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The day after eco-activist Wiebo Ludwig died, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police wanted to open his casket and take his fingerprints — one final time. 

The Dutch-born preacher took his last breath on Easter Monday, 9 April 2012, at his log cabin near Hythe in northwestern Alberta, Canada.

Ludwig was well-known for his run-ins with oil and gas companies — and consequently, encounters with the police — after he took a stand against poisonous gas leaks and flares near his home.

[Note: This article was originally posted in the fall of 2012. Since then, new information has been added … including news of damage to a pipeline under construction near Hythe in mid-January 2017. Details at the end of this article.

… in early 2017 a theatre company in Toronto did a play about Wiebo Ludwig and his struggles with the oil and gas industry. Go to the end of the post for more on this.

… and on 14 June 2017, the Ludwigs threatened to take ‘unilateral action’ against energy companies fracking near their homes, threatening their source of drinking water.]


Wiebo Ludwig — the man seen by supporters as an ‘eco-warrior’ and by foes as an ‘eco-terrorist’ — died of cancer of the esophagus. He was 70.

The ink had barely dried on Ludwig’s death certificate when his casket — the last thing he made — was carried to a family cemetery in woods close by and placed in an above-ground concrete crypt.

It was a private ceremony. No media.

The previous fall, I’d walked with Ludwig on a twisting path that cuts through the small graveyard. At one point he stopped and, pointing with his walking stick, said in a matter-of-fact tone, “This is where I’m going …”

Only months earlier, the man had been diagnosed with throat cancer.


Suspicious Minds

A family friend wonders if Wiebo Ludwig wasn’t poisoned. Deliberately. He reveals that when Wiebo was arrested and detained by the RCMP in Grande Prairie in January 2010, the ‘terror suspect’ was asked to give a blood sample — supposedly for DNA purposes. A pin-prick at the end of a finger often does the trick. But not in the case of Mr. Ludwig. He was given a long needle by a Mountie who, according to Wiebo, was in great distress when he did it. If that’s true, why was the officer so nervous?

Throat cancer?? Given the poisonous fumes Wiebo had been breathing at Trickle Creek, one could make the point that’s hardly surprising. What is surprising is that everyone in the small community was breathing the same air … yet only outspoken Wiebo gets throat cancer. What are the odds of that happening?

Was Wiebo’s death a payback for the fatal shooting of a teenage girl at Trickle Creek? Just something for the conspiracy theorists to mull over.

              November 2011. Wiebo Ludwig showing where his cabin would be relocated.

A bronze plaque on Ludwig’s crypt reads, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach Good News. [Romans 10:15]”

The graveyard is a stone’s throw from the Christian community Ludwig founded more than three decades ago.

Trickle Creek, now home to more than 60, has evolved into a private, well-organized, private hamlet. The sprawling complex has modern, well-built chalet-type houses crowned with solar panels. Here, are machine shops, a sawmill, a windmill that produces electricity, modern greenhouses, large fields of crops, herb gardens, barns, woodsheds — and a small dental office.

Leaders claim they’re about 80 percent self-sufficient.


Lawyers Get Involved

Richard Boonstra, Wiebo Ludwig’s long-time friend and a resident of Trickle Creek, called the RCMP request to fingerprint Wiebo’s corpse ‘invasive’ and “a terrible disrespect and interference with human remains.” He figures police just wanted to see for themselves that his old friend was actually dead.

Boonstra says the request showed the discomfort the authorities have with Wiebo Ludwig because he’d embarrassed them — particularly the RCMP and the oil and gas industry.

The family’s attorney, veteran criminal defence lawyer Paul Moreau of Edmonton, informed the Mounties they wouldn’t be opening Ludwig’s coffin. Police then dropped the matter.

The heavy concrete slab covering the crypt was never raised.

Doris Stapleton of RCMP Media Relations says, “A fingerprint is the best way to positively identify someone, and if that person has a criminal record, the fingerprints are sent to Ottawa so they’re able to take the record off CPIC.” CPIC is the Canadian Police Information Center where criminal history files are kept.

In all his years of practice, Moreau says he never heard of police lifting prints off dead criminals to close a file.

The request to fingerprint a dead man also came as news to retired correctional officer Rick Dyhm. In his 34 years as a guard at federal prisons — where many inmates have died — he says police never once showed up to fingerprint a dead inmate.

One of the two main residences [left] at Trickle Creek [2012]


Criminal Charges and Prison Time

In 2001, an Edmonton judge handed Ludwig a 28-month prison term after finding him guilty of oilfield vandalism. Two wellheads had been vandalized; one had been cemented in, the other damaged from an explosion.

Ludwig was found guilty of public mischief over $5,000 and attempting to possess explosives. He was sent to a medium-security prison in the Rocky Mountain foothills town of Grande Cache, Alberta.

Family members regularly made the 250-kilometre [155-mile] trek to visit him.

Wiebo Ludwig was released after serving two-thirds of his sentence.

What precipitated the vandalism was a series of sour gas leaks that poisoned everything at Trickle Creek — humans, animals, crops and plants. Residents complained to authorities about the dangerous leaks, but say that nothing was done.

The leaks continued. To help keep the deadly fumes at bay, the people of Trickle Creek resorted to putting wet towels under their doors and duct tape around their windows.

The most tragic — and most graphic — result of the gas leaks was a stillborn birth, which left the head of the male child resembling that of an alien. The boy’s remains are in the family graveyard.

