Whether it was his love for Fort McMurray, animals, or his passion for community engagement – Gilles Huizinga, 74, will be remembered for all that he was and more.
He passed away on October 21, 2022 at home, surrounded by family, from the progression of a terminal lung disease.
Born in Venlo, Holland in 1948 Gilles lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba before moving to Victoria, BC in 1996. He graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies from the Faculty of Architecture.
A loving father to two daughters, Soleil and Anne, Gilles moved to Fort McMurray in early 2001, along with his wife Andryia Browne, who launched Connect weekly newspaper here. He led the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in the creation of the Wood Buffalo Housing & Development Corporation (WBHDC), a municipally created non-profit housing and development corporation; and was appointed the CAO in July that year.
“We met in Victoria, BC when I started working in public relations for the company he was developing aging in place seniors living complexes for. We started our married life in Fort McMurray and just fell in love with the community,” recalls Andryia.
“At the end of 2005, under Gilles’ leadership, WBHDC had $80-million in assets and $22-million in revenue. Until 2006 the corporation grew and was recognized by Alberta Venture Magazine twice as one of the Top 50 fastest growing corporations (the only non-profit corporation on the list), received a national CMHC award for affordable housing finance strategies and the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association Community Builder Award.”
Gilles was an Ambassador of the Fort McMurray SPCA (FMSPCA) for over 10 years and was a foster parent for many of their senior hospice felines who needed a loving home to enjoy their golden years.
“His passion, commitment, and leadership were a major success for the FMSPCA to build an in-house veterinarian clinic, he served on the board of directors for over 10 years and was the visionary for the two outdoor heated dog runs. He was also recognized as one of the Heroes of the Wildfire by the Premier of Alberta for his participation in the care and evacuation of 1,200 animal companions during the 2016 wildfire. We recently made a donation to the FMSPCA to honour his legacy of volunteering with them,” Andryia enthused.
A lesser-known fact about him?
“Gilles was a great cook. He loved to cook, including the grocery shopping! He used to suffer through my attempt to cook for him once a month, insisting it was ‘delicious’ but ‘no need to make that recipe again’ (funny but true!). I once tried to make creampuffs for him (a childhood favourite) and he thought they were perogies,” Andryia recalled.
Gilles was also a volunteer baseball coach for his daughters’ teams. He closed down Palmerston Avenue in Winnipeg to replant the Wolseley Elm in memory of the Wild Women of Wolseley who became international celebrities for their community work. He was also an original member of Habitat for Humanity Wood Buffalo.
An avid traveller, Gilles and Andryia went on “many adventures together from Mexico to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to Greece, Croatia, Venice and beyond.”
“What made Gilles special for the world was his unwavering optimism. He was a dedicated, visionary man who always strove for the best outcome for the community in his work, volunteering, and public engagement. For us what made him special was his heart and devotion to family. He was a person who did whatever he could, in every way that he could.”
About the author
Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.