Day 17 – Grand Forks

Monday, July 15, 2019

I was up at 5 am, cleaned up and went to the kitchen to make the coffee and help with a few chores before breakfast.   After breakfast and devotions, we headed for our assigned job sites, with a whole new our group of short term volunteers.

Our tool/storage trailers are located next to Kirk Walter’s house.

Valter and his wife Ingried drove with me to the Radek house.  Valter finished trimming the back door, to accommodate the narrower wall width and installed the bathroom cabinet, as well as the kick boards and back splashes in the kitchen.

Ingried spent the day painting the baseboard and trim we had installed last week.

I spent most of the day filling nail holes in the trim and gaps in the baseboard.

We joined two of the other teams at the ‘ Kirk Walter ‘ house for lunch.

The other teams spent their time installing drywall, mudding, painting and making repairs at 3 other houses.

Radek’s big old wolf/shepard dog snuck away in the afternoon and was returned by Cole, after someone noticed him wandering around the house they were working on.  Other than that, there were no unusual occurrences  during the day.

I stopped by the hardware store to pick up some parts on our way back to camp at 5 pm.   After supper, several of the volunteers sat outside drinking Mate and exchanging stories, while Deniese, Bethany, Sharon and Abby played basketball.   Later in the evening, the ladies migrated into the dining hall to play a card game with Sam, while Justin quietly played one of Jonathan Wiebe’s home-made guitars in the casual seating area at the end of the hall.  I started to write my journal and went for a short walk before going to bed.

Day 16 – Grand Forks

Sunday, July 14, 2019

On the weekends, everyone is on their own for meals and activities, however, we have been doing a few things together.     After I got up, I made myself a couple of soft boiled eggs and some ginger tee which I ate while I edited my journal for Saturday.    At 9:15, I was almost finished with my journal, when Cole mentioned to me that he was going to the Baptist church and asked me if I wanted to come along.   Since the service started at 9:30, I stopped what I was doing and went with Cole and Justin to the Baptist church.   A few volunteers went to the River Valley church service and the rest went to the Gospel Chapel.

It was a small baptist church with few members, but the people were very friendly and dedicated to their church.   After church we returned to camp before heading to the Happy 50th diner for lunch with the rest of the group.

When we got back to camp, we had a short meeting and then we had ice cream for dessert.   Some of the volunteers went to a local board game establishment where you each pay $5 and play any of the board games that are available while the rest of us relaxed for the remainder of the afternoon.The 3 young ladies from Pennsylvania had gone to Banff for the weekend and had planned to return in the evening.

At 5:30 we met for supper and by 6 pm all of the short term volunteers had arrived.    Shortly after we had finished our orientation meeting, the ladies returned from their weekend in Banff.

Some of the volunteers were originally from Paraguay and after dinner they sat outside with Ernie and drank Yerba Mate.   They pointed out to me that the Brazilian Mate wasn’t as good as the Paraguayan Mate and I couldn’t argue with them because I don’t drink it.   However, I did suggest to them that they might be addicted to this highly caffeinated drink, but that wasn’t about to stop them from drinking it.

In the evening I received the group picture of the volunteers from the previous week.

The volunteers during last week from left to right are:

Back Row: Sam Dyck, Ike Epp, Ralf Hamm, Cole Unger, John deKleer, Ernie Klassen

Middle Row: Jon Wiebe, Bethany Martin, Erinne Wolfe, Justin Marchand, Abe Friesen, Wilhelmina (Will ) deKleer

Front Row: Abigail ( Abby ) Thompson, Eileen Klassen, Yvette Berube, Deniese Sensenig, Sharon Sauder

Day 15 – Grand Forks

Saturday, July 13, 2019

It was a cool 16 C ( 61 F ) when I got up at 6:30.   I had woken up at 5:30, but I had chosen to be lazy a little while longer.   Ike was in the dining room when I got there and we decided to clean out the one fridges to let it defrost, in order that we could determine the cause of the water leak from it.

At 7:30, I said my goodbyes to Abe and Yvette before walking to the ‘ Wooden Spoon ‘ restaurant, where I had agreed to meet John and Will.   On the way there, they saw me walking as they drove by, so they stopped and picked me up.   We had a very nice breakfast and spent time talking about many different subjects until it was finally time to go.   We said our goodbyes and I walked back to camp.    I have had a wonderful week working with them, however it was time for them to return home.

