The Bulkley Valley, and the province at large, is mourning the loss of a tremendous community leader.
Graeme Johnstone, whose resumé is among the most extensive you will ever see, passed away recently, and has left behind a legacy that, among many achievements, includes rescuing the Bulkley Valley’s dairy industry.
Former Smithers mayor and dairy farmer Jim Davidson goes way back with Graeme. The two connected back in the late-1960s, when the future of milk production was anything but pure white.
“The dairy industry here was in deep trouble,” said Davidson.
In short, developing competition in the province was making life hard for the producers in the Bulkley Valley.
Just as things were looking bleak, the industry got a new friend in Graeme, dairy inspector.
Davidson explained that Graeme got the area producers a meeting with the head of the area dairy branch, a fortuitous opportunity that eventually landed Smithers’ dairy plant in the Fraser Valley Milk Producers group.
“Graeme was instrumental … in getting us that appointment. He understood what we were doing.”
One might expect that to be the kind of work to expect from a dairy inspector, but it wasn’t the title that made him put in the effort.
“He really was a different kind of civil servant,” said Davidson. “He really did go on farms and work with farmers and help.”
Graeme’s daughter, Christina, has spent the past couple of weeks going through her father’s things, and discovering new aspects of the man’s life.
The man’s house is a stockpile of awards, achievements, and correspondence from various groups.
He was an active member of Toastmasters, both in the valley and on Vancouver Island during his time there.
He was a fixture on the Fall Fair board in Smithers.
He was a member of the Northwest Invasive Plant Council.
And he was a proud member of the local Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA).
“He just had his heart into everything he did,” said Christina.
He eventually sold his own plane in 2009, a very hard decision for the enthusiastic aviator.
The plane was sold to a pilot in Victoria.
She said he would usually fly over top of the lake where she would be camping.
“We got floater coats that are bright orange,” she said, useful for being spotted by her dad in the sky. “And woe betide if I wasn’t outside waving.”
Christina would go weeding with him for invasive plant council related business, and would traverse wilderness all over the northwest part of the province.
“If people could see us it would make them chuckle,” she said. “Like hiking along the CN [line] for a mile to a knapweed site.”
Once the two were chased by the bear, another time a grouse came at them, and they were dive bombed by Stellar’s jays.
He wasn’t always easy to get along with him, but it was never dull.
“I used to get issues with him and say ‘it’s either your way or the highway, dad.’”
And right down to the street sign at the fair grounds, he always did get his way.