To Pembertonians, he was a farmer and a friend. But to environmental activists around B.C. he became a leader of a movement to stop the "privatization" of rivers and streams.
Dr. Hamish Nichol, a Pemberton resident for 31 years, died Aug. 23 aged 84 after a summer spent farming, vacationing and visiting family. A psychiatrist by training, he also farmed seed potatoes and helped found the Save Our Rivers Society, which has led a high-profile campaign throughout B.C. against private sector development on rivers.
"Everybody that knew him liked him," said friend Charles Marinus, who knew Nichol since he moved to town. "He was very knowledgeable and very understanding."
Seed potatoes were in Nichol's blood. Born on a family potato farm in Ericsberg, South Africa, he served as a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Navy in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean from 1943 to 1945. After the war he moved to England and began studying medicine at Trinity College of Cambridge University.
There he studied neurology and psychiatry before he moved to New York to study child psychiatry at the Albert Einstein Institute until 1961. From there he moved to Vancouver, where he lectured in psychiatry at the University of British Columbia. It was here that Nichol met Christine, his wife of 44 years.
He first took up a residence on a potato farm in the Pemberton Meadows in 1978. He retired from the University in 1989 but continued to work at Vancouver General Hospital's Pacific Voice Clinic and in private practice.
As a psychiatrist he authored numerous publications, among them "Management of the Voice and its Disorders," a book that serves as a textbook for professional voice workers and employs the perspectives of psychiatrists, speech pathologists and others.
Dr. Linda Rammage, a co-author of that study and director of Pacific Voice Clinic, said in an interview that Nichol was a good friend who developed a close rapport with his patients.
"He wasn't the kind of psychiatrist who would look for a medicinal solution to people's emotional problems," she said. "In fact he would spend hours and hours discussing their lives and their approaches and talk to those things and help them modify the way they viewed their lives and comported themselves.
"I know many of his patients who he'd helped and discharged kept in touch with him because they liked him so much."
As a farmer of seed potatoes, Nichol enlisted the help of friends and colleagues to till the land - and Rammage was among them. She said she was among many he brought to his farm in the Pemberton Meadows as a "professional potato digger" and harvester.
Outside his agricultural and Asclepian pursuits, Nichol became a leader of a province-wide movement against independent power production, literally the development of micro-hydro projects through private companies.
Nichol co-founded the Save Our Rivers Society with farmer Tom Rankin and first helped raise a hoopla over a run-of-river hydro project on the Ashlu River in Squamish. The society feels that allowing private companies to acquire water licenses on rivers and develop projects on them amounts to "privatizing" rivers that belong to all British Columbians. Proponents feel they're a necessary, low-emissions way to meet B.C.'s energy needs.
Nichol later became a leading voice against a project proposed for the Ryan River north of Pemberton. At a public meeting on the project last December, he argued that British Columbians weren't being given a chance to say "no" to private hydro development.
"Is there any way, for example at this meeting tonight, we could say no to this process, and anyone would pay attention to it?" he asked at the meeting.
Jeanette Helmer of Helmer's Organics said Nichol was a real leader who was admired for his honesty.
"We ran into people that knew him," she said. They were so struck by his really, really strong sense of what was right and he was so courageous in fighting for it.
"He was a very fair person. You never heard him ranting away about anything if he didn't know the facts."
A memorial service for Hamish Nichol was held last Sunday where five people from five different aspects of his life shared some memories and thoughts about him. Rammage was among them, as was an activist with the Save Our Rivers Society who spoke about his work in Pemberton and around the province.
Former patients posted comments on his obituary on the Vancouver Sun website and described him as an inspiring doctor who left a lasting influence on their lives.