Shortly after I got back, Ike and I went to Donna’s house to complete some minor jobs, such as filling gaps with foam, securing a drain line and repairing a small patch of concrete.   Donna is a very unique person, always happy and smiling and very appreciative of everything.   Her motto is that no one leaves without a hug.   She is a relatively slight woman, probably in her late 40’s or early 50’s, who used to be a truck driver.   Looking at her, I would never have thought of her being a truck driver.   From what I understand, Donna was involved in an unfortunate work-related accident that left her blind a few years ago, when some glass exploded in the vicinity where she was standing.   I am amazed at how well she gets around her house and how perceptive she is.   We received the mandatory hugs when we arrived and when we left.

We returned to camp at lunch time and my suspicions were confirmed that the problem with the fridge was a plugged water drain line.   After we cleared the line, the fridge was cleaned, plugged in and the food was food was packed back into it.

I spent the afternoon doing laundry and relaxing.   I was sitting outside with Ernie and working on a crossword puzzle in the evening, when Cole asked if we wanted to go for a hike up Observation Mountain, so we decided to accompany him.   We drove to the entrance to the Observation Mountain Trail and started the hike to the top.  Unbeknownst to us, the hike was quite steep with a lot of switchbacks.

As we climbed the mountain, we had a good view of the slag piles from the copper refinery below.

We stopped at a bench that had been placed on a flat area along the trail approximately half of the way up the mountain.   We stayed there a few minutes before continuing up the mountain.

It took us about 30 minutes to get to the top, where we had a good view of Grand Forks.

Cole pointed out where the camp and the work sites were located,

while Ernie sat and admired the view.

We stayed at the top for approximately 30 minutes before we decided to head back down.   There was a very rough access roadway up to the tower on the mountain, so it was suggested that we try this route because it might not be as steep.   I looked on google maps and there were trails marked that showed the roadway indicating that it would bring us back to the start of the trail.   Wrong!!

As we walked down the roadway, being bombarded by hundreds of mosquitos, we discussed the difficulty with which a vehicle would have trying to get up the steep, rough incline.  When we were almost at the bottom of the mountain, I looked closer to Google Maps which showed the trail with the direction we were heading and I noticed that we were getting farther away from our intended destination, instead of closer.   As we started back up the mountain, I finally figured out that the roadway went in the opposite direction.   When we reached the top of the mountain, we headed back down the trail that we had originally taken to get up the mountain.

We were almost at the halfway down, when I noticed that my phone was missing.    While Ernie and Cole continued their trek down the mountain, I rushed back up to the place I thought that I may have dropped it.  I was almost at the top when I found my phone, face up, ringing in the middle of the narrow path.   Cole had been calling my phone to assist me with locating it and as I answered the phone, I suggested that they should continue their descent and I would meet them at the bottom.    It was after 9 pm, with dusk settling in, as I hurried down the mountain again, so when I reached the bench, I quickly took a picture of the full moon above the night lights in Grand Forks.

I reached the bottom to find Ernie and Cole waiting for me.   By the time we returned to camp it was already dark.   We were tired and very dirty from the find dust on the trails, however, we had some ice cream before we took some much needed showers.   I was sure that I would sleep well after the hike, but that would yet remain to be seen.


Day 14 – Grand Forks

Friday, July 12, 2019

The weather during the past 3 days has been very warm and dry, with variations of cloud cover.   The temperatures have been in the low 20’s C ( 70’s  F ) in the morning and up to 31 C ( 88 F ) during the afternoon.

Other than taking a group picture after breakfast, the morning started out as usual.

There have been a lot of odds and ends to finish on each of the houses where we worked, however, a lot of the extra time was required to complete the renovations due to the non-standard conditions of the houses.  This resulted in a lot of modifications to standard materials, such as doors, a number of which had to be cut down in height or width and in some cases both dimensions, because of the non-standard openings.   This makes the work very interesting, but it also results in taking extra time to complete tasks.

Abe, John, Will and I returned to the Radek house before 8 am.   Will finished painting most of the doors.   I finished installing the bathroom tile, John removed the back door and frame and assisted Abe with installing the door.  He also helped Will paint some doors.   Abe also built covers for the electrical panels and glued ends on one of the laminate countertops.

In the morning we had been instructed to stop work and return to camp around 2 pm, unless we needed a little more time to finish a job.   We started packing up shortly after 2 pm and left the job site by 2:30 pm to return to camp and clean up.   The 5 MDS vehicles were washed, vacuumed and inspected, the 5 showers in the shower trailer were cleaned and the floors in the kitchen and dining area were washed.

