By Michael Friscolanti - Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 0 Comments
A Catholic missionary with a giant frame and even bigger heart, he dedicated his life to helping the poor and the hungry
Richard Émile Joyal was born on Feb. 5, 1951, in St. Boniface, Manitoba, Winnipeg’s historic francophone district. He was the only child of Étienne Joyal, a railroad engineer, and his wife, Marie-Antoinette Gauthier. The family home, staunchly Roman Catholic, was a short walk from Richard’s elementary school (École Provencher) and his high school (Collège Louis Riel).
At the time, both schools were operated by the Society of Mary, a 200-year-old Catholic order inspired by the faith and devotion of Jesus’s mother. Many of Richard’s teachers were Marianist brothers, missionaries who committed their lives to serving the poor and uneducated. “The brothers’ community house was right across the street from both schools,” says Lawrence Lussier, a long-time friend. “He grew up knowing these brothers and was attracted to their life. He was drawn to it.” At 19, Richard made his first vows; five years later, he was “perpetually professed” as a Marianist brother. (Like priests, brothers commit to a life of poverty, celibacy and obedience.)
Richard was a towering figure, six foot four with giant hands and a huge smile. Like the men who inspired him to follow God, he spent his 20s and 30s working as a teacher in Winnipeg, where he coached basketball and organized retreats. “ ‘Joy’ was in his name, and that’s exactly how he was,” says Isabella Moyer, another close friend. “He wasn’t one of these overly holy people that didn’t enjoy the blessings in life. He enjoyed the riches: good food, good wine, and good company. But he was equally happy with the simplicity of a bowl of rice.” Back in the 1970s, Moyer was one of dozens of university students who spent their Sundays at the Marianists’ home in St. Boniface, “praying and playing,” as she says. “Richard was the community disco guru, determined that we would all learn his routines,” she says. “Soon we were all dancing to Saturday Night Fever.” He was especially famous for his giant batches of stovetop popcorn—prepared, with lightning speed, during a single commercial break.
By Nicholas Köhler - Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
She was an avant-garde artist who once practised striptease for a book, but she longed to write a novel for a bigger audience
Susan Angela Ann Harrison was born on March 7, 1948, in Toronto, to Douglas, a chemical engineer, and Angela, a homemaker and photographer. In suburban North York she grew into a tall, intensely bright, inquisitive young woman with a flare for rebellion. “My father was a logical man,” her brother Brian says. “We had a very conventional family.” Nevertheless, when Harrison showed an interest in drawing and painting, her parents agreed to finance her studies at the Ontario College of Art. Soon she’d joined Toronto’s vibrant avant garde, then dominated by the artists’ collective General Idea, which adopted theatrical dress, pseudonyms and an ironic stance to lend the group’s subversive politics a playful edge. “It was a magnificent pageant,” one Toronto artist recalls.
After two years of art school, Harrison quit, announcing her intention to become a writer. Her pen name, A.S.A. Harrison, was a riff on stuffiness, and masked her gender. With the artist AA Bronson she wrote a porn novel, Lena, under the name A.C. McWhortle; published in 1970, it was quickly banned. She married the video artist Rodney Werden and, armed with a reel-to-reel recorder, began interviewing women for her 1974 book Orgasms, a series of Q&As that dealt frankly with women and sexual climax. Its cover, designed by Bronson, depicts the inner workings of the female sex; the back flap features a snapshot of someone other than Harrison, an inside joke but also part of a serious artistic project to make the ordinary strange. Another photo from the period shows the real Harrison as full-bodied, wearing a tuxedo, great owl glasses and the stern expression of a Dadaist prankster. “She deconstructed prettiness,” says the author Susan Swan, a friend. “She wanted to be larger than life, and she was.” She yearned too for a large audience—to put “new wine in old wine skins” by revamping pop culture forms. Under the guidance of the performance artist and stripteaser Margaret Dragu she experimented with striptease herself, and toured Quebec. In a book written with Dragu, Revelations: essays on striptease and sexuality, she used clipped prose to explore the topic: “Canada has the best striptease in the world,” she began.
By Martin Patriquin - Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 11:40 AM - 0 Comments
He was a magician and a musician, but theatre was his first love
Gregory James Dowlen was born March 12, 1961, in the village of Codicote, north of London, England, to Edward Mark Dowlen, a research engineer, and Rosemary Philippa Craven Midgley, an artist and teacher. Each of the seven Dowlen children was expected to learn two instruments; at five, James (he went by his middle name) took up the piano and clarinet. He also learned magic, and was able to cut a deck of cards with one hand, 50 times in a row. He became one of the youngest members accepted into the Magic Circle, a London order of magicians.
Stricken with lymphatic cancer, his mother lost the use of her right arm at 43. Undeterred, she taught herself to paint with her left hand, and had painted portraits of all her children by the time she died two years later. Family life became unsettled in the wake of her death. His father, who until then designed guided weapons for English Electric, remarried and became a priest.
At 13, Jim, as he now called himself, left his home for the streets of London, with stints at his godmother’s house in the city’s north. Surviving on the streets required resourcefulness. He joined a typing pool—he could type in excess of 125 words a minute—and learned how to breathe fire. He also found work with London theatre troupes and moved to Hunky Dory, a teeming, chaotic residence run by a barrister named Henry.
At 19 he met Patricia Kramer, who at 18 had fled Vancouver for London, and the pair bonded over similar family hardships. She saw a beautiful young man with thick, straight red hair who, at five foot ten, was the same height as her, and who smoked as though there was a looming tobacco shortage. They were married five weeks later at the Marylebone registry office in Westminster. He signed their marriage certificate as “Greg Kramer,” itself a marriage of his first name and Patricia’s last.
