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Conversations with Mary - John Duncan

The Honourable John Duncan, Minister of Aboriginal affairs and Northern Development and MP for Vancouver Island North, fiancée Donna Richardson, Laura Smith his Policy and Regional Affairs Advisor, MP David Wilks and Cindy Wilks were at Lilac Terrace for dinner recently.

People gathered were there to “Welcome him home to his roots,” says Mayor Halko. Speaking with Councillor Fraser and Mayor Halko Minister Duncan says “My grandfather ran the bar in the Michel Hotel; my grandmother ran the dining rooms and the hotel rooms. Grandfather was 55 when dad was born, last of his siblings. Grandfather was born in 1864 in Scotland. He worked in Pennsylvania, Alberta, B.C. and China. He was superintendent of a coal mine in China and also a policeman in Shanghai. He came to Canada and dad’s sister Margaret was born in 1908. Morris Duncan was my dad, mom was a teacher, so was dad, they both came back for the 1980’s reunion, he got up and gave a speech, no preparation but he was very funny.” I remember Frank Mitchell as principal and Mrs. Bolkaren, my teacher. I remember when that house burned down, also the Venetian Hotel; I found some nickels, some money in the ashes. Then the Ice Arena burned, I found a piece of melted aluminium, blue with craters, from the Natal Arena, I kept that for years, I think I might still have it.” The tone is wistful, he continues, “Dad organized, coached, refereed and built the ice on Michel Creek, that’s where I learned to skate. Only place where you played with a white puck on black ice.  Highway three used to be the TransCanada Highway, Natal was a very significant place, I remember Trites-Wood, everyone knew everybody, parents weren’t worried to let you go out and play for hours. I spent my first eight years, the most formative years of life here, we never moved to Sparwood, we went to Kamloops for a year and then to Vancouver. Mom is 93 and still lives in her original home with a nephew and his family. When I visit there are four generations in the house.  I remember our little white house here with a steep staircase and lots of cats.” Duncan’s tone is audibly emotional as he speaks. Rosalie Fornasier of the Historical Society presents him with a photo of his former home. For Duncan, memories are the only reality of the first eight years of his life. There is nothing concrete left for him and all the others who spent memorable years in Natal, Michel and Middletown. Wistful, fragmented memories, sometimes fleeting, sometimes real, sometimes as a vignette of imagination in the mind, but all the time so precious, so significant because truly those first few years of life are the most impressionable, the most life forming, leaving experiences indelibly emblazoned in heart and mind.

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