What defines a Cowichan Changemaker?
Our Changemakers are the influencers, activators, connectors and innovators within the Cowichan Valley. Whether working in business or volunteering for community organizations, they are the builders and collaborators who embody new ways of doing things. Changemakers see the potential that others miss and they connect the dots between people and ideas. Join us in celebrating and learning about the people who are shaping the future of the Cowichan Region.
Victor Vesely and Margit Nellemann | Westholme Tea Farm
Defying the odds and growing a dream
When Victor and Margit planted their first tea plants on their Cowichan farm in 2010, they were taking a risk and following a dream. As it turns out, they were also on their way to becoming an integral part of the Cowichan slow food movement. As their tea plants have matured, thousands of visitors have made their way to the farm to buy artisanal blends, sip tea from Margit’s hand-built pottery and take a look at the plants that, according to all the experts, shouldn’t be surviving here.
Raising tea takes a true farmer’s patience, since the leaves take a full five years to reach maturity. In 2016, Victor finally created the farm’s very first all-Canadian tea blends. Foodies across the country have been charmed by this crazy dream, and by the two passionate entrepreneurs who are making it a reality.
Dora Wilson, Thulamiye’ | Cowichan Knitter
Keeping a traditional craft thriving
When Cowichan Tribes elder Dora Wilson was taught to knit by her mother, there was more to the lesson than stitches and needles: she learned to take pride in her work and to promote Cowichan sweaters as an important part of her culture. Today, more than 60 years after selling her first piece, she is fiercely protective of the art’s traditional methods, colours and patterns, teaching them to her own children and grandchildren.
As well as being a highly respected craftsperson, Dora spent 27 years as an elected representative on the Cowichan Tribes Council, has a degree in social work and once travelled to Japan to demonstrate the art of traditional Cowichan knitting. Now in her 70s, she has an Etsy store, a blog and a Facebook page so well connected that a video got 5,200 views. Thanks to her dedication and her savvy, the art of Cowichan knitting continues to flourish in the 21st century.
Ladysmith Maritime Society
Creating a hub for maritime life past and present
The Ladysmith Maritime Society is dedicated to restoring and preserving heritage vessels, hosting an annual Maritime Festival and educating visitors and residents about the city’s rich maritime history. Perhaps its most impressive contribution to the region has been the enhancement and upgrading of Ladysmith’s public marina, which has become an important attraction for locals and tourists alike.
Over the years, not only have the docks been repaired and expanded, but a picnic area, Welcome Centre and award-winning floating museum have been created, along with a display of restored wooden boats. The Harbour Heritage Centre, just down the road, tells the story of the area and its maritime history. And in all its work, the Ladysmith Maritime Society has been focused on the needs of the community: their volunteers built a special-purpose dock for the local disabled sailing program and have created a successful nesting site on the dock for the region’s endangered Western Purple Martins.
Judy Stafford | Cowichan Green Community
Bringing people back to the land
Vancouver-born Judy Stafford followed many paths before finding the job that, as she says, aligns with her passions. As Executive Director of Cowichan Green Community Society (CGC), she works with like-minded individuals and organizations focusing on topics such as environmental sustainability, social innovation and food security. Most importantly, she builds networks, connecting people, projects and communities with the land that sustains them.
Since 2004, CGC has initiated an incredible array of programs aimed at bringing people closer to the land, sharing knowledge between generations and increasing the region’s food security and diversity. Successful projects include an incubator seed farm, the FruitSave program, jobs training, forage gardens and an online farmers market, all coordinated from CGC’s offices in “The Station,” their green-sensitive facility in the heart of Duncan. This year, Judy has led the expansion of the CGC from being a non-profit society into being a charitable foundation—the next step in its continuing evolution.
Creating a unique wine profile in the valley
Tim Turyk came by his love of the Cowichan Valley naturally – as a child, he summered at nearby Shawnigan Lake, just as his mother, Marjorie Unsworth, had before him. In 2009, ready for a second career, he heard of a small vineyard for sale in the region. He and his wife Colleen took one look at the property and quite literally bought the farm, naming it after Tim’s mother.
In the intervening years, the Turyks and their team have built up the Unsworth brand while embracing sustainable vineyard techniques – planting the right varieties in the right locations in order to create great wine. They have also embraced the region’s culinary movement, operating an award-winning on-site restaurant with its own chef.
Unsworth wines – red, white and rosé – have received recognition and awards in BC and nationally. With more grape varieties ripening in the fields, the future for this thriving business looks very bright indeed.