The pair moved to Vancouver in April 1981, lulled by the promise of theatre work and a proper place to live. The two produced and performed “Cute Tricks,” a travelling magic revue, in Vancouver bars and theatres. Artistically, Greg was nearly everything: musician, writer, director, actor. He was also gay. He and Patricia split in 1982, though they wouldn’t formally divorce for another eight years.
Greg contracted HIV sometime in the mid ’80s, though it hardly affected his work. He became a staple of Vancouver’s fringe theatre scene, through which the word of his acting and directing ability began to spread. His theatrical roles included the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, Marquis de Sade in Sade, Antonio in The Tempest and Lucifer in Creation. “I think Greg was in touch with darkness,” says long-time friend Richard Cliff. “It was part of his nature not to shy away from it.” In 2006’s Hellenic-era action movie 300, Greg played a hooded Spartan overlord. He played the wandering vagrant Mississippi Gene in 2012’s On The Road, and contributed a song to the film’s soundtrack. He voiced characters in video games such as Assassin’s Creed. He had a recurring role as a vampire on the television series Forever Knight. He wrote several novels. “He was also a hell of a knitter,” Cliff says.
His first love, though, was theatre. He garnered several Montreal English Critics Circle Awards for his work, including a best actor nod for Player’s Advice to Shakespeare and best director for Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.
In the spring of 2004, tired of being out of breath, Greg quit his two-pack-a-day smoking habit. One month later, doctors found a large tumour in his chest, and removed one of his lungs. Again, it hardly affected his work. “People, I’m doing this with one lung!” he belted in 2004, as he and a cast struggled through a rehearsal for Oliver!
Last year, Greg returned to B.C. to write a stage adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, in which he was set to act at Montreal’s Segal Centre this summer. He was to play Inspector Lestrade, the scheming foil to Inspector Holmes, played by Hollywood actor Jay Baruchel. “He couldn’t have been more self-effacing and collaborative,” says Baruchel of the sometimes-fraught exercise of reading someone else’s work with them. “He wasn’t precious or protective about it. He knew I had to be invested in the character.”
Greg was uncharacteristically late for the first rehearsal of Sherlock Holmes. After 45 minutes, another cast member received a call. Greg had been found dead in his apartment in Montreal’s Plateau district. The cause of his death was not known as of early this week. He was 51.
By Manisha Krishnan - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
An accomplished DJ and martial artist, he was a gentle giant, once lauded as a hero for chasing down a robber
Frank Simchak Jr. was born on Sept. 3, 1982, in New Westminster, B.C., the third child and only son of Frank Sr., a drywaller, and Susan, a homemaker. In chasing construction booms for work, Frank Sr. moved the family around often. When Frank was 2, they left for Los Angeles.
With his sisters, Susan and Helen, eight and six years older, respectively, Frank was the baby and the blue-eyed object of his dad’s affection. As a preschooler, his father took him fishing for the first time. Frank couldn’t throw the line far, but he managed to reel in a five-inch catch. “He was running all over, showing it to people he didn’t even know,” recalls Frank Sr.
The family moved back to B.C. in 1989, settling in Port Coquitlam. From a young age, Frank was protective of those closest to him. At age 6, he met Brent Aldred, a four-year-old who lived in the same apartment complex. “This kid was actually beating me up and Frank came and stopped it,” recalls Brent. The two became best friends.
By Nicholas Köhler - Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
From a POW camp in Japan, he saw the flash of Hiroshima; it was the light that would save him and maim him all at once
William Bell was born in Winnipeg on March 12, 1917, to Scottish parents: his father, Bill, a butcher, and Rachel, a homemaker. With his full lips, dark, quiet eyes and a great crop of the thickest black hair, he was an active boy, diving from railroad bridges into the Red River with the Riverside Boys Swim Club, and learning to box. The Depression forced him from school, and at 16 he hopped a rail car for work in B.C., felling trees by handsaw. When the Second World War broke he returned to Winnipeg and, along with his brother Gordon and many of his swim-club friends, enlisted in the Winnipeg Grenadiers. He was 22, Gordon just 19. “Bring back your brother,” Bill’s mother told him.
While stationed in Jamaica, Bill guarded a camp of German POWs, unglamorous work. Otherwise, his memories of that time came to revolve around food, the mark of a mind defined by the privations he’d soon encounter—a Dutch submarine laden with cheese and canned fish, the coffee and nights of beer—and Jamaica remained for him always a kingdom of rum-laced ice cream. Things changed in late 1941, when the Grenadiers left the West Indies for the lush hills of Hong Kong, arriving to the sound of bagpipes. Within weeks, they’d be plunged into brutal combat. On one mission, Bill stumbled upon a nest of Japanese machine guns. His comrade, shot in the neck, died instantly; Bill took a bullet to the hip. Days later, he helped fight the enemy off from a hollow, a dazzling flurry of swords raised above him. He shot one charging officer in the stomach and, with a burst from his Tommy gun, lifted a second in the air before he could savage Bill’s friend with his bayonet. Confronted with hurled grenades rolling underfoot, the Canadians tossed them back. When one landed beyond reach, Sgt.-Maj. John Osborn threw himself on it, sacrificing himself to save his fellows. “It was the bravest thing we had ever seen,” Bill later wrote in a short memoir.
By Michael Friscolanti - Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
He loved the Saskatchewan Roughriders almost as much as ice fishing. To learn to be a plumber, he moved to Edmonton.
