Father, activist, card player, storyteller. Born on Sept. 4, 1947, on MacKinnon's Point, PEI.; died on Feb. 14, 2016, in Burnaby, B.C., of heart failure, aged 68.
Dave was born in the family home on MacKinnon's Point in PEI, the youngest of 12 children. Both of his parents died by the time he was 4 and he and his siblings were raised by relatives and friends in surrounding communities. It's safe to say that his early years influenced his lifelong desire to improve the lives of working-class Canadians.
By the time he reached high school, he stood 6-foot-4, and was a force to be reckoned with on the football field and basketball court. When he was 25, he married Dorothy Poole and immediately became a loving stepfather to her 14-year-old daughter, Gail. Within two years of marrying, Dave and Dot had two children, Craig and Nicole. After 25 years of marriage, Dave lost Dot to pancreatic cancer. In 2009 he became a stepfather again, marrying Susan Sherwood, who had three grown children, Devon, Jessie and Sarah.
Dave always had an adventurous nature, and soon after graduating from high school began fishing on a trawler out of Canso, N.S. There he experienced first-hand the struggles faced by his workmates – poor wages, unsafe conditions at sea, and long, hard days. In the early 1970s, while still fishing, he was recruited by the Canadian Food and Allied Workers to help organize Nova Scotia fishermen. A daring and creative union organizer, he became completely immersed in the struggle against foreign-owned fish companies and the Nova Scotia establishment.
In 1974, Dave moved the family to Newfoundland where he went to work for the Newfoundland Fishermen's Union. Not long after arriving, he was involved in a strike for the first industry-wide collective agreement for fishermen and plant workers; their victory improved the life of every coastal community in Newfoundland.
His leadership skills and passion for social justice drew him to organizing campaigns across Canada, working on the Michelin Tire union drive and the Syncrude campaign in the Alberta oil sands. In 1980, he became a staff representative with the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU) in Terrace, B.C. Seven years later, he became industrial relations officer with the B.C. Ministry of Labour, from which he retired in 1998.
Along with his union work, Dave was politically active. In 1978, he co-managed the campaign that saw Fonse Faour became the first New Democrat MP from Newfoundland. Over the years, Dave served as treasurer and national president of the federal New Democratic Party. He was also proud of his time as a special adviser to the B.C. deputy minister of health in the 1990s.
Dave was always fun to be around regardless of whether he was advising government leaders, pontificating late at night at the kitchen table, or teaching his kids the proper way to cut into a lobster. The only thing that could stand in the way of him getting to his weekly euchre game was an election campaign. His Dave-isms (such as "the only thing that stands between me and sleep is opportunity") were memorable – if not always printable.
He loved a good party, surrounded by food, music and singing, as reflected in his final instructions to his family: "Have a big party to celebrate my passing because I had a hell of a great time while I was here."
Gary Steeves is a close friend of Dave's.