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Johanne’s final story

Johannes never expected to be in jail. He wasn’t counting on smoking pieces of fentanyl patches either. And he hadn’t envisioned dealing with ethnic cleansing in Bosnia or being on patrols in Afghanistan.

In fact, growing up in a small Nova Scotia town, all he wanted was to be outside. Fishing. Swimming. Hanging with his buddies.

Addiction had another plan.

Fit, rested and relaxed as he sits on his mountain bike looking out at the gloriousness that is Queneesh, a massive glacier on Mount Washington towering over the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, Johannes’ face breaks into a smile.

“I’m very happy,” he says. “I wake up every morning and, when I open my eyes, I’m automatically happy. So, there ya go.”

He’s come so far.

Born in 1977, raised in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Johannes is a minister’s son. His mother stayed at home raising Johannes, his brother and two sisters. He had no trouble with faith. Higher Power was all around them.

“I was raised in the church. We lived in the back of a church, actually, in the church parsonage,” he says. “We went to church twice on Sunday, Tuesday night and sometimes Friday night.”

“I was close to all my siblings. I had maybe two or three really close friends.”

There was no drinking or smoking in the family home. No wild parties. No television, even.

“I was kind of a quiet kid — an introvert, if you will. I was always out in nature. Always out with my friends in the woods, building camps, swimming in the creeks, fishing, boating.”

By high school, when friends began experimenting with cigarettes and alcohol, Johannes began to see the differences between himself and his strict, God-based upbringing and the lifestyle his adolescent classmates were beginning to explore. Though he remembers sneaking a taste of fermented grape juice at 14 behind his dad’s pulpit and “feeling a little bit funny”, Johannes would buckle down and stay focused on his career path — one in uniform.

“In high school, I was wanting to be an RCMP. So, I took the co-op program for RCMP, doing ride-alongs, even getting into a couple of high-speed chases,” he says. “When I was in Grade 12, they hired me as a jail guard to watch the drunks when they would come in on weekends, or whenever they would call me on my pager. I wasn’t getting into any trouble at all.”

He also made another move — into the Canadian Armed Forces as a reservist at 16.

As he finished high school, Johannes was in love with his high-school sweetheart and working for the Canadian Forces and the RCMP. His life was going swimmingly. He proposed to his fiancé, they married and began planning for a family. He applied and was accepted into the military Regular Forces and was posted to the Third Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment – one of the nation’s most decorated and respected army units, based in Petawawa, Ontario. The outfit had served at Vimy Ridge, in Sicily, in Korea. Johannes had joined an honorable, historic family and life was good.

“We were both living a spiritual life. I still had God in my life at that point. We’d go to church at least once a week, sometimes twice a week.”

His wife was soon pregnant; a boy was on the way.

But the storied “3 RCR” was about to get involved in the simmering conflict in Bosnia, and life would change forever.

In the early 1990s, the break up of Yugoslavia had percolated into a cauldron of inter-ethnic conflicts. Yugoslavia, which had been set up as a federation of six republics after the Second World War, had split apart following the death of its president in the 1980s. By the time Johannes and his new bride arrived in Petawawa, Serbs and Croats were just three years removed from the Bosnian War, a horribly complex and vicious conflict which basically ended in a stalemate. But, along with over a million refugees, over 100,000 were left dead, many as a result of the first case of genocide in Europe since World War II.

The capital city of Sarajevo, which had hosted the Olympic Games in 1984, had spent four years under attack before the siege was lifted in 1996. Civilians were targeted and massacred in many parts of the Bosnia and Herzegovina. NATO, of which Canada is a key and active member, was involved during and after the conflict, attempting to establish long-term peace. In fact, over 60,000 soldiers from over 30 countries were eventually deployed under Operation Joint Endeavor as peacekeepers. Twenty-three Canadian soldiers died in that war.

Once the war had ended, stabilization peacekeeping forces continued to get between tense and hostile pockets of resistance to the ceasefire. This was the environment to which Johannes and his brothers in 3 RCR were deployed in Bosnia in July 1998 as Rotation 3 of Operation Palladium.

