Writings

The heartbreak and healing of a child’s tears

Posted on by

Feb. 3, 2015 – The sun beat down on our backs as we knelt in the warm grass, numb and staring through tears into the dark cavity of earth that lay before us, at the silver urn resting inside.

A shudder at my side drew my attention into two wide eyes brimming with heartache, trying to understand this loss. My boy.

Just one year earlier, he had stood at the same gravesite and watched as the ashes of his 25-year-old uncle were lowered into the ground. Alex had fallen from an escalator and spent 10 harrowing days in ICU at the Foothills Hospital before drawing his last ragged breath.

It had been difficult for a four-year-old to comprehend. Not only was death an unfamiliar, foreign concept, but Uncle Alex had enjoyed a busy life and was only present at family dinners and holidays. Saying he was gone forever was an intangible reality.

But this year was different.

This was Uncle Ty Ty. His Big Buddy.

Just one year after losing his brother, Tyler collapsed at work, the victim of a heart attack caused by a then-undiagnosed heart condition with which he had been born.

He was 30 years old.

For five-year-old Christian, the loss struck a devastating blow.

Uncle Ty had always held a special place in the heart of his only nephew. He had lived three blocks away when Christian was born in Lethbridge, and frequented our house for home-cooked meals whenever he needed to ditch the student diet. The two formed a tight bond.

Christian admired his uncle, and raved about how funny and crazy he was.

So when he looked into that gaping hole the ground, and realized that the six-foot tall teddy bear had been reduced to the contents of a one-foot silver urn, the truth cast a shadow on his life.

The look of pure desolation and hopelessness on his innocent face etched itself on my mind’s eye, and will haunt my memory forever.

In the days that followed, exciting things happened for Christian. He began kindergarten, the bright red cast that had hindered the last half of his summer holiday was removed from his arm, and he started swimming lessons.

But that shadow lurked at every turn. If he heard Lynyrd Skynyrd sing Free Bird, he would dissolve into silent tears. It was the song used in the slideshow that played at the funeral and will forever be labelled as “Uncle Ty’s song.”

My heart broke for him on a daily basis. I wondered how the world could be cruel enough to subject my children to these overwhelming losses at such young ages. There were people my own age that had never experienced grief – but my kids had already mourned twice in one year.

Not a day went by that I didn’t ache for my son, or question how long it would take for his little heart to mend. I still struggled to fill the black holes formed by loss with the beautiful sunshine of memory. I could not imagine how difficult it was for a child to cope with grief.

But I was pleasantly surprised. After two weeks, Free Bird elicited a smile. He looked at me one day and said, “I like listening to this song, Mommy. Because it makes Uncle Ty Ty come back.”

He proudly chose a frame at the store that reads “Friends,” and placed a photo inside: a picture taken at Mother’s Day, three months before we lost Tyler, of the two of them sitting on a branch in my parents’ back yard. Christian is gripping his uncle’s arm and grinning widely, proud to be sitting in a tree with his Big Buddy.

Now, almost three years later, he speaks freely about his uncle. He will say things like, “I wish Uncle Ty Ty didn’t have to die, but I know he’s my guardian angel.”

Or, “When I see my uncles again, I’m going to be as tall as they are.”

Remarkably, he has helped me through my own grieving process. I find strength in my boy, in hearing his courageous and insightful words, in seeing him heal.

My son’s grief educated me, taught me true strength. I only wish he could have learned this lesson later in life.

But he will forever be resilient, sensitive, and understanding. He will always know never to take a moment for granted. He will always cherish everything that he has, and everyone who he loves.

Because grief is fleeting, but its effects last a lifetime.

Investors continue testifying against Capital Alternatives founders

Posted on by

Apr. 16, 2014 – Investors in the company Capital Alternatives signed paperwork without understanding its purpose and had difficulty retrieving their funds, according to testimony heard on Wed. April 9, 2014.

Stephen Kendall and Chris Houston, two founders of investment company Capital Alternatives, stand accused of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud.

Crown witness Cynthia Schug said she was convinced by colleague Margaret Sincovich to invest with Capital Alternatives in 2000 with the promise of rolling funds into the overseas gold company, Syndicated Gold Depository S.A. (SGD).

Schug was assured that she would be paid 3% of her investment balance per month in interest, a sum which would allow her to retire early.

“Being single, I was thinking I could take care of my mom and dad and not worry about money,” Schug said.

“I took my pension that Nortel had paid us out, which was around $50,000 and put that in, and then $25,000 in Nortel shares that we got when we worked for the company.”

