It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Alex Voykin, beloved husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle, coach, and friend.
Alex was born on September 24, 1938, in Thrums, BC, to William and Mary Voykin. His birth, like his life, was an eventful one. While she was in labour, Alex’s mother told his older sisters, Mabel and Marjorie, to go outside and pick flowers so they wouldn’t hear her scream. There were complications so a doctor from Castlegar was called. Shortly after the doctor arrived, Alex was born. He was a big baby; according to his mother, he weighed 9 pounds and 16 ounces. Alex was the youngest of four children.
From Thrums, the Voykin family then lived briefly in Pass Creek before settling in Passmore. With his family, as a young boy, Alex helped to clear the land or rather tried not to get in the way. The family had a smart logging horse named Dick. Alex could walk underneath Dick and he wouldn’t move a muscle; “he was a gem of a horse.”
When Alex was seven, he started going to school in a one-room schoolhouse in Passmore, where he learned English. His classmates included several other Doukhobor children from the Passmore area as well as children of Japanese-Canadian heritage, who had been in nearby internment camps with their families during World War II. When he wasn’t able to use the bicycle that he shared with his older brother Jack, Alex had to walk 3 miles to get to school, uphill, both ways. At eight years old, Alex had his first job delivering newspapers to three of his neighbours. He made 75 cents a week.
At a young age, Alex learned to drive. His father was “not a very good driver” so having a 13-year-old drive seemed liked a safer bet than the alternative. By 13, Alex was already working in the bush, using a power saw that weighed 40 pounds, and hauling logs with his brother, father, and uncles to the sawmill in Passmore. Alex started working for Gordon Burns in Passmore up Koch Creek on the same day as his friend John Hlookoff, who Alex and his brother later partnered with to form V&H Contracting Ltd. When he first started in the bush, Alex earned 60 cents an hour; when he started falling logs, he made two dollars an hour. Those first years logging were tough. As a teenager working in the bush, Alex was “half a man”; the work was quite a chore, especially in the winter months. By the mid-1950s, the Voykin Brothers had traded in their Ford car and bought their first “Cat” brand new from Nelson.
Twice before he was 15, Alex was caught without a driver’s license. Each time he received a $50 fine, a hefty sum for a young man. The second time, when he was at the courthouse in Nelson, Judge Evans said, “I don’t want to see you again.” And he didn’t.
In the mid-1950s, Alex and his friends went to a dance at Mount Sentinel Secondary School. As she was leaving the dance, Elaine Chernenkoff, the eldest daughter of a logging truck driver from Goose Creek, caught Alex’s eye. Alex and Elaine wed on November 30, 1957, in Passmore at Alex’s parents’ home. With the wedding money they were gifted from friends and relatives, they bought lumber from KD Lumber in Castlegar and started to build their first home in Passmore.
Working in the forestry/logging industry back in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s was tough. The Voykin Brothers had to travel by car, train, and boat to get to and from work. When they worked in Tye, the men had to jump off the train as it slowed near the work camp, as there was no official stop there. Alex worked hard and had many adventures, or rather near-death experiences, while logging. He and the other men had to be creative sometimes when things went wrong. Once, when a full logging truck tipped over and caught on fire, they had to use their hard hats to get water from a nearby creek to put out the fire.
When the Voykin Brothers worked in the Lardeau Valley with Kootenay Forest Products in the 1960s, they stayed at camp during the workweek, only coming home on weekends to be with their families. Even though the work could be challenging and it was hard being away from his growing family, Alex enjoyed his work. Word soon got around that the Voykin Brothers did good work; the Voykin Brothers expanded their fleet of heavy machinery and their team, joining forces with other hard-working men in the West Kootenay region. Throughout their logging career, the Voykin Brothers acquired a fleet of equipment and worked in several areas of southern BC, including on the Blueberry-Paulson Summit, in Nakusp, Tye, Ymir, Okanagan Falls, and the Monashee Mountains, where the road was “a nightmare all the time.”
On September 24, 1958, just before midnight on Alex’s 20th birthday, Alex and Elaine welcomed their first daughter, Maxine. On June 13, 1961, their second daughter, Natalie, was born. And finally, on March 12, 1965, their little firecracker, Elaine, was born. In 1967, the Voykin family moved from Passmore into their newly built home in Slocan Park.
