Oepke Geert Hartman was thrilled to call Telkwa his home.
In the 54 years since he moved to this valley, he’s been involved in a great number of things, with most members of the picturesque riverside community waving hello as they went about their business.
Hartman first moved to Telkwa from his home in Veendam, Holland in 1957. In Holland, Hartman was working in a coal mine. Sick of never seeing the light of day, he decided to leave his home country, joining his aunt and uncle in a small northwestern B.C. municipality not typically found on any map.
“What was really cool was they came straight to Telkwa,” Patricia Dekens said. “They landed in Halifax and made their way straight to Telkwa.”
It was a move he instantly loved. They may have not known what Telkwa was when they first set off across the Pacific, but it’s one he and the rest of the family are glad he made.
“They really had no idea what Telkwa was all about, other than it was Canada,” Dekens said. “But he loved Telkwa.”
Settling in, he’s always been very involved with the community, Dekens said. He’d always go out of his way to sing in the church choir, he was a dedicated volunteer firefighter for years, and has served as Deputy Mayor, helping shape the community to what it is today.
“He was always sure he was back for when choir had to sing, even for practice, he just loved it,” Dekens said.
And always, there was a garden. In town, he was renowned for his garden, many years bringing his produce to the Smithers Farmers Market and showing it off at the Bulkley Valley Exhibition.
A hard worker, he quickly went to work making a living for his family, working at numerous jobs until purchasing and settling in at Midway Service.
First was the TF&M planer mill in downtown Telkwa. At one time he was in the Okanagan picking apples for some work. After that he went to Kitwanga, owning his own saw mill. There, Dekens said, he gave work to a lot of the younger crews that otherwise couldn’t find a job.
“He took a lot of young boys under his wing and gave them some direction,” Dekens said.
Other professions included being a log hauler and a sawyer, before he started at Madison Avenue, a repair shop in Telkwa.
That, Dekens said, was where he discovered his passion: working with the public. When Midway came up for sale 1977, he purchased it. Looking at the restaurant and gas bar, nothing remains from those early days, with renovations and upgrades throughout the establishment since he started.
“He loved that job,” Dekens said.
For 30 years, he would greet the community from the family run business that everyone in town knew so well. For many years, he’d enjoy greeting people from all walks of life.
“He was always looking out for the little guy and doing what he could to look after the less fortunate,” Dekens said.
And always, when there was a parade in Telkwa, Midway would have a float. He’d spend hours putting together an extraordinary creation for kids and adults alike to enjoy.
“He went to great efforts to make sure there was a float,” Dekens said.
When he did retire in 2002, he celebrated by riding his bicycle down to Mexico from Telkwa. A strenuous trip, particularly for the 70-plus year old, they made him check in every day, but it was a trip he always wanted to do his whole life.
“He was determined,” Dekens said. “It was amazing, we followed where he was [at the Midway Cafe]. It was something he always wanted to do and he did it.”
Seeing him accomplish his dreams was just amazing, Dekens said, but hardly the end. Hartman would go on to bike across Europe, through Holland and down to Germany.
He may have been a landed immigrant to start, but as time passed he became a proud Canadian. In their home it was always understood that they were Canadian with a Dutch heritage, Dekens said. Other than his continuing passion for soccer (his favourite team being of course from Holland), most of the things he did reflected his new home, such as an abiding love for the Vancouver Canucks.
Hartman, after a year-and-a-half battle with cancer, passed away mid-July, a true loss to the community he called home for decades. It was amazing, seeing the many people who came to honour him at his memorial, Dekens said, from all walks of life.
He always said that for one to have a full life it would be when they met their grandchildren. At that time, their life would be complete, full of joy.
Hartman was blessed by not only having met his grandchildren, whom he took fishing with him numerous times, but had the joy of meeting his eight great-grandchildren as well.