Duncan’s honourees share a birthplace

The three individuals honoured by Duncan City council at Monday night’s annual award ceremony have more than one thing in common.

All three share a deep appreciation for the Cowichan Valley and a dedication to its residents. By sheer coincidence, all three – Scroll of Honour recipient Jack Faber, Perpetual Sportsmanship Trophy recipient Louise Hamilton, and Perpetual Arts Trophy recipient Nick Versteeg – were also born in the Netherlands and eventually called the Valley home.

Faber, who turned 81 in July, was recognized for his extensive commitment as a volunteer, specifically for his 15 years with the Red Cross Health Equipment Loan Program Depot in Duncan. After he retired from his job as a millwright at Buckerfield’s Mill, Faber found his new calling with the HELP program, repairing and maintaining wheelchairs, walkers and other medical equipment.

"He always loved fixing things," Faber’s wife, Eileen said. "No matter what I broke around the house, I never worried because he could fix it."

Both Jack and Eileen went above and beyond their volunteer positions, Coun. Sharon Jackson noted, presenting the award.

"Jack has always gone the extra mile when it comes to helping the vulnerable residents of Duncan," she said. "The Duncan HELP Depot, currently located on York Road, is mostly operated by volunteers. Because of this, the Depot is not able to offer delivery and pickup services for clients, most of whom are seniors. Hand-in-hand with his wife, Eileen, Jack took up the initiative to deliver the equipment to the clients’ houses." The Perpetual Sportsmanship Trophy was awarded posthumously to Hamilton, a longtime swimming teacher in the Valley, who died in July from complications from a stroke she suffered last March.

Born Louise Heppenstrydt, she came to Canada in 1954, living most of the rest of her life in the Cowichan Valley. Hamilton taught thousands of children and adults to swim at locations from Brentwood College School to Maple Bay Beach and Cowichan Lake, and was instrumental in getting the Aquannis Centre, the predecessor to today’s Cowichan Aquatic Centre, built.

She was honoured throughout her life with a range of awards from the Red Cross and the Government of Canada. When she retired, Hamilton was the oldest certified active lifeguard in Canada.

Her daughter, Nancy Hamilton, accepted the award on Monday.

"We are really honoured," she said. "I know mom would have been honoured. She loved this community and the people in it."

Hamilton was committed to the water right up until she died.

"After the stroke, she was back at it," Nancy recalled. "She decided to teach herself how to walk and swim again. She persevered."

Versteeg moved to Canada in 1976 where he attended film school in Vancouver. He went on to produce and direct documentaries for AE, the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, CTV, CBC, Global and the Food Network, winning four Leo Awards and being twice nominated for Gemini Awards. His documentaries Island on the Edge and Food Security: It’s In Your Hands are screened at venues around the world.

In 2013, Versteeg and his Cowichan Bay neighbour, composer and arranger Eric Smith, created Once Upon a Day in Cowichan, a documentary that chronicles and celebrates the Valley. He recently premiered his latest work, Seventy-One Years: The Loss and Discovery of Avro Anson L7056, which chronicles the disappearance of a plane and four Commonwealth airmen on Vancouver Island in 1943 and their discovery in 2014.

He is now working on the story of the Malahat highway. The region continues to inspire him.

"I reached retirement age in July, but I will never retire," he said. "This is a great place to work."

It takes an entire community to produce epics like Once Upon a Day in Cowichan, he noted.

"Yes, I’m the catalyst, but that’s what I love about this place," he said. "We give so we can also enjoy."

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