Michael Duncan has had a remarkable life.
The 82 year-old has danced for the Queen of England. He’s been a forest ranger in Northern Ontario. He’s lived homeless on the streets to research unemployment issues for a book – one of over 16 he has written and published. He’s crashed a biplane. He’s started a theatre school. He’s curated museums. He’s an award-winning artist who has owned seven art galleries. He’s taught both martial arts and creative writing courses and he’s always volunteered for numerous boards of directors and charitable organizations.
But what he’s most proud of, in some ways, is the work he’s undertaken in the past decade or so, doing what he can for abused animals.
You see, 16 years ago when he lost his wife of 30 years, Duncan found himself lost, as well. He admits, looking back on it, that he didn’t cope well with his grief.
But, two years later, as fate would have it, a saviour arrived in his life just when he needed one.
One of his students in the martial arts class he was teaching was a veterinarian. The student had an Australian cattle dog named Ellie for whom he was looking to find a home. Ellie had been beaten and found dying in a field surrounded by her eight already-dead pups.
Duncan met Ellie, they fell in love immediately, and he had a new best friend for many years.
Ellie has now passed from the world as well, but Duncan keeps her memory alive. He has formed a fund called Artists Helping Abused Animals (A-HAA) to help the people who help abused animals and has been creating pen and ink drawings of B.C. heritage scenes and landscapes, donating the entire proceeds to various charities who need the help.
It’s been going well on the Lower Mainland, so he’s decided to start the same thing here.
“I’ve realized, in my short time here, that Campbell River really loves its pets,” Duncan says. “So I want to do my part to help them here, too.”
So he’s mirroring his past efforts in Langley, where he has raised thousands of dollars for animal causes, and has begun selling his original, unframed pen and ink drawings in both Pier Street Gallery and Awatin Aboriginal Arts for $200 apiece with all the proceeds going to various local charities and non-profits, whether it’s the SPCA or another animal cause the buyer would like to support.
“I went to a school where – it sounds strange in this modern era – where we were taught that you should be like an ancient knight,” he says by way of explanation. That school was Gordonstoun, a boarding school in Northern Scotland which just so happens to also be where three generations of British royalty have been educated, including Prince Charles.
“We were taught that you look after those who can’t look after themselves. You protect women and you protect animals. So all of the money from my books, I give away – I’ve given away over $1 million from the sale of my books – and all of the money from my art, I give away in memory of my dog, Ellie.”
Eventually, he says, he’d like to develop a fund to help prosecute people who abuse animals, as well.
“I’d like to be able to say, ‘Oh, the SPCA doesn’t have the money to prosecute that person, well, here you go. Go get ‘em.’”
When he’s not toiling away making art for abused animals, Duncan is out enjoying this beautiful part of the world he now calls home, getting inspiration for more work – but he can’t venture very far.
“I’m partially crippled, because 50 years as a martial arts instructor has done me in,” he says, laughing light-heartedly as he groans slightly standing from his chair.
So if you are met by a nice older gentleman along the side of the Seawalk who asks if he can “say hello to your dog,” that’s probably him.
For more information on Duncan’s efforts, or to get involved, pop into either Pier Street Gallery or Awatin Aboriginal Art downtown, and they’ll put you in touch with him.