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Stanley Zazelenchuk died in Saint John of a stroke. He was 72.
Stanley Zazelenchuk died in Saint John of a stroke. He was 72.

Lives Lived: Stanley Zazelenchuk, 72 Add to ...

Inuit art collector, teacher, gardener, optimist. Born Feb. 22, 1941, in Stornoway, Sask., died March 25, 2013, in Saint John of a stroke, aged 72.

Stanley was born on a farm in Saskatchewan, where he developed a life-long love of nature. His mother died of cancer when he was 17, and he’d still get choked up about it more than 50 years later.

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He considered becoming a wildlife officer, but instead turned to teaching. Seized by the adventurous spirit of the 1960s, he travelled to the Canadian Arctic and taught there for 13 years. He met his wife, Jean, in Kuujjuarapik, Que., in 1967, and married her a year later. Their daughter Mary Helen was born in 1974.

Stanley fell in love with the Arctic, the people and their artwork. His experiences there would define the rest of his life.

He collected Inuit art compulsively, often hiding new purchases under the bed so that his wife wouldn’t find out about them. The family collection was shown at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1978.

At age 40, Stanley decided to change careers, and opened an Inuit art gallery in New Brunswick, where his wife had family ties.

In 2005, he visited Baker Lake (Qamani’tuaq) with his daughter. His arrival was announced on community radio, and Mary Helen was astounded by the crowd that came to a reception in his honour. At the end of that trip, he said, “Where else but here would your dad be a hero?”

It wasn’t a question that needed to be asked. While Stanley didn’t suffer fools gladly, his warmth and genuine interest in other people’s lives meant that he made many friends.

In later years, he gardened extensively. He took delight from his more than 1,000 rosebushes and the five-acre park around his house. He drove his tractor every day, clearing bush, grinding stumps and mowing.

Once, upon meeting a new neighbour, he chatted a few minutes before declaring, “Well, there are two kinds of people – those who stand around and talk and those who work; I know which kind I am,” and returned unceremoniously to his weeding.

That’s not to say he didn’t like to talk. He had a phenomenal memory for names of both roses and people. He shared his passions for art and gardening with whomever would listen, and prided himself on remembering visitors to his gallery from years before.

He was an optimist, believing firmly each year that mice would not come into the basement or that the loose doorknob would fix itself. And while that might have been avoidance, he knew that every year was the year that things were going to be better than ever. Most of the time that was true.

Stanley was fierce. He was always in a hurry. He surged forward into life. He always wanted do more, see more, know more, have more, be more. He didn’t die because his body gave out, but because there was so much work to be done elsewhere.

Mary Helen Zazelenchuk is Stanley’s daughter.

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