One couch fits all - barely. The Russells make the most of their furniture to squeeze everyone in. From left: Kazka, 4; Kalyna, 7; Kaia, 9; Kasian, 12; mom Olena with baby Kealey; and dad Mike. (Photo by Don Bodger)

One couch fits all - barely. The Russells make the most of their furniture to squeeze everyone in. From left: Kazka, 4; Kalyna, 7; Kaia, 9; Kasian, 12; mom Olena with baby Kealey; and dad Mike. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Russell Troupe finds a comfort zone in small Island community

Family gathering with two parents and five kids a common scene around Chemainus

The Brady Bunch, the Waltons and Partridge Family are just a few of the large families of television fame that spring immediately to mind from being in the public spotlight.

Every community has its own famous families, maybe not well-known on a wider scale but easily recognizable in their own locales. In Chemainus, it’s the Russells and their five children who make their way around town like a pride of lions, a pack of mules, a caravan of camels – you get the idea. Let’s call them a group – or maybe a troupe – of Russells.

Mike and Olena Russell and children Kasian, 12 (the only boy of the five), Kaia, 10 in January, Kalyna, 7, Kazka, 4, and Kealey, 15 months as of Dec. 1, only moved to Chemainus a year ago on Dec. 1, 2018, but they’ve almost become instant celebrities since then because they’re the family that stays together, plays together and does everything together – mainly on foot or bicycles as the case may be with everything being so centrally located.

“We have never lived in a neighbourhood like this,” said Olena. “We know everybody up and down this block.”

Mike said all the neighbours have embraced them with open arms. It was a particularly eventful inauguration into the community with the big windstorm that knocked out power hitting only three weeks after they moved in last year during the already hectic lead-up to Christmas.

They also had a pipe that needed replacing during that time and having no power with a three-week-old baby was no picnic.

“This is when we really got to know the neighbours,” noted Olena. “They made soup for the kids.”

The early hardships still didn’t seem so bad because Chemainus immediately suited their lifestyle.

“We’re always looking for a place to live where we can be involved in the community and it’s walkable,” said Olena.

During the year, their fame has spread like wildfire.

“There’s hardly a business owner we don’t know downtown,” said Mike. “We didn’t realize the live music. Is that ever awesome for the family.”

“There’s enough still here for us not to have to go out of Chemainus for essentials,” noted Olena. “It needs to be somewhere I don’t necessarily use a car.”

The Russells came across many people in the community who share the same ideals, like Chris Istace, the president of the Chemainus Business Improvement Association.

“He’s probably one of our first connections here,” said Mike.

“I started chatting with Chris about biking things,” added Olena. “He’s a good connection.”

Another thing the Russells discovered after relocating here was the high standard of the professional Chemainus Theatre and daughter Kaia has since been involved in two productions during the past year – The Sound of Music and Miracle On 34th Street that’s currently on stage until Dec. 29 where she spells off in the role of Susan Walker.

“I thought it was some cute little community theatre,” Mike pointed out.

They came across auditions for Sound of Music and Kaia decided she wanted to do it. She got the part as one of the seven von Trapp children from another famous family.

“We sent a little girl to Sound of Music and we got back an accomplished actress,” chuckled Mike. “She has that confidence.”

Kasian has found his calling doing bike repair. Kalyna would like to get involved in the theatre as well as she gets older and the other children are sure to discover their areas of interest in due time.

Like many couples currently residing in Chemainus, Mike and Olena took the long circuitous route to get here. Both were born in Alberta, Mike in Fort Saskatchewan and Olena (nee Starchuk) in Sherwood Park.

“When I was growing up there, it was the population of Chemainus,” noted Mike of his hometown.

Mike turns 40 on Dec. 12, the date of the Courier issue this story appears in, and got together with Alena, who’s about six months younger, when he was 19.

Mike graduated from the University of Alberta in 2004 with an Education degree and Olena also has a teaching/counselling background.

Mike found there were no teaching jobs at that time and “I had no idea what to do with my life,” he recalled.

A family friend who also had a teaching degree wound up with the Edmonton Police Force and suggested that. Mike went for it, took the training and joined the Edmonton City Police in 2005.

“I was on the street, downtown Edmonton which was awesome,” he said.

Within the time Mike was on that job, the Russells had their first child, Kasian, and discussed a possible move to Vancouver Island.