Ike and I returned to the Radek house at 4 pm and I finished cleaning the house before supper.   Eileen had cooked 12 trout that several of the volunteers had caught a few weeks ago, for supper.   She had also baked some chicken wings and potatoes and prepared a potato salad.

After supper we shared some details of our day.   During the sharing time, Eileen mentioned that several people had thanked her for being here to help rebuild homes in the area after the noticed her MDS shirt.   Also, she had received donations of food, such as bags of potatoes, salads, etc.

The people in Grand Forks have been very appreciative and kind, to the point that it is humbling for me.

I am looking forward to a relaxing weekend to rest for next week.



Day 13 – Grand Forks

Thursday, July 11, 2019

After our usual breakfast and devotions, we left base camp shortly before 8 am to continue the work at the same houses we were at the previous day.

Abe modified a bi-fold door and then built out a few door frames to match the wall thicknesses, so that they could be ‘ trimmed ‘ properly.   He also went to the ‘ Walter ‘ house to install some of the kitchen countertops.  When he returned, he started to build covers for the electrical panels.

John completed the bulk of the trim work and installed a baseboard heater.

His wife, Will ( Wilhelmina ) joined our crew to paint the doors.

I continued the tile work progress around the shower.

Petra, the local case worker for Radek, stopped by the house and joined us for lunch and talked to us about some of the situations in the area since the flood.

Most of the workers had been at the ‘ Redding ‘ house this week, insulating and installing vapour barrier with acoustic sealant in preparation for the insulation inspection.

We returned to camp at the normal time, had our showers, ate supper and reviewed the work at each of the locations, as well as a few stories about things that had happened during the day.   The local residents have been very kind to us.  Ike shared that he had received special service when he went to fill his car at a gas station.   An elderly gentleman mentioned to him that the residents are happy that we are here helping with the rebuilds and want to show their appreciation.

After dessert, we had a crew leader’s meeting and then Ike and I drove to the ‘ Walter ‘ house to check out a few things in preparation for the work on Friday.

Four of the long term volunteers are part of the ‘ Sheep & Goats MDS Service Bursary ‘.  This Bursary is awarded to pre-qualified undergraduate students enrolled in at least 24 credit hours of studies at CMU’s Shaftesbury Campus.  This scholarship opportunity is not limited to only one year but must be applied for each year.   The amount of the Bursary is 100% of the $CDN tuition of qualifying students. One major criteria for receiving this bursary is that the applicants must complete a minimum of 8 weeks of volunteer field work with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS).  There are 4 students that are spending 8 weeks at this MDS project in Grand Forks,  in order to complete the requirements for the bursary.   They are Samuel Dyck, Abby Thompson, Justin Marchand and John Wiebe.


Day 12 – Grand Forks

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

I woke up at 5:30 am, which was later than usual, but I was still early and had plenty of time before breakfast to make my lunch.   After breakfast and devotions, most everyone headed to the same job sites to continue their work.

Abe installed a bi-fold door and  then continued installing the cabinets, which turned out to be a challenge because the walls were not square and if the cabinets were installed as designed, there would be a 1 ” gap at the ends.   He did an excellent job of making the cabinets fit and look aesthetically pleasing.

John has become very good at installing the trim and he finished most of it after he helped me with cutting some of the bathroom wall tiles.

Sam Dyck joined us after 3 pm and started painting some of the doors.

We quit at 4:45 pm so that we could get back to camp for a special supper.   We had time to take showers before we left at 5:45 pm for supper at the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ ( USCC ), who want to thank us for the work we were doing in their community by serving us a traditional meal.   The USCC is a religious community of the Doukhobours, who are Russians that adopted pacifism and were persecuted by the Orthodox church, as well as the Russian government, before immigrating to Canada to escape their oppressors.   Many settled in the prairies, however a large group settled in Grand Forks in the early 1900’s.   More information about the Doukhobours can be found at – .

It was fitting that the meal consisted of Borsht, however, the dessert was non-traditional lemon meringue pie.   The ladies gave thanks for the meal in Russian and also said a prayer, in Russian, after the meal. The soup was so good that I had 4 bowls.

After socializing with the ladies, we thanked them for the meal and headed back to camp, where everyone chose different methods to relax for the rest of the evening.




