February 4, 1935 – September 19, 2022
Bertram Andy Spisak was born in Willow River, British Columbia, February 4, 1935 to Andrew Spisak and Mary Papp. On that day an adventurer, a storyteller, a gardener, a rascal, and a generous and loving spirit of legendary charm and good humour was born.
The adventures were many: from leaving home and family – brother, Frank and sisters, Liz and June – at 14 to ride the rails and live in hobo jungles across Canada and the US, to the skid row of New Orleans, to getting drunk in Galveston and waking up on a shrimp boat to be put to work. He found himself penniless in California til a pair of good souls gave him food and shelter. There were travels up and down the Baja in the 1950s when there were mostly sandy tracts instead of roads and tramping for gold in the mountains of British Columbia. It was in the Nass Valley that he saw Marjorie Hughan’s photo on the piano while visiting her father, Peter, another legendary old timer, telling his sister, Liz: “That’s the girl I want to marry.” In December 1965 they did with a daughter, Robin Anne and son, Thomas Owen soon to follow.
Over the next 57 years romance and many other adventures ensued. There was a successful business building logging roads in the Nass, a trailer court in the Kootenays, gardening – vegetables were his love language, the growing and giving of – and, of course, more travels. Mexico, to go mining with his great friend, Gabriel, to Morocco, Portugal and his annual trips to Arizona and Hawaii, where on the Big Island, he would spend several months of the year gathering food for goats.
Wherever Bert was he made friends. Whether with the back-to-the-landers,”The Hippies”, who arrived in the Nass Valley from south of the border in the early 1970s, to the Nisga’a, to his fellow loggers and the people of Rosswood, to the folks who settled in the ashram and small children or those who just needed a place to stay, Bert welcomed everyone. He always had time for people and they for him, with a good gossip and the occasional non-sequitur thrown in ideal.
While Bert loved people he also craved the quiet, solace and companionship of nature. About a decade ago, with the help of his architect friend, Valerie and her partner, Mitch, he built his dream cabin in the Nass with a view down the valley to Mount Vetter. He could watch the grizzlies and the black bears (oh, he loved those bears), the wolves and the coyotes and the occasional moose wander across the field. He grew his gardens, tended his greenhouse and chopped wood. He was at one with the land. Many were lucky enough to visit him there and experience the life, which included the aforementioned gardens and most importantly, his dogs, Winter, Wilber and Bear – his best friends.
Bert exited this world exactly how he would have wanted. After chopping wood, he collapsed at his dining table while a friend was visiting. He did not want to go to the hospital, but eventually he was persuaded to go to the Nisga’a Valley Health Centre. He got a helicopter ride out with a final view of the lava beds and his beloved Nass Valley. He passed away the next day.
Bert was one of the lucky few in this life who not only found his ‘one thing’ (see the movie, City Slickers), he lived the heck out of it thanks to the generosity, love and support of his wife, Marjorie.
Bert is survived by his wife, Marjorie, his daughter, Robin (Brad), son, Thomas (Anita, Kian and Ariah) and granddaughter, Megan (Daniel) and his beloved canine companions, Wilber (Bear).
Happy Bertday, a celebration of his life, will be held Spring/Summer 2023 in the Nass Valley. We’ll keep you posted.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Northern Animal Rescue Alliance.
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