Gary and Sheila Bjarnason have left Golden several times over the years, but they always returned.
Gary was born in the Icelandic community of Gimli, Mb. to Icelandic-Canadian parents. Growing up, Gary spoke Icelandic as his first language and he learned English as his second language. Due to a lack of employment after World War II, Gary’s father moved the family west to Parson when Gary was six years old. He has lived in the area, for the most part, ever since. Gary graduated from Columbia Valley Elementary Junior Senior High School, which was the last graduating class to come out of Parson. He was one of three students in his graduating class, which was pretty big compared to that of his wife.
Sheila grew up in Edgewater, and graduated from Edgewater Elementary Senior High School. She was the only student in her graduating class.
“My reunion is me, myself and I,” she laughed.
Sheila decided to get into nursing out of high school and went to the University of Victoria for her studies. When she graduated, she promised her father that she would work for a year in Golden in order to be closer to him. Her work at the hospital included a little bit of everything, and it was a great learning experience for a young nurse.
“There was a learning curve. In nursing school you observed a lot…The doctors were very tolerant,” she said. “They were very understanding.”
Gary worked at a sawmill out of high school but quickly decided it wasn’t for him and enrolled at the University of British Columbia.
“I had too much fun in my last year so I needed to do my last year over again,” he said with a smile.
He took a break from university after that and moved back to Golden to work. One day, his mother mentioned that there was a young nurse at the hospital who needed a date for a Christmas party because her original date had to leave town before a snowstorm hit.
“I told my mom, ‘I can find my own dates,’ but later on I figured I didn’t have anything to lose,” he said.
As it turns out, that young nurse would eventually become his wife. Sheila put aside her previous plans to leave B.C. after she met Gary.
Gary went back to school in Vancouver while Sheila continued to work at the hospital in Golden. According to the Bjarnasons, many letters were exchanged while they were apart, and a few phone calls as well. Eventually Sheila moved to Vancouver to work at Vancouver General while Gary finished up his last year of his education and science degrees. Gary and Sheila planned to find jobs in Northern B.C., but fate had another idea in mind.
While wandering through a job recruitment fair, Gary ran into some education board members from Golden. Gary told them he was looking for a science position, and as it happened, one was available at Golden Secondary School.
Gary asked Sheila if she was OKwith moving back to Golden, and they agreed to go back to Golden for a couple of years. A couple of years turned into a lifetime. and they eventually started a family together and had a daughter, Runa and a son James. The move worked out just fine for the Bjarnasons.
“Golden is a different community compared to a lot of small communities. This community is one of the more caring communities I’ve seen in my experience,” Sheila said.
Gary worked at Golden Secondary School until his retirement, while Sheila worked at the hospital, eventually becoming the director of nursing. Not long after they had both retired, their daughter went to the Czech Republic to teach English as a foreign language. Her homesickness prompted Gary and Sheila to take a trip overseas.
“We were there for two weeks, and we fell in love with the place. The people were wonderful,” Sheila said.
The Bjarnasons decided they’d like to teach in the Czech Republic too and got jobs working in Prague. They’ve maintained contact with one of Sheila’s students, Jaromir, who visited and toured around B.C. a few years ago.
While circumstances have taken them away from Golden on several occasions, fate always seemed to bring them back.