Day 11 – Grand Forks

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The morning activities were similar to the previous day.   After making our lunches, eating breakfast and sharing devotions, some of us loaded countertops for the Radek house on Sam’s truck and then John, Abe and myself drove to the ‘ Radek ‘ house and unloaded the countertops from Sam’s truck.

John continued install trim and some baseboards.

Abe installed the kitchen cupboards and the countertops.

We had to cut one section of the countertop because the drawings had placed the stove in the wrong location.   This meant that we had to make other alterations in order to make everything fit properly.

I started tiling the bathroom walls around the shower.

Cole led a large group, who were insulating the walls and covering it with vapour barrier, in the ‘ Redding House ‘.   Justin and Bethany continued installing trim in the ‘ Walter ‘ house while  Sam and Ernie did ‘ odd jobs  and ran errands..

It was a warm sunny day with a daytime high of 28 C ( 82 F ).   By the time we drove back to camp, it had cooled down a bit.

At suppertime, we were joined by Radek Grundel and his family for dinner.   After we ate the main course, they shared their emotional, traumatic experiences during the flood.  We finished the evening with some dessert and socializing.

Day 10 – Grand Forks

Monday, July 8, 2019

It was cool in the morning, about 11 C ( 52 F ), at 4 am when I woke up but it warmed up to 22 C ( 72 F ) which is a comfortable temperature for working.

At 6:15 the table was set for us to make our lunches, and at 7 am we had breakfast,  after which, Peter reviewed some of the background stories of the houses that we were helping to rebuild.   Ike reviewed the job assignments with us and before 8 am we were all in our vehicles, heading to our job sites.

My crew consisted of Yvette, Deneise & John.   We drove to the ‘ Radek ‘ house and surveyed the work before walking over to the nearby storage trailers to get the tools we needed.

There were a lot of different small jobs to be done.   John, a retired landscaper and horticulturist, installed the baseboard heaters and then attached the baseboards.

Deniese ( who helps her father build real cabinets ) and Yvette built the kitchen and bathroom cabinets.   The cabinet  construction was not obvious so Deniese had to read the instructions.

I went to the ‘ Kirk ‘ house for the use of their saw,  where Justin and Bethany were framing the windows,

while Abe was installing the cabinets.

In the afternoon, I stole Abe from the ‘ Kirk ‘ house to start installing the cabinets at the ‘ Radek ‘ house.

During the afternoon, a gentlemen walked into the house and said he wanted to give us something.   I greeted him as he pulled $200 out of his wallet and handed it to me.   He told me that it was for us to use for whatever we wanted.   He informed us that his wife had died 2 months before the flood and  that he had been one of the fortunate residents whose house was just high enough to have been spared any damage from the flood and he wanted to help others less fortunate.  I was very moved by this gesture so I thanked him  for his donation asked if I could share his name with regards to the generous donation.   He said his name was Bill Hart and that he lived just down the street from the Radek house.    He left almost as fast as he came and I was left amazed and speechless.

Compared to this extraordinary experience, the rest of the day was anti-climatic.   At 5 pm we had cleaned up our job site, packed away the tools and drove back to camp.

At 6 pm we had supper, followed by a review of the work done at each of the job sites.   At 7 pm, a few volunteers helped with the dishes while the rest of us had some time to relax.






Day 9 – Grand Forks

Sunday, July 7, 2019

According to wikipedia, Grand Forks, population 4,049, is a city in the Grand Forks, population 4,049, is a city in the Boundary Country of the West Kootenay region of British Columbia, Canada. It is located at the confluence of the Granby and Kettle Rivers, a tributary of the Columbia River.  The city is just north of the Canada-United States border and approximately 500 km (310 mi) from Vancouver and 200 km (120 mi) from Kelowna.  The video by CTV about the flood that hit Grand Forks in May of 2018 can be viewed on the following link –

I was awake at 6 am, but I didn’t leave the site until 8 am for a 3 km walk to the city centre.   On my way there I spotted some unique carvings.

When I reached the city centre, I opted to have breakfast at the Wooden Spoon Bistro.   As I was returning to the camp site, I spotted two young deer grazing on someone’s lawn.   It was evident that deer in the area are quite common, because they looked up at me as I walked past them on the sidewalk but they never moved.  They only looked up and watched me a couple of times..

