Column by Penticton artist and naturalist Dianne Bersea
I’m often asked, “Did you know Muriel Franck?”
Sadly, I never met her but Muriel’s name reverberates in this town anytime tree and lakeshore concerns are mentioned.
Arriving from an obscure English sea-side village, and deeply committed to the importance of natural landscapes, Muriel became an unrelenting and vigorous champion of all that makes our valley town so unique.
For 40 years Muriel Franck attended every city council meetings…her energized campaigns closely followed by the local media.
I’ve seen the photos of Muriel’s famous polar bear swims, part of her daily fitness regimen.
But it’s her unabated, heartfelt and well researched championing of Penticton’s natural treasures – parks, lakeshore, beachfront and trees that are, and will be, her everlasting legacy.
According to Penticton Herald article of Feb. 18, 1991, Muriel was: “A self-proclaimed watchdog and often a ‘thorn’ in city’s side…a fixture in city council meetings.
“Some of the exchanges have been quite heated as the diminutive but feisty Franck persists in getting her point across!”
I say, “Brava Muriel!” Nothing got Muriel’s ire up more than issues pertinent to her mission.
For Muriel, Penticton often foolishly overlooked the significance of our tourist attracting attributes, (a town between two lakes!), with physical benefits in need of careful preservation.
Muriel’s archives include passionate Letters to the Editor and strong statements about her concerns.
She couldn’t understand why anyone would want to deconstruct this “precious jewel.”
From all reports, I think Muriel would be very distressed about our current situation, a decline in our already diminished tree canopy and a blasé approach to their demise.
As she stated, “The Okanagan…is a semi-desert climate and if anyone needs trees we do!”
Tucked among her documents, Muriel preserved earlier perspectives on Penticton’s setting.
Take this Sept. 1, 1906, Penticton Herald ad from the business of Msser’s Tapley & Murk.
They wanted to encourage business neighbours to follow their lead. “Nothing adds to the appearance of a town so much as streets well planted with trees.”
I’m sure Muriel would endorse the saying, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.”
In an April 11, 1983, letter to the editor, Muriel itemized disturbing tree losses specifically on the Court House grounds and in three city parks. As she says in a letter, “A statesman thinks of future generations. The politician thinks of the vote.”
At least 14 mayors encountered Muriel’s spunky approach, especially for lakefront and flood prone development locations where lake views and existing trees would be significantly altered.
When an issue got her attention, Muriel could generate a letter and petition storm!
I’m astonished at the petition signature totals. Despite supporting the Penticton Art Gallery, her opposition to the location regarding trees, flood concerns and loss of lake shore parkland, inspired almost 9,000 citizens to sign their name.
I’m glad we have our art gallery though, and pleased that compromises were made, especially the retention of trees along the lower reaches of Penticton Creek.
Thank you Muriel Franck.