The leaks just didn’t affect those living at Trickle Creek. A neighbour’s well was so severely contaminated by sour gas that water pouring out of his kitchen tap could be lit on fire. Strange to say this, but one could actually light up a cigarette from kitchen tap water.


Action/Reaction : The Willis Shooting

Two years before Ludwig’s conviction, tensions reached a boiling point when a local girl, 16-year-old Karman Willis, was shot and killed at Trickle Creek. Willis was a passenger in one of two pick-up trucks that tore around the farmyard in the middle of the night.

It was around 4 a.m. and the teens were having a good time — something that’s known to happen when booze is involved. The youngsters sped around with their trucks, doing ‘doughnuts’ and littering the yard with empty beer cans. Good time Charlies.

Given the ongoing tension at Trickle Creek, it was the absolute wrong time and the absolute wrong place.

Tragedy struck after one of the pick-ups narrowly missed a tent where four Ludwig children — all girls — were sleeping. The kids awoke to find themselves in a true-life horror show, peering out of the tent to see strange vehicles roaring by in the dark. They had no idea what the hell was going on.

The trucks made a tremendous racket which frightened the children even more. One girl described the noise as like ‘machine gun fire.’ (Note: possibly a thrush exhaust from a bluebottle glass-pack muffler.)

The kids were in a pickle, not knowing if they should stay put or run for their lives. Neither option looked good. They decided to stay in the tent, lay down flat and pray.

The joyride ended suddenly when several shots rang out. Karman Willis screamed in pain and she and the other intruders made a beeline to a hospital. [more on the shooting coming up]


RCMP ‘Dirty Tricks’ Campaign

The backdrop to this story was the ‘media hype’ surrounding Wiebo Ludwig and his people.

The alarm bells went off after a shed owned by an oil company was dynamited. The RCMP investigated. Terrorism, it said. Turns out, it was not terrorism funded by Al Qaida — but by the Canadian taxpayer. The explosion was the work of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, all part of an underhanded, clandestine operation to draw negative attention to Ludwig.

The RCMP — the same police force that was investigating oilfield vandalism in the area  — then issued a media release along with a photograph showing a shed that had been dynamited. That was terrorism, no doubt about it. Oooo. Scary stuff. Unsuspecting reporters [myself included] got sucked in, believing the news release was legit. In other words, we bought into the lie.

Instead of being journalists, we had become stenographers.

As a result of all the news coverage, the Ludwigs were the target of death threats and harassing phone calls. It was clear the locals were worked up, including the youngsters who behaved recklessly on private property that night. Not surprisingly perhaps, given their age, the teens bought the news hype hook, line and sinker.

In the end, the RCMP scheme backfired. With grave consequences.

No RCMP officer was ever charged with disseminating false information to the public, a criminal offence, leading Wiebo Ludwig to describe the Mounties as ‘tin soldiers.’

RCMP behaviour — good intentions or otherwise — had contributed significantly to the death of young Karman Willis.


Backstory to the Fatal Shooting

What started out as a pleasant evening outdoors for the four Ludwig children turned into a night from hell. The girls came oh so close to being wrapped in canvas and dragged to their deaths under a speeding truck driven by an underage drinker.

The fatal shooting happened after the pick-ups entered the yard a second time that night. Not content with a one-time drive-by, the youngsters returned for more hell-raising. That’s when the shots rang out. One bullet ricocheted off a frame of one of the trucks. According to the RCMP, the slug struck just beyond the front tire and deflected up into the cab where it wounded another teen before lodging into the chest of Karman Willis, killing her.

So the shot was fired at the tire, not the windshield. It’s hard to say where the average parent would have been aiming, giving that it was a life or death crisis.

The girls in the tent were grateful they had been spared. To this day, they maintain they don’t know who fired the fatal shot. If they do know, they’re sure not telling. One resident compared it to identifying the shooter like turning a Jew over to the Nazis.

It was a dark day for the rule of law. No weapon was found and no one was charged in connection with the shooting. Consequently, there was no trial so the public never got to hear arguments about self-defence. That was unfortunate. A jury or judge could have then decided if the shooter was justified in firing at the tires of a speeding truck to prevent death or injury to four children. I’m no lawyer, but it sounds like a no-brainer to me.

Then again, who knows if the trial would have even been legit? I’m not kidding. Canada has had more than its share of miscarriages of justice. See: ‘Wrongful Convictions; A Suspicious Murder Investigation.” https://byronchristopher.org/2015/08/22/wrongful-conviction-day/

Here’s a clue as to how aboveboard a trial for the shooter would have been: not one of the intruders was charged. Just think about that. The rowdy teens had been looking at a number of charges including trespassing, stunting, dangerous driving and impaired driving. No tickets were given out and no charges laid. All was forgiven. Their punishment was to attend a funeral.

A few key words come to mind here: selective prosecution, wilfully blind, double standards, hypocrisy … and ‘Canadian disconnect.’ Take your pick. One doesn’t have to be a law professor to work out why the shooter didn’t turn himself in.

It gets worse. Taxpayers picked up the tab for counseling for the intruders. However, the Ludwig girls got no counseling. Just the opposite; they were further traumatized when they were detained at gunpoint in an RCMP occupation that dragged on for days.

