Skeena Voices | ‘You help where you can’

Barry English reflects on decades of volunteering and activism in Terrace area

Barry English, 72, has lived nearly his whole life in Terrace, and he will never stop trying to help his community.

These days, he spends much of his retirement collecting and sorting bottles and cans to raise money for the Northern Animal Rescue Alliance. There’s a large wood bin in his driveway, where folks are welcome to drop recycling day or night — and if you have a lot of recycling, he’ll even come pick it up. He’s also been involved in political activism, and music, for decades.

“I was taught very early that you help where you can, and so that meant a lot of volunteer work,” he told The Terrace Standard. “If you have the skills and the abilities, you do what you can for people that don’t.”

He and his wife first got involved with the animal rescue group a few years ago when they fostered a corgi. One thing lead to another, and the pair ended up fostering about 40 more dogs over a couple of years.

“We’ve got a full acre, fenced in,” he said, gesturing from his patio toward the lush green back yard, surrounded by trees and alive with chirping birds. “My wife’s sister calls this doggy heaven.”

Now, they have two dogs, which English refers to as “failed fosters.”

“Failed is not a bad word, in this case, it just means when you were fostering it, you didn’t want to let it go when the time came,” he said.

The fostering then lead to the recycling collection. He said he spends an average of four hours a day just sorting the recycling, which keeps his mind comfortably occupied.

“It’s mind-numbing, you don’t have to think very hard. Although, please don’t talk to me when I’m sorting because I lose count and have to start all over again,” he said with a chuckle.

He also collected bottles and cardboard boxes when he was growing up on the Southside decades ago.

“I think it was three cents a piece, for a cardboard box, because most of the people around here needed boxes to carry groceries in,” he said.

English arrived in Terrace with his mother in 1952, when he was about six years old. His father, who grew up in Saskatchewan, first came to Terrace during the Second World War for training and fell in love with the area. After the war, English’s father returned to work as a logger, and the rest of the family followed.

As a boy, English roamed the woods on the Southside with his friends.

“When I was around 10, my dad got tired of me losing his hammer,” he said. “For my birthday he bought me a hammer of my own and a 50 lb. box of nails, and so we built tree forts, and we built bridges and all sorts of things like that.”

He is a longtime member of the Terrace Pipes and Drums band, which promotes Scottish culture.

“I’ve been teaching kids to play drums in the pipe band, Terrace Pipes and Drums, for over 40 years now, all the way along,” he said. “Because of COVID we’re not practicing any more, and I really miss that. We won’t be able to march down the middle of the street for a while, because all the gatherings have been cancelled.”

He drummed for a rock band in his teens and he first became involved with Terrace Pipes and Drums when his brother invited him to a Robbie Burns Day celebration.

“Being a drummer, I [would pound] on anything available. As the pipe band went by my table, I was thumping along, and afterwards a friend of mine, who was a piper at the time, still is actually, said ‘for [Pete’s] sake, English, if you’re going to play anyway, you may as well learn to do it right,’” he said with a laugh. “So, the next day they had a practice, I was there, and I’ve been there ever since.”

English worked for local sawmills most of his adult life as a heavy equipment operator. He became a shop steward for the local union and, eventually, the union president. Through his union work he became involved with left-wing politics, identifying as a socialist.

“During the downturn in the ’80s we [the union,] along with the local labour council, had a food bank … we had a soup kitchen too. We didn’t just feed people, we also taught them left-wing politics,” he said. “The town was depressed. Very depressed. So that’s why we got the idea to start the soup kitchen to start with and the education portion was just kind of a sideline.”

“I was surprised at just how many people that came for a bowl of soup actually stuck around and learned something. Some of them I still see on a regular basis, and that was, of course, 40 years ago.”

For many years, English put up all the election signs for the NDP in the area. A photo from 2011 in The Terrace Standard shows English meeting with John Horgan, who was in Terrace campaigning for the B.C. NDP leadership race that year. Horgan lost that race to Adrian Dix, but has since become the party leader and B.C.’s premier.

English said he’s not impressed with Horgan’s performance thus far.

“Horgan is not a friend of mine. I don’t like his environmental policies, especially Site C and the fact that he really thinks LNG is a great thing,” he said.

English is still politically involved today. He is vice-chair of the Terrace chapter of the Council of Canadians, a non-partisan group that encourages citizens to vote and, between elections, does education work around environmental issues.

“We do want to protect this country. Take a look at it,” he said, gesturing once more toward the lush back yard and the Southside woods he roamed as a boy. “The last thing in the world we need is pipelines all over the place and LNG plants all over the place.”

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