Peace and Friendship Caravan International 1984
During the Cold War, a high school teacher, Sigurd Askevold from Creston, British Columbia, was inspired by Vera Brittain’s Peace Pledge Union plea that ‘above all nations is humanity’. Because nuclear war seemed to be inevitable, Askevold worked two years (writing 2000 letters and making many trips) to arrange a 50,000 km
Peace Caravan to Western and Eastern Europe as well as across North America. This was no easy task — all visas had to be pre-arranged from Ottawa, as were accommodations, travel plans, and meetings with heads of states and cities.
On February 11th, 1984, we flew from Canada to Frankfurt, then traveled by car through the entire Communist Bloc, Austria, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Great Britain, the Netherlands, West Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. On the way home, the Caravan traveled through the eastern USA to Vancouver.
Our Odyssey would take us 4 months to complete. The 17 people who joined us, aged 11 to 73, came from Norway (1), USA (3) and Canada (13) and included 5 Quakers, 2 Doukhobors, 2 Mennonites, and 1 Catholic.
Honourary Sponsor was Dr. Linus Pauling, the 1963 Nobel Peace Prize winner, plus Argenta Friends (Quakers) Monthly Meeting of Argenta Canada. Our Caravan was endorsed by the Doukhobor Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, Bishop W.E. Doyle of Nelson, BC, Canada, Moderator of the United Church of Canada Clarke MacDonald, the Mennonite Brethren, and several other Quaker Friends Meetings in Canada and the US.
From the Frankfurt airport, we went to the City Council were we were hosted royally. Next day, we took a train to Salzburg where we picked up four new Peugeot Talbot diesels and a trailer to haul our luggage. At home, we had constructed signs 2'x6' to mount on top of our cars. The signs were interchangeable in 6 different languages, 2 saying 50,000 Km for Peace, 1 saying Above All Nations Is Humanity, and 1 saying Peace and friendship International 1884. Lufthansa Air transported these signs for free.
Our message to the leaders of nations and city councils was handed out in a 1-page printed mission statement. We urged a massive exchange of youth with permission to travel freely and get to know their so-called enemies. Also we urged the development of twin cities and towns. All of this was an effort to shift our thinking towards a caring, civilized and peaceful society where friendship and trust overcomes fear. We said:
It is only on this person-to-person basis, across borders and oceans, that we can, in the end, overcome fear and distrust existing so deeply rooted between the East and the West. We must learn to live and let live and realize that other nations must be allowed to live their way of life, so that eventually, we will all be winners. It is everybody’s responsibility. Perhaps it is not too late.
In travelling through the Communist Bloc we were deeply impressed by the sincerity of the people in their wish for peace. We had many beautiful moments and shed many tears. On entering Kiev when we stopped at a red light, the driver beside us motioned for us to open our window, and handed us a red tulip.
At our reception held for us by the City of Vancouver when we were leaving, a CBC reporter asked me why I was going on this trip. I said, ‘If the world goes to Hell, and it looks like it very well might, I want to be able to say that I tried to do something about it’.
Alex Ewashen, Creston, BC. Retired auctioneer, singer, peace activist.