According to the Ludwig family, there was a strange twist to the Willis shooting and it happened a few years ago,  The driver of one of the pick-up trucks, Kevin, ran into Wiebo Ludwig at a coffee shop in Grande Prairie. They say the young man apologized for his behaviour that fateful night — then revealed that it was his decision to trespass on their property a second time.

According to the Ludwigs, handshakes, hugs and tears were shared. I wish I’d been there to witness that.


A Journalism Student Speaks Out

35-year-old Ian Affleck has made several trips to Trickle Creek to find out for himself what Wiebo Ludwig and his family were all about. Affleck doesn’t strike me as overly religious, but a comment he made one day got me thinking: “These guys,” he said, “give Christianity a good name …”

Affleck went on to say, “I see people there [at Trickle Creek] getting into dentistry — not because they like it, but because they care for one another. I see them becoming mechanics — not because of money, but because they care for one another … and on and on. It’s a ‘180’ from what I see out here.”

“I talk about them all the time,” he reveals. “They’re on a spiritual level, and we’re not. Up there, they wouldn’t let anyone fall; you’d be picked up right away.

As for the Karman Willis shooting, Affleck compares the R.C.M.P. investigation to a police probe on Dukes of Hazard [the 1970s American TV fictional series]“Typical small-town, police corruption,” he says, “it’s just crazy that no charges were laid against the hooligans who nearly killed four kids.”

“If the teens had any balls,” he says, “they would have gone in the daytime and talked with them. If you want to find out about people, go see them. What a dumb thing to think they could tear around someone’s place in the middle of the night, drunk, and nearly wipe out some kids in a tent. You gotta know that somebody [the people of Trickle Creek] is going to do something — especially after what has happened to them.”

“You can’t completely blame the kids either. What parents would allow their children out at that hour?”

“Police demonized those people (of Trickle Creek) for the sake of money and greed,” Affleck says. “Instead of saying, ‘What’s going on up there?’ the RCMP protected big business instead of the little guy.” “In fact, the Mounties were on the take by accepting equipment from the oil industry.”

“Both the Mounties and the courts turned a blind eye,” the journalism student says, puffing on a cigarette. “It makes me think it was done deliberately. It was just one dirty mess … bloody disgraceful. In the end, there was no answer for the parents of the dead girl, nor justice for the people of Trickle Creek.”


The 2010 Police Raid

In January 2010, the RCMP again raided and occupied Trickle Creek. It’s estimated that about 200 officers took part.

The Mounties were looking for possible evidence in the bombing of a gas pipeline near Tom’s Lake, British Columbia, about an hour’s drive away. Mounties told reporters they had solid, DNA evidence that Wiebo Ludwig was connected to the bombings. Reporters then went with the story; some reported the RCMP claim as fact. They must have completely forgotten about that phoney RCMP news release when an oil company shed was bombed by “terrorists.”

The Mounties had tricked Ludwig into thinking he was meeting with officers in nearby Grande Prairie to help them in their investigation — but when Ludwig got there he was arrested and locked up for 24-hours. The man was never charged with the bombing at Tom’s Lake because Crown prosecutors in British Columbia did not think the evidence was strong enough.


Boonstra’s Comments

Richard Boonstra finds it odd the Mounties didn’t get around to talk with Ludwig in his final days. If police believed Ludwig shot Willis — or was the culprit behind the BC bombings — he wonders why investigators wouldn’t want to talk with him one final time in the hope they might get a “deathbed confession.”

Here’s the audio of part of that interview with Richard Boonstra. It runs about 7 minutes.

Ludwig, a carpenter, built his own coffin in February 2012 when he realized his battle with cancer was going south.

I did his final interview. It was published by the Toronto Star and The Dominion …[http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/4396],

A weakened Ludwig revealed he was looking forward to crossing over.

“[Death] doesn’t bother me. It is apparent to everyone there is an afterlife, even though we repress that in our anxieties. I am eager for redemption, eager to see what’s there. I just hope I die without too much pain.”

Ludwig got his wish, thanks to a combination of herbal medicine, oxycontin, and morphine. Right up to the day he died, the activist went for walks, arm-in-arm, with Mamie, his wife of 43 years.

Wiebo and Mamie Ludwig at their farm near Hythe, Alberta. [photo taken by author in November 2011]

Wiebo and Mamie Ludwig at their farm near Hythe, Alberta. [November 2011]

(To hear a portion of Wiebo’s final interview scroll down to the bottom of the article)

Ludwig’s Coffin [February 2012]


Wiebo Ludwig’s Final Words

During the morning of 9 April 2012 residents of Trickle Creek slowly made their way to the log cabin where their leader, frail and lying on a couch, blessed them one by one. “Think I’m afraid of dying …?” Wiebo Ludwig said. “Hardly.”

Wiebo Arienes Ludwig took his final breath at 11:30 a.m. that day. His last words were a request that family members not quarrel and that they keep the faith.

No outsiders were permitted at the funeral service, held in the family’s large dining hall. I learned of Wiebo’s death when one of his sons phoned late that afternoon. Edmonton Broadcaster Randy Marshall broke the story on Twitter. I was then interviewed by several media outlets, including CFRN Television of Edmonton and Rogers Radio of Calgary.

Family members wept openly when I played recordings of my last interviews with Wiebo.

I had called Trickle Creek on 2 April 2012 for an update on his condition. Ludwig, his voice clearly weak, managed to get to the phone. “Why are you calling?” he asked. I joked that I was curious to see if he’d died on April Fools Day. Ludwig chuckled. I could tell by his voice that he didn’t have long to go. It was the last time we spoke.

