James Hägglund was born in Estevan Sask. As a child of Salvation Army Officer parents, family relocation was the norm. Never remaining in one place more than two years was standard and the family lived in all the provinces of Canada excluding Newfoundland. “I learned to have acquaintances and not friends,” James shared.
It was while the family was living in St. John N.B. that James met his wife-to-be, Gwen. His family traveled from their home to Amherst N.S. to attend a meeting. It was there that a 12- year-old Gwen caught young James’ eye, and he advised her that she was going to marry him.
The family moved back to Saskatchewan, and Gwen was never far from James’ mind. They kept in touch through long-distance correspondence, and it was years later in one of these letters that James’ proposed, and Gwen accepted. He laughs as he refers to her as “his mail order bride.” After a brief engagement the couple was married in 1973.
James’ enrolled in the military, with the goal of attending university. He set off to Cornwallis for basic training, however after completion, he was denied entry into university as he had by then reached the age of 20.
Leaving the military, James’ worked in Sackville as a metal press operator and then as a milkman. James and Gwen welcomed their first daughter, and decided to return to Saskatchewan. “God provides,” he says as he recalls how they made the trip in their Volkswagen, with little money. When the car broke down in Sioux St. Marie Ont., he had enough money for the repairs and a hotel room. With little money left, the family arrived at their friend’s home in Regina. After an overnight rest, James’ left the family for the day. By the end of that day, he had secured an apartment and a job with Regina Cartage, and still had $20 remaining.
A 10-year run as a baker at Dad’s Cookies followed, and upon its closure, one year with Panbrook, until that company closed as well. During this time, the family welcomed their second daughter.
James explains that it was during a meeting at the Emanuel Baptist Church that the Holy Spirit told him it was time to return to the Salvation Army. After the meeting, he and Gwen went for a drive, and he explained that he needed to tell her something. Gwen was adamant that she needed to speak to him first, and told James how she had received the message from the Holy Spirit during the meeting that it was time to return as well. With the support of, and a letter of recommendation from the minister of the church, James and Gwen started the process to become Salvation Army Officers.
Two years of intensive training with the Salvation Army and a year of university-level training followed resulting in James obtaining a BA in Biblical Studies and Social Work as well as certification in Non-profit Management Skills and Addiction Counseling.
Appointments followed in Yorkton Sask., Saskatoon Addiction Rehabilitation, Hamilton, Toronto, Saskatoon, North Battleford, Vancouver Harbour Lights, Kitchener Ont., Medicine Hat, Langley and for the past 2.5 years, Fernie.
The longest appointments for Majors James and Gwen was seven years running a halfway house for individuals coming out of federal penitentiaries. James laughs, “I probably spent more time behind bars with no record than most inmates have.” He recalls this as life changing for those he worked with. “There can be change and transformation. None of us should be judged by the worst thing we have ever done.”
Fernie is the smallest community the Hägglunds have lived in, but “it is filled with so many nice people.” Recognizing that continuing to care for others is what cements a community, James avows, “It is most important to have love for Jesus Christ and your fellow man.”
A spiritual community leader, Major James Hägglund is this week’s “face of the valley.”