Welder, nurse bonded for life

Cy (Cyril) Fortin of French descent was born in St. Front, Sask. in 1939; he is the fourth of nine children. His father was a blacksmith and a welder with a shop in Perigord, Sask.

Cy learned the basics of his trade as a welder from his father. He arrived in Prince George in 1959 looking for work. His first job working in a sawmill in Hixon lasted about three weeks doing hard work for very little pay.

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He worked for a Prince George construction company with the intention of attending the B.C. Vocational School (now known as the College of New Caledonia or CNC) to obtain a welding ticket. He earned his welding pressure ticket, worked for a construction company as a welder during the Northwood pulp mill construction project and then was hired on at Northwood as a full-time maintenance welder for the next nine years.

He was hired by CNC as a full-time welding instructor and over the years instructed approximately 3,000 welders. There were 16 students in each class, which included apprenticeship welders, mechanical trade students who required welding to complete their courses and do-it-yourself welders. Some of his former students eventually started their own companies. After a very rewarding 27-year teaching career, he retired in 2000.

Cy registered his own part-time welding inspection company in 1987. When he retired in 2000, he went into full time work inspecting the steel used in the construction of bridges and buildings. As you pass over the newer bridges in Prince George, Hixon and across the Mackenzie River, you can rest assured that the beams used in the construction had been inspected by Cy to ensure quality steel. His inspection process protected the construction company against the use of unmarketable steel and insured it was fabricated to code. It was interesting work and he met many of his former students on job sites.

Cy met Irene Johnson on a blind date in 1961 in Prince George. Irene was born in Nakusp, B.C. in 1939. The fourth of five children, she was raised in the small and scenic town of Burton. The original townsite of Burton was flooded out in the 1960s when the Keenleyside Dam was built on the Columbia River near Castlegar.

Irene graduated from a three-year registered nursing program at the Royal Columbia Hospital in New Westminster in 1961. She was working at the hospital in Fort Nelson and visiting friends in Prince George when she met Cy. They were married in 1965.

Before marriage, Irene worked in the pediatric ward at the Prince George hospital, drove across Canada in 1963 nursing in the surgery wards in Scarborough and Dryden, Ont., and Moncton, N.B. She decided to save money for gas and returned to Prince George (and of course Cy) in 1964 and worked for Dr. Pat Carson for five years as receptionist.

Irene took the nursing refresher course in 1981 at CNC and worked as a casual in the pediatric ward, the pediatric special care unit and at the correctional centre. She finished her nursing career with the home care nursing division before retiring in 1999.

Irene said, "We have two daughters; Teresa (Allistair) in Oakville, Ont. and Laurel (John) in Collingwood, Ont. who in turn gave us four beautiful grandchildren. Generally, we visit them twice a year."

Volunteer work is nothing new for Cy and Irene; they have been involved in giving back to their community for most of their married life. Cy volunteered with the John Howard Society and is on the strata council where they live.

Irene volunteered for the Meals on Wheels program and with anything to do with their girls from Brownie and Girl Guide leader to camp nurse. For the past 18 years, she has been a weekly volunteer at the Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Store.

They love the outdoors and have created many fond memories by using the Caledonia Rambler's hiking booklet as their trip guide.

Irene said, "We live on both fun and educational memories of Cuba, Chili, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Mexico, Venezuela, Jamaica, our six weeks stay in Africa and our road trips to Alaska and across Canada.

"As empty nesters, we volunteered 11 times as hosts for the B.C. Parks Service in remote provincial parks like Spatsizi, Kakwa, Turner Lake (S. Tweedsmuir), Khutzeymateem Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, Mt. Assiniboine, Chilco Lake (Ts'ilos), Monkman and Naikoon on Queen Charlotte Island.

"In most cases we were air lifted into the park for a period of one month to meet and greet visitors, reviewing information and to ensure their safety. Between us we had the qualifications required by B.C. Parks to provide first aid, take care of and do maintenance repairs around the camp, monitor conditions of the trails, carry out studies complete with detailed reports as required and carry Boat Smart certification."

Cy said, "We were actually surprised by the fact that we both enjoyed the isolation.

We relied on one another, had no fear of the wildlife and we met many interesting and wonderful people. Irene packed for the month which included food supplies, bedding and clothing. She canned meat of all kinds and prepared and stuck to a menu so that we never ran out of food. I was happy to provide fresh fish as an extra bonus to the menu."

Cy and Irene became members of Branch #1 of the Prince George B.C. Old Time Fiddlers Association in 1992. Over the years, Irene assisted during fiddle contests, the monthly dances, producing the newsletter, served as the board treasurer and visited members in the position of the Sunshine Lady. Cy played guitar as a backup musician for the fiddlers, served as a director and is a past president. They are now life time members.

The Prince George OTFs started informal fiddling jam sessions in the 1960s. That led to the formation of the BCOTFA in 1968 bringing fiddlers and backup musicians of other instruments together to promote the art of old-time fiddling and to encourage young people to take up fiddling and violin playing. With approximately 200 members, Branch #1 celebrated 50 years of community service this past November.

Irene said, "When Cy had surgery recently the OTF group was there when we needed their support. In April of 2018, Cy was taken to the University Hospital of Northern BC by ambulance. He spent a week in the intensive care unit before being transferred by air ambulance to Lions Gate Hospital for drainage of a brain abscess. He has struggled to recover as his memory was severely impaired and he had to learn to walk again. He was transferred back to UHNBC on May 14th for continued rehabilitation and returned home on June 15th.

"Many friends came to the hospital with musical instruments and their music proved to be the greatest therapy to restore his memory of how to play the guitar and to relearn the words to hundreds of songs he once knew. Initially even words to You Are My Sunshine were a mystery.

"Gradually Cy's memory, musical skills and mobility have been restored - which in turn brought back a meaningful life. He is back out in the community volunteering along with his music friends at various senior citizen facilities all over Prince George, Vanderhoof (monthly) and McBride (twice a year). We are so thankful to all of them for being there for us."

Cy concluded by saying, "I still require physiotherapy as my balance is still a bit of a problem. I have everything to be thankful for from my wife and supportive family to all our friends in the community. Prince George is a great place and we both love it here. I always say that once you drink water from the Fraser or Nechako Rivers you always return."

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