David Kerkkonen, Silvera Diamond

28 April 2023

An art program at Silvera has helped David Kerkkonen channel anger into art.

Throughout his 73 years, David, now a resident at Gilchrist Commons, has lived a patchwork of unique experiences: firefighting in the dense bush of the Kootenays, working on a fish farm in the Fraser Valley, researching a book about the impact Chinese migrants had on the construction of Canada’s first railroad.

David grew up in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, where his father was a logger, as the second oldest of nine children. He had a speech delay as a child and was very shy, which evolved into a social anxiety disorder as an adult. These challenges meant David had a hard time finding and keeping full-time work.

He lived like a nomad, moving around to various places around BC, including “the middle of nowhere, running up and down mountains” while working for BC Forestry.

“I’m certain that if it weren’t for Silvera, I would be homeless at this point in my life,” he says. “I have heard many other residents here say the same thing.”

David’s family lived in the small community of Greenwood in south-central BC, in what was once Greenwood’s Chinatown. This sparked an intense interest in Chinese Canadian history for David, who diligently researched a book about the history and archaeology of Greenwood’s Chinatown.

His second book was about Fort Shepherd, a former Hudson’s Bay trading post near Trail, BC, which is now part of the Hudson’s Bay archives. David’s third book was a 40-year compilation of the prehistory and history, spiritual significance and socio-economic value of the Ogopogo, the legendary creature some believe lives in the depths of Lake Okanagan. He donated that project to the Kelowna Public Archives.

In 1998, both of David’s parents developed cancer so he moved to Calgary to help care for them. He moved into Confederation Park in 2015 and then to Gilchrist Commons last summer.

David says he’s experienced a significant shift in his wellbeing since moving to Silvera as he’s been able to deal with his past struggles and anger. One thing that has helped is channeling his emotions into his art.

In his younger days, David created sculpture and paintings, but says he stopped making art “because I wanted to be a realist.” His love for creating was rekindled through the art program offered by the YMCA last fall at Gilchrist, and he continues to participate in art classes hosted by Haley, the Life, Learning and Leisure facilitator.

“I learned so much from Terese [the YMCA art instructor],” he says. “I had never used charcoal, pastels or watercolour before her classes. I didn’t think I could learn new things, but it turns out I can.”

David enjoys his stable, quiet home at Gilchrist. “I’m happy to live here. I like having my own space. The food is good, I eat a lot of vegetables and fruit. Throughout my life, I never had a lot of money, but living here means I have no regular bills other than a phone.

“I like being able to connect with people like the staff here. They’re just really good.”