While his wife was at home, selling Mary Kay and looking after their baby boy, Johannes was thrust into a world in which he had no experience.

“I guess you could say I was pretty innocent, ignorant of the world. I was raised in such a closed environment,” he says quietly.

Johannes was dispatched with medics, going on calls with military and civilian first responders, transported in armored personnel carriers converted into ambulances.

“We’d go pick them up and bring them back to camp.”

As well, there were regular patrols, going from town to town.

“I felt a lot of threat. I was scared for my life many times. It was a whole new side of the world I had never experienced before.”

Not one to speak about the horrors of what he saw and experienced, suffice to say coping was a challenge in the tinderbox of post-War Bosnia.  Three months into his six-month deployment, he was given two weeks’ leave and went to Croatia for some R&R. It quickly deteriorated into something else.

“That’s where I really got into the drinking. In Porec and Bled. I barely remember them. Blackouts. Trying to cope,” he recalls. “My spirituality was non-existent at that point. I didn’t have God in my life. Praying was non-existent. So, I started drinking to fill that hole.”

Peacekeepers have an interesting perspective on what they are called to do. With the war ended, there were progressively fewer incidents of breach of the terms of the ceasefire. Johannes downplays the anxiety with which he and his colleagues were living.

“Danger? Well, that’s the way I felt at that time. It wasn’t a constant threat. 1998 was a little bit different from past tours … but I still felt threatened.”

The consuming of alcohol soon wasn’t restricted to R&R leaves, either.

“Oh, a couple of times a week I’d get drunk. Some Bosnian moonshine stuff they would give us. I forget what they called it, but it was pretty powerful stuff,” he remembers.

And the innocence of a maritime boy, a preacher’s son, was quickly fading.

“It was a combination of being scared and it’s a whole new world. I was excited for this whole different experience. Trying new things. I never really got to party growing up. So, I was liking this drinking thing.”

“It felt so normal. Everyone that I knew was doing it. Everyone was smoking cigarettes, smoking cigars. That’s where I started smoking cigars too. I remember buying some Colts, so now I was smoking cigars too.”

He returned to his new baby, his high school sweetheart bride, and attempted to reclaim his pre-deployment life.

“I would call it a slow climb because, after Bosnia, I came back to Petawawa and didn’t really carry that drinking lifestyle on anymore. I slowed down, maybe had a drink once a month or so. It hadn’t got its claws into my life yet.”

Everything changed two years later when, on a night airborne jump exercise, his parachute malfunctioned. Johannes injured his back and broke both legs.

“I came home from that in two casts and a wheelchair.”

Confined to the chair, on low-dose medications for pain, he would still go to work every day – a military van would pick him up and take him in. But, between his ears, his mind was in a battle.

“The whole accident itself played in my head a lot. I had nightmares steady about it. It really affected my sleep. So, I started drinking a lot.”

The accident, the drinking, the nightmares all took their toll on the marriage. His legs would recover. The marriage would not.

“One day I came home and she was, basically, cheating with the landlord. So, I packed up my truck with some clothes, my uniforms, and that’s about it. I moved into the shacks [barracks].”

His addiction lifestyle blared. The slow climb was over.

“Drinking takes on a life on its own. It gets out of hand. I’d buy 40 pounders, rum or vodka. I’d try to down it. I remember playing music really loud, crying in my room, isolating and drinking.”

He didn’t isolate entirely. He took the show on the road.

“My first night living in the shacks, I went to the bar. I drove back and got my first DUI. A week later, I got caught driving my truck around base again. I got into a cop chase. I had no insurance and was driving while under suspension. So, due to that, I got a little bit of jail time.”

He also discovered ecstasy and cocaine.

“The first night I did them, I loved them. I found my drugs.”

As the needle climbed on the addiction speedometer to oblivion, Johannes passed all the criteria, from abstinence to drinking moonshine to impaired driving to jail time.

“I met all the right people. All the drug dealers in town, [gang] affiliates. A month after first doing dope, I started selling dope. I’d be the guy that everyone would come to.”