The temperature was mild all day long, not getting warmer than 23 C ( 74 F ), which, according to the locals is almost 10 C ( 18 F ) lower than the average for this time of year.

I returned to the campsite in time to relax for a while and change my clothes before going to the Sunday service.    After the service we all ( 13 of us ) went to the ‘ Station Pub ‘ for lunch.   This restaurant is a renovated railroad station and the rail tracks next to the station had been modified into a hiking trail.   After we returned to the campsite, I picked up some gatorade and walked back to the pub and then continued west along the rail trail.  As I looked at the mountain in the distance, I contemplated hiking it to the top, however, I would need a full day to do that.

The trail wound its way up a gradual incline and as I got higher, there were very excellent views of the mountains and valleys.

I had walked 7 km when I looked at my watch and noticed that I needed to start back so that I wouldn’t be late for supper.   When I checked the ‘ Altitude ‘ app on my phone I noticed that I had gradually climbed up 90 m ( 300 ft ).

Eileen had warmed up and enhanced some leftover food for supper.

By 6:30 all of the short term volunteers had arrived and we had our orientation meeting.  When the last volunteer arrives tomorrow, we will have 17 people at the site ( 19 including Peter & Susan, who will be leaving after Wednesday ).  After the meeting myself and the other crew leaders ( Sam, Cole and Justin ) met with Ike and Peter Thiessen to review the jobs for the week, after which we could relax for the rest of the evening.   I returned to my room to complete most of my journal and make some preparations for the week before I went to bed.

Day 8 – Spokane to Grand Forks

Saturday, July 6, 2019

I woke up at 6 am, packed my things and checked out of the hotel.  The temperature was 16 C ( 61 F ) when I woke up but it quickly warmed up to 22 C ( 72 F ) and stayed there for the remainder of my day, however, it seemed much warmer when the sun peaked through the clouds.

From the hotel I drove to a nearby Panera Bread franchise for breakfast.  I like to try something different once in a while so I ordered a Chipotle Chicken & Avoacdo Breakfast Wrap, a bear claw pastry and my second cup of coffee this week.    As always, it was all fresh and tasted very good.

I relaxed while I ate, played a game of Sudoku and then I leisurely made my  way back to the car to continue my journey.   I drove north on the 2, until I reached a junction where I turned on to the 395 to Grand Forks.

I always enjoy driving through the mountains.  The farms and grasslands  in the valleys, surrounded by the mountains, make spectacular views.   Unfortunately my camera never captures the scenes as well as my eyes , however, as you can see from the picture below, the traffic was light, which made for a very relaxed drive.

It wasn’t long before I reached the Canadian border and just before I crossed, I topped up my car with gas.

There was only one car ahead of me when I approached the border guard.   He had a few simple questions and then sent me on my way.

As soon as I drove from the booth, the signs for Canada loomed in front of me.   There was a sign for the conversion of speed limits to metric, as well as road weight limitations and a warning against bringing in invasive species.   There are inspection stations for boaters all through Montana, Idaho and Washington to make sure that no invasive species would be transferred into these states and British Columbia has similar laws.

From the border it was only 20 km ( 12 mi ) to the project site at the River Valley Community Church building in Grand Forks.    The project is using the an area in the back of the church, as well as, the basement for offices, sleeping accommodations and dining facilities.   The pastor’s wife is the person who suggested that MDS use the church building as a project site.

I met Abby, the office manager, who showed me the site and then I unpacked my car and settled into my room.

Once I had finished arranged everything in my room, I sat outside in a lawn chair and started my journal for the day, while listening to the rumble of thunder on the other side of the mountain.

By mid-afternoon, the project director, Ike Epp, asked me if I wanted to see the projects that are being worked on, so I drove around with him to each of the sites.  Before we left, we spotted a deer between the two MDS trailers and on our way back, we spotted more deer.   I was told that Mountain sheep can occasionally be spotted on the nearby mountainside.

When we got back, I relaxed for a while and then had some dinner and did a load of laundry.   In the evening, I met with the Project Coordinator, Peter & Susan Thiessen and most of the long term workers.

It a liesurely 2 hour trip from Spokane to Grand Forks.


The entire trip to Grand Forks took 54 hours of driving in just over 7 days.

I used 466 l ( 123.2 Gal ), costing $437 CDN ( $334 US ) to drive a total of 6000 km ( 3725 mi ), which included the side trips.

This averages out to 7.77 l/100 km ( 30.2 mpg ) for my car.