It was the early ‘90s, and photographer Brad Moore and I headed to Falkland for a Snowbirds fly-past far above the small town.
As soon as we arrived, we hooked up with Fran Nikon, who had convinced the aerobatics team to visit, and we waited and watched the skies above. Time continued to pass and ultimately a decision was made to head inside the Falkland Hotel.
One beverage led to a second one, but I ran out of cash. Fran offered to buy the next round and that created a running gag for the next 20-odd years.
Every time I would speak to Fran either on the phone or in person, and no matter the subject matter, she would always promptly remind me that I owed her a beer and interest was accruing.
I would always laugh it off and tell her I would get it next time. Unfortunately, I waited too long and Fran’s recent death means my outstanding brew debt went unpaid.
Fran also features vividly in another well-told family story.
It was late August 1994 and Fran invited me to do a stint in the dunk tank during the annual Daisy Daze celebrations.
Balls kept flying at the target as virtually every kid in town tried to soak me, and seeing how much fun they were having, my wife decided to get in on the action and pitch a few. However, there was the question of what to do with our two-week-old first-born as my wife was preoccupied with putting me into the drink.
The solution came from Fran who enlisted babysitters — two elderly men sitting on the sidelines. With a little reluctance, my wife, who had only been a mom for just a few days, handed over our daughter to these two gents, who promptly began oohing and ahhing and making sure the bundle of joy was well looked after.
I first met Fran when she and other Falkland residents became frustrated with the endless bickering among the provinces and the apparent lack of patriotism. They launched the I Care campaign on April 1, 1991 to show they weren’t fooling about their love for Canada and flags began showing up on homes, stores and barns.
Nikon’s enthusiasm was contagious.
“I did keep talking and I got people being more positive about Canada. I see it as a patchwork quilt with Canada as the backing and the diversity of the country making up the patterns,” she said in a 1999 interview.
But Nikon wasn’t satisfied with just waving the flag every April 1 and she developed a vision that would have a permanent effect on Falkland.
Her concept was a giant metal Canadian flag on Gyp Mountain, which could be seen for miles around. She convinced Lafarge, which mined the site, to get on board and she began urging people to donate money for construction. She was relentless in her efforts, even sitting in the Village Green Centre one weekend asking Vernon shoppers to be proud Canadians.
Shortly after the 28-by-56-foot flag was completed, Fran escorted me up the mountain to have a first-hand look. She beamed from ear to ear as she pointed out the names of donors on the back of the flag and specifically one that identified my wife and I. Fran was tickled that we were part of her dream.
Every trip through Falkland has had me keep an eye open for Fran, and now that she is gone, I will think about her every time I see the Canadian flag, whether it’s the big one on Gyp Mountain or a small one fluttering on a passing car.
Fran taught me some important lessons – love of country, loyalty to one’s community, volunteerism and having a strong sense of humour, especially when beer is involved.