Manitoba

'He saved my life on multiple occasions': young man remembers Floyd Wiebe

The sudden death of a Winnipeg anti-drug and gang activist has left youth across the city devastated.

Wiebe died on Monday night of what his wife calls a "catastrophic heart attack," at 61

Floyd Wiebe and Grey Zorn-Ford. (Submitted by Grey Zorn-Ford)

The sudden death of a Winnipeg anti-drug and gang activist has left youth across the city devastated.

Floyd Wiebe died of what his wife is calling a "catastrophic heart attack" on Monday night. He was 61.

Grey Zorn-Ford says he was 15 or 16 years old when he saw Wiebe for the first time, during a school assembly at Kelvin High School.

"Normally I would skip most, actually all of the assemblies. But, I ended up going to this one," Zorn-Ford told CBC.

He described the person he was then as sad and self-loathing; a heavy drug user and someone who fought with family.

"I had a lot of suicidal thoughts at that time," he said.

At the assembly, Wiebe spoke about his son, T.J. 

On Jan. 5, 2003, the 20-year-old was murdered by a group of men who stabbed him with syringes filled with Drano and lighter fluid, strangled him with shoelaces, jumped on his chest and stabbed him in the neck before leaving him in a snowy ditch.

T.J. was involved in Winnipeg's illicit drug trade at the time of his death, police said.

"What drugs T.J. was involved in … The crowd he was involved in … Hearing about how not only T.J. had been murdered but also how he died and how gruesome it was, I related to it by thinking, 'That could be me," Zorn-Ford said.

So, that day, he committed to changing his life.

RAW: Grey Zorn-Ford sat down with CBC Information Radio's Marcy Markusa to talk about Floyd Wiebe

7 years ago
Duration 3:49
Grey Zorn-Ford describes Floyd Wiebe as an inspiration and mentor that helped him turn his life around.

"They would give out these cards with T.J.'s face on it and on the back it would say, 'It's a commitment to yourself, not to anyone else, that you're not going to use drugs again," he said. 

Zorn-Ford signed the card and stopped using that day.

"[In] that moment, it was over," he said.

But, it would be two years before Zorn-Ford would see Wiebe again. In the time between, the way Wiebe spoke in the assembly stayed with him.

"His enthusiasm and his drive and just how engaged [he was] and how you could tell when he spoke that he cared … It was just like, amazing like, how he spoke. Like, I've never heard anyone speak with such passion, other than Floyd," he said.

Two years later

In Grade 12, Zorn-Ford was assigned a project that required him to write about something that changed his life.

"So instantly I went to [the assembly Floyd spoke at]," he said.

His teacher read and marked the assignment, and encouraged Zorn-Ford to send it to Wiebe.

"[He] said, 'You should send this to Floyd. It's close around Christmas, I think it would really impact him and make him feel good about everything,'" he said.

"I didn't send it to him instantly. I was too scared to send it to him … and not to hear back from him just because he's a busy man. I mean, he goes to schools, he gives out his phone number at every presentation and his e-mail and his website … I didn't even think that he would see it."

When Zorn-Ford finally did send it, Wiebe responded in a matter of minutes.

"I was shocked … It meant that someone actually gave me a lot of recognition for it and that it mattered to him … We ended up talking on the phone that night and it's pretty much been non-stop texting since that day."

Soon, Zorn-Ford's family knew Wiebe as the person responsible for saving their son's and brother's life, Zorn-Ford said.

Grey Zorn-Ford and Floyd Wiebe wearing shirts with Floyd's son's name on them. (Submitted by Grey Zorn-Ford)

Overcome by grief

On Tuesday morning, Zorn-Ford received a text message from Wiebe's phone number that said, 'My father passed away last night.' Not having time to read the entire text before he left for work, he assumed it was Wiebe who had sent it about his own father.

What had actually happened registered while Zorn-Ford was in a McDonald's drive-thru, getting coffee before work and he had a moment to read the full message, which was signed by Wiebe's son, Chad.

"I just fell apart because at the end it said, 'If you need to text me, let me know. Chad," when I thought it was from Floyd," Zorn-Ford said.

While speaking to CBC, Zorn-Ford was overcome by grief.

"Me and Floyd were so close," he said, crying.

"We talked like how he would never talk to anyone else and we joked around at each other all the time. We were so close. He's always been there for me since I messaged him that day."

Floyd Wiebe and Grey Zorn-Ford at a speaking event where T.J. Wiebe's story was shared.

The relationship was meaningful for Wiebe, too, who called Zorn-Ford an inspiration on the website dedicated to his son's story.

During time together, Zorn-Ford said Wiebe saved his life "on a number of occasions," and the two bonded through humour.

"I'm going to remember his stupid jokes the most about him, definitely," Zorn-Ford said.

"He would crack the most stupid jokes but they were always so funny. I'll remember him for what he's done for me."

And, his impact reached through Winnipeg, Zorn-Ford said.

"He changed and made such a huge impact on this city, not only through the schools that he would go and speak to but also through what he was doing on the side with the gangs and everything. He's made an impact that no one else could make in the city," he said.

"We've lost a person that could never be replaced."

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