Johnny Johnson and friends on the river collecting wooden ducks.

Tragedy fund wraps up after 20 years serving Burns Lake

Over the years fund has helped countless number of people

When Johnny Johnson started the Pinkut Creek Fish Tragedy Fund, 20 years back, he had hoped, but little did he imagine how many lives it will touch.

“I had people I knew, friends, who lost someone through Cancer or lost everything to house fires. A lot of people didn’t have or couldn’t afford insurance and I wanted to help them out,” said Johnson, explaining why he first thought of starting the fund.

The fund raised money for individuals who were suffering from any sort of a tragedy and it also helped locals after large-scale tragedies like the 2012 Babine Forest Product explosion and fire at the sawmill.

Last week, the tragedy fund that was set up in 2000, was finally closed as managing the fund got overwhelming.

”Johnny hates recognition for all his hard work, but our community has been very luck to have a guy like him spearheading this fund. He and his wife, Yvonne are a total asset to our community,” said Laura Blackwell, one of the directors on the fund. “If a tragedy happened in our community he was always one of the first people on that person’s door step with an envelope of money to help them out. It was a such great fund and I know we have helped a great deal of people and in many ways it is sad to see it end.”

The fund raised over $100,000 in all its years.

“If someone was going through town and had a car accident, I didn’t want them stuck somewhere so we had money for hotel rooms and same with house fires. It just hurt my heart to see people suffering and with nobody there to help them. I had some pretty good friends and they liked my idea,” he said.

Johnson organized several fundraising events like the Pinkut Creek Fish Float Contest and poker tournaments but he gives credit to the generosity of the several donors especially the Off Highway Truckers and the dedication of the directors of the fund.

He said that while there was other funding options available in town, that funding usually took time to trickle down unlike the tragedy fund, which was available immediately to those in need.

This hasn’t been the first community-driven activity by Johnson. Over the years, Johnson has helped countless number of people in and around the town. Fond of hunting, he hunted and most of it went to people in need. He would hunt and drop it off at someone’s place he knew who needed food on the table.

He also started a community garden about 10 years ago comprised of volunteers coming together to grow produce and distribute to anyone who needed it at no cost.

Johnson has worked all his life, right from the age of seven when he started chopping wood at Paradise Lodge during summer, but has also helped generate local employment by giving opportunities to segments that were usually overlooked.

“Back in the day, women were having a hard time, and needed work and I had work for them. The companies I was associated with, were open to me hiring women and people who were otherwise not given work. I also had a female cook on the charter boat and I had women working in the mill,” he said, adding “I gave everybody an opportunity that needed it, it wasn’t just one segment of the society.”

“Now I would like to buy another sawmill, but my wife says I am too old,” said Johnson, still looking to create local employment at the age of 80.

In 2016, Johnson was recognized as the Citizen of the Year for his long-standing contributions and impact on the community but he refuses the title of hero.

“I have done things I am not proud of. So I am no hero, it’s just that if you ask for my help, I will, if I am able to, that’s all.”

So, what makes a hero?

“Community,” said Johnson. “Burns Lake has always had good people. There are people like me that are good and bad, but there have always been good people here. ”

Priyanka Ketkar
Multimedia journalist

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Johnny Johnson with a truck load of cabbage grown at his community gardens.

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