Local artist mourned

Prominent local artist June Swanky Parker passed away on Aug. 15 at the Prince George Rotary Hospice House.

As a young woman, Swanky Parker studied at the Banff School of Fine Arts and rediscovered her love of painting in middle age. She spent the last 45 years of her life painting and teaching others the joy of art.

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Swanky Parker is survived by her five children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A celebration of Swanky Parker's life and art will take place on Sunday, from 1 to 3 p.m., at 2212 Laurier Cres. in the back garden.

Some of her remaining paintings will be on display and it was her wish that people attending take one to remember her by. Swanky Parker's family suggests those taking a piece of art make a small donation to the Hospice House or another charity of their choice.

In 2017, Citizen contributor Kathy Nadalin interviewed Swanky Parker about her life and art. An updated version of that story appears below:

Well known Prince George artist June (Swanky) Parker was born in Vancouver in 1931. Her parents Rudolf and Susan Swanky, along with her brother Gordon, moved to Prince George in 1933 when June was two-and-a-half years old. June has enough history to fill an entire book however for today here is her story in a nutshell:

It was in 1933 when the application submitted by Rudolf and Susan Swanky was selected and approved to take advantage of a provincial government land settlement offer for families to leave Vancouver (by train) and relocate in the north. This was apparently a one-time offer available to only 50 qualified applicants. Each successful applicant who was considered poor and unemployed was given a railway ticket to go north and a stipend of $50 per month for a total of $300 which was a very good deal at the time.

The Swanky family packed all their belongs and headed to Prince George to a preselected homestead site out in the Chief Lake Road area known as Garvin Canyon.

Unfortunately there was a fire in the freight section of the train and all their belongings were lost in the fire. They were compensated by the railway in the amount of $200 and from there they started over from scratch.

One of the first things they bought with the insurance money was a cow which was the start of their new life in the north.

For the next two years, the family of four (June's twin brother and sister Oscar and Linda came along later) lived in a small log cabin that was on the property.

Their only source of income was logging, which amounted to using a saw and an axe to cut logs to produce rail road ties and firewood to sell.

June reminisced and said, "My brother Gordon was being schooled by taking correspondence lessons and I used to listen in on all of his studies so I learned to read by the time I was three years old. My husband Laurie used to say that once I learned to read I never stopped, which was true.

"When I was seven I started Grade 1 in Prince George. I was a good student and they quickly moved me into Grade 2. The school and my family recognized my talent in art at an early age. My parents encouraged me by giving me a gift of summer classes at the School of Fine Arts in Banff. After high school I went on to study art at the College of New Caledonia, the Prince George Artist Workshop and in workshops put on by teachers and artists who were affiliated with the Federation of Canadian Artists."

In 1949 June met Laurie Isenor Parker, a Nova Scotia boy who arrived in Prince George in 1946. June said, "I used to go roller skating on the cement roller skating pad located near where the Northern Hardware store is now located. I was a good ice skater so going in circles at the roller skating pad was easy. I didn't know it at the time but my husband to be had spotted me and he told me later that he had watched me for nearly a year going round and round on my roller skates. We were a perfect match and we were married in 1950."

Laurie Parker, one of 12 children, was born in Nine Mile River, N.S. He first worked at Eagle Lake Sawmills and learned the B.C. style of logging. Later, he worked at Prince George Motors first pumping gas and then in the parts department until he moved up as a truck salesman. He eventually opened Parker-Hipwell Dodge on George Street and later entered into real estate, which in turn led to house construction and land development.

Laurie was an enthusiastic longtime member of the Kinsmen Club.

June said, "Together we raised five children: Gerry (Ellen), Janet (Alan), Randal (Kayley), Lorelee (Rick) and Russell, who gave us four grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. We were married for 63 years and sadly Laurie passed away in 2013 due to a fatal car accident. It was one of the saddest days of my life and everything changed for me after that. Laurie was the love of my life and he was such a wonderful fellow. He always encouraged me. He loved the community and was always positive about the future of Prince George."

June was a long time member of the Knox United Church and sang in the church choir along with life-long friend Doris Aitken. Neither June or Doris drove so their dedicated choir director Dr. Diane Kjorven picked them up so that they could both make choir practice on a regular basis.

Over the years, June taught classes in watercolors at the Prince George Artist's Workshop, the College of New Caledonia and the Two Rivers Art Gallery. Her works have been published in cards and calendars in both British Columbia and Ontario; her art basically tells a story of Prince George. Among her many works of art were her watercolor illustrations for the Huble Homestead Children's book series.

She tuaght small classes in her studio called Upstairs Art, which was located upstairs at Books and Company at 1685 Third Ave., also know as Artspace.

June concluded by saying, "I have always loved painting and teaching others to paint. I learned everything from my wonderful mom. She lived in that little log cabin thawing snow to do the laundry. She was 96 when she died and bless her heart she always wanted to live to be 100.

"She wrote the book called Many Happy Years by Susan Swanky; my sister Linda helped her record and write the book. There are so many wonderful people in the world and I am so fortunate to have my family. A family is something you could never have a life without."

Shortly after the death of her husband, June had a series of strokes that changed her life once again.

She while recovery was slow, she continued to actively paint.

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