There is a force at work in Campbell River that never stops pushing the community towards the future, relentlessly shaping it in pursuit of a vision, doggedly leading it toward a goal.
That force is Morgan Ostler.
And if Campbell River is being picked up by the scruff of its neck and marched towards a bright future, it’s a reflection of how Ostler relentlessly pursues her agenda.
“I am not driven, but I definitely have goals,” Ostler says.
The 81-year-old Ostler’s latest vision is to transform Campbell River into a community that grows more of its own food. For the last few years she has been involved in the adoption of a municipal agricultural plan that was included in the official sustainable community plan. She also helped get council to approve backyard chicken coops.
Ostler likes to point out that Vancouver Island produces only 6-10 per cent of its own food and Campbell River only produces about one per cent. Yet, the community is surrounded by Agricultural Land Reserve – land officially designated for agricultural use.
And although that land is covered in forest, the soil beneath is excellent for growing things. Soil testing done during the process to adopt an agricultural plan turned up surprising results.
“It showed we had soil values as high as those in the (Fraser River) delta of Vancouver,” Ostler says.
But because Campbell River has been a resource-extraction based community for so long, it’s taking a long time to convince residents and the powers that be to see this community as an agricultural community.
But Ostler never shies away from a challenge.
She came to Campbell River in 1964 as a wife and young mother of two children. She eventually had to support herself and her children working as a journalist in town with the old Upper Islander newspaper.
In those early years she was active in the effort to replace the Old Island Highway which back in the seventies was seen as narrow, windy and dangerous, particularly after a young girl was killed in a tragic accident. In 1996, after decades of pursuing a new highway, Ostler “presided” over the opening of the new Inland Island Highway as Queen Elizabeth the Second, a persona she is known to put on now and again for the entertainment of the masses.
Ostler may be driven but she takes the wheel with a grin on her face and a twinkle in her eye that reflects her proud Anglo-Irish roots.
“I am a very happy person,” she says, “and I find hilarity in the human condition.”
Whether presiding over highway openings as “Queen Elizabeth” or serving as the agricultural queen of the community, the 81-year-old Ostler doesn’t like to sit still for very long.
“So, you can see I’m never bored,” she says.
And you know that through it all, Ostler is having fun. “I enjoy my life,” she says. “I think my life is a gift.” But if her life is a gift, it’s a gift that she pays forward. Community service has been a big part of Ostler’s life.
She considers herself privileged to have married a man who became a mayor who was much loved in the community for his vision. She married Bob Ostler in 1970 and between the two of them, they raised eight children. She now has 11 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Bob passed away in 2001 and Morgan is proud of many things about him. One of the things she’s most proud of was his vision for the community’s accessible waterfront. Bob Ostler was the force behind the city’s waterfront acquisition program which provides for the purchase of waterfront property so that it can be opened up for use by all the residents of Campbell River.
Ostler contrasts Campbell River’s open waterfront with that of Parksville where you used to be able to see the sandy beaches from the highway but which are now blocked by high rises and development.
“They have essentially separated the people of Parksville from their waterfront,” Ostler says.
It was also her husband’s city council that began the Seawalk which the Rotary Club took on as a project and completed. He also help spearhead the Discovery Pier project.
A rebellious youngster
Ostler’s gifts were given to her at an early age, under circumstances that might not, at first, seem to be such a nice present.
Ostler was born in Victoria to prosperous parents, her father being a former military commander stationed in India and who loved Indian and Asian philosophies. “My father was very, very spiritually-inclined towards Oriental and Asian beliefs.”
But along with that Asian sensibility came the British tradition of sending your children away to boarding school. At the tender age of five, Ostler and her sisters were sent to a Catholic boarding academy in Victoria. “It seems strange now,” Ostler says. But that was the norm in her family’s social circles.
“My father lived in a society where they were sent to military school at five years old,” Ostler says. “When we were placed in an academy as a little girl, it was simply a reflection of how society was.”
It was hard at times, she admits. The nuns were harsh disciplinarians. But Ostler was no shrinking violet as a student. She was a curious and lively child who would frequently challenge her Catholic overseers. “I was quite rebellious and I got expelled several times.” Each time, her father managed to negotiate her return to school.
Demonstrating a dramatic flare early on in life, Ostler liked to sneak into the school auditorium and put on events on the stage. Once a nun caught her and tied her to a chair and locked her up in the attic on the eighth floor of the school. “I was terrified, as a small child,” Ostler says.
But Ostler sees the boarding school experience as shaping her in a positive light. “Because of my optimism, I see that it developed a side of my character that maybe would have remained latent if I hadn’t been challenged like that,” she says.
She says later in life she was able to test herself psychologically and confirmed that she had, in fact, Attention Deficit/Hyper Activity Disorder. “I knew very little about what that meant, other than I was a very hyperactive person.”
But for whatever reason, Ostler has never seen her condition as a disorder. Quite the opposite, she uses it as a tool in her psychological kit.
“Being ADHD was a blessing because I have a tremendous amount of energy and a tremendous amount of curiosity,” she says. “I don’t see myself as being disabled in any way,” she adds later.
She believes that children should be taught to treat their condition as a gift that can help them.
“That might explain why in my 81st year, I get up in the morning with my list,” she says with a grin.
Ostler served two terms on city council from 2003 to 2008. During her years on council she often felt out of place because she is inclined to work independently.
“I had my own agenda to move forward and that was out of place on council,” she says.
But her council experience gave her a useful insight into how the system works. And now she’s using that experience to continue her agenda.
She practices “creative magnetism” which she learned at an early age. “My father taught us that we could create our own life by our thought processes,” she says.
It’s worth paying attention to what Ostler is creating for her life because, with her go get ‘em attitude, you know her vision will have an impact on Campbell River in some way.
Now that the city is incorporating Ostler’s agricultural vision, she is in pursuit of another goal. She wants to convert Campbell River and the rest of Vancouver Island’s municipalities into genetically-engineered free zones. She wants to ban genetically-modified foods.
And Ostler is just the kind of force to make that happen.