“I had been to Victoria once in my life before then on my honeymoon and we drove through it,” recalled Mike. “I applied to the Victoria Police.”

After being in Edmonton from 2005-2008, they made the transition. Mike became famous in his own right during his time with Victoria Police as the media spokesperson.

“The job comes up and nobody’s interested,” he recalled. “I got it. That was the next four and a half years of my life.”

Mike was frequently seen on the news on Victoria television stations as the police contact, providing details on various incidents.

After a bit of a tumultuous time with the Victoria Police, Mike went to work for BC Transit in the communications department.

“It was a very different communications experience than I had with Vic PD,” he pointed out.

Mike did eventually go back to Vic PD for a year and the Russells were living in Sooke before an unexpected return to the Edmonton Police – mainly to be closer to family situations – for another year.

That didn’t work out as expected and Mike applied for numerous communications jobs when he landed his current position as communications manager for Cowichan Valley School District 79 for Oct. 1 last year so it was back to B.C.

By then, they had their family of five and “we didn’t know where we were going to live,” conceded Olena.

The Russells were originally looking in Duncan before Chemainus entered the picture.

“We saw the open house for this place,” Mike explained. “We were driving down Chemainus Road and Olena said ‘we’re living here.’”

“It’s walkable, there’s fun things going on and it’s super cute,” she stressed.

The rest, as they say, is history, and the Russells have integrated themselves into the community while loving every minute along the way.

“Just love getting to know everybody and being around town,” Mike said.

The Russells look so at ease with their kids you’d never know they hadn’t planned for a large family.

“In my 20s, I did not like other people’s children – to teach them, yes,” laughed Olena.

“Lots of kids kind of happened.”

As for the names of all the kids starting with K, well, there’s no real explanation so don’t ask. Again, it just kind of happened.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The Russells outside the family home. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Russells outside the family home. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Russell household is a busy one as you can imagine with five children 12 years of age and younger. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Russell household is a busy one as you can imagine with five children 12 years of age and younger. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Russells out and about meeting folks on the way to the Chemainus Fire Department’s Christmas Craft Fair on foot from their home. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Russells out and about meeting folks on the way to the Chemainus Fire Department’s Christmas Craft Fair on foot from their home. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Russells on their way to the Chemainus Fire Department’s Christmas Craft Fair. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Russells on their way to the Chemainus Fire Department’s Christmas Craft Fair. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Just Posted

The intersection at 10th Avenue and Dunbar Street. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Safety improvements planned for Port Alberni intersection

10th Avenue and Dunbar Street is an “intersection of concern” based on incident data

Members of Huu-ay-aht First Nations conducted two checkpoints on Monday, May 10, asking people who enter the territory to respect the sacred principles and to act accordingly while on Huu-ay-aht land. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Huu-ay-aht First Nations set up checkpoints in territory

Access restrictions come after forestry incidents

Bulldogs forward Brandon Buhr is knocked off the puck by Grizzlies defenceman Lindsay Reid. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
BCHL: Alberni Valley Bulldogs beaten back-to-back by Victoria Grizzlies

Victoria Grizzlies named Island Champions while Bulldogs take second place

In 1903, if you were looking north down First Avenue with Alberni in the distance, this is what you would have seen. Scattered houses along River Road are visible, as is the corner of Watson Block building in the lower lefthand corner of the photograph. This photo is part of the 24,000 online collection of the Alberni Valley Museum. View this one and more at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com. (PHOTO PN02975 COURTESY ALBERNI VALLEY MUSEUM)
LOOK BACK: Historic street scenes of Port Alberni

Take a peek back in time with the Alberni Valley Museum’s digital archives

This photo shows Franklin River Camp "B" circa 1940. Logging was started in the Franklin River area by Bloedel, Stewart & Welch in 1934. This is one of 42 photos of the Franklin River area, donated together in an album put together by the donor's husband, Stanley Young. Young worked as a highrigger in the Franklin River area from 1939-46. This is one of 24,000 photos contained in the Alberni Valley Museum’s digital archives, available for public viewing at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com. (PHOTO PN10830 COURTESY ALBERNI VALLEY MUSEUM)
LOOK BACK: Logging along Franklin River

Take a peek at Alberni Valley history with the Alberni Valley Museum

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read