More on Wiebo’s final interview, including media coverage, later in this piece.


Wiebo’s Influence Today

What has changed at Trickle Creek since Wiebo Ludwig’s death? Plenty. Yet much remains the same. Trickle Creek continues to be managed by a council of eight family members, its spiritual core essentially the way it was when Wiebo was alive.

Residents of Trickle Creek are nearly free of distractions from the outside world, allowing them to focus on projects and to get things done. Women don’t spend time or money on make-up, and no one takes an interest in the lives of movie stars. No one follows the soaps or sitcoms on TV either.  In other words, not a soul at Trickle Creek has been anesthetized by television.

It’s a society where everyone seems to pull their weight. There are no hangers-on and deadbeats, and no jerks with a sense of entitlement.

The homes at Trickle Creek are orderly and clean, the opposite of ‘pigsties’ where no-hopers and drug-addicts live.

Trickle Creek remains a strong Christian community bordering on what I would call Old Testament-like values. Meals are followed by readings from the Scriptures, then an open discussion of issues affecting them, Canada and the world. Those who have something to say are encouraged to speak their mind.

I don’t get the sense that the people of Trickle Creek pray to God as though Our Maker was like a huge vending machine in the sky, as in insert a prayer … and bingo, out comes your wish. [Thanks to the late Wayne Dyer for that line.]

As far as I could tell, no one is addicted to cigarettes, drugs, video games or gambling. The adults put in 25-hour work weeks, working every day except Sundays. At Trickle Creek, life on Sundays is a throwback to the 1950s when life came to a standstill. Aside from making meals and doing dishes, no work is done on Sundays. People relax and wear their ‘Sunday best.’


What Does The Future Hold?

A huge challenge facing the people of Trickle Creek — especially the youth — is this: Will they find husbands and wives … and how will this come about? Trickle Creek has scores of cousins — but few outsiders — and cousins can’t marry each other. At least I don’t think they can. It’s safe to say the community has a limited gene pool.

Some have said, without malice, that Trickle Creek faces “extinction” unless fresh blood is brought in. A former CBC producer remarked, “the single men and women are waiting for their lives to start.”

I do wonder how similar religious-based colonies [such as the Hutterites and Amish] survive. Sorry, I don’t know enough about this subject to comment other than to pose questions … but I can’t help but wonder when people ask, is Trickle Creek doomed?


August 2016 Wedding

In an outside ceremony on a sunny day — 5th of August 2016 — more than 100 people took in the marriage of 40-year-old Josh Ludwig and 30-year-old Megan Dynna of Dawson Creek, British Columbia.

Everything went according to plan. Pardon the pun, but the wedding went off without a hitch.

DSC02662.jpg

Josh771.jpg

Engagement Photo: Supplied

DSC02786.jpg

DSC02789.jpg

Here’s a short video clip from the ceremony. [Officiating is Fritz Ludwig.]


Conflict and Respect

I’m not a religious man — I don’t have a lot of time for organized religion. Put another way, I believe in God but I’m not crazy about His fan club.

Gotta admit I have no time for ‘Christians of convenience,’ manipulators who pick and choose what scriptures to follow as though they were deciding what to eat from a bag of trail mix. I believe these people embarrass themselves — and Jesus — because they use religion as moral cover.

A lot of that goes on. The practice is not limited to sleazy governments, underhanded advertising agencies, drug dealers … or mobsters who drop to their knees in church.

The people of Trickle Creek and I have had our differences about how to live our lives; I guess that’s to be expected in our complex world. It’s inevitable. We are bound to have different points of view.

It’s my observation that the people of Trickle Creek choose debating over arguing — and they do it with a civil tongue. They debate as decent people would, clearing the air, putting all the cards on the table and hearing all views — without anyone being cut off or bullied.

The Trickle Creek crowd doesn’t shout, swear or fly off the handle; there are no hissy-fits or emotional blackmail — all traits I would describe as rude and certainly non-Christian. During debates, there’s also no ducking and diving, dishonesty by omission and ‘shading of the truth’ — and no convenient memory losses. It’s refreshing to see that.

Debates are sometimes heated but in the end, dignity reigns. They’ll talk things over — sometimes for hours. They don’t seem to go to bed without having sorted things out … even if it means talking well into the night.

Richard Boonstra jokes that he and his wife Lois have probably spent as much time away from Trickle Creek as they have there, a subtle reference to people having different points of view on how things should be run. That’s democracy in action. The Boonstras never seem to stay away for long, however.

Must say, I respect honesty and frankness in people, no matter their religious beliefs.

With the people of Trickle Creek, one can air their concerns and integrity appears to rule. You may not agree with their point of view — and they may not agree with yours — but when issues are debated, it is done with class and respect.

In early August 2015, the Ludwigs et al celebrated the 30th anniversary of their arrival at Trickle Creek.


Well, Well, Well …

Residents of Trickle Creek remain ultra-cautious of oil and gas development which they claim can quickly turn into “industrial terrorism.”

They say a gentleman’s agreement is in place with the major energy companies that there will be no oil and gas development within five miles of their complex. But In June 2014, Canadian Natural Resources Limited announced it was building a sour gas well [officially known as site CNRL Knopcik 2-8-75-11-W6M] on Crown land 5.5 kilometres — fewer than 3 and-a-half miles — north of Trickle Creek.

