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Witset elder remembered for his kindness

Thomas Dennis was found deceased on Sept. 30 after extensive search efforts
Thomas Dennis is seen walking down Highway 16 with his granddaughter Sandy Morrison in this undated photo. Daughter Marilyn Morrison said it is one of her favourite photographs. “He has a lot of patience, love and pride for his grandchildren and great grandchildren,” she wrote on Facebook. (Marilyn Morrison photo)

A kind soul may have departed, but for the family and friends of Thomas (Tommy) Dennis their memories of him will never fade.

The news most feared was confirmed by New Hazelton RCMP on Oct 1.

Dennis, 79, was found deceased Sept 30 in the area he was last seen before he went missing foraging for mushrooms near the Price Creek Forest Service Road near Kitwanga on Sept. 16.

“Growing up what I enjoyed the most about my dad was listening to him talk about life, riding around and doing errands with him on his days off, going fishing and listening to music,” said his daughter, Marilyn Morrison, whose mother Dennis met at a work camp in the Chilcotin region at Fish Lake.

Dennis grew up in the heart of northwest B.C. at Witset.

He did not go to residential school but to Indian Day School. While students only attended during the day and were able to live with their parents and remain in their communities, the Government of Canada acknowledges many students “experienced trauma and, in some cases, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of persons entrusted with their care.”

Nearly 700 such schools were established by Canada starting in 1920.

“He told me he used to be left-handed, but the nuns smacked his left hand with a ruler when he wrote, so he learned to use his right hand,” Morrison said.

Before having met Morrison’s mother — who he separated from 23 years ago — Dennis had met Geri Wesley’s mother while he was a patient at Miller Bay Indian Hospital near Prince Rupert. The “Indian” hospital was originally opened to treat the Indigenous population for tuberculosis (TB), and was one of many across the country.

“The memory I enjoyed about dad is him telling me about how Marvin [brother], and my cousins Wayne and Gordie took out oil and dumped it on grandma’s floor so we could slide like we’re ice skating,” said Wesley.

“He said grandma was furious and he laughed at us.”

Dennis attended college and was a carpenter before becoming a heavy duty mechanic.

Over the years, Dennis would reside at the North Pacific Cannery, and in Kamloops, Walhachin, Squamish and the Lower Mainland before eventually settling down to live alone in Witset.

Both Morrison and Wesley noted the kindness and compassion of their dad who loved reading and watching sports including the Vancouver Canucks, BC Lions and Vancouver Whitecaps.

He had many friends and wasn’t shy of striking up a conversation with strangers.

Grandson Damian Dennis, who Dennis nicknamed ‘Big Guy,’ said he always loved visiting with his grandfather who would bring up his mood to one of happiness.

Read More: Missing mushroom picker in northern B.C. found dead

The last time Damian saw Dennis was when he and his wife April worked at KFC. He made them pray with him and gave them a long hug, Damian recalled.

“I’m super proud I got to call him grampa,” he said.

“I wish he got to meet my son Max Harvey Mario Dennis before he left us.”

The BC Coroners Service is investigating Dennis’s death, which RCMP said there is nothing to suggest was suspicious.

RCMP and multiple search and rescue teams from across northern B.C. suspended their extensive search efforts for Dennis on Sept 27. Morrison said she intends to make a donation to them in memory of him.