A retired Selkirk College English instructor and force behind the effort to transform a decrepit Doukhobor communal home into a location to foster understanding and build cultures of peace, Myler Wilkinson passed away in December 2020. On a brilliant early autumn afternoon in late-September, family, friends and former colleagues gathered at the Mir Centre for Peace to remember “a giant of a man” who impacted countless lives at Selkirk College and around the world.
“It’s a beautiful day to remember a wonderful human being,” said John J. Verigin Jr. from the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC). “Myler represented where the heart and the head come together. He believed in learning and also knew there were some things that had to be unlearned. That is why we are here today.”
On the International Day of Peace on September 21, an autumn blaze maple tree was planted in front of the Selkirk College Mir Centre for Peace on the Castlegar Campus in honour of the late Myler Wilkinson who put forward the vision of a place that embodies an understanding and building of cultures of peace. Surrounded by friends and Selkirk College colleagues, the Wilkinson family was represented by (L-R) wife Linda Wlasoff Wilkinson, daughter Anna Wilkinson, sister Randi Tywoniuk (nee Wilkinson), sister Melinda (Shani) Wilkinson and son Nathan Wilkinson.
Both educators, Myler and Linda Wilkinson spent 25-year careers at Selkirk College that began in the late-1980s. A prize-winning author and visionary educator, Myler shared a dynamic passion for global learning that brought him to Russia, Japan, China and Costa Rica over the course of his career.
The original vision to create a magnet for diverse commitments to peace, social justice and human rights came while Myler and Linda were walking the bluff overlooking the Columbia River in early-autumn 1999. At the time, the last remaining resident of the once-bustling Ostrov village was an elderly Doukhobor woman named Nettie Plotnikoff. Where several buildings once stood, only the large communal house remained and it was in an advanced state of disrepair.
With a chapter clearly coming to an end, Myler and Linda were concerned about what would happen to all the history that was embedded in the land. In his own words, Myler stated the importance of his early efforts to establish a peace centre: “This place above two rivers, still alive with the ghosts of First Nations peoples and the Doukhobor community, may be the single most beautiful and culturally significant spot in the Kootenays.”
With steady support from Selkirk College leadership, staff and students, regional community leaders and all levels of government, the Mir Centre for Peace as it stands today was opened in 2007. Mir—an ancient and complex Russian word that means peace, community and world—guided Myler and Linda’s vision for a centre that embodies an understanding and building of cultures of peace that has since stood prominently above the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay rivers.
An Afternoon to Share Stories and Love
More than a dozen people spoke or provided written messages at the memorial tree planting, contributing insight into a kind, giving, tenacious and affable man.
Rural Pre-Medicine Program Coordinator and History Instructor Takaia Larsen first arrived to Selkirk College as a student in 2000 and was in one of Myler’s English classes. Though she told those at the memorial that he was one of the “hardest instructors I have ever had,” Myler was also one of the people who inspired her in a myriad of ways. When she returned as a colleague after completing her education at the University of Victoria, Larsen said that his activism and ability to make a project like the Mir Centre for Peace a reality is a remarkable achievement.
“He taught me that learning isn’t always just in an ivory tower, that you can make change and it’s possible,” she said. “And it’s done in places like this.”
With her husband Myler, Linda Wlasoff Wilkinson was a driving force behind the creation of the Mir Centre for Peace. She spoke at September memorial where she told those gathered about Myler's passion for the lands that became a profound educational space on the Castlegar Campus.
Alongside creating a beautiful living museum and profound educational space, the legacy of Myler and Linda’s work helped create the Peace & Justice Studies Program, the Mir Lecture Series and a globally relevant focal point for the principles envisioned on the fall afternoon in 1999.
Linda Wilkinson was last to speak. She expressed how her husband was a teacher to the end, encouraging those who cared for him and making all who visited laugh.
“We went many places together and I always helped him prepare for these trips,” she told those gathered. “I helped him prepare for the greatest journey of his life and he did brilliantly… at the end he was luminous and lucid. He ended his days at his best. I am so grateful to you all for sharing your stories, for sharing Myler.”
A scholarship has been established at Selkirk College for a student entering their second year of studies in the Peace & Justice Studies Program. You can find out more information on this new financial award and how to donate here.