Hundreds of firefighters, family and friends gathered Sunday to remember Forrest Owens, a pillar of the Saanich Peninsula.
Owens, who served as assistant fire chief in Central Saanich during a career that spanned 35 years, died unexpectedly from complications of cancer on July 21 at the age of 64. His passing reverberated through Central Saanich and across the region.
The community continues to mourn the loss of a dedicated public servant, whom speakers described as a life-long learner, deeply committed to the well-being and safety of his family, friends and his long-time home of Central Saanich through his passion for firefighting and volunteerism, which saw Owens serve in various roles for a wide range of organizations spanning sports to a local historical society.
More than 800 people by an unofficial count filled the RCMP Barn at the Saanich Fairgrounds during Sunday’s memorial and Esquimalt Fire Chief Steve Serbic likely spoke for most of them during his eulogy when he simply introduced himself as a friend of Owens.
“He was a kind and gentle human being, who loved and cared for everyone who he met,” said Serbic. “He was loved by so many and will live in our hearts and in our spirits forever.”
Owens is survived by his wife of 27 years, Anita Owens, four children, four grandchildren, his first wife Gail, his mother Sharon, his stepmother Donna, brothers Andy and Elliott, along with numerous friends and family, according to the official obituary.
Sunday’s memorial started with a procession of firefighters, police and other emergency crews representing multiple departments marching from nearby Stelly’s Secondary School to the fairgrounds.
Two vehicles from the Central Saanich Fire Department, including one carrying Owens’ helmet and firefighting uniform, also participated.
Led by a colour guard and accompanied by a pipe band with musicians from Greater Victoria and Greater Vancouver, the men and women eventually passed underneath a large Canadian flag fluttering from the ladders of two fire trucks standing guard at the entrance to the fairground.
Hundreds of people standing on either side of the path toward the RCMP Barn silently greeted the group as it approached the building. They then continued to stand in silence under the blazing sun for close to three minutes before a group of firefighters carried Owens’ white helmet and firefighting uniform into the building. Members of Owens’ family, the majority of uniformed marchers and members of the public then followed.
While the mood outside the hall was sombre with ritual and command governing events, inside the hall included many moments of levity, with speakers sharing what one called home stories about Owens revolving around his salmon fishing exploits and his easy-going nature.
They included the tale of Owens starting a large fire on his property to rid himself of a filled shed that the previous owner had left behind.
“So Forrest, rather than dispose of it properly, he thought that he would set it on fire,” said Serbic. “Everything was going well until it turned into a raging inferno as things in the shed started to explode.” Owens, according to Serbic, then called the fire hall for assistance but asked his colleague to keep it quiet because the department would never let him forget it. Naturally, that colleague had taken a picture, which according to Serbic, shows Owens “standing in the middle of this fire holding this tiny garden house with this little bit of water coming out, making absolutely no difference.”
But speaker and speaker made it also clear that Owens had made a difference in their lives.
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