Jason Leslie Michalycia was born in Prince Albert, Sask., on May 20, 1979, the first son of Leslie Michalycia, the maintenance man at an orphanage, and his wife Jean (née Assman), who sold cemetery monuments. He spent his early childhood in Indian Head, a farming town of 1,500, before the family, including little brother, Curtis, moved west to Regina. “He was a good kid, happy-go-lucky, never got mad at anybody,” his mother says. “He had a little bit of a speech impediment, but as the years went on, it got better.”
Jason was his father’s son. Even as a young boy, he spent hours at his dad’s side, fiddling with engines in the garage or baiting hooks on the ice. “He was a good older brother, too,” says Curtis, three years younger. “One day my parents gave us candy and I ended up dropping mine in the mud. I was very upset, but Jason gave me his last piece with no delay.” Once, when Curtis accidentally whacked another kid with a shovel, Jason took the blame. “He ended up being grounded for something I did. But he didn’t care.”
James Coleman, Jason’s best friend, met him in Grade 5. “Me and him, we were both the class clowns,” Coleman says. “He did a lot of goofy stuff and made us all laugh.” At home, Jason had a habit (equally goofy) of taking things apart to see how they worked. “He was very inquisitive—very inquisitive,” says Don Leir, his uncle. One afternoon, Jason’s dad came home to find his new mailbox in pieces. “He loved to take things apart, but then he couldn’t get them back together half the time,” his mom laughs. If someone asked what he was doing, Jason’s answer was always the same: You’ll see. “Sometimes he’d finish,” Curtis says. “But usually he moved on to something else. You always heard, ‘You’ll see,’ but you rarely saw.”
By Manisha Krishnan - Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
A farm boy from birth and an inveterate family man, he had finally found time for travel and new adventures
Kevin Wayne Wadham was born Sept. 16, 1962, in Uranium City, Sask., the third and youngest child of Keith, a farmer, and Lillian, a housewife. When Kevin was 2, his father bought a cattle and grain farm in Virden, Man., and the family moved.
Kevin, his four-year-old sister, Patricia, and five-year-old brother, Brian, were quickly immersed in the farming world, joining the 4-H club. Though Kevin loved cattle, he despised horses. When the three kids took part in an annual musical ride, his gelding, Spitfire, would always buck unexpectedly. To take revenge on his siblings, who were much better on horseback, he would hide in bushes and scare them while they were riding, or pick up rats and chase the kids around. “He was a brat,” says Patricia. “Most of the time, we’d beat him up.”
Stubborn and blunt, Kevin relished arguing, sometimes getting under his mom’s skin just for kicks. But the Wadhams were tight-knit, often taking camping trips together and travelling for the boys’ hockey games and Patricia’s figure-skating competitions. Kevin was devoted to hockey and played throughout school, including when he went to college in Fairview, Alta., in 1980.
By Manisha Krishnan - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 9:13 AM - 0 Comments
A passionate athlete and outdoorsman, he was happiest on a ski hill or a frozen river
Peter Kirk Fachnie was born June 22, 1952, in Barrie, Ont., the first of three children born to Lionel Gordon Fachnie and Kathleen Piper. Lionel was a sergeant in the Royal Canadian Air Force, so the family moved often. After the birth of Steven, their youngest, the Fachnies left Borden, Ont., for Penhold, Alta. Lionel piled suitcases and blankets on the back seat of the car, a makeshift bed; Kirk, then 5, and four-year-old Claire stared out the rear window the whole way.
In Alberta, Kathleen, a bank teller, won the kids a pony in a contest. They named it Patches for its brown, black and white colouring. Kirk, a big fan of westerns, rode Patches alongside his dad in a fringed vest and a cowboy hat he was rarely seen without.
When Kirk was 10, his dad was posted to CFB Baden-Soellingen in Germany, where Kirk quickly made friends with the other army brats, playing hockey and baseball. His parents took full advantage of their European location: the family camped all over Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and France.
In 1967, the family moved to Ottawa, where the kids enrolled at Rideau High School. Kirk, 13, though shy at ﬁrst, eventually joined two rock bands, Buster Brown and Trillium, that practised in the Fachnies’ basement. Kirk’s passion was the guitar—he loved the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
By Nick Taylor-Vaisey - Monday, March 11, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
A born leader with a passion for flight and film, he found his dream job on the TV series Dangerous Flights
John Frederick Driftmier was born Nov. 24, 1982, in Calgary, the first-born son of David, a schoolteacher, and Sophia, a psychologist. Peter, their second-born, would follow four years later. From a young age, John was a natural leader. At age 2, his dad dropped him off at a daycare before heading to church—the toddler’s first time in such a place. David was nervous, curious how his son would fit in. To his surprise, John used boxes as boxcars to organize a make-believe train with the other kids. He sat in front, running the show, acting as the train’s engineer. John, says his mom, was “born to direct people.”
An early obsession with trains later shifted to cameras and airplanes. By the time he was a teen, John yearned to fly. The fastest route to the sky was the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. “He was the son of two pacifists,” says David, who wasn’t keen on a military environment. But John was determined to fly, and joined the cadets at age 12.
The family didn’t own a video camera, but John would beg his parents to rent a camera once a year for his birthday party. “He had a whole movie organized in his mind and he would get the kids to act,” says David. “He would be behind the camera.”
By Mika Rekai - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
A tough environmentalist who spent years roughing it in India, she decided to take a resort holiday to unwind
Rebecca Mary Tarbotton was born in Vancouver on July 30, 1973, to Mike, an engineer, and Mary, a homemaker. Becky, the eldest of three, had an adventurous streak and loved to perform. By age 9, she had mastered the fiddle and the unicycle. At 10, she met Emma Mason, who quickly became her best friend. Soon Becky was pestering Emma’s father to buy the house next door so the two girls could play together more often. “It was a rundown old house. I don’t think my father had any interest in it, but when Becky asked him, he thought, ‘Well, how can I resist?’ ” Within months, the Masons had moved in.
