As he did in life, the death of Peter Verin brought together people from all walks of life to his Thursday memorial service.
It was the type of gathering seldom seen, if ever, for a so-called ‘homeless’ person.
The beloved Verin, who lived his final years along the Lochside Trail in the Quadra/McKenzie area, died in hospital on Jan. 9, a day before he would have turned 72. He took his charming philosopher ways with him, but details of his mysterious personal life, which he kept a secret, have since emerged.
Saanich’s Chris Pearce said Verin came here from Montreal but chose not to keep in close contact with the family which remain there. Pearce revealed his late-wife would regularly check in with Verin’s mother Sara until she passed away on Jan. 18 of 2016.
Five Saanich Police officers (who regularly checked in with Verin), Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming (who went to the University of Victoria in the 1990s), Coun. Vicki Sanders (who knew Verin as a neighbour) and the organizer Reverend Al Tysick were among those who showed up to the memorial. UVic had a heavy presence too, as he was beloved during his time there, which ranged from the 1970s to the 2000s.
He was known to frequent the Bottle Depot on Quadra, where he’d return empties for the refund, the London Drugs, where he’d read the newspaper, and Nellie McClung Library, where he’d read as he once did in the UVic library (before his removal from campus about a decade ago).
Chris Pearce told a tale of how Verin, whose family lives in Montreal, chose not to contact them following his departure. It was believed his mother regularly forwarded money to Verin but how much, and how he spent it, is unclear.
What is clear is the knack he had for finding value in items that others chose to trash.
His most treasured possession was his AM/FM radio. During his final days in hospital, it’s what he asked Saanich Police Const. Lisa Bruschetta to bring him.
“He always knew what was going on in the news, there he’d be with a radio around his neck,” said retired UVic vice-president Trevor Matthews, whose time at UVic overlapped with Peters.
Through a bullhorn held by Tysick, Matthews told a tale that seemed to depict Verin.
“We had one incident where I told him, Peter, please don’t dive in the dumpster.”
Matthews was afraid Verin would hit his head and end up carted away inside a garbage truck.
“And Peter understood. But one day he came into my office with a stack of papers and he said, ‘I don’t think these should be discarded.’”
Of course, Verin was a believer in recycling and minimizing waste. So Matthews assumed he was to receive another Verin lecture on the merits of recycling.
Instead, Verin was doing Matthews, and UVic, a good deed.
“He was carrying the complete payroll of the university and [some monthly] expenses,” Matthews said. “I said, ‘Where did you get these?,’ and then I knew, he got them from a dumpster. He was a pleasure to know and he pushed the boundaries for positive reasons.”
Some who knew Verin used the memorial gathering as an opportunity to recognize that not all who are homeless can be as charismatic as Verin, and that we should pass the kindness we showed Verin on to at least one more person.
One Saanich resident who knew Verin was Andrew Hunter. A passionate genealogist, Hunter waited until Verin had died to look up his history, tracing it back to the day he arrived in Halifax, N.S., on the Cunard Line’s Aquitania in 1949. Hunter uncovered the Verin family’s names and cross-referenced them with Pearce.
“When he died I thought, ‘What can I do?,’ Hunter said. “I’m into genealogy, so I searched Peter Verin, and his immigration record comes up.”
The ship record shows that his father, Alexander, was born in 1904 and his mother, Sara, was born in 1917.
Their country of origin was stateless, coming from Southampton. Additional details lead Hunter to believe they were likely part of the Palestinian exodus of 1947-48 during the creation of the Israeli state.
It’s something Verin wouldn’t talk about, it’s not what he would have wanted when he was alive.
But Hunter, who has been friends with Verin for decades, believes Verin carried his Palestine ancestry with him to the end.
“He was an incredible guy, we found a book on Palestine in his cart, I think that told a lot, that he was thinking about his ancestors. If you wanted to forget that part of your life, you wouldn’t read about it.”
Verin has also brought together two women who were previously unknown to each other but are now leading the campaign to install a plaque and bench in the area, dedicated to Verin’s memory.
“I saw Verin a lot and after a few times I realized he was a very intelligent person,” said Doreen Lowres of B-Sharp Hair Design at 109-3960 Quadra St. (across from the Bottle Depot). “I used to give him bottles, sneak some food into his cart, and that kind of thing. I watched a lot of what he did from our store window.”
Once she saw the number of people who responded to Verin’s death on his many online tributes, Lowres wanted to do something.
“I didn’t know Denise Peters, who works in the same building, but we got talking after Peter’s death and within five minutes we realized he touched our hearts in the same way.
“It’s a privilege and an honour to do this and even though I’m getting thanked a lot I really want to thank the people who are coming together on this.”
Donations poured in at the service and were already at $1,500 as of Friday. Ideally, the bench would be located along the Lochside Trail between Quadra and McKenzie, or somewhere nearby.
Donations can be dropped off at B-Sharp Hair Design where Lowres is in the process of setting up a trust account until the bench can be approved by Saanich and/or the CRD.
Lowres opened a trust account for the Peter Verin memorial at TD Canada Trust, the transit number is No. 99860, and the account No. is 6432599, or email Lowres email@example.com.