Having attended a meeting with Gary Sorenson, a representative of SGD, Schug was convinced to take out a line of credit of $80,000 against her house to invest more money with Capital Alternatives.

After paying her membership and legal fees to Capital Alternatives, the second amount actually invested came to just under $42,000.

Schug recognized her own handwriting on the original investment documents, but could not identify the writing on many subsequent contracts and documents that transferred her money to different accounts, reinvesting the funds into SGD and tracking her funds overseas.

According to Schug, she only attended a few public meetings, and dealt primarily with Sincovich, who handled a lot of her paperwork on behalf of Capital Alternatives.

Schug had never met Kendall or Houston, and admitted that their names were unfamiliar.

Statements received in the mail proved that Schug’s money was accruing interest and that her balance was increasing.

By February 2002, Schug had a balance of over $135,000 and wanted to withdraw a portion of her investment to pay off her debt from purchasing a new car.

“I was having trouble getting the money out, and Margaret was helping me, but we weren’t getting anywhere and we started getting nervous,” Schug said.

“[Margaret] said that we needed to get our money out of there.”

Schug sent four written requests to release her money from Capital Alternatives and SGD to the company accountants in the U.S. over the course of five months, without response.

“Margaret was setting [the money] up to be wired into Yugoslavia and then Montenegro, but the company was saying ‘if you take the money out of our company we can’t guarantee it,’” Schug said.

“Basically, if they lost my money they wouldn’t be responsible.”

Schug was guided by Sincovich to write a letter to one of the heads of Capital Alternatives, Steve, but was given no last name.

By September 2002, Schug had been told that her money was no longer with SGD, but there was no evidence of its arrival in the Montenegro account.

“It was lost,” Schug said.

“Now I owe the government money because of investing some of my RRSP that I thought I could pay back with my monthly payments from SGD, and I had to remortgage my house because of my stupidity of taking money against it.”

Defense counsel Valfour Der Q.C. questioned Schug’s decision to reinvest her money from SGD to Yugoslavia, rather than having the entire amount returned to her personally.

“I was in debt, and the idea was to continue on making money, so I wouldn’t lose anything and I could pay everything back,” Schug said.

According to crown prosecutor Tyler Lord, Schug is one of nearly fifty investors testifying against Kendall and Houston.

“We’ve probably heard from over 20 already, and we’ve got at least another two weeks’ worth of witnesses to call in this fraud trial,” Lord said.

Kendall and Houston have pled not guilty to their charges and await a decision by Chief of Justice McIntyre, which should be made early in May.

Ring road completion plans revealed

Posted on by

Nov. 4, 2014 – The City of Calgary and Alberta Transportation teamed up to unveil plans for the completion of the Calgary ring road, or Stoney Trail, on Oct. 28.

The open house, which took place in the British House at Spruce Meadows, drew the interest of hundreds of Calgarians and M.D. of Foothills residents.

Many residents do not approve of the development plans, or the way the city and province have chosen to reveal them.

“I’m not sure why we weren’t brought in earlier than this, during the planning stages,” argues Margot Cooke, a resident of Somerset.

“I would have raised my opposition then.

“But instead they’re just telling us the way it is and we can’t do anything about it.”

The plans for finishing Calgary’s ring road were finalized over the past year, after the province successfully struck a deal with the Tsuu T’ina nation to build the freeway west of the city in the Weaselhead natural area.

According to Kamran Mirza, an engineer for Alberta Transportation, the Tsuu T’ina were given $275 million in compensation for their land, an additional $65 million for moving and other expenses, and about 2,150 hectares of property.

“In return, [the province] received the 425 hectares of land we needed for construction,” explains Mirza.

“It was a good deal, and everyone was satisfied in the end.”

But some residents do not agree that the construction of the ring road will be beneficial to their neighbourhoods, and took the opportunity to voice their opinion at the open house.

“It’s taken away the community’s access to the east,” asserts Carl Duddin, an angry resident of Silverado, on the city’s southwest perimetre.

With an exchange being built at Spruce Meadows Way and a major interchange at Macleod Trail, the province could not provide easy access from Silverado, which falls directly between the two overpasses, onto the ring road.

Residents in the community must travel south to 194 Ave.S.W., or north to 162 Ave. S.W., and access the ring road from Macleod Trail.

“I can see it discouraging people from buying there, and affecting house prices in a bad way.

“To me, there are other corridors that could house these roads, and the plans could have gone differently.”

