In Spades

By Kevin McKay

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For the last 76 years, Michael Duncan has overcome hurdles and obstacles during his extraordinary life. One of the most difficult occurred nine years ago when Michael lost his wife of more than 30 years. He was depressed, angry and realizes now he did not deal well with the loss. Two years after her passing, fate intervened as a new four-legged friend named Ellie entered his life.

“One of the students taking my self-defence class happened to be a veterinarian,” says Michael. “I think he saw I was having difficulties so, one day, he asked me if I would like to meet one of the dogs he had rescued. Ellie, an Australian Cattle Dog, was starving, had been beaten and was surrounded by eight of her dead puppies when she was taken from her owner. I agreed to get together with her.”

Michael and his daughter took Ellie to a local park so they would have a chance to get to know one another. Michael took things slow, taking a seat on a park bench and staying still as Ellie checked him out.

“She came right up to me and got up on her hind legs, staring me right in the face,” he recalls. “We remained like that for what felt like minutes until she jumped down as if to say, ‘he’s alright.’ It was love at first sight for me, though things were not always easy. This dog had been badly traumatized in her life. The first time I raised my hand over her to throw a stick for her to fetch, she curled up into a little ball and whimpered. I dropped the stick and got down beside her on the ground to reassure her I was not going to hurt her. I got a lot of strange looks at different times, but I didn’t care. My dog needed me.”

Last year, following an illness, Michael decided the time was right to put his feelings for Ellie into action. A highly acclaimed artist, Michael formed a charitable organization called Artists Helping Abused Animals, A-HAA for short. For seven months, he toiled and worked hard to produce 50 black and white original works of art, which will be sold to raise seed money for his organization.

“Each one of the pen and ink drawings are of heritage scenes in Delta and around British Columbia, and we are selling them for $200 each,” says Michael. “This will raise a total of $10,000 to help the shelter. All the money goes directly to the shelter, never to me. I would like to see groups like this start up all over the province. People now recognize me and stop me to ask about it and often want to help. There is a whole new awareness that cruelty to animals is unacceptable.”

Michael feels so strongly about animal abuse, he even hopes to establish a fund one day to go after the abusive owners legally and shame them publicly.

“As an independent, I can make their lives miserable, where the SPCA can’t due to regulations,” he says. “You have to make that commitment. You have choices.”

Michael has made choices in his life. One of them came after he was expelled from the prestigious Gordonstoun School in Scotland, home of the Outward Bound Sea School. He had received years of training there, excelling in martial arts and seamanship, while honing an appreciation and talent for writing and fine art. The Gordonstoun, a castle on the northeast coast of Scotland was built in 1679 and became the first school in the world to combine education with Outward Bound. In 1948, Michael was honoured to dance a solo for the Queen Mother, then the Queen of England.

Fiercely loyal to his Scottish roots, Michael was born in England when his mother was there visiting. “I often asked her why she couldn't have waited until she got back across the border before having me,” he says. “Now, here I was dancing for the Queen and everything was supposed to be just right. I couldn’t help myself, giving a warrior’s cry before I danced, then dancing for all I was worth. I heard the Queen Mother telling her Lady after the dance, ‘Oh my, that was different.'”

Some years later, Michael found himself expelled with a single word of explanation: incorrigible. This meant he was a disgrace to his family and he was given his choice of three destinations: South Africa, Australia or Canada.

“That changed my life,” he says. “Before arriving, I wrote to the Canadian government and asked them what I should do upon arrival. They told me, and that is how I wound up in Northern Ontario near James Bay. It was a real culture shock for me, going from a home with 14 servants to running a trapline with members of the Cree Nation, but it was good for me. When I came out of the bush, I was a completely different person.”

After becoming a forest ranger, Michael read about the unemployment situation and decided to live as a hobo on the streets, while he researched the topic. He ended up living on the streets of Edmonton and says, “I was not very good at bumming, so I started to fight. I saw a boxing club advertising for sparring partners and paying money. I had not eaten in five days, so when I stepped into the ring against this fighter, I hit him with a sucker punch and ran. When they caught me and discovered how hungry I was, they gave me a room in the basement of the club, while I fought there. Later, when I was living in Timmins, I wrote a series of radio plays based on my adventures there.”

He got to Timmins by buying a Tiger Moth biplane in Terrace with a friend, learning how to fly from a taxi driver, and flying illegally across the country with bailing wire and adhesive tape holding the craft together. Eventually, they crash-landed 14 yards from the Chief’s house at Constance Lake.

