A North Cowichan man’s non-profit is raising money to start a school program benefiting local kids.
Salish Sea Stones is an organization started by Pete Shepherd in an effort to raise money for various charities through the sale of decorative stones. He’s begun introducing the decorating process to school children as an approach to teaching them the importance of giving back to the community. It’s been a therapeutic process for him.
Shepherd’s story is a unique one. He was born in Scotland and was a police officer in the UK for an extended period of time. He also spent a year in Kosovo with the United Nations police force, shortly after the war, training a new wave of police in the area.
“It was extremely dangerous,” says Shepherd. “Guys were being RPG-ed in their accommodations, there were lots of shootings happening. It was a very dangerous place.”
After a visit to Vancouver with his wife in the mid-2000s, he fell in love with Canada and they decided to move here. They settled on Victoria and moved in early 2007. He was recruited to work at the Legislature shortly thereafter, where he worked as a security officer in the facility until 2016. After settling into his new position, the ramifications of all that he had seen caught up with him. He developed a fear that would strike whenever he put a uniform on.
“I thought it was burnout,” says Shepherd. “[The doctor] basically told me I had anxiety and depression, which was a massive blow to me because I didn’t think I was that type of person. He asked me to speak to a psychiatrist and the next thing I was diagnosed with PTSD.”
That put his career on hold while he was receiving counselling. During the pandemic, he was out hiking trails near Chemainus and noticed decorative stones and decided to try his hand at it.
Shepherd discovered how to apply decals, like temporary tattoos, to a rock face to create art and began using the creative process as a type of therapy.
“They got that good that people said, ‘you need to sell these,'” says Shepherd. “So I thought, ‘I’m going to sell these, but I’m going to start a little charity to help kids.'”
So he started Salish Sea Stones and began to sell his stones in local shops or by commission – with proceeds at each shop going to benefit different children in various First Nations, pediatric units, and transition houses.
Shepherd’s stones can be found in several outlets across the Cowichan Valley, and even some outlets in his native UK. It was getting so big that he needs help to keep the supply of stones to each outlet. That’s when interest from the school system came about.
“I’ve spoke to Penelakut Elementary School, I’m really excited about that one because it’s pure First Nations,” says Shepherd. “They’re the first school for me to teach. I’m going teach a group of their school kids to do the stones and they’re going to help me supply all of the outlets in Chemainus.”
He’s also talking with other schools across the district, who are interested but are faced with the reality of funding. The problem is the start-up costs. He’s built a package that is enough to kickstart a program at a school that costs $1,500 per school. With several schools interested in starting their own programs, the costs were starting to get beyond Shepherd’s means.
To raise funds, he’s visited local businesses, governments, and non-profits. So far, he’s received donations from car dealerships, Cowichan Women Against Violence, and the Municipality of North Cowichan.
If you’re interested in donating, you can do so on their GoFundMe page.