By Ruth Loomis, Marion Lightly, Phil Esmonde | 1989-02-01 12:00:00

The Nanoose Peace Walk, 1988

By Ruth Loomis

ABOUT 450 PEOPLE participated in the fifth annual peace walk to Nanoose Bay on November 11 to protest the existence of this base on Vancouver Island. Nuclear submarines visit the West Coast ports of Nanoose Bay and Esquimalt on the average of once every five days. These are U.S. vessels with nuclear reactors using enriched uranium fuel 45 times more radioactive than the fuel used in the Chernobyl reactor. If a core meltdown were to occur in a submarine's reactor, every living thing within a one-kilometre radius would be killed immediately. Outside the radius, deaths would occur up to several decades later. Nuclear submarines carry nuclear weapons, which contain plutonium, the deadliest substance known: one 1/ 1,000,000th of a gram can cause lung cancer. A cruise missile contains 5 kgs of plutonium.

The Peace Walkers were carrying bright banners, pushing baby strollers, and helping each other with the children. The "Raging Grannies," senior women whose songs parody militarism, kept spirits high when cold wind and rain buffeted us.

At the end of the walk at the base, the wire gates were festooned with ribbons, flowers, photographs, and even a camera! Doran Doyle, one of the Raging Grannies, spoke to the sentinels behind the fence, urging them to look at their own peaceful possibilities. She reminded them that they "…can fly Hercules planes to take crops from this wealthy country to the poor and can rescue people all around this earth."

All were invited to the Peace House, across from the base. Before a pot-luck dinner, a video, In Our Own Back Yard was shown.

A Summer Protest with the Raging Grannies

By Marion Lightly



About twenty peace activists are waking up at the Peace House, a centre for the Nanoose Conversion Campaign (NCC), about 15 miles north of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Drinking coffee, they put finishing touches on plans for a civil disobedience action about to take place. Across the bay is the Department of National Defence base at Nanoose.

About two miles off the Nanoose Peninsula lies a group of six rugged and windswept islands and some smaller rocks, known as the Winchelseas. Visitors to these islands could easily imagine they were in the Mediterranean, with the sparkling blue sea, the white shell beaches and the gnarled arbutus trees. The area is home to many species of marine life, including seals, sea lions, cormorants and salmon. At this moment, about 25 killer whales are playing in the waters surrounding these beautiful islands.

Winchelsea Island, the largest of the group, displays a group of institutional one-storey buildings, a large antenna tower, satellite dishes and a giant radar dome. It is the nerve centre for the Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental and Test Ranges (CFMETR) and houses the main computer complex and videotracking system for the range. Many American warships and nuclear-powered submarines visit this area, often carrying nuclear weapons.

The island is off-limits to the public. During periods of naval testing, boaters are forbidden (sometimes rudely) to enter the large restricted areas in nearby waters.

7.30 a.m. People are gathering at the dock at Snaw-Naw-As Marina, Nanoose Bay. A circle forms, 35 people holding hands, talking, then singing. Planes arrive, delivering cameraman and reporters.

Now it's 8.30 a.m. Three sailboats, three zodiacs, and several speedboats leave the dock, carrying the protestors and reporters to Winchelsea Island. One of the sailboats is the Greenpeace ship VEGA, famous for its involvement in protests against French nuclear testing in the South Pacific.

The wind is brisk, the sea choppy. There's a feeling of excitement and high spirits. Some of the passengers on the VEGA are dressed in old-fashioned dresses, shawls and gaily adorned hats. They are the Raging Grannies, from Victoria, Gabriola Island, and Saltspring Island, B.C. Although two of the Grannies are young women, the rest are indeed grandmothers. They are going to Winchelsea Island to symbolically reclaim it for peaceful and productive purposes. They are fully aware they may be arrested for doing so. For all but one, this is the first time these women have risked arrest.

Smiling, they sing favorite golden oldie melodies with new lyrics. To the tune of "Side by Side" I hear:

"We're telling you boys,

We're sick of your toys,

We want NO MORE SUBS!"

And to the tune of "The Drunken Sailor":

"What shall we do with the base at Nanoose,

Loaded with subs we wish would vamoose,

Give them a bunch of verbal abuse,

Earli in the morning."

It's now 9.30 a.m. as the boats enter the bay on Winchelsea Island. The dock displays No Trespassing signs and there are military police there to meet the visitors.

Still singing, six of the grannies step off the VEGA onto the dock. The men in uniform, instead of greeting them and graciously accepting the submarine-shaped loaf of bread that one of the women offers them, tell the Grannies to get back on the boat and leave. The submarine sandwich is offered as a peaceful alternative to the subs that normally come.

The Grannies form a circle on the dock, still smiling and singing. Supporters on board the boats, including other Grannies, are singing as well. It is hard to hear the guards as they tell each woman she will be arrested if she doesn't leave. The women's response? They want to finish this song.

One by one the Grannies are removed from the circle and served notice to appear in Parksville Provincial Court on September 29, to face charges of trespassing on Department of National Defence property. Maximum penalty is a $1,000 fine or one year in jail. The songs continue. Soon the group is reunited at the other end of the dock where they continue to sing until the paperwork is finished.

Navy personnel are recording the event, using a 35mm and video cameras, as are the media.

Conversation is heard between protestors and police. The Grannies are cheerful, the police polite, though uncomfortable. They are happy to see the Grannies reboard the VEGA and the whole flotilla leave the island. One of the guards holds the submarine sandwich.

The trip is jubilant. Though tired from 30 minutes of solid singing, the Grannies continue singing over the drone of engines. Planes fly low overhead so that television cameraman inside can film the boats on their return from a successful mission.

Noon. Back at Peace House, phones are ringing as reporters from as far away as Toronto try to talk to organizers and to the arrested Grannies. The protesters and supporters enjoy soup and bread and share their impressions of the action.

Once against the circle forms. Members of six different peace groups, and from six different countries, united by a common vision of a peaceful world, hold hands and sing:

"You can forbid nearly everything,

But you can't forbid me to think,

And you can't forbid the sun to shine,

And you can't shut my mouth when I sing."

Phone numbers and farewell hugs are exchanged as people prepare to head home. The campaign to convert Nanoose Naval Base to peaceful purposes has found new strength.

Epilogue. On September 21, each of the arrested Grannies was notified that she did not need to appear in Provincial Court on the 29th. The Crown was not proceeding with charges. No further explanation was given.

Video Review: "In Our Own Back Yard"

By Phil Esmonde

The tranquil opening scenes of coastal B.C., coupled with glimpses of the lives and values of some Nanoose campaigners, show the very essence of peace: the relationships of individuals to each other and to their natural settings. In Our Own Back Yard, directed by Anne Cubitt in October 1988, introduces us to the Nanoose Conversion Campaign, a local peace effort on the east coast of Vancouver Island, some 40 kms from Vancouver.

The strength of this film is that, while it uses the Nanoose Campaign as its immediate focus, it explores the true grass roots and everyday power of active and responsible individuals struggling to respond to a violent world.

The Nanoose Conversion Campaign has existed for over three years. For much of that time, the local campaign has gained momentum against Canada's support of nuclear warfighting systems through United States's use of the Canadian Forces Maritime and Experimental Testing Range. The national peace movement has paid scant attention to the issue.

This hopeful film would be suitable for showing in schools, churches, and peace groups, as well as on television. Its broad implications take it far beyond Nanoose. A videotape is $40. Contact Anne Cubitt, R.R.4, Courtenay, B.C. V9N 7J3.

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1989

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1989, page 18. Some rights reserved.

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