Alex Robertson, An Account of Our Beloved Friend's Passing: An Unthinkable Threat to Planter Well-being

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Alex Robertson, An Account of Our Beloved Friend's Passing: An Unthinkable Threat to Planter Well-being


By Erik Brinkman

Intro: An Unthinkable Threat to Planter Well-being, by Dirk Brinkman

As each 2016 month’s opioid death count mounted—it reached 922 unexpected deaths in BC by year’s end—and as coroner statistics revealed fentanyl laced drug victims were the casual party crowd-- 4/5th young males and all in the planter demographic--and as doctors appealed to everyone to respond quickly and watch each other because Naloxone is easy to administer and can revive victims --if the interception is prompt-- my 2017 New Year’s Life First message became “take care of each other”.

On Thursday morning Feb 2nd, when Erik phoned with the news of Alex, I had just completed a breakfast conversation with the representatives of the BC Safe Silviculture Program Advisory Committee, delineating how the opioid crisis is going to reach its fingers randomly into the whole reforestation industry in 2017. They had just agreed to make it a priority when Erik phoned to say Alex Robertson was in St Paul’s hospital in a coma, brain dead.  

Joyce and I had seen Alex Saturday night at Erik’s house. He had just returned from his seasonal international travels and was preparing to present his upgrades to his Trees App for the Project Managers. But he had not shown up. Instead of going to the WFCA conference, Erik had stayed behind to follow the feeling in the pit of his stomach that something was wrong.

Alex’s death underlines what it means to be responsible for each other’s safety. To face the fentanyl invasion into the stimulants circulating on our streets and amoung predominantly young people, we have to change. We have to commit to prevention, training, and be especially ever vigilant as we are isolated in our remote wilderness work camps. We honour Alex best by celebrating his Trees App, by sharing his story, and by committing to never permit any more of our friends to die of the opiate crisis, especially not while doing the life affirming work of Tree Planting.


An Account of Our Beloved Friend's Passing

Alex Robertson valley.jpg

By now many of you know that our good friend and sage colleague, Alex Robertson, recently passed away. As a community we are here supporting each other through the immense grief and shock ­­-- shock that BC’s opioid crisis could take someone from our midst who we never would have thought vulnerable. I am writing this account to honour his memory by shedding some light on the details of the week surrounding his passing as best I can. Perhaps his passing can be a learning event for us to help mitigate a tragedy like this from happening again.

Alex was a tree planter, foreman, first aid attendant, silviculture innovator, and everyone’s friend. He started planting with Brinkman in Ontario in 2007 at the age of 18. Several seasons later he migrated out west, planting in Alberta in 2011 where I met him in Andy Cameron’s camp. The following season Alex joined my crew in BC, was quickly promoted to driver, and then in 2013 to foreman and first aid attendant. His humble leadership instincts and no-drama reliability made him an ideal friend, lieutenant, and obvious future project manager material.

For Alex it was about purpose, not position, so he always brought something more. After three seasons of filling out stock sheets and learning how much paperwork is involved in running a planting crew, he decided on his own initiative to take an iOS development course in the off season. At the 2016 Western Project Manager’s (WPM) meeting he surprised the company managers with his presentation of an original app he called “Trees”. He digitized the stock tracking process for planter numbers, densities, plots, and block data in the field, and even enabled it to catch over-counts in real time. We were so impressed that Brinkman agreed to purchase the app, and hired Alex to develop it further.

After successfully testing the app in the field with my crew in 2016, a colleague and I continued working with Alex to upgrade it over the winter until it was ready to present on the 2nd day of the 2017 WPM meetings Jan 29th and 30th, for a wide roll out across Canada this season. Alex arrived in Vancouver on Thursday January 26th, with plans to stay for a week at a friend’s place in East Vancouver to present his polished app to the team, catch up with friends, sell his car and then head to Thailand for a few months before the spring plant.