He was banned from seeing his first son, but even that wouldn’t wake him up. Johannes’ addiction, fueling the choices he was making, began to rule his life and career.

“Even during training, I was still doing lots of drugs and partying. It was very much a big part of my life. I would be a functioning addict.”

In September of 2001, two planes hit the Twin Towers in New York City. Two years later, as a serving member of the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, Johannes was part of Roto 0, Canada’s initial deployment to Kabul, Afghanistan.

As part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the main purpose was to train the Afghan National Security Force and help them rebuild, while securing Kabul and surrounding areas from Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents. From the summer of 2003 to the winter of 2004, Johannes served in a theatre teeming with tension, fire fights, and constant threat of roadside bombs.

“It was a lot hotter,” quipped Johannes, deflecting from the seriousness of his journey into Afghanistan. “It’s really different from Bosnia. I was a lot more scared in Afghanistan that I was in Bosnia, I can tell you that. In Afghanistan, I was in a section, so we were doing patrols non-stop. Night patrols. Day patrols. Going on missions. Walking on foot. In vehicles. Roadside bombs happened. I felt vulnerable.”

Things got real, and really fast.

By October 2003, Canada had 1,800 soldiers deployed in Kabul. That month, Johannes was in camp when word got back that a friend and fellow New Brunswicker, Sgt. Rob Short, was killed in a bombing that also claimed the life of Ottawa’s Cpl. Robbie Beerenfenger. Three others were injured. By the end of Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan, 158 men and women had been killed. It’s not something Johannes, nor any military member or family, for that matter, can shake easily.

The loss of Sgt. Short was particularly difficult. Though his superior in rank, the two were buddies. They had even run an Iron Man together four years prior.

“Yeah, we had trained all that summer together. I remember at the 43-kilometre point, I passed him, and, at the end, I got 19th and he got 20th,” Johannes says quietly. “I still remember the look on his face when I passed him.”

In the war zone of Afghanistan, it was the drugs and alcohol that kept the ghosts at bay for the 25-year-old minister’s son.

“I was numbing myself out. Still carrying on. Doing drugs when I was there [in Afghanistan]. Cocaine and ecstasy was brought over. I wasn’t into the opiates at that point, thank god. They were everywhere. Poppies. Opium.”

As he counted down the days before his Afghanistan deployment ended, Johannes broke his ankle in a charity function. His war was over.

“I got operated on over there by a German doctor and got sent home about two weeks prior to my six months [service]. I made it back safe. It was meant to be, I guess.”

For the next 12 years, his addiction rampaged, however. The alibi of wartime trauma makes sense. The actions did not.

“Back home, I got harder into the drugs. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was a different person when I came back. Numerous people say that. I remember feeling different, too. I had a lot of adrenaline in my body and I just couldn’t stop moving. I felt different. I needed more drugs to fuel the adrenaline. It was the only thing that made me feel safe.”

He was living a double life. Working for the military. Working for drug dealers. Collecting debts. Kicking down doors, beating people up. Splitting proceeds with the dealers. The military police, the OPP, judges, became unwelcome-yet-predictable players in his dangerous lifestyle choices.

Johannes spent most of 2004 behind bars in Ottawa. Assault. Kidnapping. Drug charges.

“It’s another level of fear. A lot of shanks. [There are] a lot of Somalians in there and they’re all packing shanks. Almost every day, I’d see bloodshed. People stabbed with shanks or pencils. Definitely knocked out. Every day, there’s violence. I was included in that sometimes.”

The next year, the military had had enough. Johannes was released, but not before being sent to treatment at Bellwood.

“I was pretty defiant. Very angry. Violent. I got kicked out of Bellwood after 25 days or so for violent behavior. I met a girl in rehab who gave me her condo keys. So, I went AWOL to her condo for a few weeks down by the CN Tower.”

After a few weeks, Johannes decided he’d better go back to Petawawa. He showed up to work and was arrested immediately.

“I did a couple of days in their cells on suicide watch. Somebody watching me all day, all night. I was that dark.”

He was released from the military and discovered needles.

