Wednesday, May 07, 2014

In Conversation With...Crystal Wallis

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, April 23, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

High River United Church was devastated by the floodwaters that ravaged the town of High River, Alberta, last June. This March, the church, which re-opened in December, asked congregations across Canada to send packets of sunflower seeds that they will distribute this spring to every home in High River. 
Sunflowers are good at pulling toxins out of contaminated soil. 
At the urging of “green enthusiast” Crystal  (Blenkhorn) Wallis, the three churches in the River Philip Pastoral Charge, of which she is a member, collected 89 packages of sunflower seeds to send to High River.
“I love sunflowers,” Crystal says at her home in Claremont where she grows sunflowers in her own gardens.
She was born in Amherst and moved to the family farm in Nappan when her father left the air force.
 “When I was 16, my mother decided she couldn’t make a lady out of me, this is the honest truth. She thought if she sent me to the Baptist university, they’d make a lady out of me,” she says. “So I went to Acadia and studied Home Economics, met Glenn, went to Montreal, taught school and had a couple of children.”
Her husband, originally from Montreal, went back to get his education diploma. 
“It was quite a change because it was a huge school, coming from rural Nova Scotia,” Crystal remembers of the school in Chomedey where she taught Home Ec. “It was a school where 80 percent of the students were Jewish and that was a real education. I learned so much about another culture.” 
In the end, however, the FLQ Crisis and Bill 101 made them feel like they weren’t welcome in Quebec anymore so they thought they’d move to Alberta.
“My husband needed a couple of credits to finish his degree and he had to get them from Acadia so we went to Alberta in the summer, spent quite a bit of time looking around, wondering where we were we going to live,” Crystal says. “We met some people at a campground who happened to be the chair of the school board and he offered my husband a job. Then we came back to Nova Scotia to finish school – and we’re still here.”
The couple settled in Windsor and by the spring of 1976, Crystal had a third child (she has two sons and a daughter, plus a granddaughter who lives in Amherst). She worked for six years as an Activity Director in a nursing home then spent the following 23 years working at a preschool.
Working with children and involved in the activities of her own kids nurtured her respect for the earth and allowed her to encourage children to share that respect.
“I’ve always been aware of the Earth,” she says. “I suppose it came from growing up on a farm where you are aware of the Earth and what you got back from it if you took care of it. It was where the food came from. My father had ideas about how things should be treated. When I was teaching, people weren’t as aware of anything and it kind of evolved as my children got older. 
 Crystal remembers the first Earth Day (in 1970) because Windsor had a parade.  She says her growing awareness of environmental issues came from reading Rachel Carson’s books and realizing what people were doing. 
“When I started in preschool, that was fun. The children are impressionable and you want them to know there is a way to treat the Earth and what they can do and how they can help so they grow up to be good citizens of the Earth. We did all kinds of interesting things, like don’t kill the bugs. They liked to stamp on the ants!”
After Glenn and Crystal retired, they decided to move to Cumberland County. 
“We came back because I had some land in Nappan that we thought we would build on until we found out all that’s involved in building a house,” she says.
Instead they bought a house on a hill in Claremont because of the view, high-speed Internet and the proximity to the highway.
“And we wanted a bit of land and this has two and a half acres,” she adds. “I knew when we came up the driveway to look at this house, it wouldn’t matter what the house was like, my husband would want to stay here because of the view and the land, and it’s quiet.”
They moved in September 2007 and Crystal made friends through a scrapbooking group and the River Philip Pastoral Charge. She became a “green enthusiast” when she joined a committee called Project Hope that wanted to raise environmental issues with congregations. 
“I gather it didn’t really take off because they didn’t find people that were passionate enough to do a little research.”
Crystal is. She continues to provide a weekly “Greening Moment” during the church service. 
“It hasn’t been hard to find a tidbit here and there,” she says. “I try to do it in such a way that it is fun and informative and different. I get a lot of positive feedback about it and no one has said that it’s silly or preachy.”
Her pet peeves are bottled water and plastic bags.
“I think people are more aware now than they have been in the past and I still think that it’s not a big deal to take your cloth bag to the grocery store. It’s not the plastic bags that are the problem if you recycle them properly. They don’t break down in the landfill but if you recycle them, they’re made into something new.”
Speaking of recycling properly... Crystal is the person who adopted the “Collingwood Post Office Kitten” in December 2012, naming the abandoned kitten “Rosie”.  
According to Crystal, Rosie’s endearing quality is that she had beautiful green eyes. 
“She’s tiny, she’s feisty and she loves to hunt,” she says. “Our other cat, Katrina, hated her on sight but the two cats get along now. We were very happy to provide a home for Rosie and I’m just pleased that whoever didn’t want her put her in the post box instead of throwing her out into the woods.”

Crystal prepares to mail 89 packets of sunflower seeds that the River Philip Pastoral
Charge collected for the High River United Church sunflower project.

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