Jasper Treasures: D.J. (Klem) Klymchuk

·4 min read

Whatever he does, D.J. Klymchuk, known as Klem, does it with heart and gusto.

In Jasper since the fall of 1999, Klymchuk absolutely loves the town and gives back as much as he gets from the community.

Klymchuk was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba, on Aug. 22, 1958. His grandparents, Tillie and Bill Garrison, raised him for his first six years in Kenora, Ontario. Then Klymchuk moved to Winnipeg to live with his mom in 1964. His stepdad came on the scene in 1966.

Long before he joined the Canadian Armed Forces (the Sea Element), Klymchuk was connected with the military.

"I was a Navy cadet from the age of 10 to 17," he said. “I've been ironing shirts, polishing boots and sewing since the age of 10."

Military life is in his blood: Klymchuk's relatives served in the military "right back to the Second Boer War (Oct. 11, 1899 to May 31, 1902)". One of his cousins currently serves in the Navy on the west coast.

When he was 17, Klymchuk got his mom to sign papers so he could join the Canadian Armed Forces. He started 13 weeks of basic training on Sept. 5, 1975 at the Canadian Forces Base (CFB) in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia.

"I loved it. I thrived, joining the military," he said. "The military saved my life."

When he completed training, Klymchuk and the rest of the ship's company on HMCS (Her Majesty's Canadian Ship) Yukon, a destroyer escort, patrolled "up and down the coast between the southern tip of South America, Hawaii and Alaska".

Crossing the equator for the first time in the Navy was a rite of passage, Klymchuk said. Those who hadn't crossed it yet were called tadpoles and after an initiation and hazing, moved up to the title of shellback.

Engineers, known as stokers, had their own mess (sleeping quarters), place to wash, and a separate table in the main cafeteria.

"Us stokers were known to have a very twisted sense of humour," Klymchuk noted.

Anybody who wasn't an engineer was known as a dib.

Klymchuk was honourably released from the Navy in July of 1979 and did upgrading for three months. He was hired as a power engineer at a sulphur pelletizing plant in Prince Rupert B.C., and worked there for six months, then got word the Canadian National Railway (CNR) was looking for brakemen.

"I applied, never had to take a test," Klymchuk said. "The general yardmaster - Maurice Bishop - was a Second World War army veteran. He noted my military service on my application, and my tattoos, and he hired me on the spot. I got a lantern, a switch key and 'B' book (a learning manual) and was working the next day in Prince Rupert."

Klymchuk transferred many times during his career with CN, working in seven different terminals altogether.

Based in Prince George, "I used to do runs to Jasper between 1991 and 1996," he said, noting he had first been in Jasper in 1973.

He said he remembered that first time and thought that someday he would want to live there.

"The Jasper crew used to refer to us from Prince George as Jackpine Savages. That's a moniker I did my best to live up to," Klymchuk winked.

He was transferred to McLennan, in northern Alberta, and worked there for a year and a half.

"I liked it. It was like the land time forgot," he said.

In May of 1998, after CN shut that terminal down and sold the track, Klymchuk and his then-wife moved to Edmonton, where he continued working with CN. After 16 months the couple parted ways.

Klymchuk transferred to Jasper to start anew.

He said the CN crew in town was the best and most professional he has ever worked with. And moving to Jasper felt just right.

"When I came here it was like, 'Where have you been?'" he said. "I knew I had come home."

Klymchuk retired from CN in 2013. He drove buses for Sundog Tours and worked for Jasper Motorcycle Tours.

Since retiring from those jobs in 2019, he said the two major things in his life now are the Masonic Lodge and the Royal Canadian Legion.

Klymchuk shares life with his companion of eight years, Flordeliza Arafiles. He has been in plays with the Jasper Theatre Company, done stand up comedy and makes appearances as Santa Claus.

Klymchuk received the Jasper Ambassador award in 2019 from the Jasper Park Chamber of Commerce.

"I was humbled by it," he said. "I feel that award belongs to every person in this town. Everybody's got something to bring to the table."

Klymchuk joked that when he learned he'd been recommended for the Jasper Treasures feature, "If I'm a treasure I should have been buried a long time ago!'"

This town is where he intends to stay.

"Jasper took a chance on me and embraced me, and I embraced Jasper,” he said.

Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh