Becoming Canadian

How a South African doctor became a hero in La Loche​

"It is a community in distress. There is no way about that."

"It is a community in distress. There is no way about that."

Jansen Van Rensburg moved to Canada in 2005, after the violence in South Africa became too much for him and his family. (Becoming Canadian)

This story is part of Becoming Canadian, a year-long project sharing stories of struggle and triumph from new Canadian citizens.

One year ago this week, the northern community of La Loche, Sask., faced an unprecedented tragedy when four people were killed and seven others injured in a series of shootings that shocked the small town and the rest of Canada.

One doctor, Leon Jansen Van Rensburg, a South African who has been a Canadian citizen for 10 years, stood out for his incredible service to the community that day.

Jansen Van Rensburg moved to Canada in 2005, after the violence in South Africa became too much for him and his family. "One morning I was hijacked and shot at, and that was really a very very bad experience," he says. "That was the last straw for us." Surprisingly, the transition from Bloemfontein, South Africa, to Moose Jaw, Sask., proved smooth. There were even a few other Jansen Van Rensburgs living in Moose Jaw, and the family settled in nicely. 

Jansen Van Rensburg was in La Loche as part of a northern doctors program. "I had my own clinic in Moose Jaw for about five years. It was next to the Union Hospital in Moose Jaw, and then the decision was made to break down the hospital and build a new one. We decided the three of us — we were two South Africans and an English doctor — we decided we're going to go our own way. I decided I'm going to apply to work for Northern Medical Services. I got the job and that's how I landed up in La Loche. That was in 2014."

January 22, 2016, wasn't easy for the rural hospital.

Members of the RCMP stand outside the La Loche Community School in La Loche, Sask. Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, just a few days after a then 17-year-old went on a shooting rampage in the building. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

"We were six and a half hours on our feet before things settled down and then at that stage, some doctors from Ile-a-la-Crosse, about 180 kilometres from here, arrived to help us. They sort of just helped us reassess and circulate around other patients. So it was quite the scene. I'm quite confident that the fact that I had done trauma before in South Africa really saved the day for us."

As Jansen Van Rensburg reflects on the past year, he feels the remote community is still lacking a lot of the support they need.

"It's a sad situation. What's changed? Not really much has changed. It's really having an effect on the doctors especially and the nurses and health care team," he explained. "It is a community in distress. There is no way about that. They are suffering and they are struggling to get to terms, even a year after the incident."

Jansen Van Rensburg encouraged his son, Gavin, to move to Canada as well; last December, he became a citizen like his father (Becoming Canadian)

​To find more stories about the struggles and triumphs of new Canadian citizens, follow Canada 2017 on Facebook and Becoming Canadian on Instagram and Twitter.

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