The site, about the size of a city block, is a going concern. See photo below [click to enlarge]. Notice the number of pick-up trucks parked in front of the housing units. Security guards in several brand new pickup trucks are located at various points along the public road that leads to the site.

Canadian Natural Resources Limited [CNRL] gas well, 3.4 miles from the Trickle Creek Farm.

Canadian Natural Resources Limited [CNRL] gas well, 3.4 miles north of Trickle Creek Farm. Not long after this photo was published, security cameras were installed in woods surrounding the site. [June 2014]

A few months later, the same well site. Notice the changes. [Supplied Photo]

The same well site a few months later. Click to enlarge to see changes. [Supplied Photo]

Josh Ludwig, Wiebo’s eldest son, says he has two concerns about the new well: A potential blowout and fire [like the one that destroyed a gas well nearby a few years ago] and severe damage to their underground water aquifer system caused by drilling.

He points out that the aquifer system — their prime source of clean water — is draining from the same area where gas development is taking place.

An explosion and fire destroyed a gas well in the area in 2012.

Inferno: an explosion and fire destroyed a CNRL gas well in the area in 2010.

On 23 November 2014, Josh Ludwig sent the following two-page letter to Greg Clegg of Canadian Natural Resources in Medicine Hat, Alberta outlining his concerns about CNR’s sour gas well. He also wrote about the controversial practice of fracking, and how it could affect the water supply for residents of Trickle Creek.

[Click to enlarge]

Page 1 of 2 - Letter from Josh Ludwig of Trickle Creek.

Page 2 of 2 - Letter from Josh Ludwig of Trickle Creek.

On 3 December 2014, Trickle Creek received this response from Canadian Natural Resources. An executive summary would read: “Don’t worry, everything is fine … and Government regulations will protect you, trust us on that one.” Click to enlarge.

Response letter 1 of 2

Response Letter 2 of 2

On Saturday, 6 December 2014, Josh Ludwig of Trickle Creek fired off this response to Canadian Natural Resources.

Note that a ‘cc’ of the letter was also sent to the RCMP at Beaverlodge, Alberta … and to Andrea Huncar of CBC Edmonton.

Trickle Creek response; 1of 2

Trickle Creek Response, 2 of 2


Handshakes, Not Handcuffs

On Monday, 1 December 2014 three senior officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police met with about half a dozen representatives of Trickle Creek. The get-together — which lasted more than an hour and a half — was held in the gazebo at Trickle Creek.

Inspector Don McKenna and Staff-Sergeants Kyle Palfy and John Respet  all stationed in Grande Prairie, Alberta — requested the meeting after receiving their copy of Josh Ludwig’s first letter [above] to Canadian Natural Resources.

The Mounties explained they were new to the area [and to the controversy], and that they wanted to do three things: find out for themselves the concerns of the people of Trickle Creek … to open lines of communication … and to “keep the peace.”

McKenna, who came across as easy-going and personable, pointed out that communication was critical in resolving disputes. “Things can fester,” he offered, “but if we can put a relief valve on it …”

The officer said he wanted to “drill down to the specific areas of concern,” prompting Josh Ludwig to suggest that ‘drill’ wasn’t the best choice of words. At that point, the meeting broke into laughter. It was a good ice-breaker.

Josh Ludwig, Inspector

Josh Ludwig, RCMP Inspector McKenna and Staff Sergeants Palfy and Respet

Richard Boonstra said his people were not against drilling for oil or gas — they just wanted the energy companies to be up front about safety, the percentage of deadly sour gas in the wells, leaks and so on.

Josh Ludwig conceded that those who work for the oil and gas companies are basically good people who don’t intentionally harm others.

Boonstra also made the point that dialogue was all well and good, but that the oil and gas industry was untouchable. “The powers-to-be,” he said, “do nothing.” He accused the Mounties of being quick to act on a death threat made during a domestic dispute, say, but not a life-threatening leak from a sour gas well.

Boonstra was not alone. Several accused the RCMP of repeatedly taking the side of industry by not charging industry offenders. Wiebo’s widow, Mamie Ludwig, said concern for the environment was trumped by the oil and gas industry’s drive for profits. She also said the energy industry has its “own judicial system.”

Put another way, the people of Trickle Creek are only allowed to exist on energy industry terms. As one observer put it, they’re the “yellow canary” [in the coal mine] … and when they go, we’re all doomed.

“The yellow canary dies because it’s the most vulnerable. Those who ignore the fate of the yellow canary die too. It will just take a little longer.”

Fritz Ludwig became emotional when he talked about how sour gas leaks and flares had resulted in the stillborn death of a baby boy and in severe deformities in more than 100 animals.

Josh Ludwig called for a “de-industrialized zone” around Trickle Creek. He pleaded with the Mounties to use their influence to encourage Canadian Natural Resources not to drill within five miles of their community, as other energy companies have done.

Inspector McKenna promised to speak with company officials, although he stressed that the RCMP was not taking sides.

The meeting ended on a positive note with handshakes all around. Josh Ludwig thanked the officers for hearing them out — and for showing concern. In spite of the list of grievances aired by Trickle Creek, the mood of the meeting was surprisingly upbeat.

The three visitors were then given a tour of the complex.