We had a productive meeting at the head office on Jan 27th to review progress and have a trial run. The next day he drove his two-tone VW Rabbit to my house in East Van for a work session to put the final touches on the app presentation. We ate Thai food, toured my woodshop, and caught up. Dirk and Joyce dropped in and we all shared a laugh. Around 7PM Alex left my place to meet up with a friend for dinner on Main St, and then later he met another friend on Commercial Drive until roughly 10:30 PM Saturday night, Jan 28th. Before saying their goodbyes, Alex said he would walk home and that he was excited to present his work at the meetings.

Alex made it back to the place where he was staying sometime Saturday night/Sunday morning to sleep and left around noon to go work on his laptop. Early Sunday morning on her way to work a housemate saw his door freshly closed and his shoes outside his door. Another housemate spoke to him as he was heading out. He said he was heading to downtown Vancouver by bus to work in a café.

On Sunday morning Jan 29th when Alex did not show up for the 1st day of the WPM meetings, I messaged him to see where he was. After receiving no response, I figured he was working hard at perfecting his Trees app for the presentation. On Monday, day 2, we were sure he would arrive in time for the scheduled 5PM presentation of the project he had worked on for the past two years. But when the time came for his presentation and I had to fill in for him, I realized something must be wrong. Alex has always been in the top tier of reliable people I've worked with. So on Tuesday I reached out to friends to find him. I noticed he had left his laptop charger and his car was still parked outside my house since his visit Saturday. No one had seen him for several days, so Wednesday morning I called the VPD to report him missing and they put out an All Points Bulletin.

Just after midnight on Wednesday Feb 1st the VPD called to inform me that Alex was in a coma in the ICU at St. Paul's Hospital. I went straight there at around 1AM and met with the Constable who assisted me to get in to see him. Alex was on full life-support and non-responsive. The nurse informed me that Alex’s family had been contacted the day before, and his sisters had arrived earlier that day from out east and his parents were arranging travel from abroad to get to Vancouver.

According to the doctor’s report, at 1PM Sunday afternoon Jan 29th, a café barista saw him go into the bathroom and when he didn’t come out they went in and found him on the floor with no signs of life. A patron administered CPR without success until EMS arrived. He was rushed to emergency and resuscitated with the help of machines. They found fentanyl (but no other controlled substances) in his system, which they attributed to him losing consciousness. He also had head trauma which they speculated was from the fall when he passed out.

We don’t know where he got the drug, but we do know that he was not a regular user. Alex was an accidental victim of the opiate fentanyl, and like so many loved ones of the victims blindsided by what is being called “the worst drug-safety crisis in history” we are in a state of utter shock at how this could have befallen our dear friend Alex. 

Many of Alex’s friends and his immediate family spent time with him at the hospital, to sit with him and say their goodbyes. News of Alex’s condition was shared with his friend network on February 2nd via his FB profile, with the following message:

Hey Everyone. This is Alex's family. I know that many of you are trying to reach Alex. He's been in an accident. We regret to inform you that Alex has been in a coma for the last 4 days and won't be coming out of it. It's a terrible loss and we aren't really sure how to handle it, but we thought that you all should know. We will keep you posted with any further developments. Thanks again and I'm sorry for your loss. Lots of love. Xoxo

Alex passed away at 6:44 PM on February 5th, one week after he was found, and his organs were donated to grateful recipients.

Alex's Western Afterglow memorial was held the following day at his grandfather Jim Irvine’s Legion Hall in West Vancouver. It was well attended by many friends and family and loved ones who sang songs, read poems, played slideshows and shared stories and love and appreciation for the amazing person that was Donald Charles Alexander Robertson. Alex's Eastern Afterglow will be held on April 15th, at the Midland Bay Sailing Club, Marina park avenue, Midland Ontario, from 4pm on.

We presented this commemorative plaque on behalf of Brinkman to his family to honour his invaluable contribution to the Brinkman planting community:

Alex gratitude plaque copy.jpg

Alex will be dearly missed, and his memory cherished by all who knew him.



Some Alex related links: