Remembering Eugene and Ann Bourgeois, For Whom Knitting was an Act of Love

The late Eugene and Ann Bourgeois are in a special category of individuals who number among those unsung heroes and heroines living their lives through acts of love woven into their daily lives, as organically as were the threads of Eugene and Ann’s elegantly woven garments sold at their sheep farm, despite the tragedies that befell and altered their lives.

The larger world can be inspired in knowing the extraordinary qualities of these two individuals, and also their chosen way of life connected directly to the land and water, as examples to the rest of us how it is possible to rise above circumstances in which personal well-being and a thriving livelihood have been compromised by external forces.

Rather than succumb to justifiable personal and spiritual rage, Eugene and Ann not only chose to fight fiercely on behalf of the future well-being of the environment surrounding their homestead, for the other people living there, now and in the future. Equally important, they chose activities in their personal lives to bring joy, beauty and love into each day.

Eugene was scheduled to be an oral intervenor this past November, to raise questions – once more – about the safety measures of various nuclear industry activities, this time at an online public hearing about the decommissioning of the Douglas Point Waste Facility (DPWF). But, his life ended suddenly, possibly from a heart attack, in September, just a few months following the death of his beloved Ann. She had lost her final battle with cancer, which had afflicted her through many years, repeatedly pushed into remission through treatments.

The fact is, their beloved homestead already had been established in the vicinity of what became an ever growing Bruce Power site, said to be the largest nuclear power facility in the world today. Despite tenacious and repeated attempts in requesting studies by Bruce Power and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), to provide evidence that intermittent higher than normal atmospheric releases from Bruce Power – combined with potentially higher than presumably safe amounts of tritium in the well water – possibly caused the loss of large numbers of sheep and triggered Ann’s cancer, no evidence of unsafe levels could be verified.

My own research in recent years, however, has revealed that Bruce Power does not acknowledge `cumulative effects’ seriously enough and, moreover, I suggest that the CNSC measurement tools could have been inadequate. I state the latter based on reading an international report which declared that longstanding measurement tools used to determine levels of tritium had been discovered to be sorely inadequate to indicate actual harm to living organisms.

I initially met Eugene at the first of two public hearings in 2013 and 2014, both of us among local intervenors engaged in a relentless fight against the deep geological repository (DGR) for low-and-intermediate level radioactive waste, proposed for construction on the Bruce Power site near the shoreline of Lake Huron. (The proposal finally was terminated in early 2020 by a vote among members of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation – two sister Ojibway communities – a decision recognized by the DGR proponent Ontario Power Generation (OPG)).

Both Eugene and Ann were modest about their educational credentials. Ann had worked as a school teacher, and Eugene’s knowledge was grounded in university studies from mathematics to phenomenology. They designed their own humble yet beautiful homestead, which always was welcoming, and included one building delegated as their store to sell handmade woolen goods. Their multi-faceted business vision evolved , to include annual trips within and beyond North America, not just to sell their wares and exchange knowledge, yet also to develop a holistic business model in which all players could benefit more equitably.

My visits were always joyful, albeit occasional, given Ann’s increasingly frail physical health. Even so, she always was so gracious, embracing me in her inclusive warmth like a blanket. On one occasion, although we had met previously, Ann apologized (unnecessarily I might add) that she could not remember meeting me, explaining that the chemotherapy treatments altered her memory. In so many invisible ways, the cancer, treatments included, robbed her of so much that healthy people too often take for granted and fail to appreciate.

Nevertheless, her soulmate Eugene was a devoted caregiver and excellent cook. Their loving energy extended beyond each other to include their animals, their garden plants, and other people near and far. Each day was lived fully, with grace and generosity, endowed with the soulful pleasure of the gifts provided by the natural world that enveloped their homestead as well as in their personal daily routines, which included playfulness.

In other words, their capacity to experience joy was visible and contagious. No one can fake it. A person feels it, as I was blessed to witness and respect profoundly – and learn. Despite whatever life throws at us, we still can choose to be kind and contribute to humanity. They walked the talk of living in relationship, recognizing the sacredness of all life. Eugene and Ann experientially understood that the source of human well-being essentially includes the well-being of all planetary life.

Fortunately, their website The Philosopher’s Wool Company still exists, in which some links continue to work. My favourite link is Mother Bear Project. While the website Knit for the Homeless has disappeared, by typing those words, other links show up to encourage creative activities and/or information how to give donations to facilitate the distribution of knit goods. In another link, Eugene is one of the men featured in the Real Men Knit DVD.

I do hope that family members maintain this website, in a revised/updated version, so that the wider world continues to be inspired by Eugene and Ann’s example. The front page shows a poignant obituary by Eugene for his late wife Ann. Also worth reading is a 2010 case study of their business model identified on the front page, which you can click to open there. Noteworthy is the mention that illnesses in 2009 henceforth ended further travels to knitting shows, focusing sales to the farm shop and the internet.

In reference to the fight against the OPG DGR, plus related nuclear public hearings in Bruce County, government submissions deeply researched by Eugene Bourgeois are on public record in the online archives of both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) and the CNSC. More easily, if you google these two phrases together, in quotes as shown here: “Eugene Bourgeois” “nuclear waste,” you can access a selection of his submissions, and also various news interviews with Eugene.

By the way, a second website operated by Eugene, which focused on DGR issues, called Friends of Bruce, initially disappeared but has been uploaded. The reason is, the information remains valuable and timely. Another link related to Eugene is SOS Great Lakes, in which Eugene was a director. You can find some of his government submissions on its web page: sosgreatlakes.org/our-repository.

For the fight to protect the land and water continues, now focused against a second proposed DGR, this time to contain high level nuclear waste (spent fuel bundles), promoted by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) in two remaining Ontario communities, after several others previously pushed out the NWMO – one community on prime farmland in Bruce County, and the other community up north, where several First Nations hunt and fish. But those First Nations are not properly included in my opinion, despite the federal mandate to properly recognize the “duty of consent” of First Nations whose long-term well-being could be threatened by upcoming industrial projects.

See the front page of my website to look up the current grassroots organization leading this battle against the NWMO DGR in Bruce County, as well as to study related websites about the history behind the fight against DGRs proposed in Ontario.

My New Year’s wish is to inspire fellow human beings to care about what we all are bequeathing to future generations, by actions to protect the natural environment and preserve – as well as restore where necessary – a safer and healthier world worth living in. In my belief system, doing so is our highest spiritual purpose while we live on this Earth.

Happy New Year!!! Your caring will contribute to this possibility.

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