I hadn’t done [needles] before because I don’t think I’d felt that desperate or dark. But, by that point, I was so helpless, I didn’t care about nothing, myself, or anything. I didn’t care if I died or lived.”

He was shooting cocaine, drinking every day. Smoking crack. Crystal meth. Couch surfing.

“Sometimes I was sleeping in hallways. Running from the cops. Doing crime. Busting into houses. Getting in fights. It was just chaos,” he recalls.

The army sent him $13,000 as compensation for his contributions.

“I blew all that on drugs in a month or so. So, [that was] all gone.”

A few more month-long visits to the crowbar hotel later, Johannes was a shell of himself, 40 pounds under his Afghanistan fighting weight. Yet, he soon found another relationship and got off the needles.

“She got me off the needle, so I was just snorting cocaine. I was just doing lines now,” he chuckles, emphasizing the “just” word. “Yep, I was getting better. I was just drinking a lot and doing lines. Everyday. I couldn’t go a day without drinking or doing drugs or something.”

On a doctor’s visit, he was introduced to morphine. Then OxyContin and Percocet. His OxyContin habit alone began at 80 mg a day. By the time he finished, he was at 800 mg per day. Add the Percocet and alcohol on top of that.

In 2013, he was back in prison for a car accident while impaired, without insurance and in possession of drugs. He reached out to Veterans Affairs and asked for help. He had every intention of getting sober for good. He was again sent to Bellwood and completed its two-month, cutting-edge PTSD/OSI program. Johannes got off the drugs — to some degree.

“It didn’t click in that alcohol was a problem, just drugs,” says Johannes. “So, I stopped the drugs. I was off the drugs for a good eight, nine months. But, as soon as I got out of Bellwood, I was drinking the same day. I thought I was sober. I was telling everyone I was sober.”

Anyone who believes they are sober when they are drinking alcohol is destined to revisit their addiction, it seems. At least, that is the way it was for Johannes. Within a year, he was back into drugs, all of it, except for the needles.

“Of course, my doctor at that point cut me off my meds [from] the car accident. So, I had to get all my opiates from the street. I got into heroin. Heroin is cheaper. I was doing lines of heroin and fentanyl patches. Smoking fentanyl patches. What a big mess.”

“I’d reached a point in my life where I was now stealing from big-box stores. Going into Walmart with a shopping cart and coming out with two big 60-inch TVs, going to get a fast $500 bucks from dealers [who] buy them. At that point, my habit per day was a good $400-$500 I needed just for myself.”

Another prison sentence. Another year in jail. Johannes received visits from ministers, and he began trying to get his head around changing his life. A fellow veteran-turned monk visited him weekly and got him into meditation. Again, he intended to stay sober and reclaim his life. His pension contributions were banked while he served his prison time. He got out to $30,000 – a powerful reason to lose, or not lose, control.

“The very first day I got out of jail, one of my drug connections met me at the parking lot and drove me to town. Everyone was doing drugs. I said, ‘Okay, just give me a little piece of the fentanyl.’ I smoked a little piece of the fentanyl, and 25 days and an overdose later, I’d spent $30,000. I got arrested on my birthday. There I was, back in jail. Really, really coming down off the fentanyl like you wouldn’t believe. For about two weeks, I couldn’t sleep. All that good stuff that goes with it.”

He spent his final month in jail, in hell. He had no reason to live.

“That was my ultimate bottom. I was in there for a month. I was trying to hang myself in the washroom with bedsheets. I just wanted to die. I just didn’t want to be in my own skin.”

He reached out to Veterans Affairs one more time, and to Vets Canada. He was given another reprieve, put up in a hotel and fed while a bed was readied for him, one more time, at Bellwood. His third and final kick at the can. He knew it.

He completed six weeks at Bellwood and was offered an opportunity to come to Edgewood for Extended Care. Understandably, his Ontario clinicians thought leaving the province would be a wise move. He had also just finished an anger management course at Bellwood and was practicing meditation daily. Johannes agreed, and, in May 2016, he arrived in a province he’d never been to, in a town with literally hundreds of alumni, sober, connected, and supportive. He has never looked back.

