British Columbia

Tim Hortons staffer remembered as a positive force in Cranbrook community

Many Tim Hortons regulars in Cranbrook, B.C., were saddened to learn of the death of popular staffer Nolan Wiebe, with dozens gathering for a weekend vigil for a man they felt had brought light to the community, especially during a couple of dark years.

Dozens of friends and customers held weekend vigil for Nolan Wiebe, 54, who died on Friday

Tim Hortons staff member Nolan Wiebe, centre, with his wife Corali and a friend inside the restaurant in Cranbrook, B.C. Wiebe, 54, died last Friday. (John-Carole Telman/Facebook)

For many people who frequent the Tim Hortons at the Tamarack Centre mall in Cranbrook, B.C., Nolan Wiebe's friendly voice over the drive-thru intercom speaker was like a ray of sunshine. 

So, many in the East Kootenay city were saddened to learn of his recent death, with dozens gathering for a weekend vigil for a man they felt had brought light to the community, especially during a couple of dark years.

"No matter the day you were having, [by] just hearing Nolan's voice, you just wanted to smile," said Martina Clark, who organized the vigil in the mall parking lot, where people placed flowers near the drive-thru.

"He carried such a positive energy every day — it was just so contagious."

Wiebe, 54, died at home last Friday. He had tested positive for COVID-19 and had been sick for two weeks, according to his family, but they wouldn't disclose the cause of his death.

Dozens of Cranbrook residents held a vigil to honour Wiebe in the parking lot near the Tim Hortons store on Saturday. (Chad St. Pierre)

Clark, who had been Wiebe's loyal customer for eight years, said he had remained positive over the course of the pandemic. 

"Nolan wouldn't want any of us in the community to be sad," she added. "We all want to remember him. We all just need to live like Nolan did, and have love and respect for each other." 

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Conservative MP Rob Morrison for Kootenay–Columbia said Wiebe is a living example of how anyone can make a difference every day.

"He brought hope to thousands at a time when many struggled, and is a shining example of the truth that a single voice can make a tremendous difference to the world around them," Morrison said.

Wiebe and his wife Corali worked at the Tim Hortons at 1500 North Cranbrook St. for more than a decade, and always brought joy to their customers, according to his friend and customer Richard Hoeg.

Hoeg, 65, remembers Wiebe as a car enthusiast who could talk about mechanics for two hours straight every day, but also as a faithful Christian who didn't hesitate to help people living with homelessness and other life challenges.

"He wanted to do anything and everything to help anybody and everybody," Hoeg said. "He felt that's what he had to do, and that's what he did right till the end."

Hoeg says learning of his death less than 12 hours after they spoke to each other on the phone on Thursday evening felt like "a horse kicking you right in the gut." 

"He was always encouraging. But sometimes I'd even be hard on myself. He said … 'You're better than you think you are.' He kept on saying that and I started to believe in it," Hoeg said.

Wiebe holds a Tim Hortons cookie with a smiley face icing. (Submitted by Lois Burletoff)

Wiebe's elder sister Lois Burletoff says he had a personality that made everybody feel important about themselves.

"Even when he was a kid, he was always positive," she told host Sarah Penton on CBC's Radio West. "He loves serving people, and he just wanted to be kind to people and make their day, because he knows that not everybody's days are that great, and if he could add a little something to that, that's what he wanted to do."

"He didn't want the limelight or the attention — he just wanted to just be nice."

Wiebe was a faithful Christian dedicated to helping people living with homelessness and other life challenges, according to his friend Richard Hoeg. (Submitted by Richard Hoeg)

Melinda Cook, a former Tim Hortons employee who worked with Wiebe for 10 years, said he was an amazing colleague.

"When I would walk in the door to come on shift and no one was already there, he'd look up from across the room [and] would go, 'Hey, I know you, you're a great person. Welcome to work!

"Even when the customers [were] getting nasty, or things [were] getting busy and things [were] getting behind and everybody's getting frustrated, I never once heard Nolan say[ing] a bad word about or to anyone." 

Customers placed flowers near the Tim Hortons drive-thru to remember Wiebe. (Kalista Lizee/Facebook)

In an emailed statement to CBC News on Wednesday, Matt Garreau, the owner of the Tim Hortons where Wiebe worked, said Wiebe was a remarkable employee.

"The accolades and recognition he's had over the years through us and Tim Hortons doesn't even do him justice to what he provided to the community on a day-to-day basis," said Garreau in the statement.

According to Wiebe's friends and former customers, a celebration of life will be held for him after his wife, who is currently in hospital, recovers from illness.

With files from Radio West

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