‘Outdoor Medicine’: Annual fishing event a boost for youth – The Epoch Times | Gmx Pharm

Two parents whose lives came to an early and unfortunate end remember him each year by instilling in their youth the joy of fishing.

On July 30, two dozen children, mostly from the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program, took a few hours to throw from the shore of Echo Lake, about an hour east of Regina. It was all part of the third annual Wishin’ I was Fishin’ event hosted by David and Sara Gillis and volunteers.

“My son died in 2016 at the age of 27. He had mental issues and got on some bad drugs,” said David Gillis.

Gillis enjoyed fishing with his son Brad. Three years after his death, he decided to honor Brad by giving a day of fishing to children who might not otherwise get a chance.

The Third Annual Wishin’ I was Fishin’ Event on July 30, 2022 at Echo Lake, Saskatchewan. (Trevor MacDonald)

“I was planning to take four or five kids fishing just for a day and I just wanted to give them a used rod and some tackle. So I went on Facebook and said does anyone have an old tackle box?” Gillis recalled.

“And it just got crazy. People started donating all kinds of things.”

Like this year’s event, the opening event in 2019 took place on the shore opposite a fish farm.

“They only got about four fish the first time, but they had a good time. They all went out and were able to fish for a couple of hours. They all got a fishing rod and a tackle box and we had a big barbecue and they all got t-shirts and they were pretty excited,” Gillis recalled.

“Everyone I’ve ever spoken to with mental health issues who goes fishing finds it very relaxing and calming. So I figured, if I can get city kids to fish, I’ll get them off the streets and they won’t cause any problems. And if they have any problems, well, that’s a good way to solve them.”

The pandemic canceled the 2020 event, but the Gillis’s hosted it again in 2021 with a novel mix of youth and adults.

“We joined the Royal Canadian Legion and brought out the army vets who have mental health issues and suffer from this post traumatic stress disorder. So 15 army men and 15 kids came from the Regina North Central Community Center.”

North Central Regina was named “Canada’s Worst Neighborhood” by Maclean’s in 2007. Gillis’ wife Sarah believes that children from there and elsewhere can benefit from learning to fish for a day and returning home with the gear to do it for a lifetime.

“A lot of single parents can’t afford fishing poles and tackle boxes, so that’s how they start. They have their only little kit and rod and mom or dad can just take them out for fun,” she said.

“It gets them outside and teaches them something new. We also have conservation officers who come out and the kids get a little explanation about the fish.”

That year, about two dozen children, ages 3 to 17, arrived by bus from Regina, accompanied by an older sibling or parent. Thanks to corporate sponsors, the youth now get first-class equipment.

Twins Terrence and Ashton Macdonald, who recently turned 13, fished in both last year’s and this year’s event. Terrence said the lake has walleye and pike and he “really enjoyed” being there.

“I like that we can fish every year. Yeah, I think it’s very cool that they’re doing that for us,” Terrence said.

Ashton said he hung leeches and worms on his hook and one fish got away with his bait.

“One took mine. I had him on the line,” he said. “It’s nice and quiet. There are also many people here to make new friends. The weather is always nice.”

This day meant all the more to her father Trevor Macdonald.

“I’ve known Dave for about 20 years. I was actually good friends with his son Brad. I had a lot of fun volunteering for it last year and couldn’t wait to do it again,” he said.

“[Brad] loved fishing. Dave has always been a fisherman so they always went out. So this was the perfect event in his honor.”

“Honestly, fishing with kids doesn’t seem to be common these days,” he adds. “So it’s just nice for them to get out and just be able to spend the day outside, learning to fish and gaining experience. They really seem to enjoy it. And once you get that first bite, it always brings you back.”

“It’s just a magical thing”

Volunteer Steven Gloade said he was drawn to help because of the genuine hearts of the Gillis.

“Dave told me his story and it’s a tragic thing. But sometimes out of a burnt forest comes the best of the forest, the most beautiful things. And when you start seeing these kids here, it’s a no-brainer. I’ll be here next year if he wants me,” Gloade said.

Epoch Times photo
Steven Gloade and David Gillis at the third annual Wishin’ I was Fishin’ event at Echo Lake, Saskatchewan, July 30, 2022. (Lee Harding/The Epoch Times)

“It’s just a magical thing, right? It distracts us all from what we are dealing with – run away from things for a few hours and lose yourself in the moment. It’s hard not to be in the moment. You feel the heat, hear people talking and laughing. Yeah, it’s pretty cool.”

Gloade’s smile and enthusiasm betray the PTSD he suffered in 2015 after a long career with the RCMP.

“Over the 27 years I have done a lot of front line general policing in many difficult places. Things were catching up to me, I just ran out of ways to deal with them. It’s like putting stuff in a box and closing the lid, but sooner or later the box gets too full and you can’t close the lid,” he explained.

Gloade believes “outdoor medicine” has aided his healing and can benefit everyone.

“It doesn’t need to fix anyone, but it’s another tool in the toolbelt, right? I like to hunt and fish, but someone can just walk, sit or read a book outside,” he said.

“When I was broke [down] from PTSD in 2015, some friends dragged me bear hunting. I did not want to go. I was what they call bunkering. I just wanted to stay indoors.”

Gloade said he grew up hunting and fishing in Nova Scotia, and this hunting trip to northern Alberta reminded him how “wow” an experience can be. Since then, he’s made a point of taking veterans and other “wounded warriors” into the great outdoors to heal.

“It would be too smart to actually try to start a charity,” he joked, “[but I’ll] take guys on their own deer hunt or whatever. I was lucky this year. I only met a few average people, some of whom own businesses and they sponsored bows to get veterans bowfishing.

“There is something beautiful about helping people. It brings back a lot of life.”

Lee Harding

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Lee Harding is a Saskatchewan-based journalist and think tank researcher and contributor to The Epoch Times.

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