Becky and Emma started high school in a highly competitive, enriched program at the Prince of Wales Mini School on Vancouver’s west side. Becky performed in the school’s musical every year, most memorably as Grease’s Betty Rizzo, the leader of the “Pink Ladies,” the girls who “rule the school.”
At 13, Becky went on a hiking trip with the Masons in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, in B.C.’s Bella Coola Valley. As they ﬂew out, Becky, peering from the window, was horrified to see massive swaths of old-growth forest that had been clear-cut. The stark remains left an indelible mark on her. From then on, the environment was her driving passion. Once, when she was 16 and driving to a beach on B.C.’s southern coast, Becky noticed a group of boys throwing crabs onto the two-lane highway to watch them get run over by passing cars. Incensed, Becky, who by then stood six feet tall and favoured big, imposing hiking boots, pulled over, waved her arms to stop oncoming traffic and stormed across the road to give the boys a piece of her mind. They quickly fled.
After high school, Becky went to McGill University, where she studied geography and, in 1993, took part in her first environmental protests over logging in Clayoquot Sound, B.C. She returned to Vancouver in 1995 to begin a master’s degree in community planning at the University of British Columbia and started working for the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC), a British environmental non-profit.
Becky spent the next eight summers in Ladakh, India, a sparsely populated, mountainous region in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, where she helped develop an advocacy group for female farmers. During the winter, she worked at the organization’s office in Devon, in southwest Britain, promoting alternative farming methods and the local food movement. In her spare time she liked drinking tea, reading books in her attic apartment and taking long walks in the countryside with Katy Mamon, a close friend.
In 2002, she moved to Berkeley, Calif., with the ISEC, eventually settling in Oakland. In 2007, she took a senior role with the San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network and, in 2010, became its first female executive director. Soon Becky was leading a well-publicized campaign against Disney, the world’s largest children’s book publisher. It had been using paper from Indonesian rainforests and the group’s pamphlets showed Mickey and Minnie wielding chainsaws. Disney quickly gave in, promising to use sustainably sourced paper.
Becky, though devoted to environmental causes, always found time for her friends and family. She’d often phone her mom from the ferry on her daily commute home from San Francisco to Oakland. In 2011, on a ski trip to a friend’s cabin in Lake Tahoe, Nev., she met Mateo Williford, a solar-power technologist. Mateo, who noticed she was “very much a goofball” like him, was immediately attracted, and the two were soon dating.
In April 2012, Becky’s father, Mike, passed away from cancer, a devastating loss to Becky and her family. Two months later, Becky and Mateo were married in Katy’s backyard, amid an organic garden and a pond, surrounded by friends and family.
Becky’s work kept her busy, but last December, she and Mateo decided to finally take a proper vacation. For a hardened environmentalist used to spending her spare time hiking the mountains near Ladakh, the tourist mecca of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, was an odd choice, but she decided to join a group of friends at the resort. On Boxing Day, the group took a long swim in the open ocean, swimming a half hour from shore. They hit rough waves and Becky inhaled some water. She made it back to the beach, but died of asphyxiation on shore. She was 39.
By Emily Senger - Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 7:00 PM - 0 Comments
A lifelong horse lover, she spent her life painting, raising and training horses
Patricia Elaine Nelson was born July 11, 1955, in High River, Alta., to Lloyd Nelson and his wife, Mildred. Patty was their fifth child. Although Lloyd and Mildred made their living farming and raising cattle, Lloyd’s passion was chuckwagon racing. The family travelled to races throughout southern Alberta, including the Calgary Stampede, which Lloyd won in 1949, and again in 1956.
With six mouths to feed, Lloyd and Mildred expected their kids to help out. Patty started riding horses soon after she could walk and was training them by age 10; one of her chores was exercising her father’s high-spirited racehorses. While riding one horse, she would lead another on a rope behind her, racing around a makeshift half-mile track west of the farmhouse—tough work. One morning, Patty’s older brother, Doug, was mucking out stalls, shovelling manure and old hay, when a horse waltzed into the barn without its rider. Terrified his little sister might be injured, Doug hopped on the horse and rode to the track where Patty had been exercising the horses. “She wasn’t limping like a little, timid waif,” says Doug. “She was stomping back to the barn with her arms pumping, mad as heck.”
When Patty wasn’t riding horses, she was drawing them, and one of her colt sketches appeared in Western Horseman when she was nine. Instead of taking notes, Patty often filled her school notebooks with drawings of horses. But she was a good student and, after graduating from High River High School, the local school, she was accepted at Calgary’s Southern Alberta Institute of Technology to study art. She quit after only a year, and headed home; the teachers wanted her to draw something other than horses.
By Rosemary Westwood - Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
He’d spent his life flying around the world—he even married his wife on a flight
Robert Murray Heath was born Nov. 7, 1957, in Mississauga, Ont. His father, Robert, was an engineer and his mother, Betty, was a telephone sales operator. Robert Sr. owned a hobby plane and Robert spent as much time as he could beside his dad in the cockpit, falling in love with planes.
Robbie to his parents and one older sister, Gail, “Bob” to most everyone else, he attended Mississauga’s Allan A. Martin Public School. When he was 12, he joined the Air Cadets, where he learned to fly gliders, then small planes, and earned his pilot’s licence. After graduating from Gordon Graydon Memorial Secondary School, he moved to Moncton, N.B., to do commercial and instructor ﬂight training.
