Former Calgary crack dealer reunites with family

CBC reporter Neil Herland helped a homeless Calgary man reconnect with his family after 20 years apart and was able to capture the touching reunion on video.

CBC reporter helps family connect after 20 years apart

Family reunites after 20 years: RAW

8 years ago
Duration 1:54
Perry Wilson reunited with his sister and brother after a family feud kept them apart for decades.

Perry Wilson used to ride a bicycle through the streets of Calgary with a cellphone in his pocket and an eight ball of crack cocaine wrapped in plastic inside his cheek.

Perry Wilson reunited with his sister and brother recently after 20 years apart. (Neil Herland/CBC)

"I used to sell it," said Wilson. "Dial-a-dope."

He was a drug dealer on wheels and if the cops came he simply had to swallow the evidence away. 

Today the 50-year-old carries a guitar and the hopes of a recovering addict. 

I met Wilson three weeks ago at the Calgary Public Library.

He was performing on stage at This Is My City festival, a unique event that gives homeless people a chance to make music and art.

I pulled out a CBC radio microphone and interviewed him for 10 minutes.

'When I decided to give up my crack addiction, I just woke up one day and said, 'You know, I think I can have a better life without it,'" Wilson told CBC Radio listeners.

Life-changing experience

The story of a recovering crack addict touched many listeners, but the story hit home for one man in Red Deer.

David Wilson happened to be in his car when the voice on the radio stopped him cold. It was the voice of his estranged younger brother Perry. The two men had not spoken in 20 years.

That morning David wrote an email to CBC Calgary saying he thought it might be his long lost brother.

When I read that message on my cellphone, I knew I had to help. 

This is a tale of a family torn apart and how it came together over Easter. It's a lesson in the power of forgiveness and the bonds of two brothers.

"I contacted you guys at the CBC and the miracle happened," said David.

On Good Friday, in a park along the Bow River, the two brothers came together and forgave each other for a feud that had driven them apart for two decades.

'It's been way too long'

The family won't say what caused the argument, but they are now ready to move forward.

As Perry approached his brother David, the first thing he exclaimed was, "You're not as grey as I am." 

A lifetime addiction had taken a toll on Perry's appearance.

"The crack addict part didn't surprise me, but it did sadden me," said David.

But the brothers embraced and joined with their sister Donna, who drove 12 hours from B.C., in a family hug.

"It's been way too long and we were so close as kids. It's been way too long. Too many years," said Donna Gonyea.

David wore sunglasses but you could still hear the emotion in his burly voice. 

'I want him part of my life again'

"He was my little brother. He's still my little brother, and I want him part of my life again," he said.

His brother Perry smiled and said, "The future starts today."

That afternoon the three siblings explored Edworthy Park in Calgary where they had spent their childhood.

"I have a pretty good vocabulary but I'm limited today for words. The emotions are very close to the surface," Perry confessed.

They walked arm in arm, as if their familial bond had never been broken. Then they drove to the homeless shelter where Perry lives.

The Calgary Drop-in and Rehab Centre is a place most residents of Canada's oil capital have never visited. Just five minutes from the skyscrapers of downtown Calgary, the homeless shelter is surrounded by metal bars and locked gates.

To enter you have to put your hand on a fingerprint scanner. The shelter staff say it keeps violent thieves away.

Family concert held

Many shelter clients have a heartbreaking story and many of the employees and volunteers are also seeking a new chapter in their life: a heart surgeon from Russia who can't practice in this country; a former Merrill Lynch man who gave up a fancy salary and the bottle; and a dejected UN economist who tried to save lives in Africa until one day he decided to save lives back home in Canada. 

The Drop-in Centre is often a place of despair, where men and women come when they have nowhere else to go.

But on this day it became a place where one family came together in the spirit of love.

For the first time in decades, Perry performed a concert for his family. 

The audience included alcoholics, addicts, dealers, counsellors and other homeless people — but sitting proudly in the front row was David and Donna. 

"Life just hasn't been complete without him. Cause he's our baby brother. And I'm glad he's back in our lives," said Donna.

"I only have one brother. I'll only ever have one brother," adds David. "There's lots of acquaintances and friends that I've had over the years. But he's Perry, he's my brother."


Neil Herland is reporter for CBC News Montreal. Since 1997, he has worked as a reporter and producer for CBC News in Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Toronto, Ottawa, Fredericton and New York City.