MEMORY LANE: West Vancouver Fleas keep catching volunteer bug

Spring has returned to the North Shore, bringing with it the urge to purge. What to do with items that need a new home? 

“Bring them to the Flea,” says Joan Townsend and Karen Hardie, co-chairs of the Flea Market at West Vancouver Seniors’ Activity Centre. “We’re receiving contributions right through Friday.”

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Karen and Joan have co-chaired the committee that has produced the Flea, as its volunteer crew calls it, for the past seven years. Planning begins months in advance, leading up to receiving donations and allocating them among 19 departments, each with its own team leader and cadre of volunteers, and culminating in the sale that extends over two days.

Planned, organized and operated by volunteers, every one 55 or better. This is the essence of the Flea and the reason for its success. “It’s a seniors’ thing and a community thing,” Karen and Joan explain. “The Flea couldn’t happen without the help from volunteers, local business and seniors centre staff.”

Volunteers work for a common cause. For the Flea, seniors bring skills and experience acquired over a lifetime. Over time, like Joan and Karen, they forge lasting friendships.

Joan and Karen have called West Vancouver home since they were four years old. They grew up at opposite ends of the community. Joan Ingham lived in Ambleside with her family. Karen Craddock and her family lived out west in Horseshoe Bay. They attended West Vancouver Secondary, five years apart.

They both worked in banking, though Karen left that career to sling beer with her husband, Dave Patrick, at the Troller, their pub in Horseshoe Bay. So far, not so unusual.  Here comes the unusual part of their story.

Karen and Joan raised their families in the homes they grew up in. Karen and Dave live in Ambleside now, near Joan and her husband Ralph. They are still in the Ingham family home along with their children and grandchildren. There is much to be said for intergenerational living in these times, and to be in the family home for four generations is remarkable for any community.

Joan’s Flea association goes back 39 years, to the original community centre where she helped her mother, Mary Ingham, at the White Elephant table. Mary Ingham gave back to her community through volunteering, as did Karen’s mother, Isabelle Craddock, a founder of Libby Lodge seniors residence in Horseshoe Bay.

Isabelle Craddock cooked at the Horseshoe Bay Hotel and ran a catering service from her home, with Karen helping, as kids did back in the 1940s. At eight, Karen sold Neapolitan ice cream sandwiches (made with real strawberries) at Horseshoe Bay park. At 13, she was helping her mother in the galleys of the local ferries.

Two years ago, Karen and Joan tried to retire. “They didn’t take us seriously,” the two recall, and so they continue as Head Fleas of the Flea Market committee. Luckily for the Flea, because challenges ahead called on all the skills and teamwork the volunteers could muster.

Last year, water damage forced the arena, their usual venue, to close, and the Flea to move to the seniors centre. The set up and receiving period was reduced from two weeks to one. The Flea departments went from acres of space at the arena into several rooms. Even the Flea’s schedule changed, from fall to spring. The Fleas rallied and the 38th annual Flea Market was successful, as always.

Then, last summer, came another challenge with the death of Bob Clark. Bob was a mainstay of the committee, one of those people who always seem to be where they are needed most. Dave Patrick and Bryan Hann, who know their way around the Flea and the seniors centre, stepped in to fill Bob’s shoes.

The Fleas represent the essence of National Volunteer Week, which comes around every April, coinciding with the beginning of Flea Market season across the North Shore.

Flea Season. It’s a seniors’ thing and a community thing. It’s about the volunteers who serve today, and the memory of the volunteers who came before, volunteers like Isabelle Craddock and Mary Ingham, who taught their children by their own example to give back to their community.

With the Flea at Forty on the horizon, Karen and Joan say, “The Flea is a great way to start as a volunteer. The crew is experienced and we have a lot of fun.” 

The Seniors’ Activity Centre at Marine Drive and 21st Street in West Vancouver is accepting contributions for the 39th annual Flea Market through Friday, April 5. On Saturday, April 6, the market is open from 10 a.m. until noon for members who require assistance, and opens to the public on Sunday, April 7 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. Contact her by phone at 778-279-2275 or email her at

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