“I went off to the hospital in Timmins,” says Michael. “My friend got the plane fixed, flew off, crashed into a lake and drowned. I became the art director of a television studio in Timmins.”

Michael married and started his family in Northern Ontario. When he came across a colour photo spread of Vancouver in the *Toronto Star*, he decided they needed to move to the coast.

Upon arriving in 1965, he started the first theatre school in Vancouver and, by 1967, he moved his family to a home in Ladner. Over the next four plus decades, Michael embarked on a remarkable series of adventures. These included operating and instructing at a sailing school, hosting more than 600 television shows including work on the Alan Thicke show, seven years as curator of the Delta Historical Museum, and nearly four years as director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum where his fundraising efforts led to the expansion of its historic harbour on English Bay.

He’s written at least 16 books, all of which have been published, is an award-winning artist, teaches self-defence, martial arts classes, creative writing and art courses, and volunteering for numerous boards and organizations including countless hours helping the homeless on the downtown east side. As incredible as this list sounds, it doesn't do justice to all that he has accomplished.

Books and artwork Michael has produced for the benefit of various charities have brought in more than one million dollars to help those groups. In 2009, he was recognized for his charitable work with the Delta Heritage Award.

Back in 1993, he was selected by a jury to be one of only four Canadians showcased in the Pacific Rim Wildlife Show, an artwork exhibition held in Tacoma, Washington, and considered to be one of the top two art shows in North America. A book of his drawings was on display and for sale in 68 art galleries across Canada and more than 100 bookstores.

Now, Michael has his work for A-HAA and is only teaching five classes a week in self-defence, creative writing and art - a decline from his previous workload. He also works diligently to support his beloved Ellie and other animals who have suffered abuse.

So, what motivates him to give back to his community? And why would he give away every cent earned from the royalties of all of his books?

“I think I’ve done most of what I’ve done to try to make up for being expelled from school when I was young,” he says.

That he has done in spades.



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Showing 1 to 20 of 25 comments.

Hi Michael, I met you in the Slough in Steveston in the 90's & I have two original prints of the Slough, signed in 1976 & 1977, just sort of wanted you to know this. Great work for abused dogs. thank you.

Posted by marion mckenzie | February 7, 2016 Report Violation

I have print 170/300 of the New Westminster scene: Westminster House. Anyone have any idea of the value? Also have Sapperton Docks print, couple of Fish Boats tied up to a shack on logs float. Any interest ? Tks g

Posted by GARY MCGRATH | November 30, 2015 Report Violation

I'm one of the volunteers of the Sea Island Heritage Society - - at a recent Open House in Abbotsford, a lady brought one of Michael's drawings of Grauer's Store showing what looks like the piers of the Arthur Laing Bridge. I'd like to find out the date that this particular piece was done, and would Michael mind us using this image for our 2016 calendar. Regards, Eunice Robinson

Posted by Eunice Robinson | May 26, 2015 Report Violation

How you doing, Micheal? I doubt you remember me but I lived on Pine Street directly behind your home on Spruce...if my memory serves me well. I remember you having a boat in your back yard. You taught art lessons at the TV station and I also remember some days you would take us up on the rock with the cross to chat with us young folks....fond memories. Like yourself, Micheal, I too lost my wife a few years ago and now my best buddy is my yellow lab, Tonka. I admire you for your work and dedication in fund raising to help these wonderful guys that keep us company through some of our dark days. Keep it up, Micheal, and if you get a spare moment, drop me a brief email to let me know you're still doing fine. Take care Wayne

Posted by Wayne McChesney | April 28, 2015 Report Violation

Michael, it's Derek McGrath; you mentored me when I was a boy in Timmins. I was the youngest member of THE TIMMNS DRAMA GUILD OF NORTHERN ONTARIO. You opened me up to so many things and I wanted to say thank you. I'm writing my memoirs and I would love to chat with you. ooh forward to hearing from you.

Posted by Derek McGrath | February 2, 2015 Report Violation

Are you the same Michael Duncan of Rainshadow Art fame?? If so, I'd like to talk to you (e-mail is good) I tried to meet you a few years ago in Ladner, but you had moved.

Posted by Margot Shaw | February 22, 2014 Report Violation

Updates on Michael. He just won the Citizen of the Year award at Delta's Chamber of Commerce's awards Nov. 15th 2013. Well done Michael! Also there aren't any FB or Myspace pages on Michael as he's not able to maintain them.

