Although he wasn’t from the area, after moving to Yale in 1964, Walter “Wally” Kassian not only put down lasting family roots, but created a lasting legacy through his decades of dedicated effort to improve the community at large.
On June 17 of his 86th year, Kassian—who was the last surviving member of the Fraser Canyon Hospital Improvement Board—passed away at the Fraser Canyon Hospital with his family by his side.
“He was the last of five children—the end of a generation,” said his son, Michael Kassian.
The son of two Ukrainian immigrants, Kassian made a successful living building roads and tunnels throughout the province, but mainly in the Fraser Canyon area.
“My father was a builder, that’s who he was,” Michael continued. “He came here as a builder and built logging roads, (tunnels, businesses, a farm) and a fire department.”
Known as the unofficial mayor of Yale, Wally’s dedication to the area was well-known, and through his involvement with the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD), he was able to help establish the region’s current boundaries.
“He spent 12 or 14 years as a director for Area B (of the FVRD), then went on to Chair the Fraser-Cheam Board for two or three terms before moving back down to director,” Michael explained.
During his time with the FVRD, Michael says his father took the opportunity to put something together in Yale for fire protection because there was none, and homes and companies were burning to the ground and forced to pay high insurance rates.
“We had this great photo my dad took of people standing around with a garden hose trying to put out the flames of a burning house that burnt down because (the community had) no fire protection. My dad set out to change that.
“The first few years were pretty primitive,” Michael said, “but as the years went by, insurance rates were kept down, and members kept joining.”
And while Wally made it to assistant fire chief, there was a conflict between being on the FVRD board and a member of the fire department, so he stepped down from the department. However, since it’s incorporation, the Yale’s fire department has grown in coverage, and now has two fire halls.
Having made a good living as a builder, Michael says his dad was able to retire early at 55, which left him with a “good 30 years to give a bit more to the community. He was able to come back and dedicate more time.
“He had the luxury of time to be able to do the things (he was passionate) about, and do them well in the community,” Michael continued.
During one of their final conversations, Michael says his father made a statement that he believes sums up Wally’s interpretation of the world: there are two types of people in this world, those who work for and look after themselves, and those who look into the broader community and look for ways to serve it.
But which one Wally was, “he left that to the community to judge,” said Michael “It’s a question better answered by the people around him, but he lived a very simple life, didn’t try to complicate things, and I believe his record speaks for itself.
“Anytime somebody was homeless or needed help, my dad was always there,” continued Michael. “My dad would always reach out.
“My father came here as a builder, (and build he did). Now it’s time for a whole new generation to pick up the torch and carry on where he left off.”
Wally Kassian’s Celebration of Life will be held at 1 p.m., on Saturday, June 29, at the Yale Community Hall (formerly the Yale Elementary School).
Donations can be made in Wally’s honour to the Fraser Canyon Hospice Society.