Inspector Don McKenna Business Card

UPDATE: On Monday, 11 May 2015 I spoke by phone with Inspector Don McKenna to determine if he’d spoken with Canadian Natural Resources [CNR]. He said he had. According to McKenna, he’d pointed out to company officials the Mounties were neutral and if they had any concerns they were to get in touch with him. The way McKenna put it was that he wanted to “work out issues at the front end.”

The Inspector said CNR indicated to him they would not stop drilling — but would work within the law and act responsibility.


Is Fracking Safe? 

In this Los Angeles Times piece, reporter Neela Banerjee looks at how fracking threatens drinking water sources …

http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-fracking-groundwater-pavillion-20140811-story.html#page=1

On 14 June 2017, spokesman Josh Ludwig issued a news release stating his people plan to take unliteral action to “enforce a moratorium on any further fracking activities.”

Fracking means setting off powerful explosions underground. The idea is to free up gas and oil reserves, however, the downside is that fresh water is poisoned from the chemicals.

Ludwig said his people are not expecting a fair shake from Alberta’s energy regulator, pointing out that the regulator is 100 percent industry-funded. He said the regulator — in practice, like a referee — has a long track record of serving the energy industry, not the public.

Fracking is not permitted in three Canadian provinces and some U.S. states. A number of European countries have also banned the practice.


Growing Your Own Food is Like Printing Your Own Money

Food and herbs are homegrown, and no one in the community suffers from obesity. No fat people.

The children have chores; they pick berries, babysit, help with the harvest, feed the chickens, gather eggs, shovel snow, weed the gardens, do the dishes and milk the goats and cows. For kicks, the youngsters ride bikes, collect cattails, play volleyball, soccer, hop-scotch … and learn crafts. Some are gifted artists and musicians. They are, as Ian Affleck described them, “real.”

The children are also thoughtful and polite; no one has to remind them to say ‘thank you.’

While residents of Trickle Creek don’t follow regular TV programs, they do catch the nightly news and watch educational DVDs, such as documentaries on nature and travel. They also watch movies, followed by group discussions on what the movie was about. Young and old alike take part in the discussions.

The adults have jobs, the youngsters chores. I once asked a child if he wanted to watch me fly the Phantom quadcopter, “Not now,” he said, “I have chores to do … must put the [dinner] plates out.” And off he ran.

There is no chemical spraying at Trickle Creek. In fact, the first thing someone sees as they approach Trickle Creek on Range Road 115 is a sign that reads No Spraying.

There are no video games at Trickle Creek. Put it this way: the apple products the youth admire hang on trees and any twitter is from the birds. No child or teenager has a cellphone. For that matter, no one has purple and green-spiked hair, wire piercings or tattoos.

I’m not a church-goer, but I can usually sniff out people who use Christ, the church or religion as moral cover. These people don’t mind throwing Jesus under the bus for personal gain.

That’s not to say the small Christian community doesn’t have its challenges. It does have problems, and they’re no different from problems people in the “outside world” face … whether it’s freezing weather, vehicle repairs, health issues, the threat from gas leaks, pesticides and so on.

Some changes have taken place since Wiebo died. His log cabin — the first structure at the complex — has been moved closer to the forest; a second floor has been added and the inside has been refurbished. The new flooring was made from tongue-and-grooved wood that was cut locally and milled on site.

The impression I get is that things are made to the best of their ability, and they’re made to last. No boasting. No bravado.

Wieso Ludwig's Log Cabin has been enlarged, renovated ... and relocated.

The original log cabin has been enlarged, renovated … and relocated [June 2014]

A huge barn was constructed in 2012 to store 5,000 bales of hay and to give livestock shelter on cold winter days.

         Salome Ludwig beside new barn at Trickle Creek. [2012]                                                                         

The new dining hall at Trickle Creek. Residents are doing all the work. They hope to have it finished by 2015.

Under Construction: the new dining hall at Trickle Creek. Residents are doing all the work. They hope to have the job completed by 2015. [photo taken in late June 2014]

Trickle Creek Dining Hall - Photo taken 28 July 2014

Trickle Creek Dining Hall – Photo taken late July 2014

Precise measurements - 28 July 2014

Precise measurements – 28 July 2014

Before I pulled out of Trickle Creek to return to Edmonton I chatted with beekeeper Fritz Ludwig. “Sorry if I seem out of place here,” I said, “I don’t go to church.” Holding a young child in his arms and swaying from side to side, the bearded Fritz smiled and replied, “Neither do we.”

To hear a portion of Wiebo Ludwig’s final interview — recorded in his log cabin in late February 2012 — click on the arrow. The clip runs just over 17 minutes. Note: some computers aren’t able to play this clip, some are. Only God and the computer geeks know why.

Weir’s final interview appeared in two publications [The Toronto Star and The Dominion]. Here is the story as it appeared in The Star:

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2012/03/03/wiebo_ludwig_dying_of_cancer_an_interview.html

Wiebo said that it wasn’t their intention to become “environmentalists” … that his family just wanted to live their lives in peace “without being poisoned.” He said they didn’t go public with their criticism of the energy industry just to protect themselves, that they wanted others to learn from their experiences, both positive and negative.

Click here for a January 2010 McLean’s Magazine interview with Wiebo Ludwig;

The swimming pool

The swimming pool [2013]

An old-fashioned swing

An old-fashioned swing, first put up when the Ludwigs moved to Trickle Creek more than 20 years ago. [2013]

View from 2nd Floor Balcony of one of the residences. The octagon-shaped building is where coffee, tea and biscuits are served.

