Retired couple share acreage with unique PTSD refuge

Rick Wanless had been riding horses for most of his life when one of his steeds knocked him over in an incident that taught him a lesson he's now using to help those who helped him.

Kamloops residents Rick and Donna Wanless give back by helping ailing veterans and first responders

The 25 acres, called Hacienda Caballo, sit on the banks of the Thompson River, 15 minutes north of Kamloops. (Rick Wanless)

Rick Wanless had been riding horses for most of his life when one of his steeds knocked him over in an incident that taught him a lesson he's now using to help those who helped him.  

"I came to realize just what a great service the people provided me, particularly the first responders here in Kamloops when they came out and got me and looked after me," said Wanless. 

The founder of the popular Kamloops Mounted Patrol had broken his pelvis.  

Rick Wanless is founder of the Kamloops Mounted Patrol which welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city every year. (Kamloops Mounted Patrol)

"I just got bumped. It was a very casual accident but as it happened it was more serious than I thought," said Wanless, 76, who is a retired school teacher along with his wife Donna.

It has been four years since Wanless was injured and his experience with the paramedics still affects the couple deeply. 

Home sweet home

For the past 43 years, the pair have lived on a 25-acre hobby farm on the edge of the Thompson River — a place as serene as it is welcoming. 

Rick and Donna Wanless have four Arabian horses and four Quarter horses on their hobby farm that has been their home for more than four decades. (Rick Wanless)

"We're both in our 70s now," said Wanless. 

"And, we thought, it's time we considered doing something, giving back something in return for the good life that we've had."

The husband and wife have offered their property to be used as a facility to help Canadian forces and emergency first responders who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).   

Honour Ranch 

The unique refuge is to be called Honour Ranch and will offer services free of charge. 

"My goal, like Honour House, is to be self-sustaining and not rely on government money," said Allan De Genova, president of Honour House Society. 

Allan De Genova has spearheaded the effort to provide emergency first responders and veterans free of charge assistance in dealing with physical and mental health issues. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Honour House, in New Westminster, provides free lodging for out-of-town veterans, first responders and their families, when in Metro Vancouver for medical care or rehabilitation.

Honour Ranch will go one step further and offer treatment programs, with psychologists and clinical resources brought in as needed says De Genova. 

"Sometimes, it's going to be as simple as a family, on a weekend, tenting next to the river to just get away," said De Genova. 

"We're hoping it will provide a bit of an escape from the rigours of everyday life, where people could come and camp and fish and do some boating," added Wanless. 

Sharing property

The couple will continue to live in the main house but say the guest house, stable, clubhouse and large gazebo on the waterfront will be used by the program.

"At some point in the future, [the main house] may well become gifted to the first responders and to Honour House but at the present time we're just sharing what we've got with them," said Wanless.

A large enclosed gazebo on the Wanless property will be used for therapy programs and social events. (Rick Wanless )

What's missing, however, is accommodation for visitors but ​New Westminster Fire says it's ready to chip in, by building a prototype 300 square foot cottage.

"The whole idea would be to challenge other cities around the province, to have their first responders sponsor and build a little cabin," said fire chief Tim Armstrong.

By next spring, Armstrong hopes to lead a convoy of tiny houses to Kamloops.  

"This idea would be to create Honour Ranch, and then create honour town overnight." 

Need for help  

PTSD is a 'no notice event' according to David Scandrett, a peer volunteer with the Vancouver chapter of Operational Stress Injury Social Support.

"Soldiers, who come back from Afghanistan, they don't go and sit down with a social worker and the social worker says:  'right, in three weeks, seven days and two minutes you're going to have an operation stress injury,'" said Scandrett, who retired after 38 years service with Canadian forces. 

David Scandrett volunteers as a peer support worker for veterans and serving Canadian Forces members with PTSD. (David Scandrett)

"We have people who have been fine for 20 years and then all of a sudden bang, the right set of stimulus, the right set of triggers and, off they go." 

The ranch, he expects, will be well used by veterans and first responders alike. 

"If they need help and if we can offer it, the doors will be open to say thank you for what they do each and every day," said De Genova. 

Rick and Donna Wanless are delighted to be in a position to help. 

"We've heard of military people who are committing suicide and are homeless. That shouldn't happen in a prosperous society," said Wanless. 

The couple has no children who would inherit the property and, they don't want to sell it.

"We wanted to make it a form of a legacy to some public group and there's no one better than the veterans and first responders."

Horses Cisco, Prinz and Tango cool off in one several ponds on Wanless property. (Rick Wanless )

About the Author

Belle Puri

Reporter

Belle Puri is a veteran journalist who has won awards for her reporting in a variety of fields.