Wrapping up and changing pace, minus two legs

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

We resume our Brian Pitcairn story in Peerless/Trout Lake, where he was helping get things set up for the brand new First Nation.

One sad reality faced by First Nations with settlement money to spend is they get a parade of what Pitcairn considers charlatans showing up with investment schemes to pitch. One he recalls was “kind of an oil company,” promising Peerless/Trout half the profits from a well-drilling scheme. Another was a big business opportunity in Egypt, with huge profits promised. Another two guys wanted six million to invest in Hong Kong real estate.
“Every one of them was a scam,” Pitcairn says. “I wanted to tell them to go to hell and throw them out the door. But the chief (James Alook) was such a gentleman.”
But the one he liked the most (sarcastically speaking) “was a preacher from Edmonton who said the Lord had given him a vision to get money from us.”
A significant win for the community came via a collaboration with Northern Lakes College. The plan developed that NLC would partner with the band to put trades training capacity into a new school that was being planned for the area. It was yet to come to fruition when Pitcairn resigned.
After some time off to visit his ailing brother in Nova Scotia – a 40-year veteran of the Canadian Army who had cancer – Brian came back for a while to help Peerless Trout get its oilfield construction firm up and running. During that time the band also got some logging work from Al-Pac. He also did some work for Alberta, consulting with First Nations (again) on how to “deal with industry in a positive way.”
He worked there two years, up until the change in provincial government. Well known as a Tory supporter and a rather outspoken one, Pitcairn was not surprised when his contract was terminated.
“I spent a few months doing nothing and got hired to run the Grizzly Apartments in Slave Lake. I enjoyed that work. I think I booted three drug dealers out of the apartments.”

“There was a lot of dead flesh”
Pitcairn didn’t know it, but health issues were again stalking him and would force a dramatic change in his life. A diabetic, he’d been seeing Dr. Immelman and credits him with getting his blood sugar levels under control. But during a hospital visit, another doctor looked at his feet and asked: ‘Do you mind if I operate on your feet?’
“There was a lot of dead flesh,” Pitcairn says. “Scrape, scrape. It was black.”
The conclusion: he had some sort of flesh-eating disease, and it was getting into the bone.
“They recommended amputation,” he says. “They didn’t think I would survive the operation. They thought I would have a heart attack.”
However, he didn’t. The operation was in 2017. He had both legs cut off below the knee. His recovery went well – surprisingly so according to his doctors – with no complications.
“I’m just full of surprises,” he says. “I credit my creator for that.”
The hardest part of the recovery process? Learning how to go to the bathroom.
“Then getting into a vehicle from a wheelchair. That was a riot.”
Several months later, your Leader reporter ran into Pitcairn at the seniors’ lodge in Slave Lake where he now lives. It’s a good place for someone in his condition, Pitcairn says. Having the support of family and friends in town helps a lot too and he says he’s getting by well enough. In his room, a bookshelf tells the story of his lifelong interest in military history, displaying titles from the Roman times through the present. That sort of stuff, along with the ever-present Holy Bible, is how he spends a lot of his spare time these days. Both, he says, have had a major impact on his life and his outlook.
“I cannot complain,” he says of his circumstances. “I have a loving family and they’re really good to me.”
Getting back to the ‘what-if’ scenarios that this story started with, Pitcairn reflects on his initial intention to stick out his first teaching gig at Whitefish for a year. His life would not necessarily have been less interesting if he’d left after that, but it certainly would have been different. And the reason he stayed?
“I fell in love with the community,” he says. “I really enjoyed it up there. The Good Lord told me, ‘This part of the world is where I want you to work.’
The community was very welcoming, he continues. “They were very good-hearted toward me. One year became three years and the work was interesting. There were a handful of us that wanted to contribute to development in the Aboriginal communities we were in.”
And now you know, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story.

See the full story online at historius.ca.

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