Veterans battling mental health challenges learn to paint in the B.C. wilderness

·3 min read
A group of veterans gathered in Honour Ranch near Ashcroft, B.C., this weekend for a painting workshop led by artist Michael King from June 17-19. (Christopher Hennebery - image credit)
A group of veterans gathered in Honour Ranch near Ashcroft, B.C., this weekend for a painting workshop led by artist Michael King from June 17-19. (Christopher Hennebery - image credit)

Christopher Hennebery has used painting as a form of therapy his whole life.

Now, the civilian member of the Canadian Forces is sharing this outlet with other military personnel and veterans.

He was joined this weekend by four veterans, three reservists, and another Canadian Forces member at a ranch near Ashcroft, B.C., for three days of plein air painting, the act of painting outdoors.

Hennebery, who serves as a the chief warrant officer with the Royal Westminster Regiment, wanted to start a program where he could share the mental health benefits he's found from painting with others who have served in the military.

"Art has always been a central part of my life," he told CBC News, "and it's always been something that's actually helped me with my own coping."

Chris Hennebery
Chris Hennebery

He offered his retreat at Honour Ranch, a rural facility in B.C.'s Interior providing mental health treatment programs to members of the Canadian Armed Forces, veterans, and emergency services personnel.

Participants this weekend ranged from painting veterans to veterans who had never painted at all. But regardless of skill level, Hennebery said outdoor artistry can be enjoyed by anyone.

"When you get outside and you're away from everything and you're painting ... you get a chance to calm your mind and focus on the task and that has a lot of therapeutic value to it," he said.

Hennebery hired Port Coquitlam, B.C. artist Michael King to lead the workshops.

Chris Hennebery
Chris Hennebery

King told CBC News he found it interesting to see the diversity in the participants' painting styles and techniques.

"It's quite therapeutic," he said, "because you're sitting there, still — the only thing really active are your hands and your mind. But your mind is focusing on the task."

Painting and bonding

Doreen Lambert, a veteran who served for 15 years as a supply technician in the Royal Canadian Air Force and now works as a graphic designer, said the retreat allowed her to disconnect from everyday life.

Doing so let her creativity take over.

"It's been a great experience to be in someplace new ... keeping that mind busy, not worrying about pain or whatever else is going on," she said.

Lambert's favourite part of the weekend was being able to connect with other current and former military personnel and bonding over shared experiences.

She said she does not have that opportunity in her everyday life.

"The painting is what we came here for," she said, "but the part that was great for me was the bonding with other people.

"We have that same background."

Chris Hennebery
Chris Hennebery

Hennebery hopes to expand the art program in the future. One of the participants, he said, flew to B.C. from Kingston, Ont., for the retreat hoping to a similar program in Ontario.

And Hennebery hopes to organize another retreat in B.C. in the fall.

"If it helps a few of them," he said, "then that's a win in my book."

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