Here’s the story of how Pender Island swung an axe and saved the world.
The tale began two years ago, when Jane McIntosh volunteered to work on a hospital ship in Africa.
McIntosh and husband John arrived on Pender from Ontario in 2008, just three months before John’s death from cancer. By 2010, at age 56, she had signed on with Mercy Ships, a Christian charity with its Canadian headquarters in Victoria.
Her plan was to leave on Boxing Day of that year for a two-year stint on a converted Dutch ferry, her job being to sterilize medical instruments. First, though, she had to come up with the money to make it happen; her flights, room and board and other expenses worked out to roughly $800 a month.
Enter David Howe, another Pender Island resident. A solid six-foot-two, the 66-year-old looked like a lumberjack but was in fact an investment banker, one whose career had taken him from boyhood on the Saanich Peninsula to the U.S., Mexico and Europe.
Howe was a big believer in the concept of service to others. For four years he had put that into practice by splitting firewood for his Pender neighbours, always refusing payment.
Then one day McIntosh asked him to chop some fallen trees on her property, saying she wanted to sell the wood to help finance her Mercy Ships trip. Howe decided anyone who wanted to pay him for his axe-swinging could send the money the same way.
Word got around. One couple said they would donate a 200-year-old fir that had fallen on their land. Another man volunteered to deliver the wood. By the time McIntosh left, Howe had chopped about 20 cords.
Fast forward to today. Howe, now the CRD director for the southern Gulf Islands, leads a team of Pender residents who regularly chop for charity. About 35 islanders are involved in the ongoing effort, bucking up, splitting, selling and stacking wood.
Over the past two years, they have raised $50,000, the money backing not just McIntosh’s work but also local causes such as a choral group and a gardening project at the school.
“I wouldn’t have been able to have done it if I hadn’t had their support,” says McIntosh, who will return to Pender on Friday, having just finished her mission to Sierra Leone, Ghana and Togo aboard the Africa Mercy.
It was in Sierra Leone that she met two young local men, George and Frank, who had been hired as $2/day workers. Sterilizing medical instruments with her at night, the men would dream out loud of a future unlikely to be found in chaotic, poverty-stricken Freetown, where they were due to return to unemployment when the ship sailed.
Instead, the Pender woodchoppers paid to keep the two working on the hospital ship through the end of 2013. They also bought the men laptops so that they could study online and become certified in the skills they learned on board.
On Sunday, McIntosh will join the woodchoppers for a potluck meal at the community hall. Half of them are strangers to her.
“They feel they know her in a way, but they’ve never met her,” Howe says.
Howe is one of five or six regulars who do most of the chopping. His wife Ina Timmer is one of the wood-stackers. A couple of backhoe operators drag timber from the bush. There’s a guy who ferries over from Mayne with a cord of wood in his one-ton.
Others on Pender provide the raw material. Former Alberta MLA and cabinet minister Jim Dinning was approached about giving up the 10 cords he had sitting on his land. “He said ‘;great,’ ” Howe recalls. Another newcomer from Alberta donated the fallen Douglas fir and arbutus from his 25-acre property, then bought back the split arbutus from the woodchoppers, paying $4,000 — twice the going rate for the amount of wood — after Howe told him that was what was needed to cover George and Frank’s remaining costs.
Not everyone on Pender Island has $4,000 for firewood. Not everyone is in a position to volunteer in Africa, either. But some can swing an axe.
© Copyright 2013