VIDEO and story: Heart of Our City — The Captains depart after 15 years

Captain Gary Shiels retires from his duties at the Prince Rupert Salvation Army

Last year, the Salvation Army helped one in 20 Canadians — in Prince Rupert the organization helped one in four residents.

Fifteen years ago, when Captain Gary Sheils and his wife, Captain Nancy, were posted to serve on the North Coast, the need was so great, they had to expand the soup kitchen to the hall on Grenville Court.

“Within four or five months we were serving 275 meals every day the need was that great,” said Captain Sheils. The food bank went from serving 30-40 families a month to 325 families a month. The need was just absolutely horrendous. It’s still high but nowhere near that level.”

In 2002, with the closure of the pulp mill and the downturn in the fishing industry, the need for the Salvation Army’s services soared, and when the Sheils arrived from Houston, they put in countless hours of service with a skeleton staff until the divisional headquarters paid a visit and increased funding to hire more help.

The staff increase has remained since then, with three in the soup kitchen, two in the food bank, one for the shelter, five at the thrift store — the only change is that the captains are leaving.

At 70-years-old, Captain Sheils said it’s the right time to retire.

“I will miss the people. Nancy and I have said to each other, 19 years ago we left Ontario, family and our church family and it was really difficult to leave, but we were called to come out here. Here we are 19 years later, leaving what we considered to be our church family, our community family and it’s going to be so very hard to do,” he said.

A guitar sits in his office. In another chapter of Captain Sheils’ life he used to play in bars to pay his rent, now he plays Christian music on Sunday mornings to his congregation, and he also plays for himself.

Gary and Nancy grew up in Ontario, where they were involved in the Salvation Army church. In 1997, a job opportunity came up in Houston, B.C. to look after a camp, a thrift store with the possibility of starting a church. They answered the call, leaving family and friends behind.

“One of the sacrifices we made was coming out to B.C. and leaving family behind in Ontario. We’ve missed our grandkids, they’re growing up. We go back every couple of years but that’s not much,” he said. The couple have three daughters, four sons and five grandchildren.

While in Houston, the Sheils took an on-the-job officer training program in Terrace and after spending a few years as commissioned auxiliary captains in Houston, they were posted to a poverty struck Prince Rupert.

“It was tough. There was a lot of need,” he said.

But the support from the community has always been what Captain Sheils called phenomenal. From the second Christmas to date, the Salvation Army has raised $150,000 to $175,000 every year in the city.

“I can’t say how grateful my wife and I are for that support.”

Although it’s usually Gary’s face in the newspaper holding onto oversized cheques for the organization, he said he and his wife are a team. Where he is weaker, she is stronger, and together they are the heart of the Salvation Army in the city.

Captain Gary Sheils said his day is varied, depending on the need. He does his best to plow through the administrative work so he can keep his door open.

“As much as possible, although sometimes that is difficult, to keep my door open so the 125 people who come through this building in a day, if they need somebody to talk to, then I’m available,” he said.

He listens to those dealing with death, addiction, homelessness or any other troubling situation the people in this community struggle with.

What he finds the most heartbreaking is those people he just can’t help.

“The heartbreaking times are when people are just so trapped in an addiction and so lost and try as you may they’re just not ready for any type of help and that is really hard,” he said, adding that he never stops trying because one day he hopes they may change.

With all his selfless service, he does make time for himself to clear the mind. In the golfing season, he carves out a chunk of his day to play at least nine holes at the course. His wife plays as well.

Sheils said he is grateful for the team that has built the Prince Rupert Salvation Army to become what it is today. On July 23, Lt. Sabrina and Greg Silvey will be taking over the Sheils’ duties.

The captains return to Ontario on June 22, and his retirement party is on Saturday, June 17 at 1 p.m. at the Salvation Army Church.

 

Captain Gary Shiels is looking forward to retirement, he won’t miss the paperwork, but he says he will miss the community. Photo by Shannon Lough

Just Posted

I came, I saw, I auditioned

Prince Rupert’s Harbour Theatre is looking for reading actors for The Tragedy of Julius Caesar

Rupert businesses respond to B.C.’s increasing minimum wage

The Northern View asked businesses on Third Ave and in Cow Bay what the increases will mean for them

Squashing competition

Prince Rupert hosts third annual Feel The Love squash tournament

Rupert Rocket’s travelling art program

Jasper to Rupert Via Rail train has a car dedicated to art offered by the one-of-a-kind Bruce Brown

In Our Opinion: What is the magic number?

B.C. is raising the minimum wage but is it enough with the rising cost of rent in Prince Rupert

This Week Podcast – Episode 73

All Native Tournament results, auditions for Julius Caesar and avalanches closing Highway 16

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

$5,000 for All Native Tournament

The Northern View supports this year’s All Native Basketball Tournament with a cheque

OLYMPIC ROUNDUP: Women’s ice hockey team ends 24-game winning streak

Team Canada added two silvers and a bronze to their total

Canadian support split on Trans Mountain pipeline debate: Poll

Angus Reid poll surveying Canadians on pipeline stance finds no clear winner

Tired of ‘big city life’? One-stoplight town hosts contest to lure in city slickers

Contest by BC Rural Centre hopes to attract city folks to a small town in the Kootenays

Student protest outside White House a snapshot of American gun debate

Demonstrators take part in a student protest for gun control legislation in front of the White House

Feds can’t do much to fight fake news in Canada

Federal government can’t do much to fight fake news: Canadian Heritage documents

Canada’s Boutin wins silver in women’s 1,000 short track

Women’s 1,000-metre short-track speedskater Kim Boutin wins silver the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics Thursday

Most Read