Sense of community strong on the Eastline

Every Sunday from June to September area residents can gather at Eastline Market 30 minutes from Prince George.

The market runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and vendors are ready with a great variety of wares.

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Farm fresh eggs, quilts, mats and jams sit right alongside the handmade baskets from Africa, the homemade beef sausage, lamb chops and ground beef, homemade cookies and jewelry, fresh vegetables and jars of pickled carrots and beets.

The market is located in the heart of Willow River, across the street from the general store and right in front of their biggest point of pride, the new fire hall that shelters the local volunteer fire department gear. Adjacent to the hall is the space set aside for the concession that sees the menu items listed on the side of the big black fridge that houses ingredients for such decadence as poutine, fries, onion rings, burgers, hot dogs and fixings for a pancake breakfast. All the proceeds from the concession go directly to the fire department.

All the vendors have lunch or breakfast at the concession. It's all part of supporting each other.

Every now and then there's a junk in the trunk sale going on while the dozen or so regular vendors all take up their usual spots.

In the centre of the market is a playground and everyone knows they can let their kids enjoy their time because it's safe in Willow River. Don't think any one of those kids can get away with anything because there are a dozen pair of eyes on them at any given moment. It's what community does. They look after each other.

That same sentiment crosses over to the vendors.

One seller gets asked if they've got any farm fresh eggs left.

"Nope," comes the answer.

"But check with the lady over there. Last I heard she still had some left. Otherwise come a bit earlier next time."

Everywhere you look there's evidence of an inherent caring. One vendor reaches for change as an out-of-towner pays for a variety of jams and jellies.

The vendor who's been part of the market from the first day five years ago is Robin Wills from Longworth, who has a handwoven purse that comes from another vendor three tents down. She reaches into her filled-to-over-flowing bag and without really looking finds her change purse.

Robin foraged for wild strawberries and bumbleberries to make the jams she has for sale.

"I'll have cloudberry jam next week," she tells her customers who are gathered round.

Cloudberry is similar to a blackberry in textured appearance but they're orangey in colour and they grow in the muskeg, Robin explained.

Another vendor runs over to get herself a treat. She's got her eye on Robin's habanero pepper jelly.

Just like that there's a gap in the array of jellies, jams and marmalades on the wooden shelves set up on Robin's table. Husband Terry bends to get more jars stored under the table to fill the spaces.

He said it looks better when the shelves are full.

He's right.

Terry, who's been married to Robin for 27 years, could explain his role at the market in just a few words by pointing first to his wife and then to himself.

"Chief cook, bottle washer," he laughed.

Robin finally gets a chance to sit down to chat. She and Terry bought their 160 acres near Longworth and surrounded by Crown land 24 years ago. They tried to live there with their young family but it was too isolated to make it work. The couple was finally able to move out to B.C. in 2001 when they both retired from their jobs in Ontario.

The commute now from home to the market for the Wills is 70 minutes. The long drive is part of living along the Eastline that includes Shelley, Giscome, Willow River, Newlands Station, Upper Fraser, Sinclair Mills, Longworth and Penny on Upper Fraser Road.

In the past mail was delivered by rail to the tiny hamlets set along the Fraser River. Penny got its last mail delivered by train on Dec. 31, 2013.

Robin is the postmaster in Longworth, population 13 at last count, and the office is located in the old school house. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to noon, she opens the office and residents gather at the school house for coffee and a chat. Most of them grew up in Longworth and those at the coffee klatch can still find their class photos hanging in the hallways of the school, Robin explained.

"Now, that's history," Robin laughed.

Same goes for the Eastline Market. Vendors like Marie and Rick Hallum have been residents in Willow River since 1968. Roma and Jim Tingle of Glenbirnam Farm in Foreman Flats have lived in the area since 1968 and on their farm since 1970.

Bob McCoy has lived in Longworth for 76 years and was joined by his wife, Iris, in 1981. Iris came to Prince George in 1969 and loved it so much she and her family stayed. After being widowed, Iris said she fell in love with Bob and wanted to go back to the land.

"And that's the story," Iris laughed as she looked at Bob.

"There was no power, no water, no road," Iris said. "So we went by boat and in the winter Bob and his brothers built an ice road to cross the river and then in '89 the road came in. Longworth was one of the mill towns just like Penny and Giscome and all those little places that are now ghost towns. I think there's only 13 of us in Longworth now."

"It's a lovely little market," Bob said, looking around at all his friends.

"It's just like a big family," Iris smiled.

Kevin Dunphy bought the general store 33 years ago and his daughter Erin Bamber came back to live in Willow River 10 years ago so her children, including her special-needs son, could have a safe place to grow up, just like she did.

A newby like Marlen Stene, who has a ranch across the river, has only been a resident for a few years but fits right in and loves the sense of community that comes with the territory.

Birgit Luesgen is a vendor who offers for sale hand-woven baskets from Ghana.

"I live in Sinclair Mills so that's another hour down the road so I am part of this Eastline community," said Luesgen, who's lived in Sinclair Mills for 12 years with partner Granville Johnson, a drummer well known in the area. "So this is my Sunday out where I can meet my friends and neighbours and get the local produce and I eat the local meat - more and more it's about buying and eating locally, you know? And that's very important to me."

Michelle Van Beek, who's in charge of social media for Eastline Market, might have said it best.

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world."

To keep up with the latest Eastline Market news visit them on Facebook.

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