In addition to a busy working life, Alex played, coached, and umpired sports, notably baseball, fastball, and hockey. Even though he was “not a superstar by any means” and “never skated in his life,” sports were a great passionate of Alex’s. As his children and especially grandchildren grew, you could often find him coaching or cheering at the hockey rink, baseball diamond, soccer pitch, and volleyball court; sometimes you could even find him outside of the hockey arena when the referee thought he was cheering a little too loud. Alex was a Bobby Orr fan. In more recent decades, Alex enjoyed watching, and sometimes yelling at, the Vancouver Canucks on TV.
Highlights of sporting events in Alex’s life included being an assistant coach of the provincial boys’ baseball team in1974, where the team of teenage boys from Castlegar and the Slocan Valley (including NHL player Steve Bozek) travelled to Vancouver and lost 1-0 in the final game – an unfair loss as the umpire was the father of the pitcher of the opposing team; traveling to Montana in 1994, Vancouver Island, and Seattle to watch his grandsons Dennis and Wesley play baseball; travelling to 100 Mile House in 1999 and San Jose, California in 2003 to watch his grandson Wesley win the hockey provincials and a tournament against American teams; and, watching his granddaughters, Jennifer, Elaine, Amanda, and Ashley, play and win volleyball provincials.
Outside of BC, a notable logging job that Alex did was in Idaho in the 1960s. Alex and nine other men spent about 120 days in Idaho logging with 4 pieces of their equipment. The superintendent of the project gave Alex and his colleagues 5 logging trucks to begin with to haul logs away but Alex and his colleagues worked very efficiently. Soon the superintendent added more trucks, with 26 trucks in total coming to haul logs one day, including some from neighbouring states. Truck drivers from all over want to see what all the fuss was about; who were these men from the Slocan Valley doing such great work? Word spread and a photographer from Spokane came to document Alex and his colleagues at work.
Alex was a community-builder, literally, and sports went hand-in-hand with his work. He worked to develop the baseball diamond in Slocan Park and later the baseball diamond in Playmor. In the 1980s, the Voykin Brothers purchased land in South Slocan and developed what are now known as the Voykin and Playmor subdivisions. Alex also helped build (and take down) many homes (including family members’ homes), buildings, mills, dams, and bridges in the Kootenay region and beyond in his lifetime. He also contributed to movie sets, such as for the movie Roxanne with Steve Martin in Nelson in the late 1980s.
In the 1980s, Alex transitioned from the logging business to the crane business. In the 1990s, Alex contributed a great deal to the expansion and modernization of the Celgar pulp mill, during which time he partnered with Cecil Gritchin to form V&G Cranes. At the beginning of the project, they started with one crane, and by the end, they had five.
To acquire one of the larger cranes, Alex travelled from Castlegar to Nanaimo and back in less than 24 hours. After he finished work at Celgar around 3 pm on a Friday, he hopped on a plane from Castlegar to Vancouver. When he landed in Vancouver, he met the salesperson and they took the ferry to Vancouver Island to go see the crane. By now, it was dark out; Alex inspected the 75-ton crane and decided to buy it. Alex and the salesperson then drove to Victoria to catch the 6 am ferry back to Vancouver. Alex didn’t want to waste any time getting back home to Elaine; he hopped on a plane in Vancouver and was back at their dining room table in Slocan Park by 9 am on Saturday for breakfast. The crane, on the other hand, arrived in Castlegar from Nanaimo by mid-week.
By the 2000s, Voykin Bros. Contracting Ltd. was no more, as Alex bought out the company from his brother. Some people doubted that Alex would “fall flat on his face” going out on his own but he soon proved people wrong and continued to be a sought-after crane operator in the West Kootenay region.
Notable projects that Alex, and his colleagues, notably Gerald Voykin, worked on in the 1990s and 2000s included those at Pope and Talbot, the Robson-Castlegar Bridge, and at Teck Cominco. In 2000, GWIL Crane Service from Burnaby bought Alex’s company and he worked with them as a manager/operator for about 3 years until his “retirement” at age 65. Within months after he “retired,” Alex “couldn’t sit still” and bought some heavy machinery, including a dump truck, front end loader, and screening plant, and got back to work as the owner/operator of A&E Voykin Ltd. When he wasn’t doing the odd job with his equipment, Elaine kept him busy with projects at home and in the garden.
