May we all crack a cold one and raise it up for Dustin Charles Riley.
Our Coastal Cowboy. Mr. Ukee Days. The self-proclaimed World’s Okayest Chef of Ucluelet’s ‘The Blue Room’ and the original ‘Tattooed Beaver’. Father. Husband. Brother. Beeline to Mussel Beach, candied bacon in a Caesar, a man who lived his life with unrestrained laughter and no regrets.
Riley died in a tragic accident on Oct. 26, 2021.
Family and friends said their goodbyes to the small town hero at a standing-room only Celebration of Life at the Ucluelet Community Centre on June 18. Those that knew him best wore cowboy hats and sleeveless plaid shirts to honour the memory of the “Tailgate sittn’, Beer Drinkn’, Mud Slingn’, Red Neckn’” family man. For those that showed up in fancy funeral shirts, a sleeve cutting booth was set-up in the back corner of the hall so they could scissor them off.
“He wore his heart on his cutoff sleeve,” said loving wife Janine and mother of three children Carmindy, Gavin, and Kora. “He was they type of man who would save someone’s life after a car crash and then a couple hours later he would be doing donuts in the Walmart parking lot.”
“My husband was my best friend, business partner and soul mate. We will forever love him and hold on to the happiness, love and light he brought into our lives,” she said.
Riley had a gift for bringing people together with food, particularly great BBQ. His community spirit was full tilt, and much of his extra time was spent dreaming up one-shot events like the Rockabilly BBQ and burnout contest of 2016 or volunteering for groups including the Ucluelet Children’s Centre, Tourism Ucluelet, and the Ucluelet Culinary Club. In 2019, ‘The Blue Room Bistro’ was voted Business of the Year and Riley’s campfire style chili won People’s Choice at the Father’s Day chili cook off. He led the Ukee Days parade, volunteered his chefery for the annual Kennedy Flats backroads clean-up, and was notorious for throwing Halloween block parties and epic Christmas parties, inviting the whole town because he didn’t want anyone to be alone.
“He became the life of the party the instant he walked in the door,” said younger brother Jeremy Riley.
“I am extremely grateful for what he taught my son (William). He gave him his first job. He can now cook an egg way better than I can. Just like most brothers, we fought. Testing each others patience and courage, but it always ended in a hug and an ‘I love you, man.’” said Jeremy.
He shared a memory about the last hunting trip they took with together a month before he passed.
“We spent the day on the lake. It was meant to be a hunting trip, but it turned into just a great time together. We travelled the whole lake, stopping many times to hike, looking for a grouse that we never did find. But what makes it so special to me is that we stopped at every cabin where you could sign the guestbook, ‘The Riley brothers were here’.”
Longtime Ucluelet friend Travis Rouleau first met Riley on an impromptu camping trip.
“I jumped in his little red pick-up truck with a trailer towing a line that was way too big to be towed by this truck. We had a five hour drive up to Zeballos. It took us about 7.5. You really get to know a person on the road like that. The bromance had started,” said Rouleau.
“He believed in second or third chances. The best part of being on the backroads by yourself is when you broke down, you know he would drop everything and come help you. He kind of had to for the amount of times we had to go and grab him,” he said.
Best friend of 30 years Mike Rasmussen met Riley in the South Surrey/White Rock area when they were teenagers. He travelled from Lake Country, B.C. to speak his piece at the Celebration of Life.
“Dustin was larger than life. Crazy, silly fun,” said Rasmussen. “Every day he force fed life to me. He made me love life more. He made me want to take chances. I will always be so grateful to him for that. Thank you for our friendship and always being there for people. I love you.”
Ucluelet’s Mayor Mayco Noel announced that the annual kids Soap Box Derby on Sept. 17 will be renamed the Dustin Riley Soap Box Derby.
“He believed in the community and its opportunities. I loved being in his corner because he was in mine,” said Noel.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as The Hollies 1969 song ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ played alongside Riley’s memorial slideshow on June 18.
“That song was something special to us. Funny enough, he asked me if this day ever came to sing that song,” Jeremy confessed to the audience.
While he may not have sung the song aloud, he left the community with a heartening note for honouring his brother.
“I know I can’t replace him, but I cherish every moment we got together and I promise him to live my life to the fullest.”