Whenever former neo-Nazi Daniel Gallant used to get a new pair of Dr. Martens boots, he'd christen them through an act of violence.

"You'd always get them covered in blood first, and I went through quite a few pairs in the past," said Gallant, who left home at the age of 12 and got introduced to a group of neo-Nazis in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

However he had one pair of dark red boots that never had blood on them — a pair he brought to commemorate having left the life of drugs and violence behind.

Those very same Dr. Martens boots are now a central prop in a Kamloops theatre group's production of Cherry Docs, which tells the story of a neo-Nazi charged with a racially motivated murder.

shoes

This pair of cherry red Dr. Martens boots marked ten years since Gallant left the life of drugs and violence and white supremacy behind. (Jennifer Norwell/CBC)

Dr. Martens boots, often called "Docs" for short, were first designed and produced by a Germany army doctor at the end of the Second World War. Starting in 1959 they were also produced in England, where they became a popular fashion item in various music scenes and youth subcultures, including the often violent youth culture known as skinheads.

But Gallant says this pair had a different meaning for him.

"These boots have never been worn as neo-Nazi, nor bloodletting," he said.

"I bought them at the ten-year anniversary of leaving drugs and alcohol, the white supremacist movement and all that stuff behind. I bought them while I was doing my undergrad, the tail end of that and going into my master's degree as a symbol for myself to be able to have them and not resist everything from my past, but to start anew."

Healing for all

Gallant gave his cherry red Dr. Martens to lead actor Nigel Beardwood after connecting with him about his challenging role in Cherry Docs.

The production by The Other Company, plays at the Pavilion Theatre until Jan. 24.

"We started this long conversation through messaging and he indirectly gave me what I needed to complete the transformation, the caricature of the person that I portray," said Beardwood.

"[The character] needs to come full circle and if it's delivered half way, it does a disservice, a disrespect to people who have survived this."

Gallant's gesture came as a surprise to both the actors in the play and to the director, Glen Cairns, who himself was a victim of a brutal assault by a gang of neo-Nazis in Toronto in the late 1990s.

That attack was shortly after the play was written, and Cairns has since directed it a number of times.

"It's cathartic," he said. "Violence just happens. There is no reason for it. As a society and as people we have to look at what's driving that and a lot of what's driving that and a lot of what we've been talking about with the actors is how fear drives anger and how do we break through this cycle and bring it out into the open where people can talk about it."

The play has also been cathartic for lead actor Beardwood, who was sexually abused as a child.

"I'm a survivor. I recognized that in Daniel, he recognized that in me. It was from different things," he said.

"I suffered for a lot of years and … this show is the cathartic healing that I've been looking for for a long time."

For Gallant, who is now pursuing a law degree,  he said watching the play was hard.

"There were many times when it was like a mirror, an outside view of myself," he said.

"It was gross, and I don't want to go back."


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: ​Kamloops play Cherry Docs features Dr. Martens boots from a former neo-Nazi who has turned his life around


With files from Jenifer Norwell