The City of Calgary will be developing and improving many of its roads to allow for easier traffic flow in situations such as the access from Spruce Meadows and Silverado.

Those developments include interchanges within the city limits, such as at Spruce Meadows and Bow Trail, and the widening of Glenmore Trail to six lanes between 37 Ave. S.W. and Crowchild Trail, to accommodate heavy traffic flow.

“In total, the budget and funds that are required for our 11 connections were approved by council in spring 2014 at $130 million as part of the Investing in Mobility program,” discloses Ryan Murray, communications consultant for the city’s transportation department.

“We feel that we’re getting a lot of positive feedback, as a whole, and the project is very exciting.”

Though the city will be responsible for the construction of connecting roads and improvements within its limits, the bulk of the project is province-driven.

“Overall, our high-level cost will be $4 or 5 billion,” reveals Mirza.

“And best-case scenario, we will have everything built and running smoothly by 2020.”

The duration of construction is a major concern for many citizens, primarily those who reside in the M.D. of Foothills and surrounding areas.

“I live in Priddis,” said Phil Wadsworth.

“My primary issue will be during the construction process and the disruption of my travels for work.”

Others are concerned about the re-direction of the Elbow River, just south of Highway 8.

“I don’t think we should be messing with nature and inviting flood issues,” declares Samuel Doerksen, who has resided in Lakeview for more than 20 years.

Provincial authorities assured the public that the “retraining” of the river would not impact the environment or increase the risk of flooding in the area.

“It’s actually being diverted back into an old channel,” said Josh Bolderheij of CH2M Hill, who has been consulting with the province throughout the planning process.

“We’re making sure to add an equal length of river as we fill, and [we intend] to make the transition as seamless as possible for wildlife.

“There should not be any real impact on the environment or the river habitat.”

Despite some disagreement with certain aspects of the plan, most residents attending the open house were pleased with what they saw and recognized the long-term benefits of the ring road construction.

“I think it’s a very necessary program and I totally support it,” expresses Wadsworth.

“- – Even though it will take me longer to get to work for a few years.”

Continuing the Marathon of Hope: one man’s lifelong commitment to the Terry Fox Run

Posted on by

On a sunny Sunday morning, Sept. 14, 2014, cancer survivor Terry Gardner completed the Terry Fox Run in Okotoks, Alta. It was his twenty-ninth run.

Gardner was inspired to join the Terry Fox Run as a means of helping others when he suddenly found himself fighting a rare and dangerous form of cancer.

At age 18, Gardner was in his first year of university when persistent pain in his leg compelled him to visit a doctor. His life was changed forever.

He was told that he suffered from a pulled muscle, and he was sent away twice, before his doctor ordered blood and urine tests, and an x-ray scan.

In February 1985, Gardner was told he had Ewing’s sarcoma.

A highly aggressive bone cancer, Ewing’s sarcoma offered Gardner a fearsome prognosis. Survival rate of the cancer was less than 3 per cent.

“It’s fairly rare and has a fairly low survival rate,” Gardner discloses.

Doctors put Gardner on a strict drug regime that included 15 rounds of chemotherapy at three-week intervals, and 20 rounds of radiation therapy.

“So I had a great tanned leg for about 15 years,” Gardner laughs.

He underwent a new form of chemotherapy, being the 50th person in Canada to receive the intense and invasive treatment which required the removal of Gardner’s bone marrow.

 

“It’s the type of chemotherapy that requires you to be in hospital for a month, because they basically try to kill you,” Gardner explains.

 

“In my case, they stripped out all of my bone marrow and then gave it back to me afterwards, because otherwise it would sterilize the bone marrow and [I’d] have no blood.”

 

After undergoing surgery to remove the affected bone, muscle, and some of the tendons in his right leg, doctors performed a biopsy to determine that the cancer was dead.

 

Gardner was declared to be in remission, until another tumour was discovered nine months later. Like Terry Fox, his cancer had metastasized to his lungs.

 

He underwent another radiation regime to thwart the cancer.

 

“This time it was just small enough that they could nuke it for about a month,” Gardner recalls.

 

“So I’d go to university and then I’d go have a radiation treatment, and go back to the university.”

 

After five years, Gardner was deemed to be cancer-free, although the effects of his disease will haunt him forever.

 

Once boasting thick and wavy hair, Gardner now has thin and fine locks as a result of his treatments.

 

His red blood cell count is perpetually low, despite the supplements he takes to counteract the deficiency, and his lungs will always be more susceptible to infection.