First off, his counselor was a fellow veteran. Ryan Tompkins served 23 years, retiring as a Chief Petty Officer First Class.

“I felt like [I was at] home right away. A fellow vet in authority. I felt comfortable,” Johannes says.

And, the Extended Care program was exactly what was needed, he says.

“It gave me the structure which I so craved. It helped me plan my life. I learned how to live. I didn’t know how to do that before. I didn’t know how to wake up at a certain time and to actually get things done. To live. To actually plan my day. And to socialize and not isolate.”

He was recommended to take up yoga, which he did with vigor. He learned more about what makes him tick, all the while attending Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings five times a week in and around Nanaimo.

“I had a lot of anger. I had used anger all these years to hide every other emotion. Now I know why. To hide my fear and what have you.”

He got himself a sponsor. Lived in a sober house. And, finally, after 10 months, two treatment centre programs in two provinces later, Johannes moved out to a small town within an hour or so of his most recent alma mater rehabilitation centre. Later this month, he expects to attend Edgewood’s monthly Cake Night celebration and claim his two-year medallion.

“I love Edgewood,” he says with an unmistakable sincerity. “I feel like they always accept me. I’m always welcome there. They’re just so nice all the time to me. They always give me compliments when I go in. They always say how good I’m looking. They always try to bring me up.”

These days, Johannes is keeping a low profile, but not so low he isn’t connected. To his friends. His support system. To Edgewood. To family.

He receives a modest pension for his military service, and the PTSD that came with it.

“They don’t foresee me working at all,” he says. “My PTSD level is quite high. They’re going to leave me alone right now, let me do my thing. Just stay sober.”

Living in a small town with one stoplight is right up the alley for this minister’s son.

“I love it. I’m a country boy, so this is right up my alley. I don’t have a driver’s license as of yet, so there’s a city bus that goes right by my house to town,” he says.

“I got a mountain bike, so I’m always on my bike. I got lots of sober friends that will drive me around. I get around just fine.”

There are good days and bad days, he says, though, “the bad days are very few and far between now.”

“A bad day? Well, it might just look like I sleep in. Feel angry. I want to isolate. I might go into mental relapse. It’s moreso [that] the anger comes back. I’ve got to keep my anger in check because that’s old behavior.”

But he doesn’t want to dwell on the negative days when there is so much peace in life now. He practices yoga and meditation daily and is always looking forward to the next local meditation workshops.

“I’m always out in nature. On my paddleboard or on my kayak, mountain biking. I got a ski pass, so I spent almost 40 days up on the mountain this season. I go to yoga all the time. I’m now dating my yoga teacher. She lives down the road,” he says with grin.

He makes coffee for his 12 Step groups, puts away chairs, and is volunteering for their annual rally. Like Bellwood, Edgewood recently launched its own Concurrent Trauma and Addiction program for first responders and military men and women. This pleases Johannes, and he is obviously highly recommending it for those who have worn uniforms, and who have seen and endured more than can be expected without residual effects.

“If I’m coming in with trauma and I’m a soldier, that C-TAP program is very important. It’s important to have people around me who can relate to me. Who are on my level. Especially being a soldier with trauma. We relate to each other much more than civilians. I feel comfortable talking to you because you are a veteran yourself. That’s the way it is.”

And, if at first you don’t succeed, remember to keep at it, he says.

“Well, for me, three tries is quite a magical number. So, I say to anyone there is hope past the anger. There is hope past the isolation. I was isolating too much. There is comfortability after isolating. It comes easier after time. Have patience. It’s all about the patience. Little bits. Little bits at a time.”

In the end, Johannes has come full cirlcle. A quiet life. A handful of good friends. The outdoors. Love. And a returning, deepening faith with a power greater than himself. He’s never been more at peace.

“You don’t need to fight addiction all alone. You just need to ask for help and get curious about a higher power.”


By Jeff Vircoe

Shirley Bob retires – Staff Story

One of the great characters of Edgewood is leaving.

