Dinah Belleau (left) and Mary Daniels with a wheelbarrow full of fresh-picked zucchini

Dinah Belleau (left) and Mary Daniels with a wheelbarrow full of fresh-picked zucchini

Gumption & Grit gardener keeps going at Esket

For regular long-time readers of The Tribune this is a follow-up story — a sequel of sorts.

For regular long-time readers of The Tribune this is a follow-up story — a sequel of sorts.

So if the beginning seems like old news, bear with me as I introduce new readers to my friend, Dinah Belleau.

When I first wrote (in 2007) about Belleau — a strong, hard-working Secwepemc woman (with a truly green thumb) she had made some changes in her life and was using her skill (and love) for growing things in the position of head-gardener for the Esketemc First Nation community-garden. Dinah, born and raised at Esk’et, had lived away for many years before returning home (to Alkali Lake).

In her daily job as the head-gardener Belleau nurtured not just a garden, but a generation of young people as she (a respected elder) imparted many useful lessons in what was necessary to make things grow and flourish as the group worked together from planting through to harvest.

Belleau’s stature as an able-gardener became more commonly known when my story, about her, was included in the 2009 publication (Caitlin Press) of a collection of women’s stories about women from all walks of life.

The book (edited by former Tribune reporter Sage Birchwater) is titled: Gumption & Grit: Women of the Cariboo-Chilcotin.

The story was first printed by this newspaper (June 2007 issue of Casual Country) and in it, Belleau is quoted as saying, “I told them I’m going to retire — this is my last year!”

I stated, at the time, that I didn’t really believe she would do that, as her love for the garden was obvious and unwavering.

I have to say, “I told you so.” I was right — Belleau hasn’t retired! Oh, she collects her old-age (she’s not old) security, but the Esketemc First Nation garden is flourishing once again (in the late summer of 2011) under the watchful eye and the green thumb of the master-gardener, Belleau, who still works as hard (physically) as ever.

One of the rookie-gardeners working with Belleau in that summer of 2007 was Mary Daniels, who was enjoying her second season in the garden patch. It was evident from her enthusiasm and work-ethic that the garden-work wasn’t just a job to Mary.

This year a funding shortfall meant less employees and shorter working-hours, but Daniels is there, now in her sixth consecutive summer working in the massive garden. Daniels is a diminutive lady who does not reach the five-foot mark on a tape measure and she is outweighed by a 100-pound sack of potatoes. In defiance of her tiny stature she shows great strength as she manoeuvres huge, heavy wheel barrow-loads of potatoes through the soft garden soil to the garden-perimeter. It is hard work, but Daniels is happy as she completes the arduous task.

Each spring, as Belleau places the seed order, she mixes the old with some new, often trying new varieties of old familiar garden plants.

She calls my attention (with a nod of her head as she’s washing potatoes) to a bed of cabbage just behind us, over her left shoulder, “What do you think of that? I ordered ‘flat cabbage’ seed and look at them, they’re huge and definitely flat, but they seem a bit loosely formed and soft compared to a normal (round) head of cabbage. I don’t know how they’re going to taste or keep.”

I look, and sure enough the cabbages are pancake-flat, albeit considerably thicker than any pancake I’ve ever eaten. I’ll have to try one.

Unafraid of hard work and a willingness to try something new  are just part of what keeps Belleau mobile and still working. She’s got grit and gumption; you won’t find her parked in her Lazy-Boy (very often), more likely out berry picking, attending a gathering or a powwow or just cruising around her community on her bicycle.


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