In 1985, Bob took a job with Sabourin Airways in the small community of Red Lake, in northwestern Ontario. He flew small planes—the Beechcraft 99 and Piper Navajo Chieftain—mostly to remote reservations and on hunting and fishing trips. On a medevac flight, he met Lucy Geno, a dark-haired nurse who worked at the Red Lake hospital. She was 10 years his elder, and he courted her with gifts of doughnuts and rabbit-trimmed hats. Lucy was the mother of three grown children when the couple met, and Bob soon became Papa to them all. The couple married on Nov. 17, 1990, in a Twin Otter flying at 5,280 feet—exactly one mile—above Red Lake. Lucy wore an embroidered red parka; Bob wore his flight suit. Continue…
By Mika Rekai - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 10:08 AM - 0 Comments
Desperate to fly, he was denied a pilot’s licence due to two heart transplants. A year ago, after six appeals, he finally got his wish.
Glen George Freeland was born on Dec. 7, 1973, in Fairview, Alta., to Vaida Allan, 16, and David Freeland, 18. On the night Glen was born, a mix of wet weather and a flash freeze coated the roads with ice, and his mom barely made it to hospital in time. “Glen was in such a hurry to be born,” says Vaida. “And he never stopped being in a hurry.”
When Glen was two, his parents separated and David, a labourer, moved to Edmonton, while Glen and Vaida stayed in Peace River, near her parents. When Glen was a baby, he loved pickles, exploring, and making people laugh. Vaida couldn’t open the back door without Glen crawling out, and making for the nearest mud puddle. He was the class clown and made friends easily, but his best friend was Brian Freelend (sic), one of his three “double cousins”—the children of Vaida’s sister, Trish, and David’s brother, Bob, who had also married. Vaida remarried and had two more children, 10 and 12 years Glen’s junior, but he remained closest to Brian, who was just 1½ years younger than him. When they were kids, they loved building elaborate tree forts—which they would then knock down and rebuild. “Glen never stuck with one thing for very long,” says Brian. “He was always coming up with new ideas.” He and Brian came up with all kinds of outlandish business schemes to line their pockets, and Glen bought his first snowmobile when he was 16, months before he bought a car.
By Rosemary Westwood - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 7:00 PM - 0 Comments
A star paramedic trained for every crisis, he was being groomed for a top emergency management job
Roland Humphreys Webb was born Sept. 2, 1975, in Sydney, N.S., to Roland Webb, a Vancouver-born engineer with the Canadian Coast Guard, and Mary Webb, a housewife from Newfoundland. Four days after his birth the family moved to Halifax.
Rollie was named for his father and grandfather—an army colonel and hero in the bloody battle for Juno Beach during the Second World War; from them, Rollie inherited a strong sense of patriotism and service. He was a rather serious child, “focused, forthright,” says Rollie Sr., and deeply protective of his little brother Sean, his only sibling. In 1982, the family moved to B.C., settling in White Rock in suburban Vancouver. The brothers, who attended Ray Shepherd Elementary School, grew up playing “war” in a vacant lot down the road. Rollie treasured family time, watching Hockey Night in Canada and eating Sunday dinners. He inherited his mother’s love of East Coast music, her warmth and her talent for making those around her feel at ease. Continue…
By Rosemary Westwood - Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 1:30 PM - 0 Comments
He found peace in the mountains, like his dad, who died when Nick was growing up
Nicolas Thomas Voyer-Taylor was born Feb. 6, 1990, in Saskatoon, to Julie Voyer, a francophone school administrator, and Thomas Taylor, an anglophone stockbroker. He had a brother, Gaëtan, from Julie’s first marriage, and a sister, Rachelle. When Nicolas was 10 weeks old, the family moved to Winnipeg.
Nick, as he was known, loved basketball. As a child he “managed” his sister’s team, sitting on the bench beside his dad, the coach. He went on to play point guard for his dad at Winnipeg’s Shamrock School, and they spent endless hours shooting hoops on the back porch. “They were best friends,” says Rachelle. “They did everything together.” Tom also taught Nick to ski, and it was in the mountains where both were happiest, and found peace.
Nick grew up with four female cousins whom he treated like sisters. The families made an annual camping trip to Rushing River, Ont., where the kids would often fall asleep together, watching the stars. From a young age, he loved to cook—a creative outlet. “When he was in Grade 6,” says Julie, “one day I came home and found him sitting at the kitchen table, with three or four recipe books. ‘Mom,’ he said, ‘can I make supper tomorrow night?’ ” The next night, says Julie, he cooked chicken cordon bleu. “He didn’t start small, eh?” Continue…
By Jane Armstrong - Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 1:18 PM - 0 Comments
He loved volunteer firefighting so much he decided against a career move to Calgary
Nicholas Vachon was born Sept. 12, 1981, at Montfort Hospital in Ottawa to Isabelle and Claude Vachon, two quiet schoolteachers who lived in Curran, a small village about 80 km east of Ottawa. Nicholas was their first son, the third of five Vachon children.
As a boy, Nicholas was serious beyond his years, Claude says. He brooded about global issues like pollution and foreign conflicts, and pestered his father with questions about the 1991 Iraq war. Art was an outlet, and he’d spend hours drawing elaborate pictures of war scenes and sinking ships.
