Veterans discover hidden talents through art therapy

Brock Fahrni residents take up painting, sculpting and poetry in their senior years

“We'll meet again,
Don't know where,
Don't know when,
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day...”

The crooning of Second World War favourite Vera Lynn wafts softly from the overhead speakers in the Artworks studio at Brock Fahrni Pavilion on Oak Street on a warm August afternoon.

The song choice is fitting when you consider the three men sitting around a large arts-and-crafts table are all veterans of the Second World War, including a former Lancaster bomber pilot named Ron Cox who is covering a piece of canvas with blue paint. Cox says once the piece is complete the blue will act as sky and backdrop to the image of a Lancaster plane he intends to paint over it.

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Across the table from Cox is veteran and retired salesman Alfred Best, who says there was a time he “couldn’t even draw a cat.”


A silk scarf painted by a resident veteran of Brock Fahrni Pavilion. Photo Dan Toulgoet


The statement is hard to believe considering the beautiful silk scarf adorned with delicate purple flowers Best is showing off. The scarf is one of more than 20 the 91-year old has painted since joining the art therapy program at the long-term care facility home to 148 residents, many of whom are veterans.

“The scarf is a gift for Cecilia, one of the caregivers here,” Best says, showing off a hand-printed card he also made for his friend. “The greatest satisfaction I get is making someone else happy.”

Best moved into Brock Fahrni from his Coal Harbour home two-years ago in January, after suffering a heart attack and several strokes. It wasn’t long afterwards he joined the art program and discovered his hidden talent.


A bird house painted by a resident of Brock Fahrni Pavilion taking part in art therapy sessions. Photo Dan Toulgoet


“I had to give up singing so this is my consolation,” says Best, whose wife died 12 years ago after 60 years of marriage. “I used to play the violin and was music director of a church choir so I miss it, but that’s OK, I’m a positive thinker.”

Like most activities offered at Brock Fahrni, which falls under the umbrella of Providence Healthcare, the art program is supported by several veterans associations, including Veterans Affairs Canada, the Royal Canadian Legion and Army Navy Air Force Veterans in Canada.

Arts and crafts instructor Paddi McGrath says the art program, which started during the Second World War, is a great way to draw residents out of their shell and encourage them to socialize. For those who can’t leave their room, art therapy staff members go to them with supplies and instruction. Once a week, an instructor wheels the “Art Cart” around the entire facility encouraging residents who aren’t already involved in the program to try their hand at something artistic.

“Sometimes you find someone who is isolated,” says McGrath. “Art is a way to get them socializing. We focus on veterans, but the workshops are for everyone.”

Irving Bakerman, 94, who had recently been confined to his bed due to a health issue, says his art is “getting there.” But the swing table across Bakerman’s is chock full of art supplies so they’re available to him at any time, demonstrating his interest is more than passing. The charming senior and former wholesale clothing salesman says he enjoys the reception he gets when presenting someone with a one-of-a-kind handmade gift.

“I love the gracious comments,” says Bakerman, with a grin. “Every day when I go downstairs I couldn’t look forward to it more. Who knows, I might be discovered one day yet.”


David Dennison shows off painting-in-progress of his son and daughter-in-law. Photo Dan Toulgoet


David Dennison also paints from his bed, but even under a blanket it’s easy to see the strapping young man he was. Paintings and drawings on his wall depict Dennison’s favourite subjects, scenes from the Old West and the arctic, including many of wolves. After retiring from the Air Force in 1992, Dennison taught at a remote school for boys in northern B.C. where he learned to hunt and fish, not paint and draw.

“At first they gave me books, but I wasn’t too keen,” says Dennison, showing off a realistic painting of his son and daughter-in-law he was in the midst of completing. “I’m grateful for these departments or I’d go crazy.”

Meanwhile, McGrath calls what she does her “dream job.”

“I once read poetry to a man as he was passing,” says McGrath. “It was poetry he wrote himself so it was very special.”


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