 

The common cold posing a significant threat to his immune system.

 

“I’ll never be considered to be absolutely healthy,” Gardner muses.

 

“Every day, every time I stand up, every time I sit down, every time I walk, I have a reminder of it.”

 

Despite the fact that walking has been difficult for him since his diagnosis and treatment, Gardner continues to do the Terry Fox Run every year.

 

The idea came to him as he was undergoing chemotherapy back in 1985. At one appointment, Gardner lifted a binder that held his chart, and read what one resident had written in his file: “Cut off the affected limb and tell the parents to buy a pine box.”

 

Gardner was determined to alter that prognosis.

 

“I was facing my mortality.”

 

“A lot of people come up with bucket lists, but I went a slightly different route. I said, ‘What is it I want to do after I beat cancer?’”

 

The answer was that he wanted to help others, as he had been helped through his illness and treatment, and he began to do the Terry Fox Run in support of cancer research.

 

Gardner has received considerable support for his run each year from his family, friends, and colleagues.

 

“I average about $2,000 or $3,000 per year,” Gardner says.

 

“People give me $100 or $50, so it’s a large number of small donations.”

 

This year, Gardner began to campaign a little later than usual, and will collect about $2,000 in total.

 

Sherry Heron has organized the Terry Fox Run in Okotoks for the past three years, and raves about the hard work Gardner puts into his run each year, and the massive support he receives.

 

“We usually have an average of 100 people show up for [the run], and this year we did $4,000,” Heron boasts.

 

“But Terry is the major contributor to that amount. He brought in about half of our total this year alone.

 

“I hope he continues with the run. He inspires us all.”

 

Robin Platz, Gardner’s wife and one of his greatest moral supporters, encourages him through the run every year.

 

“It is dear to our hearts because it hits so close to home,” Platz explains.

 

“And despite sometimes the challenges, there’s still a lot of blessings that come of it.”

 

Gardner takes part in the Terry Fox Run no matter the weather; three years ago he participated on a particularly cold and rainy day.

 

“Both of my legs were cramping up as I was finishing, so I could barely walk at the end,” Gardner recalls with a wince.

 

Platz met him at the end of the walk with a fresh, hot cup of Tim Horton’s coffee – his favourite java – and a smile.

 

“I knew he would need me to be there at the end with something warm and positive,” Platz smiles.

 

“He inspires me every day, and I do what I can for him.”

 

Gardner is no stranger to completing the run in inclement weather and unusual circumstances.

 

He recalls flying home from Aberdeen on a Saturday and doing the run the next day. He has been out of town and had someone turn in his form by proxy, completing an outline of the route and doing the Terry Fox Run alone when he returned home weeks later.

 

“It comes down to just a lot of walking,” Gardner grins.

 

“I’ve done some with friends. Robin’s come with me. I’ve done it alone. I’ve gone when it’s been snowing, when it’s been raining, when it’s been sunny.

 

“There’s some I’ve raised $4,000 for and some I’ve raised $500 for.

 

“But you’ve got to do the walk.”

 

Gardner is committed to the Terry Fox Run, and plans to continue doing the walk. The year 2015 will mark his thirtieth consecutive walk, an outstanding statistic.

 

He attributes his survival to Terry Fox’s original Marathon of Hope, the 1980 journey that raised more than $20 million for cancer research. New drug treatments were developed with those funds, which were used to fight the Ewing’s sarcoma with which Gardner had been diagnosed.

 

The odds of surviving Ewing’s sarcoma are now 65 per cent, or 25 per cent for metastasized cancer.

 

“That’s because of the money that Terry raised,” Gardner says, vowing that he is now trying to pay it forward.

 

“Terry’s money saved my life,” Gardner smiles.

 

“I’m trying to see if I can help save the next generation’s life.

 

“That’s what it means to me.”

A place to go, a place to grow

Posted on by

Dec. 8, 2015 – For decades, government programs and institutes have aided families in abusive situations with emergency shelters and healing programs.

Rowan House Emergency Shelter in High River has been serving and protecting women and children in the Foothills area for nine years.

According to the history information published on its website, Rowan House has admitted more than 600 women and children, and served over 400 clients through outreach programs.

“Domestic violence is one of those issues that nobody wants to admit is happening,” said Janna Bara, team lead at Rowan House.

“But it’s more common and more dangerous than most people realize.”

Bara explained that many people tend to view family violence strictly as physically abusive behaviour, but that it actually takes various forms, many of which are not physical at all.

