Our Dad thought this would just be a story to pass on – but the following spring – who showed up on the chimney (not Santa) but Wilbur and this year he even brought a mate to share in the feast – how special now there was two.
Every Christmas tree in the Dundarave Festival's has a story to tell. The Edmonson's Family Tree tells the true story of an uncommon friendship.
By Debby Fjoftoft
The first part of our story is “Grannie’s Bear”. Teddy Bears held significant meaning for our Mom Betty. In 1987 Betty was hospitalized for 50 days and made a “miraculous” recovery. While in the hospital, we hung a poster full of bears. All of her surgeons, doctors and nurses came to visit her, with tears of joy and amazement, of her recovery. They all signed the poster when they visited her hospital room and thus the love of bears began. When our Mom left the hospital – our Dad gave her a gold teddy bear pendant that she wore from that day on – it symbolized strength, life and love. The shape of the ornament is a replica of her special pendant.
The second part of our story is about “Wilbur” the Great Blue Heron.
Our Dad Al loved animals. He and his Wife Betty fed numerous birds, ducks and squirrels in and around the pond at their home in North Vancouver. They named each of the “regulars” – especially Sam the Squirrel - who used to come into their house if the door was left open just looking for the food. One day a Great Blue Heron arrived in the pond and Al was intrigued. So he went out to the pet store and started to purchase goldfish to put in the pond. Well, it worked and the heron came back every day to feed. And so it became a regular trip to Dundarave for the Seawall walk in the morning and onward to the pet store to buy goldfish to bring home for the heron. The goldfish became expensive and the pet shop owner began to become curious as to what Al was doing with all these goldfish daily. Also I guess Al was feeling a bit guilty – being an animal lover and sacrificing all the goldfish and the heron had quite an appetite. So Al knew that he had to change his plan because now the heron came everyday and depended on our Dad for food. And of course, like all the others, Al knew that he needed a name – so “Wilbur” he became.
Al began to purchase frozen bait herring for Wilbur to eat but he did not seem to like it at first “Well Betty - maybe it doesn’t seem real being frozen - we need to do something” said Al. So he started thawing it in the microwave and Wilbur seemed to like this. So continued the relationship between Al and Wilbur and every morning upon Al rising from bed he would lean out the window and call “Wilbur – Wilbur – Wilbur” and here would come this large bird flying over and would land on the carport in front of our parents’ condo. Everyone was amazed at the attraction between the man and the bird – even our Mom whose microwave now smelled constantly of fish! The first year was fun and when the bad weather came – Wilbur left for warmer temperatures. Our Dad thought this would just be a story to pass on – but the following spring – who showed up on the chimney (not Santa) but Wilbur and this year he even brought a mate to share in the feast – how special now there was two. The relationship with Wilbur strengthened as Al’s health deteriorated. They met ritually for more than 5 years – amazing all around them.
Al became quite ill and ended up in hospital and daily our Mom Betty would attempt to continue the relationship with the bird. Wilbur would come every day but would not respond to Betty and did not touch the herring she so lovingly thawed for him. Soon Al returned and all went back to normal with Wilbur and the unlikely friendship continued. Al became weaker and could not get down the stairs as frequently as he wanted and Wilbur stopped coming to visit. We were all saddened by this – especially Al. But the Great Blue Heron became a symbol in our lives. Well, Wilbur did return, the day our Dad read his Will and Testament to us, Dad’s heron made a cursory “fly-by” the condo but did not stop for long. He just came to say goodbye and to show respect for the man that looked after him for many years.
Soon Al passed away and his Wife Betty continued to go to Dundarave for daily walks and every time she saw a “Wilbur” at the beach she would feel the presence of her husband and smile for the story she had inside. We had a bench installed under their favourite tree at Dundarave.
15 years later my mom Betty passed as well and the bench was renewed and her name was added to the plaque. My parents love of family and friends was so strong and always included so many individuals who maybe did not have a place to go on Christmas (much like the animals for so many years) my parents cared for everyone. The plaque reads “This a bench for friends to rest cause it’s the place we love best – Al & Betty Edmondson & Family”.
So in their honour – we have donated to the Dundarave Festival and its charity “Lookout Emergency Aid Society”. Mary one of the festival coordinators was so inspired by our story that she assigned us the tree closest to our parent’s bench so that we can celebrate the two together. My sister and I lovingly designed, cut and painted each ornament on the tree. Please come down and see the trees they are a beautiful sight to behold and so many have their own special story to tell.
The Dundarave Festival Society
We are a circle of friends working in the Dundarave Festival of Lights Society to bring to life the promise of Christmas in our community, a season of life, passion and purpose that leaves no one in the cold. This is community-driven social change, in the true spirit of Christmas and the best spirit of our community.