View from 2nd floor balcony of one of the residences. The octagon-shaped building is the gazebo where coffee, tea and biscuits are served. [2013]

Girls shelling peas

Girls shelling peas [2013]

Solar-powered clothes dryer

Solar-powered clothes dryer [2013]

Mamie Junior and her goats

Mamie Junior [on bicycle] and her goats [2013]

Trickle Creek from the air, looking north. The barns are located across the road, to the right of this photo. June 2014

Trickle Creek from the air, looking north. The barns [out of picture] are located across the road, to the right. June 2014. Click on photo to enlarge.

The dining hall under construction at Trickle Creek. Work is expected to be completed in 2015.

The dining hall under construction. Work is expected to be completed in 2015.

The community hall at Trickle Creek. Work is expected to be completed in 2015. Photo taken on 1 December 2014.

The dining hall at Trickle Creek. [1 December 2014]

In 2011, Toronto filmmaker David York produced a National Film Board documentary on the trials and tribulations of Weibo Ludwig and his people. Click on this link to see the trailer.

https://www.nfb.ca/film/wiebos_war/trailer/wiebos_war_trailer


The Impact of News Coverage

The media has tremendous influence in how “news events” are interpreted. News coverage — or lack of it —  shapes public opinion.

When it comes to news coverage, we Canadians tend to be a trusting lot. We like to believe — perhaps want to believe — that even though we’re not getting the whole story, at least we’re getting most of it, and we’re okay with that.

When I covered the Wiebo Ludwig/Trickle Creek saga I discovered that coverage by the mainstream media was not only inadequate but distorted.

My first contact with Wiebo Ludwig was in the late 1990s or so, can’t recall the year now. A young man in Edmonton — whose family name was Ludwig — had died from a drug overdose and I wanted to know if he was from Trickle Creek. If he was part of Wiebo Ludwig’s clan, it would be one heck of a story … and so I phoned Wiebo. His response was that he was not related to the young man in question, and didn’t know him. He also said, “We don’t do drugs.”

My next encounter with Wiebo Ludwig was in 2001 when I covered his trial in Edmonton. At the time, I was working for 630-CHED Radio and I recorded a news item on how things had gone in court, pointing out that it hadn’t been a very good day for the Crown. Outside the courthouse, Ludwig and I spoke briefly. I gave him my business card.

He called my cell phone right after my item on his trial aired on our 5:30pm newscast. Weibo extended an offer to visit Trickle Creek, so I could see for myself what they were all about. I promised I’d get up there. Someday.

Nearly a decade passed before I kept my word. When I finally made the 550 kilometre trip to Trickle Creek, I was pleasantly surprised at what I saw: the small community was orderly and clean, the homes beautiful … and their workmanship, a very high standard. [forgive me for sounding materialistic, but first impressions are important]. But what about the people? Ludwig asked if I thought they were “country bumpkins” — a term once used by a local politician to describe his people. I gave him an honest answer. “Yeah, I did.” I, too, had bought into the lie.

But I was now seeing something entirely different. You can throw into the mix the facts surrounding the unsolved shooting death of teenager Karman Willis. The shooting was unfortunate on so many levels … the death itself, the RCMP investigation, media coverage and public reaction. There was little or no mention in media reports that four Ludwig girls came to within inches of being dragged to their deaths under a speeding pick-up driven by yahoos who’d been drinking.

After seeing the Trickle Creek community with my own eyes and talking to its people, I felt I’d stumbled across a story few journalists knew about. I mentioned that to Weibo. “Well, we’ve had many reporters here,” he said, “… they’re just not writing about what they’ve seen.” Just like that, I went from thinking this is a scoop to thinking shit, that was censorship.

It was yet another reminder that reporters should think for themselves.

I wasn’t bothered that the people of Trickle Creek often referred to the Old Testament, that they bowed their heads and said grace before every meal, that they choose functionality over style … or that all the men had beards and the women wore shawls and long dresses.

The residents of Trickle Creek were frank about their views on Christianity. They didn’t pressure me to buy into their beliefs; indeed, they accepted me for who I was, off-beat humour included. Wiebo did say that I was too quick to make light about serious matters.

I found the children of Trickle Creek to be responsible, loving — more ‘real,’ if you will. I was once approached by a young boy who had a newborn in his arms. He asked if I would like to hold the infant. That was different. I thought I’d gone back to the 1950s, to a simpler time, when thoughtful, pre-video-games children asked those same questions.

Haven’t spotted a child at Trickle Creek who has mental or psychological disabilities. And if there was such a child, they’d be cared for and loved. They wouldn’t be hidden and living like a rat in the basement.

I found the people of Trickle Creek to be up-front and honest. They cared about others, including society at large — and the environment. Especially the environment. Put another way, I don’t think Jesus would mind them.

They took exception to being poisoned by gas leaks while big industry and government winked and looked the other way while the police kept the peace.


More Pipeline Destruction

Wiebo Ludwig and Trickle Creek were back in the news again on 15 January 2017 when the RCMP fired off a news release about damage to an oilfield pipeline under construction north of Hythe. No one is saying so directly, but they’re sure wondering if the Wiebo’s people or his supporters were involved.

According to police, damage is estimated at between $500,000 and $700,000.

