James Tabachak wants youth to “join up”

James Tabachak relaxes outside his Wiikwemkoong home before sitting down with The Expositor to chat about his time in the forces and how he believes serving in the military can help steer youth in every community along better paths than many are headed down today. photo by Michael Erskine

WIIKWEMKOONG – James Tabachak has had quite the run since being that young man walking aimlessly down a street in North Bay and deciding to walk into the recruiting office to see what it was all about.

“I wound up signing up for four years,” he recalled. “I stayed in for three.”

Mr. Tabachak was adopted when he was very young by the Oshkabisens family. “I kept my own name,” he said.

Originally, Mr. Tabachak found part-time work at what was then the EB Eddy Mill in Espanola. “I was tree planting at first,” he recalled. “They must have liked my work, because they offered me a full-time job cutting poplar.” His job entailed clearing out the scrub brush to make way for the more valuable trees coming up.

He married in 1987 and went on to have three girls, two of whom have provided him with a whopping nine grandchildren. “I told them ‘slow down, Christmas is coming’,” he laughed.

When Mr. Tabachak left the recruiting office, he was signed up with the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia Light Infantry. “I got to see all of Canada,” he said. After basic training in Barrie, he was sent to Wainright and then onto Gagetown. “If I had signed up again, I would have been sent to Europe,” he said. But he was happy to stay on Turtle Island.

Still, he said that he is “very patriotic” when it comes to Canada and his service. “I usually watch the services in Ottawa,” he said. “I sometimes cry and get very emotional.” The camaraderie of serving in the military is something that never leaves you.

Mr. Tabachak has difficulty speaking, as he was run over by a tractor which damaged his mouth and teeth. “A tractor ran over my head, twice!” he said. “It ran over my head, hit a woodpile, then backed up and ran over my head again.” Mr. Tabachak said he is very lucky to be alive. “I spent two years in the hospital,” he said.

Mr. Tabachak said that he is very distressed by the number of young people who are dying from drug overdoses and suicides in Island communities. He said that he believes it would be a very good thing if youth took a look at signing up to serve in the Canadian Forces.

“It gives you a purpose,” he said. “You learn how to take care of yourself, you learn discipline, you learn leadership and how to work together as a team. You know you are doing something worthwhile and you want to finish it. You always know what you will be doing with your life. I tried everything before, but it was the army that set me on a better path.”