“Abuse is a pattern of controlling behaviour,” says the Government of Alberta human services website.

“In families, an abusive person can use many tactics to gain power over another family member.”

The website lists examples of abuse. It includes verbal and emotional abuse, limiting access to finances, neglect, and damaging property in addition to more physical and threatening forms of violence.

Programming at Rowan House is intended to help women in all abusive situations gain footing in society and rebuild their lives financially, emotionally, and physically.

The current house, a new high-security building in northeast High River, opened its doors in 2012.

Government funding provides for women and children to stay at Rowan House for up to 30 days, though some stay for as little as two days and some have stayed for up to three months.

“The average is 21 days,” said Bara.

“At that time, most of our women have been able to secure safe housing, find a job, and get into a counselling routine to get them back on their feet.”

Women are engaged in programs to assess their personal and family goals, to gauge the level of danger their partner poses to them, and to gain the tools and skills necessary to get jobs and homes.

Children’s programing is also an important part of Rowan House. Behavioural issues are addressed, home schooling is offered when children are unable to attend regular school, and therapeutic child care is offered while moms attend meetings or job interviews.

Despite government assistance, Rowan House still greatly depends on the support of its local community.

Each year, the shelter runs charity golf tournaments and marathons to raise funds, in addition to their annual Hope and Healing Gala. Many local service groups also contribute to Rowan House.

“In a perfect world, we’d all like to think that abuse doesn’t happen, but the unfortunate reality is that it does, “said Robin Platz, president of the Kinette Club of High River.

“We think it’s important to support Rowan House and bring awareness to violence.”

The High River Kinettes have contributed over $2,000 to Rowan House in the past two years. A $1,500 donation came from the club’s annual Ladies Night Out event in 2012. The money was used to purchase computers and telephones for the media room at Rowan House.

The club mandate to serve women, children, and families in the Foothills area, so the High River Kinettes are eager to help institutions like Rowan House.

Rowan House gratefully accepts all contributions to its programming to provide peace, sanctuary, and privacy for women escaping abusive situations. These are all qualities of the Rowan tree for which the house is named.

As is stated on the shelter’s website, “The Rowan Tree symbolizes what we at Rowan House stand for.”

Unveiling the secret of Jackson’s Garden

Posted on by

Oct. 27, 2013 – Many people on SAIT campus walk by the Jackson Henry Henuset Memorial Garden (Jackson’s Garden) without realizing what lies beyond the wooden fence and attractive shrubbery at its border.

While passing by, most would not acknowledge how meticulously planted the plot is, what its name represents, and why the face of a young boy is etched into a stone at the entrance. Many do not see that it is a garden at all.

Chelsea Budd, first-year student in graphic communication and print technology at SAIT, has traveled the path that runs alongside the garden every day since the beginning of September without knowing that fresh herbs and vegetables flourish behind the fence.

“I just like walking here because it’s so beautiful,” Budd said.

“I thought there was just a yard on the other side of the fence or something.”

Budd was shocked to hear that there is a fully functional garden on campus, which is used by faculty and students in culinary arts programs at SAIT.

“That’s a really well-kept secret,” Budd said.

Jackson’s Garden was an initiative of Chef Andrew Hewson, instructor of culinary arts programs at SAIT. He began the process in 2006, inspired by Alice Waters, head chef of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.

“She was really the leader in organic, regional, and local food,” Hewson said.

“In the late eighties she worked with a middle school in her neighbourhood to create what she called ‘the edible schoolyard project.’”

Hewson decided that every school could benefit from a garden, and was determined to see one added to the landscape of SAIT.

“I did a proposal for the dean and he took it up the channels to get approval at the executive level,” Hewson said.

Consent to build the garden on the proposed site outside the John Ware building came 18 months later. After months of design, landscape architecture, and planning, the garden opened in the fall of 2009.

Constructing the garden took not only a significant amount of time, but also a substantial monetary investment. SAIT received a significant sponsorship to finance the building of Jackson’s Garden.

“Wayne Henuset at Willow Park donated $100,000 to build [the garden],” Hewson said.

According to the 2011 Donor Report on the SAIT alumni website, Henuset originally sponsored the outdoor classroom with the intent to name it Willow Park Garden. But just months after he donated the funds, tragedy struck the Henuset family.

The donor report explains that Jackson, two-year-old grandson of Henuset, drowned in November 2009. Henuset decided that the garden at SAIT would be a fitting memorial for his young grandson.