From his father, Alex learned to work hard and be good with children; Alex babysat his nieces Mona and Faye when he was a teenager in Passmore and loved to spend time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. From his mother, Alex learned to collect things – maybe a few too many things in his shop over the years.
Beyond work and sports, Alex’s greatest joy was spending time with his family. He always looked forward to family gatherings, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings – where he was always one of the first people on the dance floor – and holidays, especially Christmas. Despite loving Christmas, he always seemed to miss Santa (Alex dressed up as Santa every year on Christmas Eve, when he and Elaine would host upwards of 30 family members). He also enjoyed fishing and camping, especially in Christina Lake. Alex and Elaine enjoyed over 25 summers in Christina Lake with their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and Ely and Olga Chernenkov. With Elaine, Alex also enjoyed travelling; they travelled to Disneyland twice with their daughters, to Hawaii at least 7 times, to Florida, to Alaska on a cruise, as well as took numerous trips to Kelowna, Spokane, Vancouver Island, and Alberta. They also enjoyed trips with their children and grandchildren to Quebec, the Maritimes, North Carolina, and Mexico.
In summer 2016, Alex was diagnosed with MDS, which later progressed to leukemia. Still in his final years, he continued to do the odd job on his dump truck, tune-up family members’ vehicles and tinker in his shop, enjoy time with his growing family, and spend summer weekends at Christina Lake with Elaine. In spring 2020, sadly, cancer really began to take its toll on Alex’s body. Still in his final months, his mind was sharp as a tack. He continued to enjoy quiet evenings at home with Elaine and their cat Dusty, watching the news and Family Feud, and sharing stories, jokes, and life lessons with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Alex passed peacefully with Elaine by his side at the Kootenay Lake Hospital in the early morning hours of July 8, 2020.
Alex is predeceased by his daughter Elaine Voykin Woods (2019), brother Jack Voykin (2004), sister Marjorie Malahoff (2010), sister Mabel Lehrke (2015), niece Faye Cox (1994), brother-in-law Alex Malahoff (2009), brother-in-law Ely Chernenkov (2018), and parents William (1982) and Mary Voykin (2003).
He is survived by his wife of nearly 63 years, Elaine; his daughters and son-in laws, Maxine (Joe) Moreira, Natalie (Steve) Podovennikoff, and Bryan Woods; his 10 grandchildren and their partners, Dennis Podovennikoff (and wife Heather), Jennifer Podovennikoff, Elaine Renou (and husband Scott), Wesley Tarasoff (and wife Lee-Anne), Carmen Moreira, Lesley Tarasoff (and partner Todd), Amanda Moreira (and partner Jack), Ashley Tarasoff, Bryce Moreira, and Darrin Moreira; his 8 great-grandchildren, Abigail, Paisley, and Avery Podovennikoff, Taya and Brayden Renou, Austin and Maddon Tarasoff, and Harley Daley; as well as numerous nieces, nephews, extended family members, and friends.
Alex’s generosity, creativity, skillful hands, sense of humour, and fun-loving spirit will be greatly missed.
A private funeral service was held for Alex on July 14, 2020, at the Slocan Park Hall. Following the service, he was laid to rest, beside his daughter Elaine, at the Slocan Park Cemetery.
On behalf of the family of Alex Voykin, we would like to extend our deepest gratitude to Drs. Phillip Malpass, Andre Kirsten, and Brandon Tuvel, and the nurses in the chemotherapy unit at the Kootenay Lake Hospital for their outstanding care over the last 4 years. We also wish to thank Bill Strilaeff and the staff at the Castlegar Funeral Chapel for their compassionate service and guidance, Bob and Lorraine Podovelnikoff for helping us with the Slocan Park Hall, Wayne Curry and the gravediggers, Pipe Major J. Gordon Titsworth for the beautiful music at the cemetery, Safeway in Castlegar for lunch, and family, friends, and neighbours for your support and kind words about Alex. In lieu of flowers, if you wish, we encourage you to make a donation to the Kootenay Lake Hospital Foundation in Alex’s memory.
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