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Soap carving with Soldier On members at the 17 Wing Wellness Centre

By Martin Zeilig 

There was a common refrain amongst the several participants interviewed by The Voxair at the Soldier On soap stone carving workshop held in the Annex at the Wing Wellness Centre (formerly the 17 Wing Chapel) on January 29-30.  

That chorus was positive.  

A total of ten Soldier On members took part in the workshop. 

“It’s always good to spend time with folks, who have similar issues and are facing a transition,” Lieutenant Colonel Brian Quick said, as he carved away with a file at the half finished soapstone owl on his place mat at one of the tables set up for the carvers. 

LCol Quick is retiring this summer after a rewarding 36-year career serving Canada. 

“There’s strength in numbers,” he said.  

“It’s always good to know that you’re not the only person going through a transition or a struggle.” 

Soldier On is a program of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), which contributes to the recovery of ill and injured CAF members and veterans by providing opportunities and resources through sport, recreational, and creative activities, says the Soldier On website. 

Soldier On is recognized for improving the quality of life of the ill and injured and is a highly visible and integral component of the Department of National Defence, and the CAF’s commitment to the care of ill and injured members. Generous Canadians support the program through donations and fundraising to the Soldier On Fund, which is managed by Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services

Dan Whittaker, regional coordinator for Soldier On for the Prairie Region (Manitoba, Saskatchewan and NW Ontario), noted that the two day soapstone carving workshop was being led by Frederick Spence, “an outstanding carver,” and member of the Peguis First Nation.  

“We started off the workshop with a brief introduction where everybody introduced themselves and Fredrick shared his own story and journey of recovery,” Mr. Whittaker said.  

“Our Soldier On members thoroughly enjoy the soap stone carving. It’s very relaxing and they’re learning a new skill set and it’s hopefully something they’ll continue to do. We did it last year for the first time and it was a huge success. Hopefully we’ll turn it into an annual event.” 

Mr. Spence said that he brought all the tools and soapstone to the workshop. 

“I just guide people through the process that I taught myself,” he added.  

“I find it very therapeutic. There are a lot of mental health benefits.” 

When asked how he first got into soap stone carving, Mr. Spence explained he has always been a creative person doing sketching, carving (with other material) and even LEGO. 

“I’m a recovering addict and I find working with my hands very beneficial,” he said. 

“I stumbled across soap stone carving. I always wanted to try it and I found a place to buy it.” 

He added that the main part of the workshop is hand filing.  

“That’s how I taught myself,” he said.   

“We use rasp files mainly. I do use a hacksaw to cut off the bigger chunks. I want people to experience the feeling of the hand.” 

Mr. Spence observed that he has moved on to carving one hundred –two hundred pound pieces of soapstone. 

“At that point you’re using grinders,” he said.  

“But, there’s nothing like using your hands to carve, files, sandpaper, oil, and pencils (to first draw the outline of your creation).” 

Sergeant (ret) Scott McLellan, who served for 26 years, was carving a diminutive dog with a fantail, a Tibetan Spaniel, based on a photo of his own pet dog, Arial. 

“This is the first time I’ve ever done this with soapstone,” Sgt (ret) McLellan said.  

“I did some whittling when I was a young guy in Ontario. This session is fantastic. It gets you out and participating in social activities. It allows me to meet new people.” 

Master Corporal (ret) Kaila Conway, who served 14 years here in Winnipeg, was carving a bear.  

“This is a collaboration between Fred (Spence) and me and the internet,” she said.  

“This gets me out of the house and busy with something and talking with people who have a similar background as you do. It’s really nice. It’s fantastic.”  

For further information about Soldier On, contact Dan Whittaker at email: 

Cell phone #: 204-583-1163 

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