Thus the name Jackson’s Garden came to life, and the boy’s face was etched in stone to create the commemorative plaque that rests outside the entrance to the garden.

“It was such a sad story,” Hewson said.

“And it makes us all a little more humble every time we walk into that space.”

Hewson notes that his students have benefited significantly from the addition of Jackson’s Garden to the SAIT campus.

“So many students want to be cooks, but they have no idea what raw foods and ingredients looked like or where they came from without their handy labels and packaging,” Hewson said.

Students are involved in the planning process and grow the food themselves, pick herbs and vegetables as needed, and learn to identify the various plants grown in Jackson’s Garden.

The garden does more for the students than yield fresh produce. “It gets them inspired and thinking about food and new ways to put ingredients together,” Hewson said.

 

Each spring, volunteers join work parties to help start and prepare seeds. These groups join the students and faculty at SAIT to plant the garden in late spring and early summer.

 

“There’s a community about the space and those around it have a real passion for the project,” Hewson said.

 

Hewson has detected a slowly-increasing awareness and interest of the garden among students and faculty in other programs at SAIT as well. He has met people from all backgrounds in the garden, learning about and appreciating the plants.

 

“And with the forno oven we’ve installed, there is often outdoor cooking happening and people tend to follow their nose to us,” Hewson said with a laugh.

 

“We can usually offer them up a little snack to satisfy their curiosity.”

Married priest ordained in the face of tragedy

Posted on by

Dec. 10, 2013 – As a married man with three children, Father Stephen Smith never imagined being ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. But on July 14, 2002, he was welcomed to the church with open arms.

Smith had been ordained as an Anglican priest in 1984 after attending seminary school for eight years. During his schooling Smith met his wife Marilyn, and the couple was married in 1986. Soon afterward they became parents to Timothy, Terry, and Kathryn.

The Anglican pastor had never anticipated converting to Catholicism. But one night in 1997, while working on his weekly sermons, Smith confided to Marilyn that his heart felt uneasy. He felt as though he was being tugged in a different direction and he was not sure what that was, or why.

“Marilyn just looked at me and said, ‘Steve, it sounds like you want to be in the Catholic Church’,” Smith smiled.

“I knew right away that she was right. This had been growing in my heart for a long time.”

At that time, Smith did not consider becoming a Catholic priest. He was married with three children, which went against celibacy vows of the church.

Becoming Roman Catholic, then, would mean leaving both the Anglican Church and priesthood to become a lay person in a new denomination. In the summer of 1999, Smith met with St. James Parish priest Father Jack Bastigal, to discuss the procedure for converting the entire family to Catholicism.

“We began the RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, and we were guided through the process of moving toward Catholic Church life,” Smith explained.

Then, in December 1999, tragedy struck the Smith family.

“My entire family was in a horrific accident just before Christmas. Marilyn was air lifted to Foothills with severe brain trauma and broken bones, and the kids were taken to Alberta Children’s Hospital with serious injuries.”

The children were released from hospital three days later, but Marilyn still had not regained consciousness.

Despite the anxiety and the stress the family faced, Smith decided to continue taking the RCIA classes.

“I needed to continue my journey, and my faith was stronger than ever. I was doing this for Marilyn,” Smith said.

Five months later, Marilyn received a day pass to leave the Foothills Hospital with her nurse and attend the Easter Vigil ceremony at St. James Parish in Okotoks, where the entire Smith family was baptized and welcomed into the Roman Catholic Church.

“Our conversion was a bit of a bumpy ride,” Smith said.

“What started out fairly normal grew into something entirely different.”

Their journey had just begun. Shortly before the Smiths became full members of the Roman Catholic Church, Bastigal had approached Smith to suggest he become a Catholic priest. Smith was shocked.

“I didn’t think it was remotely possible,” he exclaimed.

With Bastigal as sponsor and guide, Smith met with Bishop Frederick Henry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary in February of 2000 and began the process of becoming a Roman Catholic priest. It took two years for Smith to be ordained. The long months of waiting included meeting with several priests in the Calgary area, completing paperwork, taking courses in Catholic theology, and training under Bastigal as a high school chaplain at Holy Trinity Academy in Okotoks.

Throughout the entire process, he was also dealing with moving his family from Calgary to Okotoks and helping them heal physically, emotionally, and mentally from the car accident.

“The journey became two-fold. I tended to Marilyn’s needs and recovery at the same time as I prepared for my vocation as a Catholic Church priest,” Smith related. “It was the end of Marilyn’s career and the beginning of a new one for me.”

