February 14, 1950 – July 28, 2020
Eric James Mikkelson of Courtenay, B.C. passed away peacefully July 28, 2020 at the Hospice, Comox B.C. in the loving presence of his wife Lorna and daughter Andrea (Daniel). He is also survived by three younger brothers, Mark (Donna), Ross (Rejane) and Donald (Erin) of Bella Coola, B.C. as well as uncle Gordon Douglas who was more like an older brother; numerous cousins, nieces and nephews; many good friends, and a soon-to-be born grandson.
His wish to live long enough to meet his grandson in September was sadly not to be, but Eric accepted that reality with his usual fortitude.
Eric arrived on Valentine’s Day 1950 in Bella Coola, the first of four sons born to Verna (Douglas) and Helmer Mikkelson. His parents were of Scottish and Norwegian ancestry, respectively.
From Verna he inherited a brilliant mind capable of learning anything and a love of political ‘discussments’. From Helmer he acquired true blue integrity and quiet resolve– a ‘never give up, never give in’ type of determination.
Eric was raised in a stable home located in an environment where children could roam freely through the surrounding wilderness. Many of Eric’s happiest memories go back to those early days building bike trails, bridges and a log cabin down along the Bella Coola river with his best pals, Peter Nygaard, John Carter, Mark Carter and cousin Peter Levelton, using whatever materials and tools they could ‘find.’
The little world they built for themselves over several years also included a smoke house, a trap line and later, a still in which they concocted brews made from fruit preserves ‘found’ in various family pantries. The many skills Eric learned from those years at ‘The Cabin’ were to become enormously helpful to him in later life.
Eric also loved the times he and his Dad would go on early morning duck hunts on the Bella Coola tide flats in the Fall, or moose hunting around a fly-in lake in the mountains near Anahim with his Dad, Gordon and cousin-by-marriage Harvey Gorsline. It wasn’t about the hunting; it was about the camaraderie, the story-telling, the gentle ribbing, and the endless crib matches they all enjoyed so much.
School was never much fun for Eric, partly because of his eyesight. He had to have an eye operation when he was two years old. The operation saved his sight but his eyes never tracked smoothly from left to right, so reading and especially spelling were a constant nightmare for him. In those days, teachers were not aware that his problems were caused by his eyesight and tended to dismiss him as a below average student – a judgement which he didn’t really believe but had no power to change.
He quit high school in frustration shortly after starting grade eleven and went to work logging. The irony is that despite his impaired vision he became a crack shot, rarely missing at skeet shoots or while out hunting.
When Lorna came into his life in 1971 as a new ‘school marm’ in town, she explained that his problem was really about his eyes and convinced him to take his GED exam which he passed easily. After they married in 1972, Eric decided he didn’t want to log anymore so they moved to Terrace, B.C. in 1973 where he went to vocational school and earned a Class 1 welding ticket.
Lorna continued teaching while Eric worked in various mills and plants in Kitimat. They moved to Prince George in 1975 where they built a house, and then returned to Bella Coola in 1977 to take over the Shell Bulk Fuel Agency.
While running the fuel agency, Eric and good friend Ron Harrison built a lovely home on acreage he and Gordon had bought years before when Eric was still a teen-ager – an early sign that he was always thinking ahead. Andrea came along in 1978 and was born in the same hospital as Eric. For someone who always claimed that as the eldest of four kids, he had done enough diaper changing for his three younger brothers to last a lifetime, Eric was thrilled with his baby girl and turned out to be a caring and attentive father.
Eric’s working life illustrates the scope of the skills and talents he developed as a child. He could turn his hand to almost anything he set his mind to, including running logging equipment; welding; building houses; designing and building boats; starting a charter fishing business; running a fuel agency; operating guide areas in the Chilcotin, northern Vancouver Island and the NWT; and most recently, starting a logging operation on Vancouver Island. In later years he also became keenly interested in investing and built a solid stock portfolio by himself after doing some research and developing a strategy.
Guide-outfitting and game management were Eric’s passion for roughly 25 years of his working life. During that time he became heavily involved in the politics of the industry, serving on the Board of the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. for several years. His vision, leadership and dedication to the long-term sustainability of wildlife earned him both provincial and international recognition, including the prestigious North American Professional Hunter of the Year award in 2010. He had been named the Runner Up for that same award in 2007.
Eric was especially committed to the belief that sound wildlife management decisions can only be achieved if all stakeholders sit at the same table – residents, Guide-Outfitters and First Nations.
This was not a popular concept at the time and is still facing an uphill battle. As always, he led by example and was a founding member and first President of the Wildlife Stewardship Council which brought together Outfitters and First Nations as partners in wildlife management on Vancouver Island. Today the WSC serves as a model for the rest of the province and an example of what Reconciliation can look like. John Henderson, Dave Fyfe, Glenn Venus and his wife Lorna, among others, continue the work of the WSC that Eric’s vision inspired.
Lorna retired from her career as an educator in 2003 to provide full-time back office support for the guiding business. Around that same time, they were most fortunate to acquire Craig Walls as a pilot and guide. Craig has remained an immensely important part of the Mikkelson team ever since. Much like Eric, Craig is a multi-talented, ‘can-do’ type of person and an extremely hard worker.
In 2013 Eric was diagnosed with colon cancer which had metastasized to his lungs. Over the next six and a half years he endured multiple surgeries, every chemotherapy drug available, and numerous radiation and cryotherapy treatments while continuing to work most of the time as if he were perfectly healthy.
He was still putting in a 60 hour week logging up until October, 2019 when the pain made it impossible for him to continue running equipment. He remained involved and directing operations, first from home and then from Hospice as the cancer advanced, paralyzing his legs and forcing him to become totally bedridden for the last two months of his life. Through it all Eric remained resolute and was grateful for everything his medical team was trying to do for him.
Eric will be remembered for many things: His enthusiasm for business and drive to succeed; his innate intelligence and ability to think outside the box; his unwavering “cut the crap” integrity; his dry sense of humour; his toughness and determination to live; and most importantly his love for, and loyalty to, friends and family. Like many northern European types, Eric did not suffer fools gladly and was slow to ‘warm up’ to strangers, but once he trusted you, he became a friend for life.
The family wishes to thank the amazing staffs at the BC Cancer Agency in Victoria, the Wellness Centre at North Island Regional Hospital in Courtenay, and Hospice at the Views in Comox for the outstanding care Eric received throughout his long cancer journey. Donations to any of these wonderful organizations in Eric’s memory would be greatly appreciated. Special thanks go to Dr. Janet Green, Dr. Wai Ling Dan, Dr. Tanya Berrang and Dr. Jeff Sulphur for their determined efforts to help Eric all along the way.
A Celebration of Life will be planned for some time next year when it is deemed safe to gather.
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