SURREY — Chick Stewart celebrated his 89th birthday Monday (Sept. 11) with family and friends, and also at the two Surrey landmarks he built and still visits the most.
At Northview Golf & Country Club, he dined with members of the Vancouver Canucks following the hockey team’s annual Jake Milford Charity Invitational tournament there.
Earlier in the day, the near-nonagenarian travelled to the banks of the Fraser River in Port Kells to visit S&R Sawmills, another business of his that figures prominently on the Surrey landscape and also in Stewart’s new autobiography.
It Can Be Done: An Ordinary Man’s Extraordinary Success, recently delivered to book stores by B.C.-based Harbour Publishing, chronicles Donald “Chick” Stewart’s adventures from a Great Depression-era chicken farm in Fort Rouge, Manitoba, to Surrey, where he became a lumber baron, golf course operator, Gossip Island vacationer and, with his late wife Marilyn, who died in 2014, Czorny Alzheimer Centre builder.
The book was written with the help of Roxanne Davies, who organized boxes of old photos, and North Vancouver-based author Michele Carter, who scheduled bi-weekly meetings with Stewart at his Cloverdale-area home from October 2015 to May 2016. She heard and recorded a volume of stories, including tales of the business tycoon once trick-or-treating for potatoes, landing in jail on a motorcycle road trip and deciding to get his pilot’s licence after a near-fatal flight aboard a plane that practically fell apart in his lap.
With the help of Stewart’s three daughters, Wendy, Suzanne and Colleen, who encouraged their father to keep at it and also collected facts and photos, an interesting book emerged about a Surrey success story.
“Chick had a few stories he’d been telling for years, and knew them well, but he was concerned that he wouldn’t remember other events in his life,” Carter told the Now-Leader. “As soon as I began digging further into his past, his memory sprang to action and he amazed himself, and me, with his precise recollections. He has a terrific memory. Plus, he’s a great storyteller. He made my job easy.”
After earning wages at a sawmill in his teen and young-adult years, a new chapter of Stewart’s life started in the fall of 1963 when he bought his first mill with Vic Rempel. They called it S&R Sawmills, in line with their surnames.
By the mid-1970s, Stewart and his family moved from Coquitlam to a rancher on 20 acres of land in Surrey — land that would balloon to more than 400 acres, through future acquisition, and become home to Northview’s two golf courses. Told in the book is the story of Stewart’s efforts to have a large chunk of the property rezoned from agricultural to recreational use, and opposition to the project from then-mayor Bob Bose.
Also chronicled is Stewart’s business relationship with golf legend Arnold Palmer, who designed Northview’s 36 holes.
“The second time Arnold came out, I drove over to the Surrey hotel in my ‘71 Chev pickup and he threw his clubs in the back. ‘Just in case,’” Stewart writes.
“That day,” Stewart notes in the book, “I looked toward the north and saw the North Shore mountaintops shining in the sun. ‘What a view,’ I said. Right then, I had a name for the golf course: Northview. Arnold nodded. ‘Sounds good.’”
Last Sunday, Stewart went for a stroll with family at Bill Reid Millennium Amphitheatre in symbolic support of the 2017 Parkinson Superwalk, held as a fundraiser for those dealing with the disease of the nervous system, as the longtime Surreyite is.
All royalties from book sales will be donated to charity, initially for the 20-bed Stewart Family Hospice proposed to be built somewhere in Surrey. “We’re in the planning stages, and I look forward to participating in each phase,” Stewart writes in the book’s final chapter. “This project allows me to keep involved and to stay busy. We estimate the project should be completed in less than two years, so for the next little while my life is pretty much mapped out.”