Sooke artist pairs with cafe to support community

Sooke artist pairs with cafe to support community

Nature a source of inspiration for Barry Whiting

Rick Stiebel – Sooke News Mirror

Much of the what inspires Barry Whiting’s art and photography hearkens back to the time he spent with Parks Canada.

“Art’s always been my number one passion,” said Whiting, a Sooke resident for the past 10 years.

“Working for Parks Canada for 12 years turned me into an environmentalist, and that’s always been reflected in my art. Working in building trades was the best part. You flew in by helicopter to a remote area to fix a park warden’s cabin,” he said, conjuring up images of the wildlife and spectacular terrain he encountered.

“A lot of my inspiration comes from that time.”

Whiting was born in Kent, England, in 1936, and came to Canada in 1947. His father, a Royal Air Force veteran, arranged for him to be placed at Fairbridge Farm, a residential school for underprivileged British children near Duncan when he was 10.

Whiting’s first job was with the BC Forestry Service, followed by four years in the shipyards.

In the early 1960s, Whiting moved his young family to California to work as an artist with the Disney Studio, but that didn’t last long.

“It was too intense,” he explained. “I wasn’t a nine to five artist, I couldn’t create art on demand.”

Whiting found work in construction for the next five years during a turbulent era marked by the Bay of Pigs and the Vietnam War.

He decided to return to Canada in 1967 because he believed the United States was not the place to be raising three young children.

“I’ve always hated war,” he said, still reluctant to share memories of his childhood during the Second World War after all these years.

Following 4o years of work in the East Kootenays, which included his time with Parks Canada, Whiting moved to Sooke in 2008.

“We wanted to retire on the South Island,” he said. “Joanna had a sister in Sooke, so we moved here.”

Before Joanna passed away about seven years ago, the couple were avid members of the Vintage Car Club of Canada.

One of the tours they took part in during the 1980s was a journey from Mile Zero in Victoria to Newfoundland and back.

“We drove a 1953 Chevy pickup with 17 inch wheels and 10 ply tires that rode like an anvil,” he recalled with a contagious chuckle.

“It was an absolutely unforgettable experience, six weeks sleeping in tents. The people you were with and the people you met along the way all made it worthwhile.”

The people he has forged friendships with in Sooke make up much of why Whiting considers the community such a special place.

The friends he meets regularly for breakfast at Cathy’s Corner Cafe’, and especially the owner, Cathy Gouk, holds a special place in Whiting’s heart.

“There’s a real sense of camaraderie and friendship in this community,” he noted.

Whiting teamed up with Gouk about five years ago to sell prints of his art and photos, which add splashes of colour and wildlife to the popular Sooke eatery.

“The wall was empty after we did some renos,” said Gouk, who’s known Whiting for eight years.

“I’d seen some of his work so I asked Barry if we could put his art work up there. Barry has a story behind every one of his pictures. We’ve had other artists approach us to hang up their work but we say no, that’s Barry’s wall.”

Gouk charges $20 each for Whiting’s prints, with all of the proceeds earmarked for the Sooke Food Bank, the Sooke Crisis Centre and other local charitable initiatives.

“We’ve raised $2,000 to $3,000 so far, it’s a nice way to give back to the community. Barry doesn’t like to talk about his contribution, though. He’s the kind of person who doesn’t want the pat on the back, he’d rather pass it along. He’s just a very gentle, likeable soul.”

Whiting has also donated his art and photographs to a number of organizations, including the Sierra Club, the B.C. Wildlife Federation, the Elk Foundation, Parks Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Wildlife for Kids.

“Art is a gift. I’ve never been a commercial artist. I don’t do it for profit, it’s a mood thing. I do more photography the last two or three years because I just don’t have as much patience for painting anymore. I do a lot of photography in Sooke. I like the environment here.”