Christmas party for the Chemainus Writers at Ma Maison in Saltair in December 2019 was the last before COVID. The group does both a Christmas and a summer party. From left: Bernice Ramsdin-Firth, Lois Peterson, Liz Forbes, Tom Masters, Mary Anne Hajer, Mary Nelson, Sylvia Holt. (Photo submitted)

Christmas party for the Chemainus Writers at Ma Maison in Saltair in December 2019 was the last before COVID. The group does both a Christmas and a summer party. From left: Bernice Ramsdin-Firth, Lois Peterson, Liz Forbes, Tom Masters, Mary Anne Hajer, Mary Nelson, Sylvia Holt. (Photo submitted)

Chemainus Writers – the group, that is – turning 20 years old

New chapter being written after more than a dozen published books and numerous gatherings

In April 2001, I put an ad in the local paper proposing the formation of a new writer’s group. I had no idea what I was doing. I downloaded information from the internet, bought a book on running a writing group and crossed my fingers. Five people replied.

We met that first afternoon at Billy’s Delight Ice Cream Parlour on Willow Street, not the coffee-shop atmosphere I wanted but there wasn’t much choice in Chemainus in 2001. No artsy-literary hangouts in our little town at that time.

I arrived early, planning to order a tray of goodies and organize my thoughts, but there was already a man sitting at the table with a coffee, a date square and a bulging folder of printed pages. This had to be Tom Masters, the only man who had phoned. He looked terribly competent. What if he sees through me, I worried, but I was armed with an equally impressive clutch of papers.

Then horrors! He asked, “Are you the Elizabeth Forbes who wrote for the former Daily Times newspaper in Victoria?” I said I was not.

I felt woefully inadequate. The people who had phoned expressing interest in the group were already published writers and surely better than I, who had only written a monthly column for a local paper. There was Connie Kurtenbach, who couldn’t make it that day, a clinical psychologist, a former nun and prolific poet. Then there was Bernice Ramsdin-Firth who, with her double-barrelled name, I thought must be terribly snooty. Her accomplishments were intimidating: playwright, sculptor, poet and artist. I was in over my head.

Suddenly the door of the cafe opened and a friendly open-faced woman with bouncy short grey hair rushed in apologizing for being late, dropping a folder of stories that scattered on the floor as she tried to toss a bright woven poncho over the back of a chair. That was Bernice whom we quickly came to know as Bunny.

The four of us – Bunny, Connie, Tom and I – formed the core of The Chemainus Writers. Three years later, we wrote, illustrated and published a book of our short stories called The Oyster Speaks, as well as publishing our own work. Over the years, others joined us and then moved on. Some have stayed for several years and we’ve purposely kept our group small, meeting twice a month in each other’s homes. For the past year, we have made do with Zoom.

Related story: Going with the flow in River Tales

Currently our members are: Sylvia Holt, Mary Nelson, Lois Peterson, Mary Anne Hajer, Warren Goulding, Bernice Ramsdin-Firth, Tom Masters and Liz Forbes. It’s been 20 years and more than a dozen published books. We’re still going strong.

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Liz Forbes’ Growing up Weird book launch in January 2017 at the coffee shop in Crofton by the Salt Spring Island ferry terminal. From left: Mary Anne Hajer, Sharon Stocco, Liz Forbes and Tom Masters. (Photo submitted)

Liz Forbes’ Growing up Weird book launch in January 2017 at the coffee shop in Crofton by the Salt Spring Island ferry terminal. From left: Mary Anne Hajer, Sharon Stocco, Liz Forbes and Tom Masters. (Photo submitted)

The original members of the Chemainus Writers read from The Oyster Speaks on Dec. 9, 2005 during the book’s launch at The Little Shop of Novels on Willow Street. Back, from left: Tom Masters and Liz Forbes. Front: Bernice Ramsdin-Firth and Connie Kurtenbach. (Photo submitted)

The original members of the Chemainus Writers read from The Oyster Speaks on Dec. 9, 2005 during the book’s launch at The Little Shop of Novels on Willow Street. Back, from left: Tom Masters and Liz Forbes. Front: Bernice Ramsdin-Firth and Connie Kurtenbach. (Photo submitted)

Liz Maxwell Forbes.

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