At the village school, the other kids bullied Nicholas. But his younger sister, Marie-Claude, worshipped him. In winter, they’d take their sleds to the highest hill in town, packing a picnic so they could spend the entire day on the slope. “We did everything together,” Marie-Claude says. “I wanted to be with him everywhere he went.” Continue…
By Jane Armstrong - Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 9:41 AM - 0 Comments
He did everything with his twin. They modelled together, joined the RCMP, even lived side by side
Adrian Johann Oliver was born March 16, 1984, at the former Grace Hospital in Vancouver, now the B.C. Women’s Hospital and Health Centre. He arrived two months early and about seven minutes before his identical twin brother, Ben. Adrian weighed just three pounds, nine ounces. Ben was a little bigger at three pounds, 11 ounces. Their mother, 20-year-old Katherine Oliver, was flown to Vancouver by air ambulance from Williams Lake, B.C., where her husband, Joe, an RCMP officer, was stationed.
Adrian and Ben spent their first two months in side-by-side incubators in the neo-natal unit. Katherine stayed with them until they weighed five pounds and she could take them home. After that, Adrian and Ben were rarely apart.
They were bubbly sports-mad boys who played hockey, soccer, baseball, football and rugby. Katherine can’t remember ever hearing them fight. “You never thought of one without the other,” she says. Six years later, another brother, Thomas, arrived and the twins took him under their wing. In 1989, Joe was transferred to Woodstock, N.B., and the family moved into a house right beside the RCMP detachment. The twins would watch the officers entering and leaving the building and pretend they were Mounties too.
As little kids, Adrian and Ben vowed to stay together forever. Katherine once overheard them in the bedroom, plotting their futures. “They were going to live in the same apartment building when they grew up. One would live on one side, the other would live across the hall.”
In 1999, Joe was promoted to sergeant in the RCMP’s customs and excise branch in Ottawa. The Olivers settled in Orleans, just east of the city, and the boys enrolled at St. Peter’s High School. Adrian played left wing for the Rockland Nationals, a Junior C hockey team. His coach said he’d never seen a player give so much effort.
The twins went on to Algonquin College and later Carleton University, where they both studied criminology. They shared every single class. Ben typically got the higher grades, “but just by a bit.” Everyone, it seemed, liked the boys with the movie-star good looks. One day, on the bus home from college, a modelling agent handed Adrian a business card. Soon, the twins were flying to the U.S. and Europe on modelling shoots. They never intended to model forever, and their parents were urging them to find more “serious” careers. In 2006, Adrian and Ben wrote the RCMP entrance exams—together.
Ben was accepted first and headed to the RCMP training depot in Regina. It was the twins’ only time apart. When Adrian arrived six months later, some teachers mistook him for Ben. In Regina, Adrian met Shelagh Mitchell, a cadet from Kelowna, B.C. On her first day, he was part of a troop showing newcomers the ropes. When it was Adrian’s turn to speak, his classmates exploded into laughter, Shelagh says. “You could tell that everyone just loved him.” Adrian blushed and bent his head. Two months later, he asked her out.
Shelagh saw the bond between Adrian and Ben. “You could not get in between those two,” she says. “That relationship had to be respected because it was so strong.”
After graduation, Adrian was assigned to the Surrey detachment in B.C.’s Lower Mainland. Shelagh got a job in the Burnaby detachment, where Ben had been working for nearly a year.
Adrian and Shelagh moved into a townhouse beside Burnaby’s Deer Park. Ben was a frequent visitor. The twins jogged in the park and worked out at the Burnaby detachment’s gym. Those were happy years, Ben and Shelagh say.
Adrian took his job seriously, Ben says. He relished the grittier aspects of beat work—the drunken brawls and domestic squabbles—that drive some officers to desk jobs. He thought it was important “to be able to walk into a house where people have problems and be able to resolve them.” But he also had a playful, “goofy” streak, Shelagh says. “If I was cooking in the kitchen, he’d grab me and would make me two-step and spin. He was always in a good mood.”
Six months ago, a unit opened up in their complex. Ben moved in right beside his brother, just as they’d always planned.
On the morning of Nov. 13, Adrian was on duty in Surrey, winding down a 12-hour shift. He was on the lookout for a stolen pickup truck and was driving his unmarked vehicle above the speed limit when he collided with a transport truck. He died at the scene.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 11:20 AM - 0 Comments
Canada’s ‘toughest cop,’ he took on some of Montreal’s most notorious thugs, once shooting the testicles off a thief
Albert Lisacek was born on July 13, 1933, in Montreal’s multicultural Mile End neighbourhood, in a two-bedroom rental apartment. His parents, Mary and Joseph, had immigrated to Canada from the former Czechoslovakia in 1927. Albert’s five-foot-eleven mother gave birth to three more boys—all of them at home. His father, who had been a strongman in a Slovenian circus, later worked in Montreal’s shipyards and as a night watchman.
Albert, a serious child who loved western novels, had to fight off bullies in their tough immigrant neighbourhood. When he was 15, five teens confronted him on a Mount Royal trail. He took off, the teens in hot pursuit. Running down Park Avenue, he pounded on the door of an elderly woman who let him hide out until the teens went away. Albert never wanted to feel so helpless again. That day, he decided he would become a police officer. He began spending hours in a basement gym. By age 20, he stood six foot two, weighed 250 lb. and was a formidable force as a part-time bouncer at a Saint Catherine Street nightclub.
When he was 23, Albert applied to the Sûreté du Québec (SQ). The hulking young man was hired on the spot, assigned to a post guarding cells at SQ headquarters. When an inmate in a cell of eight hurled an insult at him, Albert entered and locked the door, smacking three men with his big hand before the fourth in line identified the culprit. Criminals began calling the new hire “Dirty Albert” and “le chien” (the dog). To co-workers, he was “Little Albert,” and later, when he shaved his head, “Kojak,” after TV’s tough and incorruptible cop.
