It’s only been six years since Mal Wood moved to the South Cariboo, but he’s already made a huge impact on the community.
Drawn to the area by the affordable real estate prices, Wood bought a parcel of land on Canim Hendrix Lake Road in 2015 and began building a house from the ground up. And if that huge project wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Wood also immediately jumped in to volunteer with various community organizations.
“I didn’t know a soul when I first came up here, but I just got mixed into everything,” Wood recalls. “It makes you feel good when you can look back on the things you’ve done.”
Wood’s volunteer efforts in the South Cariboo – including the 100 Mile and District Historical Society, Emergency Support Services, and previously the Hot July Nights car show and 100 Mile House Wranglers – have earned him the distinction of being declared Citizen of the Year, announced this past weekend by the South Cariboo Chamber of Commerce and MLA Lorne Doerkson.
While Wood said the award was an honour, lending a hand when needed is something he has always done no matter where he lives.
“I don’t really do anything different than what I’ve done all my life,” he said.
Prior to his move to the Cariboo, Wood spent more than 30 years with the Mission Fire Rescue Service. During that time he became heavily involved in fundraising and support for the Muscular Dystrophy Society, even assuming the role of provincial society chair for two years.
A highlight of his volunteering career was the close work he did with a young Mission boy named Daniel, who had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Through Mission Fire Rescue, Wood helped to support Daniel and his family throughout the boy’s life, which was cut short by the disease.
Some of the ways he and the fire rescue team helped brighten Daniel’s life included making him an honorary firefighter, and raising $15,000 during an event in which Daniel was lifted 100 feet in the air in a firetruck ladder.
When Daniel died at the age of 13, Wood and the rest of the Mission Fire Rescue crew gave him a full firefighter’s funeral.
“This was my real passion,” Wood says as he flips through an album full of dozens of newspaper clippings about Daniel.
Locally, Wood said his involvement with ESS – a volunteer organization that helps people impacted by disasters such as wildfires – has been some of his most meaningful work.
“You’re really helping out people that are in a lot of stress and having life-changing experiences,” he said. “But it makes you feel good to help them. And it’s a team effort, not just me.”
On the lighter side, he said his volunteer efforts with the 100 Mile and District Historical Society – which operates the 108 Heritage Site – has been a bit more relaxed and a lot of fun.
He’s particularly proud of the jail cell he built in the Clydesdale barn, which houses a mannequin sheriff and prisoner, and said he has plans to build a miniature shop to house old heritage tools in one of the adjacent barn stalls.
He notes, however, that it’s been a tough few years for the volunteers at the Heritage Site, with COVID-19 restrictions limiting the number of visitors and events they’ve been able to host.
“We depend on donations being a non-profit,” he said. “So it’s been pretty tricky with no international tourists coming through. And there’s so much that needs to be done here.”
Another project he hopes will get more action in the community is the Firefighter Challenge – an obstacle course designed for kids to simulate the type of rescues that fire crews sometimes undertake. Wood created the challenge – with various tubes to climb through, ladders to scale and cones to manoeuver – with the hopes that it could be utilized by various fire halls and at community events, but COVID has put a damper on the event for the time being.
Wood has plans to take a break and spend some time outside the Cariboo. He is hoping to get out and “see more of Canada,” with his sights set on travels to the Maritimes. “But I’m not going to move over there and disappear,” he points out.
Wherever his travels take him, it’s a sure bet that Wood will continue to lend a hand and keep himself busy. Of his time helping out here in the Cariboo, Wood said he has no regrets.
“I’ve loved every minute of it.”