A record amount of codfish was surely devoured in Edmonton last week when Ken Domier was presented with the King Harald of Norway’s St. Olav’s Medal.
A mountain of cod was served family-style to a party of more than 100 people gathered for the medal ceremony recognizing Domier’s significant contribution in growing relations between Canada and Norway, particularly in Alberta.
Bjorn Morisbak, Norway’s honorary consul in Edmonton, told guests at the Chateau Nova Yellowhead Hotel: “My long-serving predecessor wrote me saying no one in Northern Alberta has done more for the Norwegian milieu and advancement of Norwegian culture and heritage than Ken Domier.”
Domier, professor emeritus of the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Agricultural Life and Environmental Sciences, is also a key member of Edmonton’s Torskeklubben, or Cod Club.
The night of Domier’s award presentation also marked the 50th anniversary of Torskeklubben, which promotes the country’s heritage and culture.
The late Roy Sundby, a CN conductor and my neighbour in the late ’70s, introduced me to Torskeklubben, which sees members and guests wash down cod, potatoes and carrots with aquavit. Aquavit is a Scandinavian spirit distilled from grain or potatoes, whose history dates back to the 15th century and is about 42 to 45 per cent alcohol by volume.
Shot glasses during meals are regularly refilled by servers and the evenings become, well, relaxed.
“Ken was the cause of my first overdose of aquavit outside of Norway,” said Morisbak. “It was at a dinner going back some 20 years now.”
Grant Ericksen, Torskeklubben’s first secretary, ran a marathon with my Back of the Back Gang supporting the Salvation Army and I skied the Birkebeiner’s 55-km event with two of the club’s most dedicated members, Kaare Askildt and Gary Johnson.
Domier and the club have supported too many charities to name here, but they have always supported the Birkebeiner ski festival, which in a good year attracts more than 2,000 skiers.
One of the most touching stories I have ever heard came last week at the annual Edmonton Sunrise Rotary’s Planes, Trains and Auctionables dinner.
Caroline Candrin said when her son Leo was born in 2001, she and husband Paul were full of hopes and dreams for their child.
“He was a very curious boy with lots energy,” said Caroline. “But at an early age we began to see behavioral issues and outbursts.”
When Leo was 10 years old, he was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome (TS) and the literature they read about it was discouraging.
“Leo seemed to be afflicted with many of the conditions associated with TS; depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, rage and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder,” said Caroline.
The condition is a neurological disorder characterized by “tic,” or involuntary, irresistible urges to perform a movement or vocalization.
“The symptoms of TS became more challenging for our family and Leo at the age of 13,” said Caroline.
“His physical tics were so bad he would need massages to relieve tension and aches.
“I had so much guilt from sneaking ear plugs in my ears because his screaming tics were so loud it would hurt my ears.
“He had moments of rage so out of control the police would need to be called.”
Husband Paul said when Leo was in a rage, the couple put away anything he could harm himself with, got his brother to safety and kept their distance, hoping the therapy skills they had learned would let them weather the storm.
“Once he eventually calmed down, Leo would have so much remorse for not being able to control himself, he would cry and need to be held and reminded just how much we loved him,” said Caroline.
Paul said he was scared and crushed when he first saw Leo as a teen struggle with a tic that was both physical and vocal.
“It was difficult, really difficult to hear our son say he wanted to end his life and end his pain,” said his dad.
By the age of 15, Leo had been to see countless doctors and therapists, was thrice admitted to the hospital and spent endless nights in a hospital emergency room.
But even after a total of 11 weeks in hospital and six months at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, there was little change in Leo’s condition.
“The most difficult thing was feeling even the doctors had nothing left to try,” said Paul.
“Tragically, May 14 last year, Leo’s battle with mental illness ended when he took his own life.”
The couple spoke of the love they will always have for their son and how telling their story brings awareness to Tourette Syndrome and helps them heal.
Rotarians at the fundraising dinner have supported Tourette research and treatment for 14 years. The couple received a standing ovation.
Although the exact numbers of Tourette Syndrome is uncertain, it is estimated to affect 1 to 10 in 1,000 children.
Funds raised this year will aid specialized camps and programs for children with TS disorders.