He married Claudia in 1960. They didn’t have children, but rarely took out their pink-finned Cadillac without their three dogs: Teppy, a schnauzer, Cheetah, a 160-lb. mastiff, and Radar, a mutt.
In 1961, Albert was promoted to detective. “I was good at getting rid of the bad people,” he told journalist Warren Perley, for a feature article that was published at BestStory.ca in July. The SQ’s so-called “holdup squad” came calling—the team that responded to armed robberies. He was soon breaking down doors, his Thompson submachine gun always in hand. Before a raid, Albert would pray: “I hope to hell this isn’t my last time.”
By then, death threats had grown routine. Albert took on some of Montreal’s most notorious gangsters and thugs, including Richard “the Cat” Blass, who’d survived four assassination attempts and escaped prison three times. In 1969, Blass was arrested for a bank robbery in Sherbrooke, Que. Albert was assigned to escort him to court. During the drive to the courthouse, Blass bragged that his buddies were planning to hold up the police van to bust him out. “First thing I’ll do is blow your head off,” Albert shot back. During a break in the trial, a man leaned too far over the defendant’s table. Albert, fearing he might pass Blass a gun, pulled him from the room and smashed his face into an elevator door, breaking his nose in a bloody mess.
On March 19, 1972, The Canadian Magazine named him “Canada’s toughest cop.” If ever there were a doubt, Albert proved it six months later, when he shot the testicles off a thief who was fleeing a robbery in the Montreal suburb of Verdun.
Albert’s next run-in with Blass came on Jan. 21, 1975. Blass, who had escaped from prison a ﬁnal time, locked 13 people in a beer-storage room in Montreal’s Gargantua Bar and lit it on fire. All 13 died. Three days later, Albert and a team of officers tailed Blass to Val-David, north of Montreal, and surrounded him. Albert and two other officers barged in; Blass, who was unarmed, was shot 27 times. Albert didn’t shoot him. “I would have preferred to bring Blass in alive,” Albert told journalist Perley.
SQ brass, tired of dealing with headlines and negative press surrounding Albert’s exploits, moved him to a desk job. In 1981, at age 48, he took early retirement. Years of kicking down doors and chasing bad guys had taken their toll. His knees bothered him, and he had trouble getting around. Albert liked collecting John Wayne memorabilia and watching action movies on TV. Claudia died in 1999 and Albert married Jacqueline Richer, a cousin by marriage, calling her “mon ange,” and “ma chérie.” The couple moved to the country north of Montreal, where Albert’s softer side emerged. “He had a very tender heart,” says Richer. “When he saw there was no justice, he wanted to make justice.”
On Nov. 1, Albert was diagnosed with colon cancer. Canada’s toughest cop, who’d hunted down some of the country’s most dangerous criminals, passed away quietly three weeks later, on Nov. 20. He was 79.
Warren Perley’s 17,000-word feature story on the life of Albert Lisacek is available at BestStory.ca.
By Jane Armstrong - Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 12:49 PM - 0 Comments
He’d recently retired to his ‘utopia’ in Mexico, a walled compound in a region he knew well
Ron Lloyd Mackintosh was born Aug. 24, 1948, in Toronto, to Don Mackintosh, an accountant, and Dorine, a homemaker. Ron, an only child, was close to his cousin Dan Sutton, a year his junior. They spent summers at the Mackintosh cottage at Wasaga Beach on Georgian Bay, where the boys swam and hiked and camped overnight in tents on the beach.
Ron loved comic books, ghost stories and playing pranks on his cousins. Once, he switched the black licorice sticks Dan hid under his pillow with red pieces. “We couldn’t figure out why the licorice changed to red,” Dan says. “He had us believing that ghosts did it.”
Every Easter, Ron joined Dan’s family in Clearwater, Fla., for a month-long holiday. The cousins swam every day in the motel pool. “He loved the heat,” says Dan. “Always. He hated being cold.”
Ron’s mother was strict with her only son, but Don was more easy-going. Ron and Don played chess and shot pool in the basement of their Eglinton Avenue West house in north Toronto. In the backyard, there was a giant slide, which Ron and Dan polished with waxed paper to make it more slippery. Continue…
By Jane Switzer - Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
A master barber, he endured a series of gruelling hardships in his later years. Through the darkest days, his scissors kept him going.
Robert William Gordon Egely was born on June 20, 1944, in Penticton, B.C., the eldest of four children born to Wilma, a homemaker, and Clarence, a salesman. Clarence changed jobs frequently and ran a number of businesses over the years: fruit stands, bicycle repair shops, a restaurant and even a bowling alley. Bob, as he was known, spent his childhood criss-crossing the Okanagan Valley with his family. “Sometimes we would move three times in one year,” Bob’s sister Carol recalls. Perpetual new kids, they were often bullied, but Bob was their consummate defender. “He was my protector if anybody picked on us,” Carol says.
When Bob was in Grade 12, Clarence decided to become a barber and, after graduating high school in Vernon, B.C., in 1962, Bob followed in his dad’s footsteps and enrolled in a Vancouver barber school. He opened his first barbershop a few years later in Golden, B.C., where he met and fell in love with Theresa, a butcher’s apprentice who passed by his shop every morning on her way to work. The two were married in Golden on Oct. 28, 1967, and had three children: Ryan, Aaron and Nicole. Continue…
By Charlie Gillis - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Inseparable, they built twin houses and had three kids each. Together, they died on Oct. 27
Paul and Morris Longmire were born seven minutes apart on Sept. 20, 1940, the second set of twins delivered at the newly opened general hospital in Annapolis Royal, N.S. They were the middle pair of six kids born to Jean Longmire and her husband, Irving, a scallop fisherman who plied the Bay of Fundy. Paul came first, but from that point the two were inseparable, playing together until they were old enough to attend the one-room schoolhouse in their hometown of Hillsburn. They snared rabbits, played scrub baseball with friends and somehow shared a bicycle with fat rubber tires without fighting over it. “I don’t think they were ever heard to speak an angry word to one another,” says their sister Norma Oliver. “It’s hard to describe their connection. It was truly unique.”
