Alcoholics Anonymous History In Your Area
AA History – District #59, Williams Lake
British Columbia, Canada
In the Beginning
Spring of 1954 was the beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous in Williams Lake. Lionel S. who’s dairy business was going downhill, and whose family life was getting ragged at the edges, knew alcohol had him beat. A chance meeting with an alcoholic, John B., who knew he too, was fighting the odds, was transferred by the Great Eastern Railway to Williams Lake. What followed was on a parallel to Bill W. and Dr. Bob about three decades earlier.
Lionel and John naturally gravitated together, both wanting to do something about their drinking. They fast became friends as they fellowshipped together. When they found their sharing helped them, they were sure it would work for others too. They decided to form an AA group in Williams Lake.
To get some help with this, Lionel and John visited an active group in Quesnel. They were met by Ken T. who had been one of the originators of AA in that town a couple years earlier. Ken made several trips down during the following weeks and gave them the help he knew they needed. He also became a sponsor to both of them. Ken and family moved to Williams Lake not too long after that and, with the exception of a real whopper of a slip in his eleventh year of sobriety, he remained active in AA until his death in 1985. His contribution to the history of AA in Williams Lake is still acknowledged by many today.
In the meantime, Lionel and John were spreading the word in Williams Lake. It was by word of mouth that other alcoholics got the message. The pals made it a habit to do all the Twelve Steps together, and apparently, it worked very well. Though he wasn’t able to grasp continuous sobriety himself, Lionel brought a special gift of empathy to newcomers. John, through his associates with the railway employees, a hard bunch of drinking fellows, had a ready source of converts. In fact, so many railroaders came into AA that the first group was fondly referred to as the “PGE Group” for several years. (PGE is the old name for BC Rail. It was the Pacific Great Eastern when it started about 1912, named by English investors after a railway “at home”. WAC Bennett changed the name about 1955.)
By 1956, two other fellows joined, and can be linked with Lionel and John as originators of AA in Williams Lake: Frank S. and Jim W., By the early 1960’s other early members included: John B., Jim B., Fred C., Bill C., Ray F., Frank G., Frank K., Ed H., Harold H., Euliss B., John H., Curly M., Pat M., Art P., Ross R., Ed S., Fred S., Matt S., Harry R., Frank S., Mickey S, all remembered for their different contributions to AA and worthy of inclusion in the history of District 59,
According to the old-timers, it was not all peace and harmony in the early going. They suffered the normal throes of growth. One said that when he came back from a seven-year slip he found service work saved him from another, but soon was accused of trying to run the whole thing. He subsequently started the Friday night group as it is today in 1975 so the conflict served it purpose. Another who had been secretary for twelve years of the original Friday night group quietly closed down the meeting for lack of interest, only to see non-attending promptly join other groups.
So strife, conflict – call it by whatever name you like, it seems to have been the result of placing personalities before principle. Also, as could be expected, problems were sometimes caused by unfamiliarity with the traditions. At a later date for instance, some in the Wednesday Night Group tried to introduce a system of dues in an effort to pay the high rent it faced. The practice met with little favor, fortunately, which was probably a worthwhile demonstration of the value of group conscience.
The few early members were enthusiastic about what AA was doing for them, and what it hoped to do for other alcoholics in the area, so were quick to respond to any community request for enlightenment. Requests came mainly from service groups. Ken T. was particularly adept at speaking to them. There wasn’t too much dialogue with the medical people, but the clergy and RCMP were interested. Local AA wasn’t quite so quick to embrace one of the local priests who were interested enough to attend all the open meetings. He wanted to have AA members on a regular radio open line program, which members felt might easily lead to a compromise of anonymity. The priest was eventually asked to attend meetings only on invitation.
It seemed, in those days, that whoever took on the job as a secretary (also responsible for treasury) took on the job of running the group as well. They were more or less the mainspring of a group – the health of a group depended on them. No one complained or interfered unless someone really got their back up and strenuously objected to the manner in which the group was ‘run’. Only then was anyone prepared to share the work. As of now, there never seems to be a rush to fill service jobs, so AA’ers in Williams Lake was lucky to have those who would do the work. Though lack of exercise of the principle of rotation did bring on some woes, if not for those willing workers AA would not have grown as well as it did.
The early members seemed to share an intimacy that we don’t enjoy to quite the same extent now that groups are numerous and membership large. Being few in number, they stuck close together. Wives were encouraged to attend the meetings because the members thought they should learn about this program as they did themselves. While men didn’t seem to sense any stigma attached to their membership in AA, the women were a little warier of it. They were supportive of their spouses, and other members, but it was still a while before they felt free to launch an Al-Anon group*.
Because there was a tight intimacy, there were many social functions including summer picnics, winter brunches, and innumerable coffee parties. There was much friendly visiting amongst the newfound life.