After warming hearts and filling tummies of vulnerable patients for over 15 years, Shirley Bob has decided it’s the right time to hand in her cook’s whites.

The Snaw-naw-as First Nations elder is 70, and is frank about the reasons for packing it in.

“My body is giving up. My hands. The orders that you have to put away, picking up the boxes of carrots, potatoes, celery, onions. I suffer two days later with sore arms, and my hands are beginning to cramp. And my legs too. My body is saying enough. Go home now.”

With her quick smile and sarcastic wit, Bob started at Edgewood in the maintenance department in 2002, but was quickly moved by the late Jane Ferguson, founder of Edgewood, to the kitchen. Bob had an extensive background in cooking, having completed the year long Cook Training Program at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University) in 1982.

It was clear from the get go she didn’t quite know what she was getting herself into when she showed up at the House of Miracles, as Edgewood is affectionately known.

“I seen it in the newspaper. And I said to myself, hey if I get my foot into an old people’s home I’m happy. So I come here and I see, wow, the doors are locked. I come in and I say good morning to one gentleman. He grumbled at me. Wow, happy people, hey?”

“I worked one month as home making, (maintenance), until late Jane spotted my papers and threw me in the kitchen,” said Bob.

Bob brought a diverse and often called upon presence to the kitchen at Edgewood, now called Bridges Dining. As a First Nation elder, and someone very active in her culture and traditions, she offered a unique bonding opportunity whenever patients with aboriginal backgrounds came into treatment. Her story, and her ancestral lineage are fascinating.

Bob was raised on the Snaw-naw-as reservation in Nanoose Bay, B.C., about a 15 minute drive north of the treatment centre. The Nanoose First Nations, located between Nanaimo and Parsksville, includes a population of 210 Coast Salish people on the reserve and at least 60 off reserve. The traditional territory of the Nanoose people comprised of more than 3,000 hectares, though the reservation includes roughly 50 hectares.

She is the daughter of the late Thomas Edgar Bob Sr., a hereditary chief held in high regard of the Coast Salish people. He passed at age 91 in 2004. Her father’s father, Snaw-naw-as Bob, was also a hereditary chief.

“Hereditary chiefs carry the responsibility of ensuring the traditions, protocols, songs, dances of the community, which have been passed down for hundreds of generations, are respected and kept alive. They are caretakers of the people and the culture, according to Bob Joseph who explained the position in a 2016 blog post at Indigenous Corporate Training (

As the daughter of a chief, Shirley Bob likes to remind friends playfully, she is in fact “a princess.”

She was raised with four sisters and two bothers, and has two sons, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren of her own. Two other sons have passed away.

Though there was alcohol in her upbringing, it was not as damaging to her as some of the harshness she and her siblings were experiencing outside of her home.

“We lived on the reserve. We tried coming this way, into Nanaimo, to go to school, but they were too prejudiced. Parsksville wasn’t. So we went to school that way. Parksville was really good. They treated you like human beings – except when you were competing in sports,” she recalls.

But alcohol did become a factor in her life. She won’t go into details about it. Suffice to say  “It was in my family. Still is.”

At one point in her 20s she became an addictions counselor for her people, having been through an intense training program at Kakwis on Meares Island, off Tofino. The facility was on the site of the former Christie Indian Residential School. She would take clients to workshops to help them deal with their issues. She would also go on to work for two years at the First Nations treatment centre at Tsow Tun Le Lum on her reserve.

At age 33, looking at the face of her youngest son, Shirley faced her own addiction issues.

“I’m looking at him and I say my son can’t grow up like this. So I quit. Just like that. I shut it down,” she says. “I did it for my son. I did not want him growing up smelling ashtrays or the stink of stale beer spilled on the floor. Or having to pick up empties.”

To a thunderous applause, in 2006 she accepted a 25 year medallian at an Edgewood Cake Night celebration. She remains abstinent to this day.