Posted by Rosemarie Hurst | November 17, 2013 Report Violation

I have what looks to be a reprint of "the port" I could be wrong I do not have a lot of knowledge when it comes to artwork. When I do know is "Colorful Character's" I mean this with the utmost respect. When I read your story I was saddened by his loss but impressed by his kindness for the dog to your asking his mother if she could not have waited till she crossed the Scottish border before giving birth to him! This story is priceless.I aspire to be a writer and this is the kind of wonderful story's that make one want to write. Thank you!

Posted by Derrick Fernie | July 23, 2013 Report Violation

Hello Uncle Mike. I so enjoyed reading about you. Congrats on all your accomplishments. (Louise, of Clem and Estelle)

Posted by Louise Larose | December 9, 2012 Report Violation

HI, We own a series of Michael Duncan series called "Vancouver Remebered". We have almost 2 of every print , Stanley park , Campbell ave, Coal Harbour,,Carnegie Library, Brocton Point, Hamitlon and Robson, Gaolers Mews, and Chinatown. Is there any value in these numbered from 81 to 85 out of 500 prints? We need to know for insuance values. tks

Posted by debbie teigen | September 9, 2012 Report Violation

I was wondering if Michael Duncan is a relative to Fraser's? The Simon Fraser. Also, I have a print Stock No. 1401 and would like to know how much it is worth. Thank you.

Posted by Gloria Schindel | August 30, 2012 Report Violation

I have three prints by Michael Duncan, 2 were given to us by a dear friend who passed and the other I bought because I really loved his work. The three prints we have are: Richmond Remebered, Ladners Landing and The Kirkland Barn. I was wondering if you might know the year these prints were made and if there is any value to them (other than the sheer joy they give me) we have other expensive art work that we insure and would like to know if we should include these etching as well. Take Good Care

Posted by Denise Hanson | July 10, 2012 Report Violation

many moons ago when i was a littel girl my dad made my mom take self defence lessons to protect herself. he wanted her to go to the YWCA in Vancouver and thats where she met michael. our families became close and we used to visit on occation to the Duncan family home. Michaels wife i remember as a wonderful woman with a kind disposition. Michael amazed me then and i had a bit of a childhood crush on him. lol. anyways. he gave my mom and dad an original oil painting not framed but dry mounted. it hung abouve the couch for more than 30 years and when dad died i inherited the painting that i stared at for so many many hours as a child . it is an oroginal of teh "storm at sea and the men in the row boat" .. to reconect with Michaael and tell him how that painting gave me hope in lifes storms to tell him how in so many ways just the fact he taught my mom self defence gave me fight and i still have the 360 kick your but attitude tho i have never had to use it. my mouth seems to get me in and out of enough trouble as is. lol. please forward this note to Michael. it would mean the world to me. my name is Lisa Maria Sochasky and my mothers name was Brenda Sochasky(now Brenda Straker) , dad Allan Sochasky(r.i.p) and you can reach me at Michael, thank you so very much for touching my family the way you did. ill never forget you sir.

Posted by Lisa Maria Sochasky | August 22, 2011 Report Violation

I have a print of some kind of cathedral signed from a michael duncan, would like to know the value

Posted by sabrina | August 19, 2011 Report Violation

I am wondering if you are the Michael Duncan that did a pen & Ink series of Richmond? I have #11 of 300 and would like to know the value of these prints.

Thank you

Posted by Verla | January 3, 2011 Report Violation

Keep up the good work Michael,,,,and by the way Happy Birthday!

Posted by Colleen | December 12, 2010 Report Violation

For those of you who might want to see Michael and have a chat he is going to be at the Tsawwassen Centre Mall every Sat. from around 10 - 4 p.m. for the month of November. He will have some of his artwork for sale and on display. Drop by and say Hi!

Posted by Rosemarie Hurst | November 24, 2010 Report Violation

hi have a michael duncan print i need to know the value if its worth keeping the print is craigdarroch castle #200 thanks

Posted by allen williams | November 12, 2010 Report Violation

I was delighted to find this article about Michale Duncan. My memories of Michale are fromthe late 60's in North Delta from a time when he was becoming eatablished as an artist and theatre director in Vancouver. What fun we had.

Posted by Janet Artinian | November 11, 2010 Report Violation

While rummaging around at a Second Hand Store, I found a print of Michael Duncan 91/300 of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in New Westminster.
It has a picture of him and a bit of a bigography about him. This was a much younger Michael Duncan, so I was wondering what year this print might have been done.
I am doing family genealogy, and it reminded me of some of the old pictures that I have seen of churches in England and Scotland.

Posted by Judy Anderson | September 17, 2010 Report Violation

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