Stan Nickel: Building a life in Chilliwack
Although Stan Nickel was born, bred and raised in our fair city, his roots are firmly planted in Russia. As Mennonites, Stan’s great-grandparents and grandparents left that country with a dream of freedom and prosperity and eventually settled in Saskatchewan.
The poor economy of the ‘Dirty 30s’, coupled with severe drought conditions caused many of these re-settled Mennonite families to leave the prairies. His mother’s family relocated to Abbotsford in 1944 while his father’s family moved to Greendale three years later.
A year after the Nickel family moved to Greendale, the Fraser River breached a weakened dike and the community was flooded. The family home floated in 12 feet of flood water and moved across the Keith Wilson ditch and road and settled upright in the adjacent farm field. Without a home and in the midst of this disaster, his father’s family was directed to join other evacuees at a disaster relief camp that was set up at the Abbotsford Airport. “Dad got temporary work at a berry processing plant where mom also worked and this was where they first met,” he said.
Stan grew up in a loving home and enjoyed a rather rural lifestyle. The family had a home near the Hope River where they raised a cow, chickens and a horse. “My days were spent swimming or riding my bike. There were always lots of adventures to be had. We also had lots of corn to hoe and wood piles that had to be moved. Dad even had me operating a small farm tractor before I was 13 years old,” he said, with an earnest smile. It was also around this same time that Stan discovered motorcycles. “They became a uniquely, entertaining distraction for me,” he chuckled.
He enjoyed school and was a good student but by the time that he hit high school, Stan was confronted with the usual teenage conflicts and distractions which ultimately led to his leaving school without graduating. “This was something that I did regret but eventually, I was presented with an opportunity to do survey work; something that I found I liked to do. I needed professional accreditation to get into it and this became my motivation for getting my GED.”
In 1970, Stan took on a temporary job with the Ministry of Transport, working as part of their survey crew during the construction of the Chilliwack airport’s runway. After leaving that position, he applied for a job with the survey firm of McElhanney Associates and for the next 14 years he enjoyed his work, all the while working towards his accreditation as a surveyor. “The exams were quite intensive and were administered through the Corporation of Land Surveyors of BC. There were three sets of exams and you had to go to Victoria to take them. Each set of exams had ten tests; so there were 10 preliminary tests, 10 intermediate tests which were even more technically challenging and then 10 final tests. The process took six years in all and throughout the process I took night courses at BCIT to prepare for the tests,” he explained methodically. Although there were some challenges along the way, Stan admits that he’s always been a fighter and not a quitter and to that end, not only received his license but admits that it turned out to be a nice career.
In the Fall of 1985, Stan took out a business license and started up his own surveying company and was successful right through to his retirement last year.
“How lucky I was to happen upon a job that truly fascinated and entertained me.” While he admits that he misses the work, he concedes that it was the right thing to do at the right time. “It’s been nice having the chance to take my grandkids to hockey,” he said with a chuckle.
His career was always interesting if not adventurous at times. Stan travelled to Saudi Arabia twice on business and it was a remarkable journey. “It was a grand adventure that included superlative technical accomplishments plus heartbreaking separation from my family,” he admitted. Stan became a charter member of the Chilliwack and District Home Builders’ Association; then he became their first secretary and then their first non-builder president. “As their president, I was able to help leverage a significant agreement with the City of Chilliwack called the Modified Approval Process and we received a ‘Gold’ Georgie Award for that agreement,” he said. He also served as chair of the Aboriginal Liaison Committee for the Association of Canada Land Surveyors and served as founding member and then chair of the Business Practices Committee for the Association of BC Land Surveyors. Today, Stan enjoys his work as a member of the Chilliwack Rotary Club and being what he calls a ‘couch potato’ hockey fan. “I’m also a Chilliwack Chiefs seasons ticket holder,” he quickly added.
Stan was very close to his parents and although they are gone now, he appreciates his mother’s influence on him in developing a life-long curiosity for learning. He’s equally thankful to his father for teaching him that he would never appreciate a good job until he had experienced a bad one and for the life lessons of team sports and about being strong and responsible for his family.
While Stan was always passionate about his work, it is his family that he’s devoted to and for him, they are his rock. He adores his wife, his three children and four grandchildren. “My wife is the glue that binds our family together and I am so proud of my children for growing into responsible, productive and caring adults. I’m also so grateful to my grandchildren for partly filling the huge holes in my life which are left by the passing of those whom I have loved.”