Patrick Witwicki never imagined French would become such a big part of his life.
Of the many hats he has worn as a musician, a rocker or a journalist, settling down as a promoter and advocate for the French language in northwest B.C. is not the lane he thought would stick in.
And yet, after spending much of the past 8 years doing just that in Prince Rupert, the Port Coquitlam Native said he is a poster child for what and education in a second language can do.
“I probably wouldn’t have met my wife, gotten my current job or stayed in the city I love were it not for my French immersion,” he said.
Witwicki’s original aspiration was to be a rocker. As a self-described “hyper-active” kid, Witwicki said he would often bang on his desk at school when he became bored in class.
Eventually, Witwicki’s Grade 7 teacher suggested to his parents that they buy their son a drum kit.
Witwicki’s supportive parents made a deal with their son. If he was willing to join the band, they would buy him a set of drums.
Witwicki immediately committed to playing with his school’s band, and he credits his parents with helping him to discover a life long passion.
“I mean, how many parents would buy their kid a drum kit,” he said. “And they let my band practice at our house.”
Playing with his school band was the highlight of Witwicki’s time in school. In Grade 11, the band travelled to Toronto where, in addition to compete in national competition, Witwicki got to watch his first ever Blue Jays game.
After graduating from high school, Witwicki continued to play in both cover and original bands. He said his best shot at the stardom he dreamed of as a child was with a group called Sol Phase, a progressive rock group with a female as its lead singer.
While the band did quite well, it eventually disbanded after their lead singer quit.
“We never fully recovered after that,” Witwicki said. “We really like having a female singer because it was unique, but we never found a replacement because most female singers don’t want to sing in a progressive rock band.”
After Sol Phase, Witwicki continued to play for various other bands while freelancing for sports publications on the side. He eventually moved to Prince Rupert when a position opened up to be a sport reporter at the old Daily News newspaper.
A confessed sports fanatic who loved being immersed in the games, Witwicki said he was given an opportunity to be a sports reporter because it was obvious he had a passion for the job.
“The old editor at the time wanted somebody who liked sports, not somebody who just wanted to do sports until they could be a news reporter,” Witwicki said.
So Witwicki went from living in the Vancouver suburbs to fully embracing the life of a small town northerner. He arrived in Prince Rupert in 2003, when the city was still in the throes of an economic downturn.
Like many who came to the city and stayed, Witwicki said his original plan was to only be in Prince Rupert for two years. But as is also the case, the small town charm and a new relationship — to his now wife — has kept him here for 16 years.
“For me, having grown up in a suburb of Vancouver and never experiencing going to a grocery store and not just saying hi to somebody but actually talking to them and hanging out for a bit was a nice change,” he said.
Witwicki said he was also impressed by how people in Prince Rupert support each other when there is need.
Weeks after arriving in the city, a landslide damaged the city’s gas line, leaving families without heat for days. Witwicki said watching neighbours open their doors to each other is something that left a lasting impression on him.
“I might be wrong, but I don’t think you would ever see something quite like that in a city like Vancouver,” Witwicki said.
As time went by at the Daily News, Witwicki covered everything from high school sports to minor hockey to the All Native Tournament. There were even days when he would pull double duty, both refereeing and reporting on Prince Rupert Rampage games at the same time.
“I would call a game, and then have to interview the coach the next day,” he said.
Witwicki stayed with the Daily News until it closed its doors in 2011. He joined the Association des francophones et francophiles du Nord-Ouest six months later, and has since been heavily involved in the city’s French speaking community.
Staying true to his rocking roots, Witwicki is also the drummer for local cover band, Men Who Listen and is a staple of the city’s festival events.
When asked what it would take for him to leave Prince Rupert, he said it would take something pretty monumental.
“I don’t know, if the Vancouver Canucks ever come calling, I think we’ll move. We’d be out of here pretty quick,” he said with a laugh. “Other than that I don’t see it. Prince Rupert is where I want to be.”
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Matthew Allen | Reporter
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