August 12, 1956-September 3, 2003
The City of Chilliwack is this week the poorer one highly colourful and irascible personality. Peter Ternent died of pneumonia after a lengthy period of degenerative decline by cerebral palsy. Longtime residents will remember Peter driving the streets on his custom motorized three-wheel bike, his coat wide open and streaming in the wind. Coffee drinkers will remember Peter sitting in his booth, endless cup on table, cigarette smoke curling upwards into the haze of the evening atmosphere of Smitty’s Restaurant.
Denied from birth a normal physical development, Peter watched from all fours as those about him assumed him to be mentally retarded and hopelessly incapacitated. Yet inside his soul burned desire: to walk, to be understood, to live as others an independent life. At the age of 12 years, scarcely encouraged and driven by his deep desire, Peter stood unsteadily and took his first stride. With his private heroism finally exposed, Peter’s community learned at last of the potential that lay within.
In 1972, now only three years behind his able-bodied peers, Peter attended Grade 8 at A.D. Rundle Junior Secondary. The handwriting involved in school work was a frustration for Peter; ever striving for the life afforded the physically able, he gravitated to the shop class. Loving it more than any other think, over the next five years Peter took on the improbable trade of carpentry.
Born to an unwed mother Peter was adopted as a newborn and raised by the Hewens family. Fate then served him doubly ill, as family break-up led to a youth lived out in harsh poverty. As an adult, the mystery of how he came to find himself in his wretched circumstances moved Peter to seek out his birth family. In 1983 his researches coincided with a chance occurrence and Peter learned the fate of his birth mother and that he had been born with the name Ternent. The few meetings with his birth mother were painful, but Peter did not burden his discovered family, to seize control of his past and to know his real name was enough.
As one might perhaps expect with a person having a profound physical disability, the profession of carpentry did not provide a good living for Peter. Eking his life out on the shamefully meagre stipend our society provides to the disabled, Peter knew no life other than one of poverty. Peter was tough and self-taught in the art of protecting his interests; various inconsiderate (and even a few innocent) Chilliwack souls were shocked to awareness of Peter’s intelligence at the sharp end of one of his fiery tongue lashings. Bearded, longhaired and with his ungainly but dignified gait, Peter was to a stranger hard to understand as he spoke. But to those with a good ear would be revealed a man with a tremendous vocabulary, incisive eye, and biting sense of humour.
There will be no service. Cremation. Ashes to be scattered. Light a candle in remembrance.