Andre Sutherland Begin visits Village by the Station monthly, entertaining the residents with dramatic recitations of Robert Service’s poems like The Cremation of Sam McGee. Steve Kidd/Western News

Storyteller brings poetry to seniors

Penticton man tells the tale of Robert Service and his poems

About two decades ago, Andre Sutherland Begin was given an assignment in an English course that set him on the path of the storyteller.

At the time, Begin was attending college in Nanaimo, taking conservation officer training, when he was given the assignment to memorize a poem.

“I recalled hearing The Cremation of Sam McGee in grade school. So I downloaded that and I memorized it,” said Begin.

He’s still got Robert Service’s famous poem memorized, along with many more, that he has been performing for 18 years. Senior’s homes are especially important to him, like Village by the Station in Penticton, which he visits monthly.

“One of my storytelling partners, her mother lived in a retirement residence, so I went there to give them a show,” said Begin.

That start was followed by visits to other retirement centres around Nanaimo. “Then I found the Travellers Lodge. They house dementia and Alzheimer’s Syndrome patients, which is my charity. My father passed away from Alzheimer’s, as well as an aunt and an uncle. So I went there on a monthly basis as a volunteer for six years.

“Another reason I do it, about a year ago, I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.“

Begin combines his dramatic recitations of Service’s poems with real tales of Service and how the poems came to be. But Begin’s reasons for continuing are simple.

“It is just something I enjoy, and the elders enjoy it. I took it as a challenge to memorize more and more of his poems. I have about an hour show I do now, I have about 20 poems in memory,” said Begin. “I like the rhyme and the rhythm and the history of it and the stories behind it. I’ve also studied the history of Whitehorse and the gold mining.”

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