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RIVERVIEW STORIES: Mother and daughter sing for Riverview
There are many ways to skin a cat and for Riverview Hospital lands preservationists the best way is the one that garners the most public attention.
So it was that a motley crew of Riverview supporters, family and friends showed up at a tea marking the closure of Riverview Hospital in June, wearing green baseball caps and t-shirts and carrying Save Riverview Lands banners and buttons. They were there to raise the issue of Riverview's future, and, with Sue Haberger on guitar, began to sing songs of protest a la Pete Seeger, but with a little melodic Beach Boys and Jan and Dean thrown in to please the crowd.
No sooner had their harmonies coalesced for the chorus of Go Greenie, Go Greenie Go! (for lyrics see sidebar) when perplexed hospital authorities shunted them off to the edge of the Henry Esson Young parking lot. Then the rain started, recalled Haberger, and the group was forced to seek shelter, but continued to sing their songs for anyone who would listen.
As a publicity stunt, one could argue that the Raging Greenies' appearance fizzled, A single online media outlet picked up the story; riot police weren't called in and, sadly, Haberger's mom, 89-year-old Liz Rowley, wasn't manhandled. "They had to be nice to us because of my mom," Haberger admits, perhaps, a little wistfully.
But as a group raising concerns about the need to keep the lush and tranquil Riverview lands in public hands, the Raging Greenies are not yet ready to give up.
The Greenies were created as a lark to enliven annual general meetings for groups such as the Riverview Horticultural Centre Society, of which the two are members and early founders.
"You know how dead annual meetings are. I said: 'let's take a guitar and a ukulele and liven things up,'" recalled Liz, the society's former treasurer. That was in 1999, and the group has made a few other appearances since then, singing for like-minded groups, such as the Burke Mountain Naturalists Society. But June's appearance was the Greenies' first truly political event. They simply couldn't pass up an opportunity to raise their Riverview redevelopment concerns on the eve of the hospital's closure, Haberger said.
Their cause is an important one, mother and daughter say. Haberger, a Coquitlam resident and retired School District 43 math teacher, fears the property carved out of the forested uplands of the Fraser River over 100 years ago won't be around for future generations and she is protective of the nearly 2,000 species trees that lend the property a picturesque, bucolic quality unmatched in the Lower Mainland. "We owe it to our children and our children's children to make sure it's still here. The whole passing on of the legacy is very important."
It's easy to understand Haberger's passion, she lives within walking distance of Riverview, and has jogged its curving streets for years, gathering chestnuts with her children in the fall and sledding there in the winter. In a way, it's become her backyard, although she admits to a certain irony because her home is in the subdivision that used to be part of the original Riverview property.
But there is another connection that dates back 50 years ago when Haberger and her mother were neighbours of John Davidson, who planted the iconic Riverview trees and started a botanical garden there before it was moved to UBC.
They lived on 33rd Avenue in Kitsilano and Haberger remembers Davidson as an elderly man who was a natural teacher. "He would invite me in (to his home) and he would let me look at things under microscopes. He was a very curious man, and he kept his gallstones and cataracts in jars."
Liz, who was honoured with a Caring Canadian award for volunteering, took Davidson's widow, Edna, under her wing when he died and became her driver, even ferrying her out to the Riverview lands for the first tree walk hosted by the horticultural centre society 20 years ago. "We thought we should invite her, after all, her husband planted most of the trees," Haberger said.
Liz's connection to the Davidson family lasted after Edna's death when she was given several boxes of Davidson's papers and his precious hand-painted lantern slides depicting his travels in B.C. as an early conservationist and naturalist. "There were even phone bills. I didn't know what to do with it all," Liz said.
Fortunately, she came in contact with Bert Brink, a former student of Davidson's and UBC professor of agronomy, who recognized the importance of the collection and turned it over to the UBC Botanical Garden, where the images, writings and audio visual material have been turned into a virtual museum.
Now Davidson's writings and photographs are safe, but the mother and daughter team want his Riverview legacy preserved as well.
"To decimate this land is not logical, it goes against my whole sense of logic, and also I'm a little bit stubborn, when I see something that I think that is the right thing to do, I will do what I can to make it happen," Haberger says.
And they'll do what it takes, even if it means bringing out the t-shirts, buttons and guitar of the Raging Greenies one more time.