In February 2002, Smith and Bastigal were summoned to the bishop’s Calgary office for a meeting. Smith’s documentation had been received and approved by Rome.

Smith was ordained quietly in a small ceremony at St. James Parish in Okotoks on a sunny Sunday afternoon in July 2002.

“It’s not that [my situation] is unusual in the church, but the media would turn it into something abnormal, which the Catholic Church wanted to avoid. So we kept it all under the radar.”

The community in Okotoks was accepting, although at first some found Smith’s situation odd in a traditional congregation. After some time, it became normal.

“I still meet people who aren’t sure how to react though,” Smith laughed. “Some say things like, ‘Oh, that’s all right,’ or ‘How’s that going for you?’

“And some say things like, ‘It’s about time the church moved forward’.”

In a second stroke of misfortune, Smith’s time as a full-time Roman Catholic celebrant was unexpectedly cut short when he became ill in 2009. One year later, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

The progression of the disease brought intense fatigue, which meant Smith had to handle stress differently and adjust his timetables and schedules to suit his fluctuating daily ability.

St. James Parish made him a dominical vicar, meaning he may perform Sunday Mass and special occasions such as weddings, funerals, or baptisms.

“I still visit homes, hospitals, and the hospice from time to time. I can’t be a 24 hours per day person in the church any more, but I’m still useful.”

After just ten years in his new calling, Smith now finds himself living the life of a retired priest. Every day is filled, but he is never as strictly scheduled as he used to be. Even with only one Mass to deliver every week or two, Smith must remain mindful of his intellectual and physical exertion, and is always careful to moderate his activity.

Mass preparations can take hours per week, with a minimum of 100 pages of reference materials to read and draw from, in addition to the constant processing of life experiences and current events.

“It’s a constant dialogue in your mind. And that can be tiring for someone like me.”

Although the schedule has changed, and the work is different, the retired Roman Catholic officiant still finds himself busy with church life and pondering the presence of God in everyday life.

“It’s not a career you retire from and just quit one day. Once you’re a priest, you’re always a priest.”

Priests are ordained for their entire lives, regardless of whether they step away from being full-time celebrants. In fact, according to Smith, some find themselves busier in retirement than in their clergy life, especially in cases where several officiants share a parish.

“There’s an old clergy joke,” Smith said with a smile.

“When a priest retires, he just goes out to pasture. That’s spelled pastor.”

Celebrating the power of the poppy

Posted on by

Nov. 19, 2013 – The Calgary Poppy Fund Campaign launched at the main court in Chinook Centre on Saturday, Oct. 25 to honour local past and present heroes.

The annual ceremony, which has been hosted by Chinook Centre for over 30 years, marked the beginning of the poppy campaign in Calgary, which aims to raise funds for local veterans.

Representatives from Scouts Canada, the Air, Sea, and Army Cadets, and the Royal Canadian Legion were led through Chinook Centre mall to the main court by bagpipers from the Calgary Scottish Society.

The colour guard and parade formed a wide circle around the court perimetre.

“We are pleased to host this fabulous and meaningful event each year,” said Peggy Lim, director of marketing for Chinook Centre.

“It’s an honour to have the ceremony here.”

Speeches by government officials and Legion members were followed by the recitation of John McCrae’s famous memorial poem, “In Flanders Fields.”

A rendition of “God Save the Queen” was played by members of the King’s Own Calgary Regiment Band and sung by the colour guard.

The ceremony attracted the attention of the public, unsuspecting shoppers who ventured into Chinook Centre and stumbled upon the service.

Hundreds of bystanders crowded behind the colour guard and pressed against the glass railing of the second level of the mall to take in the commemoration of fallen soldiers and witness the launch of Calgary’s poppy campaign.

Joey Bleviss, Legion member and Chief Administrative Officer of the Calgary Poppy Fund, explained that distributing poppies is one of the most important functions of the Royal Canadian Legion.

“The funds we raise help our local veterans, many of which either can’t get pensions at all or don’t receive much because of their disabilities,” Bleviss said.

“People need to remember that war doesn’t just kill people, it steals hearing, sight, limbs, and sometimes sanity.”

The money raised by the Calgary campaign helps local heroes who suffer from any of these ailments.

The funds are used for medical expenses and equipment, eye and dental care, food hampers and gift cards for groceries and other necessities, and home repairs.

Legion members hope to reach out to at least 1,000 veterans in need with the money raised from this year’s campaign.

