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 odd request capped Ludwig’s bizarre and often confrontational relationship with the authorities.
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 after he took a well-publicized stand against poisonous gas leaks and flares near his home.
[Note: This article was originally posted in the fall of 2012. More information has since 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 crowds. 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 …”
The man had been diagnosed with throat cancer only months earlier.
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 well-organized, private hamlet.
The sprawling complex has modern, well-built chalet-type houses crowned with solar panels. Here, are machine shops, a sawmill, an electricity-producing windmill, 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.
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. [That’s pretty standard.]
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 they say 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 children 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 promptly ended 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 ugly incident was the media hype surrounding Wiebo Ludwig and his people.
Alarm bells went off after a shed owned by an oil company was dynamited. The RCMP investigated. Terrorism, the Mounties said. Turns out, it was not terrorism funded by Al Qaida — but by the Canadian taxpayer. The explosion was the work of the RCMP themselves, all part of a sleazy, clandestine operation to draw negative attention to Ludwig.
The RCMP — the same police force supposedly investigating oilfield vandalism in the area — then issued a media release along with a photograph showing a shed that had been dynamited. Terrorism, no doubt about it, said the mainstream media. Oooo. Scary stuff. Unsuspecting reporters — myself included — got sucked in, believing the news release was legit. We bought into the lie.
Instead of being reporters, we’d become stenographers.
As a result of all the negative news coverage, the Ludwigs were the target of death threats and harassing phone calls. It was clear the locals were worked up, including those 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 trucks entered the yard a second time that night. Not content with a one-time drive-by, the teens 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 the driver before lodging into the chest of passenger Karman Willis, killing her.
So the shot was fired at the tire, not the windshield. Given that the situation was life or death, perhaps it’s not hard to wonder where the average parent would have shot.
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. A resident of Trickle Creek compared identifying the shooter like turning a Jew over to the Nazis. One doesn’t have to be a law professor to work out why the shooter didn’t turn himself in.
It was a dark day for the rule of law.
No weapon was found and no one was charged. 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. Let that sink in. 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.
It gets worse. Taxpayers picked up the tab for counselling the intruders. However, the other victims — the four Ludwig children — got no counselling. 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 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 each another … and on and on. It’s a ‘180’ from what I see out here [outside of Trickle Creek].”
“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,” he adds, “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 the phoney RCMP news release when an oil company shed was bombed by ‘terrorists.’
The Mounties tricked Ludwig into thinking he was meeting with officers in nearby Grande Prairie to help them in their investigation — but when Ludwig arrived, he was arrested and locked up for 24-hours.
In the end, Wiebo Ludwig was never charged with the bombing at Tom’s Lake because Crown prosecutors in British Columbia felt the evidence was weak.
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 Ludwig 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 by trade, built his own coffin in February 2012 when he realized his battle with cancer was going south.
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.
(To hear a portion of Wiebo’s final interview scroll down to the bottom of the article)
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 TV 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 Wiebo’s 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. The man chuckled. But 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 assholes 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 their community, 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.]
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.
Conflict and Respect
I’m not a religious man — I really don’t have much time for organized religion. Put another way, I believe in God but I’m not crazy about His fan club.
Gotta admit, I have a low tolerance 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’re using 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.
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 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 are not alone. A number of residents of Trickle Creek have left. Some have returned. Some haven’t.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …
On 14 June 2017, spokesman Josh Ludwig issued a news release stating his people plan to take unilateral 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.
A huge barn was constructed in 2012 to store 5,000 bales of hay and to give livestock shelter on cold winter days.
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:
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;
- “Maclean’s Interview: Wiebo Ludwig: FROM THE ARCHIVES: Anti-oil Patch Activist on His Arrest, the ‘Very Humane’ Search of His Property, and the EnCana Pipeline Bombings”.
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.
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 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.
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 gas 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.”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 came across as someone who loved and protected his family.