CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 17 . . . . April 26, 2002
For over three decades, a unique exchange has been played out in the orchards of southern B.C. Starting in the 1960's, young French Canadians have made their way to the Okanagan Valley in search of money and adventure. In Okanagan Dreams, the camera follows two groups of spirited Quebecois as they travel west to fulfill those dreams in the orchard towns of Oliver and Naramata. A pair of young lovers and their group arrive in Oliver from Montreal, exhausted after a grueling bus trip. They are met by orchard-owner Greg Norton who has been welcoming young French Canadians to his establishment for several years. Shots of the young people planting peppers and building sheds while they wait for the cherries to ripen depict an enthusiastic and energetic group enjoying the work, the freedom from parental restriction, and each other.
A second group of five young men head off to work for a grower in Naramata, a tiny jewel of a town situated on the edge of Okanagan Lake. Both groups seem to have struck it lucky with their employers. The Naramata crew, tenting on orchard land, is treated to some down home cooking by the owner. In Oliver, Norton has fixed up a camp for his workers, complete with stove, fridges, shelter and toilet facilities. He tells them that, other than a "no hard drugs" rule, the young people can do what they like in their spare time. As it turns out, that spare time mushrooms as the rains set in and the cherries refuse to ripen. Bunches of kids with nothing to keep them busy drift into Oliver (whose main street is only two blocks long) and take over a small grassy park in the middle of town. Their appearance and high spirits are eye-catching, to say the least. According to a couple of residents interviewed (one of whom is the mayor), these regular gatherings cause some degree of irritation and tension among the locals.
As orchardists everywhere know, when the fruit is ripe, there is no time to lose, and pickers must be ready to roll by 6 am. As parents everywhere know, getting teenagers up at the crack of dawn is a daunting job. The Naramata group finds it just too hard to wake and rise and therefore opts to go back home rather than attempt a job that seems so tough. The young Quebecois in Oliver give the work a good try, but the insistent rains and lighter-than-average crop mean that they are let go after seven weeks of waiting, and only a day and a half of picking Yet all is not lost; the young people have had their adventure, formed friendships, experienced some heady independence, and found out that les anglais are not all "squareheads."
It appears that the tradition described in the film has all but died out in the orchards of the southern Okanagan, along with the grass in Oliver's triangle park which has now been cemented over. Okanagan Dreams might be useful to teachers who wish to elicit discussion on changing patterns of work for young people. With its focus on the teenaged point of view, the video might prove thought-provoking for senior high school students engaged in a study of French-English relations. More likely a school division/district purchase rather than school level.
Nielsen, a retired teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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