From left: Jack Hutton, Sister Frieda of the Sisters of St. Ann (from whom the land was gifted) and Jack Pearce, all long-term Providence Farm volunteers and supporters. (Submitted)

Cowichan’s Providence Farm founder honoured with provincial Citizenship Medal

A Duncan man has been honoured with 17 others from a list of 100 winners to receive the province’s Medal of Good Citizenship.

While he’s been busy throughout the region, Jack Hutton might best be known as being behind the establishment of Providence Farm, a therapeutic community which uses innovative nature-based programs for people with mental health, brain injury, age-related illness and developmental challenges.

“Jack Hutton has dedicated 48 years to serving disadvantaged and often marginalized people, while pioneering services for them in the area between Victoria and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island,” said a provincial biography. “The lives of thousands of mentally challenged individuals and troubled youth have been improved because of his work in the Cowichan Valley.”

As the first director of the Duncan Mental Health Centre, back in 1971, Hutton played a role in developing many of the nonprofit societies, primarily around youth and mental health support, that have evolved though his greatest legacy is Providence Farm.

“Under his leadership, the Vancouver Island Providence Community Association has rebuilt the farm to provide community-based programs for the disadvantaged, including a seniors’ program, alternate school, community college classes and a therapeutic riding centre which sends riders to the Special Olympics,” said the biography.

Naturally, Hutton couldn’t be found at home for comment. He was at the farm. A call to his cell phone found him in a Providence Farm field, “up to my eyeballs in mud.”

After nearly five decades of service, Hutton is no stranger to awards, having been previously recognized with many awards including the following accolades: the Dr. Phillip Long Cup Award from the Vancouver Mental Health Support Society, the Cowichan Valley Black Tie Service Award, the City of Duncan Scroll of Honour, the Queen Elizabeth ll Diamond Jubilee Medal, the Rotary Club Service Award for exemplary service and more.

“I think it’s a wonderful honour and really appreciate being recognized,” he said of the good citizenship medal.

Launched in 2015, the Medal of Good Citizenship recognizes individuals who, through exceptional long-term service, have made outstanding contributions to their communities without expectation of remuneration or reward. The medal reflects their generosity, service, acts of selflessness and contributions to community life. Recipients were nominated by members of their communities.

“The medal recognizes people who selflessly donate their time and talents to making life better for people in their communities,” said Tourism, Arts, and Culture Minister Lisa Beare, who chairs the medal’s selection committee. “I am truly honoured to congratulate them and say thank you for your dedication and hard work on behalf of all British Columbians.”

Just one of three Island-based recipients, Hutton will receive his medal at the Legislature in the new year.

Until then, he’ll just keep on plugging along.

“I’m officially retired but I come out. Another founder, Jack Pearce, and I work together, mostly on Fridays,” he said. “I’ve been part of the farm now for 43-44 years. It’s been a major part of life. I’ve just turned 80. Half of my life has been spent working here at the farm.”

In 2009 the Sisters of Saint Ann, who had owned the land since 1864, transferred stewardship of the 400-acre parcel of land to the Vancouver Island Providence Community in trust that its mission to serve disadvantaged and disabled persons, who are not served elsewhere in the community, will continue in perpetuity.

Hutton is now working with a group to develop a village at Providence Farm that will have inclusive, multifaceted housing for an integrated community.

“The Therapeutic Community of Providence Farm is exceptionally proud to learn that Jack Hutton has been awarded the Provincial Medal of Good Citizenship,” said Tracy Parow, the farm’s executive director. “For many Canadians, the essence of Good Citizenship is active commitment and outlook and includes community participation and assisting others. Jack Hutton’s vision and life legacy at Providence Farm is an outstanding example of advocacy in assisting others and commitment to community. With his hands-on leadership, Providence Farm created genuine and meaningful work for people in the Cowichan Valley.”

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