Peacekeeping veteran Skip Saunders has been a member of the Legion for 32 years, and has been involved in the poppy campaign every year.

“Last year we raised over $2 million,” Saunders said proudly, wearing a box of the first of Calgary’s 2013 poppies around his neck for distribution to shoppers at the mall.

Saunders is honoured to provide poppies to the public each year and “create awareness.”

According to Bleviss, 927,000 poppies were dispersed throughout the city for the 2013 campaign.

“Imagine, if everyone who wore a poppy donated just a loonie, we would be at almost $1 million already,” Bleviss said.

“Now, considering many give more, and some less, we can usually bank on an average of $2 per poppy.

“That’s a good amount of money to help our vets.”

Visitors to Chinook Centre were not only able to make donations and receive poppies, but also to view the Legion’s memorial display.

“We are proud to house this exhibit in our main court,” said Lim.

“It draws a lot of public attention to an important part of our history, our present, and our future.”

The focal point of the tribute, a ten-foot large scroll, was inscribed with the words to McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields.”

Commemorative wreaths and oversized poppies adorned the exhibit, and an imbedded video screen displayed the biography of McCrae and memorialized Canada’s recently fallen heroes.

The Remembrance Day exhibit remained in the main court at Chinook Centre from Oct. 25 to Nov. 12.

Voters in High River have tough decisions to make

Posted on by

Oct. 22, 2013 – The town of High River is politically charged as the 2013 civic elections approach, with an unprecedented 23 candidates for town council listed on the ballot for Mon. Oct. 21.

The surge in contenders for council positions is a result of the flood disaster of June 2013.

Facing a devastated town that needs to be rebuilt and revitalized, these 23 residents and business people are vying for council positions to help High River move forward.

Ken Braat, local realtor and community volunteer, decided to run for what he hopes will be a new type of town council that is more involved with both the community and the Town of High River staff.

“I want to be part of a council that stands up,” Braat said.

“We are in a position where we need a stronger council than ever before.”

Cathy Couey, long-time resident of High River, made the final decision to enter the race for council just two days before nominations closed.

Couey had been intending to run for a position on town council, but did not expect to enter the race until the 2016 elections.

“This community means everything to me,” Couey said.

“I felt that I need to be a part of the solution, and a part of bringing High River back.”

Candidates have mixed emotions regarding the number of nominees in the race for town council.

Some believe the number of candidates indicates the commitment of High River citizens to their town.

Others are concerned that, with so many names to choose from, voters may become overwhelmed at the polls and the vote may be watered down due to the large number of candidates.

Initially, Couey feared that interest in joining the municipal government would suffer after the flood.

She was pleased to see that the number of candidates had not only risen, but that there was such overwhelming response to the race.

“It shows there is still a passion for High River,” Couey said.

Braat, however, sees the number of candidates as a potential distraction for voters.

“There are so many choices,” Braat said.

“And many people have entered the race merely out of anger after the flood, which isn’t the right reason to run.”

While flood mitigation remains a major issue for most candidates, the restoration of High River, which is slated to take years to complete, is a chief concern.

The rebuilding of High River is a main component of the duties councillors will face in the upcoming term.

Among the immediate needs in the town are improvements and repairs to infrastructure, restoration of recreation and culture, and reconfiguration of the tax base.

“The council put together now will have a huge impact on where High River goes and what the future will be,” Couey said.

“The flood will definitely impact many of the decisions that need to be made and will always be in the back of our minds, but it will not be a focal point.”

With so many residences, attractions, and businesses ravaged by the flood, the town has a long road ahead to reestablish a strong business community and invite tourism back to High River.

“This council needs to decide what it is going to take to bring confidence back to our market,” Braat said.

“By putting up strong leaders with business sense and commitment, we can build High River back up.”

All candidates are excited for the opportunity to help restore the community they love and bring a clear and united front as town council to the residents of the town.

“If I win, I won’t settle for anything less than better than it ever was before,” Couey said.

Braat is prepared for a bumpy road if he is elected to council.

“Post-flood, this is going to be the ugliest and roughest council for some time in this town’s history,” Braat said.

The town council nominees eagerly await Monday evening, and the counting of ballots.

According to Braat, this will be a different election than ever before and the results are completely unpredictable.

“It used to be a popularity contest in this town,” Braat said.

“This year, there are more professionals and real leaders entered into the race.

And with 23 of us, this town has some very tough choices to make.”

1 2