Bob spent many years cooking for cultural gatherings in the Long House on the reserve, as well as in Big Houses in Nanaimo and Chemainus Bay. She likes to tell the story of how in the 1980s, she and two other women were once chosen to be part of a major celebration of First Nations culture held for thousands at BC Place in Vancouver. Arriving at the big dome from her little reservation with a belief that she was pretty good in the kitchen, she found her brothers and sisters from other tribes were more than capable themselves.

“I knew how to clean fish. I was watching and they would (swish sound), skinned it. I said may I try that, they said nope. They wouldn’t let me try that. All they wanted me to do was to cut the ends off that they didn’t need – the fins and that. One man said “Can you do that without hurting yourself?” I looked at him and said are we being sarcastic? He said “Yeah. Can you take it?” I said oh yeah. He was a comical guy. He said ‘The reason I’m saying that is because these knives are really sharp.” In typical cheeky fashion, Shirley asked “You got steel gloves?”

“But I got through it. That was an honor to cook there,” she recalls with a smile.

That bluntness and willingness to tell it like it is has been a refreshing and appreciated aspect of Shirley Bob’s personality.

“The First Nations patients, I go out and I greet them. I say do this, do that. And I do everything with them – I try to,” she says. “Some of them are good. Some of them you can’t get through to them.”

She recalls one man who came to treatment from the Northwest Territories and wasn’t a fan of therapeutic duties, especially in the kitchen (which most alumni recall as solid team and esteem building exercises).

“I could here was him saying, they are picking on us First Nations. I’d say No they’re not! He’d say “Yes they are. They’re making us slaves. I’d say I’ll get to you later.

“I stopped him and I explained to him First Nations are not picked on here. They are treated like the rest of the people. Orientals aren’t picked on. Nobody is picked on. You got to do your share, yes. But you will learn. You are in the kitchen now. You start from the dishes, to dining area, to kitchen help, mopping the floors in the evening. Mopping there. You got to go through all those steps. Nobody is picking on you. You’ve got breakfast lunch and supper. He said thanks.”

“I said look at my skin. I’m telling you what to do. Are you mad? He said no. I said well grow up.”

“So he started understanding. What a guy,” she says with smile and a shake of her head.”

For his part, Bob’s supervisor, Bridges manager Clay Sanders, says it’s not just the First Nations cultural aspects that made her such a valuable member of the Bridges Dining team.

“She’s a hugely interesting woman. She’s probably the most grounded employee I’ve got,” says Sanders. “I see calmness. I see an acceptance.”

He told how Shirley was a vital component a few years previous when a decision was made to smudge the kitchen and dining room area in First Nations tradition. And how another time she was instrumental in the provision of a just-like-home-cooked-dinner for a host of Nunavut patients who had arrived at Edgewood.

“I had to source some Cariboo,” says Sanders. “We ended up going through Rankin Inlet and getting it from the Trappers Association. So they shipped us a couple of boxes of frozen Cariboo. Shirley was a big part of that dinner and made some scow (bannock) bread as well.”

“If there’s anything I ever need from her, she would have no hesitation. She would give you the shirt off her back. She reminds me of my mom. A very dignified lady with a hell of a sense of humor.”

As she prepares to retire, Shirley says she wants to down size her house, and spend more time with her grandchildren. She will continue to help out at First Nations and family events and celebrations, on the Island reserves when asked, and in the school districts.

And she says she’s always available to work as a fill in for Edgewood if needed, though Sanders isn’t buying that willingness just yet. He’s seen others retire from kitchens.

“When I phone her and say hey Shirley, can I get you to cover a shift for me? I expect all I’m going to hear is her giggling. Before the no.”

For her part Shirley wanted to make sure all the staff and patients who came through Edgewood during her time know how much she appreciated working at the centre.

“I love all of the staff. It was so nice to work with every one of them. They had nice, touching smiles. They were friendly. They were all friendly. At least they said good morning!”

And the clients?

“I loved working with the patients. You see them come in, and two weeks later you see such a difference in them. Different expressions. They’re coming alive. That’s what I love to see. I’m going to miss that.”

“It’s been awesome. I came here to relax. It is a soothing place. Really soothing. To me it has been.”


By Jeff Vircoe