The community said farewell to one of its most beloved leaders with a Canada Day parade in April. Winston Joseph was a longtime teacher, philosopher and community leader in Port Alberni; he died April 11 at the age of 89.
Janis Joseph, Winston’s daughter, organized the car parade on Saturday, April 17, giving the community a chance to honour the memory of her father. Winston was the founder of the Folkfest Multicultural Society and the Port Alberni Canada Day Parade. He displayed his patriotism daily: he could often be seen walking along the streets waving a small Canada flag at people and cars.
“Every Canada Day, he was the one who raised the flag and sang ‘O Canada,’” explained Janis. “He was ‘Mr. Canada’ to a lot of people. He had a lot of pride in his country—he was proud to be Canadian.”
Winston’s final Canada Day Parade was in 2019, when he and his wife Sheila rode in the lead car. There was no parade in 2020 due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
On Saturday, vehicles were decorated with Canadian flags and paraded from Echo Centre to the Joseph house on Rosewood Street. Several drivers dropped off gifts, cards and flowers for the Joseph family, all while staying in their cars to follow COVID-19 restrictions.
“It means the absolute world,” said an emotional Janis Joseph after the parade. “He touched a lot of hearts. These tributes have helped us heal.”
Hundreds of people have reached out to the Joseph family since their patriarch died last week. People have called, sent text messages and left numerous testaments of their appreciation for Winston on social media posts. Many have talked about his impact on their lives when they were his students. There is also a petition asking School District 70-Pacific Rim officials to rename A.W. Neill School after Joseph, who taught English there for 22 years before moving to the high school.
Pat Kokura, a retired missionary from Port Alberni, knew Winston when he first arrived in the Alberni Valley in the 1960s. “I can’t make the driveby today, but my heart is there,” Kokura wrote. “Winston was always looking for the good side of everything. He shall be missed.”
“If I were able to participate I’d wear rose-coloured glasses in honour of Winston, who taught so many that life is richer and more rewarding when you look at the world as a glass half full and not half empty,” Jonathan McCormick wrote.
“Your dad was an inspiration for all of us growing up and through our lives,” Alan McCulloch wrote. “He is a great man. Thank you for sharing him with all of us; we were blessed.”
Winston Joseph grew up in Trinidad, one of 14 children. His younger brother Jorslin Joseph, now in his 80s, is the last remaining sibling.
Winston moved to Canada in 1958 to attend the University of B.C. Two years later he had earned enough money to bring his fiancée Sheila to join him and they lived in UBC residences where their two oldest children, Jay Duncan and Judy Joseph-Black, were born. Janis and her brother Peter Joseph were both born in Port Alberni, where the family landed once Winston had earned a university degree. Sheila and Winston were married for just shy of 60 years.
The Josephs were the first Black family to settle in the city, Janis recalled. “We changed the stereotype of Black people here in Port Alberni.”
When Winston was hired to teach at A.W. Neill, staff were excited to think they had a new basketball coach. Winston quickly corrected them. “He said ‘I don’t know much about basketball but I can teach your kids to read,’” Janis said. “He changed that attitude.”
A deeply religious man, Winston Joseph once said his Christian-based philosophy was to “love one another.” He put his philosophy into action by serving his community: sitting on the boards of the Friendship Centre and Family Guidance Association, serving as a Toastmaster, writing more than one newspaper column and proudly carrying the moniker “Mr. Positive Port Alberni” for always promoting the good in the city. He was a member of the Knights of Columbus and until a few years ago was a lay reader at church services.
In December 2017 Joseph was awarded the Judge Brian Stevenson Fellowship for 50 years of service to the Alberni Valley Lions Club. It was the highest honour a member could receive locally. He joined the Easter Seals campaign as soon as he signed up as a founding member of the Lions in 1967 and in the years since served in several different capacities, including president.
For the past two years Winston lived at Echo Village, dementia having taken his voice. Janis Joseph said the staff at the long-term care home “was phenomenal.” British Columbia opened its seniors’ homes to family members on April 1, so Winston was surrounded by family in his final days.
“There was never a moment when he was alone,” she said.
“He covered a lot of ground in 89 years. He is pretty amazing.”
The Joseph family will hold a funeral for Winston through Holy Family Notre Dame Roman Catholic Church, following COVID-19 protocols. Janis said the service may be livestreamed for the many people who would like to pay their respects but cannot attend.
Winston is also survived by 14 grandchildren: Jessica, Sam, Elhe, Myles, Thailia, Riley, Michael, Madeline, Kristin, Josh, Jordan, Darcey, Fin and Dominique.