Wayne Colban (right) shares a laugh with Morris Flewwelling as Neil Colban (left) speaks to Hazel Flewwelling at a Colban family reunion in Red Deer on Saturday. Colban

Colban reunion years in the making

On trips to Edmonton, through B.C., even while visiting Elvis’ Graceland in Memphis, Tenn., — Wayne Colban would inevitably grab the local phone book, flip to the ‘C’s, and call up anyone who shared his surname.

On trips to Edmonton, through B.C., even while visiting Elvis’ Graceland in Memphis, Tenn., — Wayne Colban would inevitably grab the local phone book, flip to the ‘C’s, and call up anyone who shared his surname.

Wayne, now 73, wanted to find a mother, a father, siblings, anyone who might be able to tell him who he really was, where he came from. At one point, he actually did speak to a cousin over the phone, but the conversants did not realize a connection.

What he needed in the quest to learn his own history was a little help, which came in the form of Calgary Community Living Society worker Jim Adamchick. Wayne walked into the society’s office one day in 2006 to pick up the book in which he had penned everything of his life story that he did know — his 22 years living at the Provincial Training School/Alberta School Hospital in Red Deer and another 34 living in the community in Calgary.

The two became fast friends and Wayne asked Adamchick to help him find his family. Adamchick took the job seriously, tracking down Wayne’s birth certificate and pursuing potential family connections through military records. The search went on intermittently for a few years, with the big break coming in late 2011. There were similarities in an obituary for an Arthur Colban in New Westminster, B.C., and the records Adamchick had found, so the disability support worker who had become a friend called up one of the sons listed in the obit.

“Oh my, it was shock,” said Neil Colban, one of four brothers who learned there was a fifth on Nov. 23, 2011.

“It was shock. It was disbelief. And then it was excitement.”

Neil, along with Roger, Murray and Brian Colban learned that day that their mother had given birth to another son in the spring of 1941. Florence Colban’s husband, Arthur, was away serving in the Canadian Army at the time, and the boys’ mother had developed a relationship with another man.

The union produced Wayne, but when Arthur returned from the war theatre in 1945, he agreed to stay with his wife on the condition that Wayne be given over to child welfare services and never spoken of again.

So began the path that would lead Wayne to the Provincial Training School in Red Deer (today known as Michener Centre). Though adopted by a family in Irma in 1945, the arrangement did not work out, and by 1950 Wayne was at the PTS.

His chart described the red-haired boy as a friendly, co-operative chap who enjoyed planting flowers on the expansive grounds. One of the highest-functioning residents, Wayne used to be tasked with delivering food carts at 5:30 every morning. He recalls being confined in straitjackets when the workers felt he had misbehaved.

After two decades at the centre without any family contact, Wayne started to get restless, running away three times before he got out for good in 1972. With his freedom, he chose to settle in Calgary for its warmer weather, where he has lived a happy, active life ever since.

But finding his brothers gave him a new high.

“I tell ya, that’s the best Christmas present I ever had,” said Wayne.

Sterilized while at the PTS, Wayne has no children, but with the brothers came sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews. And when one of those newfound relatives sent him a Christmas card, it was not for Wayne merely a simple, unremarkable occurrence — it was the first such gift he had ever received.

Since the siblings found each other, Wayne has travelled to see his brothers and they have come to see him. On the weekend, though, the brothers gathered together for the first time as a complete unit, in Red Deer.

On Saturday, with about 20 relatives in attendance, Wayne quoted his beloved Elvis — “Thank you very much!” — to applause, and called the occasion “happy happy.” Brother Neil, 74, who came up from Maine for the family’s first reunion he can ever remember, said Wayne has fit naturally into the family fold.

“For his position and his situation, he’s well adjusted. He’s just fallen right into his lifestyle, and he loves his lifestyle. And he’s a happy man. I’ve never seen him be disgruntled or unhappy; I think he’s a great guy.”

As part of the visit to Red Deer, Wayne gave the brothers a tour of the Michener Centre grounds, showing them where he used to pick and sort potatoes in the old fields and telling them how he thinks the soon-to-be vacated land would make a great golf course.


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