BC Association of Community Response Networks

Volunteer of the Month: Margaret Little, Coordinator, Fort St. John CRN


(Photo: M. Little)

“I talk fast. Is that okay?” (We were okay.)

Margaret Little is a bit of a pioneer. For decades, she’s advocated for services and supports to the Peace Region of BC, a vast land area that spans the northeast of the province, between the Rocky Mountain Foothills on the west and the Alberta Plains on the east[1].

With the help of community organizations and dedicated volunteers, Save Our Northern Seniors (SONS), a registered non-profit, has successfully lobbied government to bring a needed hospital, critical seniors’ support services, a nursing school, and transportation options to the community. (Margaret is SONS’s president.) There are a host of other projects in the works.

“Margaret has always been active in the community, and I am delighted that she is being recognized as a gem of the north!” says Laura Beamish, BC CRN Regional Mentor – North Eastern BC.

Thank you, Margaret, for all you do and continue to do for northern communities. Thank you for letting us walk down a bit of memory lane with you for this edition!

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Margaret has lived in the Peace area since 1949. Her father, a veteran, met her mother in England during the war, married, and came to Canada in 1947 when Margaret was a tiny 13-week-old baby. They lived in Alberta with her grandparents while Dad worked on the Hart Highway. After a year, the family moved to Dawson Creek, BC to chase their dream of having a farm. “My parents purchased land near Fort St. John the federal government sold to veterans. With the help of family and neighbours, he cleared and broke the land. He had a very successful farming operation,” she says.

**

Margaret’s childhood was, in her words, “pretty normal”. She rode horses, fed chickens, was chased by roosters, and tended to the cows. She was heavily involved in 4-H and was one of 12 members selected to represent British Columbia at National Club Week. 4-H and her parents influenced her to take part in the different issues of the day. “4-H was a very important part of my life and gave me a foundation to advocate for people and my community. My parents were supportive of everything my brother and I wanted to do.”

She was educated in School District #60 and lived in the school dorm for grades nine to 12. There were many teachers on her mother’s side of the family, but Margaret had no desire to enter teaching as a profession. “When I was finishing grade 13 and it was time to apply to college, my mom asked me to rethink things,” she says. “I ended up completing a two-year teaching certificate out of Simon Fraser University. I became a teacher in the end. Teaching was never a chore. Each day provided new challenges and adventures.”

She taught grade 1 for most of her career, and Margaret became one of the community’s most highly regarded teachers, as well as the head of the local teacher’s union for many years. “Fifty-five years ago, last month [September 2022], I earned my teaching certificate. Fifty-five years ago on October 24, 2022, my husband asked me to marry him. His name is Jim.”

**

(Photo: M. Little)

Margaret and Jim live on a farm just outside of Fort St. John. They built a little log house together on the property in the 60s, and they still call it home today. Together, they stay active politically, encouraging others to vote, and lobbying for much-needed community services. Their focus on seniors began in the 1970s when Jim’s mother was sent to a care home an hour and a half away.

“We had a brand-new care home here in town,” Margaret explains. “It filled up quickly, and my mother-in-law was sent to Pouce Coupe. It was devastating being so far away. Jim used to have lunch with her every day, and then, we couldn’t see her regularly, especially in the winter when the weather was bad.”

In 1999, SONS formed as an offshoot of the local Health Council at the time. “The area from the northeast of the province to Haida Gwaii, the Yukon border, and Quesnel became part of the Northern Health Authority. A small group of us saw that there were more people than there were care homes,” she says. “We looked for opportunities to have more facilities built.”

“Margaret, her ‘partner-in-crime’, Jean Leahy, and a group of concerned citizens founded SONS to address the issues facing older adults locally and province-wide,” adds Laura. “The loss of Jean was felt by many, and Margaret continued with what they started together.”

**

SONS is a registered non-profit society. The team has been making presentations to standing committees, government officials, and premiers for 21 years, taking advantage of every opportunity to put ideas out there that could result in something that takes care of the community and its people.

“We chose to be a registered non-profit because it gives us the ability to lobby the government,” she explains. “We wanted the ability to advocate for the community whenever we wanted for whatever the community needed.”

SONS still conducts presentations, meetings, and forums, and has adopted social media to expand its already massive networks. Facebook is the platform of choice, and regular posts are published to make important information about living and caring for older adults in Northeastern BC available to everyone.

Margaret and the SONS team also created the Community Healthy Guide with former BC CRN mentor Lindsay Jardine, a handbook of sorts for seniors, families, and healthcare workers containing contact information of all local resources. Available in both print and electronic formats, the handbook is updated regularly with new inserts. The guide has since become a known resource in the community, garnering local media attention during the pandemic and further spreading the word of its value to the public.

At the height of the pandemic, the City of Fort St. John formed a local Seniors’ Task Force to address the needs of seniors. Today, it is a tight team of representatives from local organizations interested in keeping seniors active and informed. Free social events and activities for older adults are always on offer to older adults who live in the Fort St. John area. “Margaret is a lead organizer and participant of this amazing crew,” says Laura.

“Connection to community is so important,” says Margaret. “If I don’t know where to get something or the answer to a question, I want to know the people who do.”

**

(Photo: M. Little)

Margaret’s involvement with the local Community Response Network (CRN) just kind of happened. She and Laura knew each long before either was involved with BC CRN.

“Laura’s parents were good friends of my husband Jim’s sister Anne. We were all very active in the community together,” she says. “Laura was a friend of our nieces and nephews. Eventually, we connected and got involved in SONS together, and eventually BC CRN. We’ve stayed connected ever since, and the work of SONS and CRN have become one and the same.”

**

When they are not farming or advocating for the next community project, Margaret and Jim raise and show registered Golden Retrievers and hunt pheasant. Both are sources of many adventures.

Her email address, where anyone interested in SONS or the local Fort St. John CRN can contact her, is mackeno@xplornet.ca. The name “mackeno” is a nod to two of their hunting dogs – Mac, short for Macara, and Keno.

“Jim and I named our company – MacKeno Ventures[2] – after them,” Margaret says. “We had so many wonderful adventures with them.”

For more information about or to get involved with Save Our Northern Seniors (SONS) or the Fort St. John CRN, please contact Margaret at mackeno@xplornet.ca or Laura at laura.beamish@bccrns.ca.

Be sure to also like and follow the SONS Facebook page and FJS Senior Support Network for the newest resources and information.

Photos: M. Little

[1] Source: Ministry of Environment.

[2] MacKeno Ventures is a land use and planning company. “Since Jim was involved in all matter dealing with crown land throughout his career, it was only natural he would continue serving the public. So, MaKeno Ventures was formed,” says Margaret.