Unless UFO’s have switched from mutilating cattle to ripping new pipe from the ground, the damage was done with the help of heavy machinery stored at the construction site.

In the past, two parties were determined to be guilty of deliberately destroying oilfield property: Wiebo Ludwig/Richard Boonstra … and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.


‘Peace River Country’ 

In early 2017, Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre, described as one of the main centres for contemporary playwriting in Canada, put on a play about Wiebo Ludwig and his struggle against poisonous gas leaks … and Big Industry.

IMG_5330 2.jpg

Photo by Author

I enjoyed the 80-minute production. It was superb. German-born playwright Maria Milisavljevic and director Richard Rose nailed it with their portrayal of a small, fundamentalist Christian community trying to do their thing and live off the land, only to face a devil in the form of deadly poisonous leaks. All this, while industry and the police stood by and did nothing to help them.

“How does a traditional Christian family living off the land in rural Alberta,” begins a Tarragon Theatre write-up, “gain a national reputation as violent eco-terrorists?”

“Inspired by the real-life story of Reverend Wiebo Ludwig and his decades-long battle with the Alberta oil and gas industry, Peace River Country follows the lives of a close-knit traditional family as their land, health, and way of life become increasingly threatened by mega-corporations and big government. This fictional account of real-life events is a timely look at the ties of love and loyalty that bind a community.”

Screen Shot 2017-02-26 at 9.43.09 PM.png

Featuring [left to right] Sarah Sherman, Janet Laine Green, Benjamin Sutherland and Layne Coleman. [photo by Cylla von Tiedemann]

The play was based on the Wiebo Ludwig saga and so the producer took some liberty to bring out conflict within the group over the fatal shooting overnight of 16-year-old Karman Willis. That conflict may or may not have happened; for an outsider who wasn’t there, it’s hard to tell. But let’s face it, the shooting —  described as an accident — likely prevented the deaths of several Ludwig children who were sleeping in a tent.

In the play, Wiebo Ludwig is at a table reading a Bible while discussing how to make a bomb. It all seems contradictory … Christians, bombs — but it does make one wonder what Jesus would have done if He were faced with poisonous gas leaks that could have wiped out his family. Somehow I don’t think He would have turned the other cheek.

The patriarch of Trickle Creek comes across as someone who loved and protected his family.

One thing is certain. The people of Trickle Creek have their internal conflicts — witness the multiple expulsions of key founders … and that one of Wiebo’s single sons left Trickle Creek in 2016 to work in Vancouver and pursue a relationship.

10 thoughts on “God, Family and Big Oil

  1. Thanks for your coverage of Wiebo Ludwig, Byron. I tried unsuccessfully to interview him back in 2000. I wonder if you would be interested in appearing on my weekly public affairs program to discuss this last(?) twist in the Wiebo Ludwig story, and your experience speaking with him?

    Like

  2. “The day after controversial eco-activist Wiebo Ludwig died, the RCMP wanted to open his coffin and take his fingerprints one final time.”

    Wiebo has entered into the realm of conspiracy theory, along with other notables so honored. The Mounties have once again reminded us all how they so clumsily set him up, while literally in the paid employ of an oil company.

    Wiebo’s message is underscored and he would be amused, if it were not for the unnecessary, outrageous and continuing harassment of his bereaved family.

    Rest in Peace Wiebo.

    Like

  3. This Wiebo story is priceless. It is classic.

    His family/followers have a massive following of their own. Not just Canadians are interested in their story; it is bigger than that. It is a story that could happen anywhere, for it has the greatest of story lines: David against Goliath.

    It is the story of our time. The little people against the multi-national coalition of energy giants.

    Like

  4. I remember that last interview quite vividly. We were all sitting around in the old cabin. It was sad to see Wiebo in bad health, however, he was still strong spiritually and took the time to chat and listen. It’s great to see the families doing so well and keeping the vision of Trickle Creek Christian community strong.

    Like

  5. Thank you for this superb article. It led me to continue searching for more info and also the brillant doc Weibo’s War.

    I recently finished a folk song written from the perspective of Weibo. Before I post it on the world wide web Im wondering if you might know how I might respectfully get a copy to the Trickle Creek Community?

    Also I’d love to get you a copy if you’re interested. Thank you again for your work. Peace.

    Like

  6. Thank you for providing a true portrayal of Weibo. I can’t believe all of the horrific experiences he and his family had to endure.

    It breaks my heart. We are finally waking up to the greed and corruption from our government and the police.

    I wish peace to his family and all the best.

    Like

  7. I have profound respect for these people who are so ‘real,’ for their way of life.

    They are TRULY free, not addicted to anything modern $ociety wants us to be.

    AND they seem to be free of mind too, not too polluted by the ‘system’ propaganda.

    Like

  8. Wiebo Ludwig is an inspiration to those who feel compelled to stand up to misguided authority, and he did this with calm and equanimity. Goodness knows he had every reason to be angry.

    In light of the secret document that has come to the media’s attention showing that the RCMP is complicit in the persecution of any who would call into question the practices of the oil and gas industry, Mr. Ludwig’s experiences are all the more heroic and tragic.

    Like

  9. Thank you for standing up to CNRL!! I will never be involved with them again.

    Environmental, human rights and extortion cover-ups seem to be the norm. I have never seen such criminal activity.

    CNRL is big and can do what they want.

    Hopefully a guy like yourself who has not been bought off will make a difference and get them to be accountable.

    Like

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