The two left high school before ﬁnishing Grade 10, when Paul took a job at the general store in Hillsburn, and Morris went fishing with their father. They split their earnings evenly at the end of each pay period, and in 1962 they pitched in to buy a scallop boat so Paul could join Morris on the water. The Ellenwood, as she was called, was the first of several vessels they’d purchase together while constructing intertwined lives in Parker’s Cove, a village just down the Shore Road from Hillsburn. They built identical bungalows on a mutual driveway off Parker Mountain Road, and often could be found working together in a shared garage on the back of the property. Their first car—shared—was a ’52 Mercury. Their next was a ’58 Dodge Royal. They married eight months apart—Morris in September 1964, and Paul in May 1965. Morris and his wife, Carolyn, had three children: Kevin, Kirk and Krista; Paul and his wife, Beverley, had three sons: Jeffrey, Jeremy and James. All of the children were born between 1967 and 1973. Continue…
By Mika Rekai - Monday, November 12, 2012 at 2:11 PM - 0 Comments
An adrenalin junkie who travelled the world in search of adventure, he had returned to university to finish his final year
Gareth Aled Coombes was born in Winnipeg on May 18, 1989, to Vanessa Coombes, an administrative assistant with the provincial government and a single mom. The night he was born, Jan Wiebe, one of Vanessa’s best friends, remembers sneaking into the hospital after visiting hours to meet the baby. She and Vanessa spent the whole night grinning, giving Gareth kisses and counting his toes.
When Gareth was two, he and his mother moved to Victoria, so Vanessa could care for her elderly mother, whom Gareth called “Nainey.” Vanessa loved taking Gareth to nearby beaches, where they searched for curly moon shells or, after nightfall, watched the stars. When Gareth started kindergarten, Vanessa would take his classmates to beaches too, forging friendships with the other moms as Gareth and his pals climbed up on rocks and splashed in the water.
Gareth, a mischievous boy with a “big, toothy grin,” made friends easily, says Jan. From a young age, he was passionate about space. He knew the names of dozens of stars and dreamed of becoming an astronaut. As a boy, he’d have his mother measure him often to make sure he didn’t exceed NASA’s maximum allowable height for astronaut candidates: six foot four. When he hit six foot five, he was forced to work out a new plan: he would become a successful businessman and travel to space as a tourist. Continue…
By Emma Teitel - Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 9:10 AM - 0 Comments
Heart disease ran in the family; he had survived three heart attacks, and a heart transplant
Ronald Alan Sept was born on Jan. 11, 1946, in Medicine Hat, Alta. His parents, Albert and Anne Sept, were farmers from Maple Creek, a rural Saskatchewan town, some 85 km southeast of Medicine Hat. Ron, the first of two children (his sister Carol would come five years later) was milking cows and feeding chickens at age five. He liked to ride horses, herd cattle and help his mom bake cookies. But his favourite pastime was music. When Ron was 7, he took up the accordion and couldn’t put it down. He was so skilled after just two weeks that his teacher sent him home: “The teacher said ‘He’s gonna teach me!’ ” Ron told his family.
On Christmas Eve, 1958, when Ron was 12, his dad suffered a heart attack and died. Things changed quickly for the Septs. Anne rented the family farm to her brother and moved Ron and Carol to Medicine Hat, where she found work in a hospital kitchen. Ron grew up overnight, helping with chores, getting Carol ready for school. But he wasn’t all that interested in school. As a teen he often missed class—intent on making a living, not getting a diploma. One day, when he was 16, he skipped school to help a friend deliver milk. Ron was in the passenger seat of his friend’s milk truck when another driver ran a stop sign and smashed into them. Ron went flying through the windshield. Miraculously, his only injury was a cut on his forehead; this, however, wouldn’t be the last time he dodged death. Continue…
By Nick Taylor-Vaisey - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 at 1:40 PM - 0 Comments
Ezekiel Martin was born in Grates Cove, Nfld., on Oct. 21, 1933, the son of Henry, a Methodist preacher, and Bertha, a homemaker. He was born deaf. Ezekiel, who came to be known as Zekel or Zeke by everyone he knew, moved with his family to Lower Island Cove, about 30 minutes to the south. He returned to Grates Cove, a tiny community of 100, in the mid ’70s. All told, he spent his whole life a couple of hours northwest of St. John’s. His niece, Christine, described Ezekiel as a kind, gentle man with a childlike appreciation of life. “He wasn’t really like a grown-up,” she says. Ezekiel’s nephew, Tony, says he saw his uncle upset just a single time, when someone stole his bike.
Bicycles were, from a very young age, a constant source of joy for Ezekiel. “They were freedom to him,” says a neighbour, Cal Martin, no relation, who knew Ezekiel most of his life. That joy extended from cruising around town to fixing—and modifying—every bike he owned. Cal recalls one instance when his friend blew a tire outside of town. With no pump in sight, the resourceful Newfoundlander decided to tear the tubes out of his tires and fill the empty space with straw. He made it home. Tony always thought that was a tall tale, but Cal insists it’s a true story.