This article first appeared in print in the June 2019 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
It’s a cool Wednesday night at the Revelstoke Forestry Museum and a fire is roaring. A quartet of burgers are squeezed in a grill – backups from the one that were dropped on the ground earlier, much to the chagrin of the culprit, and the gentle teasing of his friends.
“Put that in your article,” someone joked.
I was at the bi-weekly men’s campfire night at the forestry museum, part of the Moving Mountains weekly men’s group meetups. They are the result of a collaboration between Moving Mountains and the Revelstoke Aboriginal Friendship Society. The former is an initiative of the Revelstoke Women’s Shelter aimed at providing men with a support network. The latter was hosting a men’s campfire night designed to connect Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. For the organizers, it seemed like a natural fit to combine the two events.
While they had hosted a variety of activities, recently they’d been alternating between the campfire and a wood carving night at the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre.
I attended with a promise to keep people anonymous and have not used any real names in this article. They knew I was writing an article and I wasn’t sure how open the men would be, but the ones I spoke to chatted candidly. I didn’t take notes and just listened. A diverse group was out, one that has never been part of my social circle. The attendees ranged from a youth in his twenties to retired seniors. There was a father a son, an ex mill employee, a former social worker, and a recovering cocaine addict. Brian Sumner was the organizer, supplying the food and making sure everyone had a ride.
“Sometimes it’s healthy to not talk and be in the present moment and have a rest from the busy mind,” he said. “Just the simple act of getting together and cooking food and being outdoors is a healthy thing to do to slow down the relentless mind.”
The goal of the group is to foster an occasion where men can meet and feel free to talk about their issues. As was written by the Revelstoke Women’s Shelter in the Mountaineer last December, it’s part of a larger effort to target a culture of “toxic masculinity” and break down the traditional gendered expectations of men. It’s a drug- and alcohol-free environment for men to meet that isn’t a locker room or a bar.
Douglas was the first to introduce himself. A retired mill worker, he spent decades working up Highway 23 North, and then at Downie Timber. He had endless stories about his past, talking about working up the Big Bend and the time he nearly destroyed an expensive piece of machinery at Downie. He was invited out by a neighbour who felt it would be a good thing for him to do.
John was open to telling his story. A former electrician, his life changed irrevocably when he was attacked in Cambodia. He was open about a cocaine addiction that he kicked only six months ago, and his struggles with alcohol. He made good money and was good at spending it too, but now couldn’t work because of a brain injury and the loss of one eye. The campfire was a social event that kept him out of trouble.
Gary was a former counsellor, there for himself and to support the others. Very talkative, he was retired and recently separated, and attending the weekly events was good for his own mental health, but he was also ready to provide support to the organizers and help others if needed.
Jack was a recent transplant to Revelstoke, having moved here in the fall to be closer to his son and daughter after his wife passed away. He’d been living at the Powder Springs because of Revelstoke’s housing crunch. He talked about having his history working in alternative medicine and with First Nations. He was enjoying Revelstoke, but also faced with going home to sort out his old life on the Prairies. His son was also there and we spent some time talking cameras after I busted mine out to take pictures.
I didn’t get a chance to speak one-on-one with everyone. Eventually the burgers were served, along with baked potatoes and a desert. Before I could leave at 10, they picked my brain about what I thought of Revelstoke and how it had changed since I moved here in 2009. While everyone had their reasons for being there, I can say they all felt relaxed in each other’s company.
“There’s been a lot of fun and joy in amongst all the other stuff,” Brian told me. “I hope that comes through as one of the main things, that we’re having fun and being in the present moment.”
I left after three hours with the fire still roaring and the conversation flowing. I thought about my own circle of friends, where the conversations are dominated by biking and skiing and usually accompanied by beer.