The death of Saanich’s Peter Verin is bringing out dozens of stories from those who knew him.
A shopping-cart memorial at the Quadra Street bus stop on the north side of McKenzie Avenue says he lived from 1945 to 2017. There are flowers, a photo and written well wishes, as well as empty bottles and cans, as he would rarely accept cash as a gift, but would gladly accept empties.
Kind soul, gentle and polite are among the many terms used to describe him on his Facebook and Reddit memorials. Verin, with his sombre demeanour, touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of people in his life.
“Peter was part of the landscape in Saanich,” said Natalie Chambers, who owns Madrona Farm but grew to know Verin at the University of Victoria in the 1990s. “The last time I saw him I gave him $50. But I used to lay up at night worrying about whether his toes were cold.”
Verin’s stubby black toes were a thing to behold. When I talked to him on the Lochside Trail (next to Quadra) in 2015, I couldn’t help but notice them too. He wore shoes that were less a shoe, and more a bare foot. His transient, homeless lifestyle was something he chose.
Many grew to know Verin as a fixture of the UVic campus from the 1970s (one report says) until he was unceremoniously removed from the UVic campus in 2001. At UVic he ate, showered, read in the library and was known for being very smart and well read. He hosted at least one radio show on CFUV and was published in the Martlett student newspaper. I once talked to him at 3 a.m. in the CFUV studio. He would go into CFUV six hours early for a morning show and sleep.
When I asked Verin about UVic in 2015, it was clear he had never gotten over the sting of being removed from there. But he was rarely interested in talking about himself. He would turn the questions back to you, back to the people he knew, because he was interested in people.
It’s just off the Lochside Trail that Chambers last saw him. And while he accepted money from Chambers, many people have confirmed it was difficult to pass him charity.
Certainly, he was a philosopher, and more.
He knew the police, he knew the bus drivers, he knew the Bottle Depot staff, he knew nearly everyone in the area, and many knew him.
“He was one of the most selfless people I knew,” said Saa
nich Police Const. Lisa Bruschetta. “He took the time to know and learn something about everyone he met. He knew most officers by name and what rotation they were in their schedules. Even in his final days the last thing he wanted to be was a hindrance on anyone and he still had the energy to be philosophical.”
Verin was so widely known, he attained nearly legendary status with myths springing up about his background. He was not a UVic professor, though many assumed he was. There are also stories that he was on the street because he lost his family, but that also remains a myth.
“He’s basically a local legend,” said Reddit user NRTPhotos. “My parents have known him for decades. He would never take offers to get rides to the shelter and almost never took money or food from people.”
All Verin wanted in his final days at the hospital was his AM/FM radio, which Bruschetta fetched for him from his caravan of shopping carts.
“I told him I’d buy him one if I couldn’t find it, and he said he’d pay me back,” Bruschetta said. “He wouldn’t take anything for free.”
On the air, or in conversation, he loved to talked politics.
For the past decade, maybe more, he maintained a steady presence on the Lochside Trail in the Reynolds neighbourhood, frequenting the Quadra Street Bottle Depot.
To Chambers, and to many at UVic and Saanich, Verin was a teacher and a reminder that the system does not work for everyone.
“His situation showed that need we more services in Saanich, a Saanich wellness centre with a range of community services,” Chanbers said. “It could be similar to the Songhees Wellness Centre with rooms for homeless.”
Rev Al Tysick has organized a service for Verin, Thursday, Jan., 19, at noon on the lawn of the Telus building at Quadra and McKenzie, rain or shine.