IAN L. WALMARK
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November 19, 1930 – May 31, 2019
Since retiring from the Thunder Bay Fire Department, Ian Walmark refused to leave his home and live in a Seniors’ facility. His life would have been easier with a little help but he never took the easy way. Last Thursday morning was like any other morning for him. He woke up, shaved, tried to eat breakfast and waited for his morning visitors. But this Thursday was different. He felt like he was getting the flu. This was not the first time he felt like this. He knew the routine. Wait to see if he felt better and if not, go to the ER and get an IV to prevent dehydration. Today, it was off to the ER. He sat in the waiting room and waited most of the morning for his name to be called. Once inside “the door,” he was examined and tested and yes he was put on an IV to get his fluids up. He knew the routine. Soon he would be going home. However, by midafternoon, something went wrong. His blood pressure began to drop. He had a little trouble breathing. This was nothing new. After thirty years with the Thunder Bay Fire Department, he carried a lot of aches and pains. Soon, he would be going home.
Since the 1960s, he and his wife Wilda had lived in their home on Ray Blvd. where they raised their family of five boys. Ian and Wilda grew up in Current River during the Dirty Thirties. Their fathers were best friends. Ian and Wilda remained friends throughout high school but took different paths after graduation. Ian worked in the Port Arthur Shipyards and Wilda left the Lakehead to study nursing at Cook County in Chicago, where she became one of the first Registered Nurses in Northern Ontario to graduate with a degree in nursing. Mike and Pat, the sons of Wilda’s first marriage, lived with them in their home. Ian admired Mike and Pat’s natural athletic ability and their work ethic on the football field. He never took the time to tell them. He had the job and when he was home there were always repairs and renovations to do. Soon the family grew again with the additions of Brian, John and David. He enjoyed taking them every Sunday he could to visit his mother and his brother Glen, his wife Joan and their children, Donny, Gary and Barbie. Sundays included trips to Centennial Park and Chippewa Park. Sometimes there was ice cream.
However, it was firefighting that defined Ian and everything and everyone in his life. He joined the Port Arthur Fire Department in 1960s. He retired in 1990 after suffering a series of work related injuries. He won a number of awards and was recognized for his quick action to rescue a young boy who fell into the frozen Current River and nearly drown. Like most Firefighters, he never complained about the injuries caused by their work. To Ian, the pain he endured was the price of doing his part to serve and protect the people of the Thunder Bay.
In his final hours, Ian acknowledged that when he joined the Fire Service, you were expected to put the job first and your family second. In his day, you ignored your physical and emotional pain. If you couldn’t, there were consequences. Instead, you just buried your pain deep inside. At the end of the shift, you and your colleagues would go have a few drinks, perhaps more, maybe a few too many to deal with the pain. You never thought about the pain. You never did anything about it. You certainly never talked about it. Many years later, he said as a training officer he passed these teachings to other generations of fire fighters. In his final hours, he had a message for his fellow First Responders. He said you live through experiences that no one should have to live through. You run into fires when everyone is running out. You carry on long after most people would quit. You see things no one should witness. This takes a terrible toll on the body, the mind and the soul. He confessed that after almost fifty years, he was still haunted by an incident he experienced during his first years as a firefighter. He said don’t ignore your pain. It will just grow and grow until the burden of hiding it crushes you. He said it will be your family that will pay the price. If you feel your burden is growing too great, he said, get professional help. He said he came to learn in his final hours that getting help is not weakness but a sign of strength. If you need help or if you see someone who needs a hand, be brave enough to do the right thing. It takes courage to run into a burning building. It takes more courage to admit you need help and then to get it.
Ian’s greatest joy in later life was his grandchildren, Jeffery, Michael, Ian Andrew and Maija. After he retired, he spent every spare moment with Ian Andrew. He and Wilda took him to concerts at the Auditorium, many trips to parks and children’s activities and especially the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. But most of all, they spend time at home gardening, reading, watching movies and listening to music. He shared his life, his time and his home with Ian Andrew who wanted to spend every minute with his grandfather.
After his grandson grew up and moved away, Ian stayed active with frequent visits to his favorite places in Thunder Bay. He especially loved talking with the staff at Janzen’s, Copperfin Credit Union, Safeway’s, Garofalo’s barber shop, Caesar's Place and Roosters’ where he always inspected the menu cover to cover but ordered the same thing every time. However, his most favourite time was visiting the love of his life, Wilda, at Lakehead Manor.
Ian had great respect for doctors and nurses. He was grateful to all of those in the Thunder Bay medical community who have supported him over the decades especially, the health care professionals at the Port Arthur Clinic, Curans Heart Centre and Thunder Bay Regional Hospital. He was especially thankful for the work of Dr. McPhail and Dr. Calonego who he credits for supporting his lifelong wish to remain at home till the end. He looked forward to his doctor appointments.
In his final hours in the ER, his son, Dave made him smile and laugh. John reminded him of his main lesson to his sons that it’s better to make a wrong decision and live with the consequences than to make no decision at all. Near the end, Ian said he was happy to see all of his sons together around his bedside. Later, in the dark and chilly hours of Friday morning, he was called Home.
Visitation for family and friends will be held on Friday, June 7, 2019 from 5:00pm until 8:00pm in the EVEREST FUNERAL CHAPEL, 299 Waverley Street at Algoma. Cremation will follow with a private family service and interment to be held at a later date.
Should friends so desire, donations made in memory of Ian to the Northern Ontario School of Medicine General Bursary Fund would be greatly appreciated.