Diane W. was the first lady to become a member of AA in Williams Lake. She came in 1968 from fourteen months of sobriety in Kamloops. By this time membership had grown enough to support two groups – she chose the Saturday Night Serenity group which met in the Cariboo Health Center at that time. It was four years before she was joined by another female member. There were times when she did not always feel particularly welcome in what had been a male domain until then. In fact, it was once suggested that she leave the group, but she was too concerned about her sobriety to be put off by the suggestion.
The conduct of the early meetings was casual and informal but drifted easily into change with the times. The few members met in one another’s homes and the meetings were more in the nature of discussions. When they grew to the point where it became necessary to “hire a hall’ the meetings became more formal but still casual. They took it one meeting at a time, selecting a chairperson at each meeting for the next. Members shared from where they sat, which was likely a wise format since they were all so new to the program – and everyone had a chance to share at each meeting. Though the Lord’s Prayer wasn’t used, they all stood for the Serenity Prayer at the closing. From time to time alcoholics, with group experience immigrated with strong ideas of their own about how meetings should be conducted, which raised some hackles, but in the end, contributed to evolvement. By the time Diane W. joined the Sunday Night Serenity Group in 1968, it was selecting chairpersons and secretaries for six-month stints. Somewhere along the line tenure was reduced to three and one, respectively. Incidentally, sharers now speak from a podium.
The concept of an AA Clubhouse grew in the heart of the Wednesday Night Study group. They contracted to rent part of a former private school and moved to it from the mental health center in 1977. The hope was that more groups would make use of the facility, thus help with the rent, which was more than one small group could handle. This didn’t transpire, so the Wednesday nighters faced an ongoing problem. From a time it was kept going by contributions from several of the members. The practice was discontinued, and the rent problem persisted. In September of 1979, a couple of women took on the responsibility for rent and maintenance of 745 Pinchbeck and got to work. By October two of the smaller, newer groups moved into the facility: the Friday Night Discussion Group, and the Saturday Step and Tradition Group. In May 1980 the Tuesday Morning Sunshine Group started up at Pinchbeck, followed by a Thursday Big Book Study. In total five groups made themselves self-supporting in the new premises. The Alano Club remains in healthy operation, although it hasn’t been referred to as the Alano Club for years. That was the ambitious program when space was rented, but it didn’t work. It is now just “The Club”. There’s a meeting there every night, & some day-time meetings as well. We have an Intergroup committee and a club committee so Intergroup doesn’t spend its time worrying about the rent or keeping the floors clean. . The Club is, of course, the logical place to hold the monthly GSR meetings, and the various committee meetings. There are currently (2002) fourteen active groups in Williams Lake.
Out Posts & Native Communities of District #59
Nearly 500 miles west of Williams Lake is the AA outpost at Bella Coola. Three groups, The Native Fellowship Group, The Western Group, and The Sunrise Group have been active over the years. There have been ups and downs, but AA remains alive there. The Bella Coola folks are quick to give us due credit for this to the dedication of member Bill P. Currently the meetings are Mondays, 8 pm, Bella Coola Hospital and Fridays, 8 pm, Airport meeting room.
Tatla Lake, another lonely AA outpost, is a mere 230 miles west of Williams Lake. Four alcoholics meet there on Tuesday night to share their common problem which began in 1988. Unknown whether this meeting is still going.
Native Community Groups
“Active” seems to depend on both dedicated leadership and band support.
“Canim Lake was the first community to become interested in the AA cause, with visits by 100 Mile House members including Buster H. in the 1960s. Enthusiasm waned, but revived in 1973 – the first meeting started in late 1974. The Wednesday Night meetings are still going, but sporadically.
“The Alkali Lake Group has been a success story. AA was first introduced in September 1973with the formal meetings beginning about nine months later. Evelyn S. was the first to celebrate a one year birthday. The band whole-heartedly supports the movement. Meetings are held Thursdays, 7:30 pm, Serenity Group at Alkali Lake Community Hall, and Sunday evenings at 7:30 pm, Serenity Group, at Alkali Lake Community Hall. A beautiful documentary was produced on CBC.
“The Sugar Cane and Soda Creek Groups started about the same time – the fall of 1978. Meetings are held Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Two of the dedicated members are Virginia G. and Frank S. Ralph P. one of the Soda Creek stalwarts. The group is doing well, with good band support. Tuesday, 8 pm, Soda Creek Health Unit. Wednesday 8 pm, Sugar Cane Band office
“Dog Creek meetings (Thursday nights) started in 1979 and continued fairly regularly into 1981 when the group struggled and collapsed. Other groups that had started but fizzled out were: Anahim Lake, Stony Group, and Redstone.
Due to their distance from fully active flourishing groups, it is very difficult for alcoholics in remote, isolated areas, to get support. Individual subscriptions to the AA Grapevine, Box 459, Grassroots, and taped meetings sent by other groups may be their saving grace.
Today in 2002, District #59 AA continues to grow and flourish, participating in the Area’s Quarterlies and Assemblies. It is only by the early founding members who took the time to walk through the early growing pains that AA is alive and well in this vast district.
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