A summer job in 1977 in the Cariboo turned into a permanent stay for now retired ministry of forests worker Mark Hamm.
Hamm’s laundry list of credentials and accolades extend into many facets of Cariboo life, including as a volunteer with the Canadian Cancer Society, a fundraiser for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, work with Indigenous youth through restorative justice, a family man and, more recently, helping steer the city through the catastrophic 2017 wildfires as the Cariboo Fire Centre’s deputy manager.
His career with the ministry in the Cariboo happened by chance.
“I’d grown up in Nelson and started work in ‘77 with a summer job with the forest service, and moved here permanently in 1982 for another summer job and managed to stay on until getting a permanent position,” he said.
“The jobs I had were pretty interesting.”
During his first few years working in the Cariboo Hamm had the opportunity to travel by plane and helicopter over the area.
“Just seeing the whole area from the air: it’s so beautiful and the people here are open, welcoming, accepting — that was the big attraction for my wife, Jo Ann and I,” he said.
Hamm worked for the ministry from 1982 to 2019 when he retired following two historic years of wildfires in 2017 and 2018.
Reflecting on the 2017 wildfires, Hamm said prior to working as the CFC’s deputy manager he’d gained vast experience working for the wildfire protection branch, in forest health and helping to develop the Forest Practices Code of B.C. in years past. He also worked for several years helping build relationships with First Nations before getting into forest management.
“I credit Hugh Freeman: he was a major mentor for me while I was in protection, which was an operation up at the airport,” Hamm said. “He was good about laying out a goal and giving you just enough rope to not get into trouble. I learned a lot from him.”
On July 15, 2017, the City of Williams Lake was evacuated due to the threat of wildfires encroaching on the city.
“The hardest part was having to leave and take Jo Ann and then sit around in Kamloops before I came back to work,” he said.
Hamm said his job was to manage fire crews from in and out of province, including New Zealanders and Mexicans, making sure people doing the work on the ground had everything they needed to get the job done.
“It was really tough on the people working at the fire centre through all of that,” he said. “We were so stretched, and sometimes people would take it out on them, understandably, but everyone was so committed to doing their job well and the professionalism was outstanding.”
He noted Sharon MacDonald, who died after a battle with cancer in January of 2020, was an inspiration to him while working as a fire prevention officer during the wildfires.
“She was on a treatment regiment and she had to be really careful, and I just admired her so much,” he said. “She was facing a terminal diagnosis and catastrophic fires here but she would be there dawn til past dusk and did all she could. She was a major player.”
Outside of work, Hamm was a longtime member of the Cariboo Gold Community Band as a euphonium player, however, his own battle with throat cancer in the early 90s forced his retirement from the group.
“I really enjoyed that,” he said.
His volunteer work with the Canadian Cancer Society began shortly after.
Now, Hamm said he’s thoroughly enjoying working with Indigenous youth through legal aid writing Gladue Reports — a pre-sentencing and bail hearing report for an Indigenous offender — for the court.
“I got into it in 2010 when I was managing compliance and enforcement for the forest district … I saw how those companies weren’t malicious — they’d just made a mistake, and they wanted to repair the harm, and I thought restorative justice would be an alternative to that.”
He’s now seen the positive benefits of restorative justice first hand, he said, and how it has changed the lives of some youth he’s worked with. He said from Nov. 27-29 restorative justice will be hosting a free training clinic, including meals. If anyone is interested in attending and making a change in the community they can call him at 250-267-9233.
“I really love this community, and the Cariboo,” he said. “I would not consider moving away for retirement, and I hope to keep making a difference here in the time I have left.”