Canada’s favourite astronaut touched down in Abbotsford on Saturday and he took to the stage in front of hundreds at a Habitat for Humanity fundraiser at the Abbotsford Centre.
Col. Chris Hadfield shared his stories from his times in outer space, showing photos and videos and taking questions from the audience of 500 for close to 90 minutes.
The fundraiser was space-themed and raised money through ticket sales to the event, a silent auction and other donations.
Hadfield was the event’s special guest and said he has a long connection to the Fraser Valley.
“I did basic training in Chilliwack and here in Abbotsford with the airport. I’ve been coming to airshows here for a lot of my life and I flew a historic jet here a few years back in a formation with the Snowbirds.”
He remembered the unique sight of Abbotsford from space.
“From space you can really see what a river delta this is – how the Fraser comes in skinny and spreads and has filled the whole valley and made it so lush and so desirable to live in. It’s sort of like Google Earth but it’s so much richer with your naked eye because the seasons change and the textures change.”
Hadfield said he’s honoured to work with the Habitat for Humanity group.
“Their fundamental purpose is so good and it’s good for society to recognize that some people just need that threshold up,” he said. “If you can just get them out of one set of circumstances and another set of circumstances then they can flourish.”
One local who had that opportunity to flourish was Abbotsford resident Andrea Petersen. The Habitat for Humanity Upper Fraser Valley branch helped build a brand new house for her, and it’s turned her life around completely.
“Fifteen years ago I moved to Abbotsford to try to give my children more opportunities than I had,” she told the crowd at the event. “Living here was expensive and we struggled a lot. Most of the houses we lived in were rentals and there was always mould, mice and rats – my children became very good at catching those things.”
Petersen and her six children eventually got connected with Habitat for Humanity about 10 years ago and they moved into a brand new house in December 2007. But it was a long road to get there.
“I remember having to cut drywall out of my son’s room because the mould was halfway up his room,” she said. “My children had health issues like asthma and sleeping issues and would come sleep in my bed because we could hear the critters scratching in the walls at all hours of the night.”
A friend of Petersen told her about the Habitat for Humanity program and, after she completed all the necessary paperwork, her family was chosen to receive a house.
“We moved in on Dec. 1, 2007 and my children insisted that we keep all the lights on and the blinds open because they wanted people to see them in this new house,” she said. “They wanted friends to come over and their friends were actually allowed to come over.”
Since moving into the house, Petersen has gone back to school and is now a fitness instructor/personal trainer and works with people with disabilities, mental illnesses and addictions. Her children are all honour students and several now attend post-secondary school. She said without the work of Habitat for Humanity, none of this would have been possible.
“My promise to my children was to give them a better life than I had and because of Habitat for Humanity I gave them 200 per cent of a better life,” she said. “It allowed me to be available to them mentally, emotionally and physically. Everybody in my family has a key to mom’s house because it’s not mine – it’s theirs. It’s always going to be their home. Habitat for Humanity changed not just one life but six lives and I’m forever grateful.”
The Habitat for Humanity event is set to become an annual fundraiser, with organizers promising next year to be bigger and better.
For more information about the organization, visit habitatufv.ca.