Illusionist Darcy Oake will wow fans at two shows in Winnipeg in June, and 100 per cent of the proceeds will go toward the construction of a new addiction treatment centre he says his hometown sorely needs.
Oake skyrocketed to fame three years ago after appearing on Britain's Got Talent, and now he's turning his attention toward an issue that is close to his heart.
Oake's brother Bruce Oake died after an overdose six years ago. The family started the Bruce Oake Foundation to raises awareness of addiction issues and fundraise for a long-term treatment centre like the one Bruce attended in Alberta.
Darcy Oake said before his charismatic older brother died, he was the life of the party.
"I feel like that is where a lot of my sense of humour has come from and when I see stuff that I find funny, it's hard for me not to be like, 'Bruce would've thought this was hilarious,'" said Oake, 29.
For years before he died, Bruce was in and out of the available 40- and 90-day programs in Manitoba, and "they didn't work for him," Oake said.
"We were told the very first time in rehab, 'Don't be alarmed if this doesn't work this time,'" Oake recalled. "It's hard to go in rehab and come out clean and you're clean for the rest of your life and that's that. You need that support group."
"And it was hard for Bruce to come out of rehab and try to go back into everyday society. He was the life of the party, popular kid, people loved being around him, so it was difficult for him to change his situation."
Long-term care needed
The best care Bruce received was at a long-term care facility in Calgary, where patients aren't forced to leave after a few weeks if they're not ready to re-enter the outside world.
"It was a cycle we'd seen forever and the cleanest he was during his addicted life was when he was living in this long-term treatment centre in Calgary," Oake said.
Oake said he doesn't understand how a city like Winnipeg — in the grips of an opioid crisis like other major Canadian cities — doesn't have a facility like the one in Calgary.
"Fentanyl, carfentanil: people are literally dying by the day," he said. "Something we haven't really started talking about yet is treatment, and that's the fundamental thing to be dealt with with the addiction issue."
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The Oake family aims to raise more than $1.6 million to build such a facility in Winnipeg. Oake said the foundation has received important support from the provincial government.
'Discuss it like other diseases'
The stigma surrounding addiction issues is propped up by a belief that it only happens to other people, Oake said. Some families continue to struggle with shame and embarrassment after a loved one dies due to addiction, and that has to change, Oake said.
"I hate that, to be honest.... Why is this something to be ashamed of?" Oake said.
"It's in the Tuxedos and the Lindenwoods and the Charleswoods … where kids are going to good schools. And especially those people, I feel, don't like to talk about it, because if you're from an upper-middle-class family and you're struggling with this addiction, it's like, 'Oh well, this isn't something that should affect my family, therefore we should keep it under wraps.' I feel like the opposite approach should be taken.
"Addiction is a disease and we should be able to discuss it like other diseases as opposed to sweeping it under the rug and pretending like everything is fine. It's affecting a lot of people and I feel like it's affecting a lot more people than people realize."
Oake hopes Manitobans show up in large numbers at his shows on June 6 and 7 at the Burton Cummings Theatre in Winnipeg. All of the proceeds will go toward the Bruce Oake Foundation and the creation of a long-term addiction treatment centre.
Tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. Friday.
"To me it feels like this has to happen.… We have to have this in the city."