Eleven years ago, Jason Patreau was in Afghanistan with Task Force 1-08, 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Battle Group. (PPCLI.) He would be stationed there for nine months, not only engaging in active, combat but also humanitarian efforts such as rebuilding schools. This would be his sixth and final year with the Canadian Armed Forces. It was a job he loved. Leaving his fellow troops was one of the toughest decisions he had to make.
Originally from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Patreau signed up to be in the Canadian Army Reserves not long after high school, because he “didn’t know if [he] wanted to be in the army full-time.” He soon found that he relished military life and wanted to make a career out of it. According to Patreau, he “loved everything about it,” from the daily physical training, to the discipline, to working effectively as a unit. When the Canadian Armed Forces started asking for volunteers to go to Afghanistan, he immediately said yes. He was sent to 2nd Battalion, PPCLI in Manitoba for one year of additional training to prepare for the realities of live combat.
Today, Jason is the owner of Nature’s Workshop, a woodworking company that creates mostly custom pieces, including coasters, wall art and full dining sets made from sustainable local wood and plant-based epoxy. I met Patreau at his Whitehorse shop where he was working on a custom river table which will be set with pebbles, crystals and LED lights that can be controlled via cell phone. He’s soft-spoken, humble, but clearly passionate about his work, and takes great pride in his creations, which are always inspired by nature. “My love of nature is in everything I do,” Patreau stated. It’s no wonder he and his wife Barbara ended up in the Yukon. After a nine-month tour in Afghanistan, in 2008, he made the decision to leave to spend more time with the woman he loves. “That was the hardest thing I had to do. I really loved my job and loved the people.”
Patreau said he “was a bit lost, a bit depressed. I loved working with the people who felt like your brother, not just a co-worker. You live with them, you train and fight with them, you laugh with them and you cry with them. That bond. The feeling of being part of something bigger and something important.” His time in Afghanistan was full of interesting experiences.
“Afghanistan is a beautiful place. It was horrible when we were there of course, but there’s a lot of beauty. There’s a lot of water and greenery. There are mountains, deserts and the Arghandab River which was amazing. It’s a beautiful and very diverse place.” Looking at his signature river-themed, works I can’t help but wonder if they’re partly inspired by his time there.
A total of 40,000 Canadian troops were deployed to Afghanistan between the years 2001 and 2014; the largest since World War II. Statistics Canada states that troops who were deployed to Afghanistan had twice the rate of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or a panic-related disorder than their counterparts who were not deployed. In his own words, Patreau’s “depression problems, they spiralled. My reason was more I felt bad that I wasn’t going to be with those guys anymore. I felt bad leaving them.” He retrained as a carpenter and it wasn’t until he started creating his river wall art and charcuterie boards in his spare time that he realized he found something else he loved to do. He would regularly sell out at local fairs and markets in Ontario and here in Whitehorse.
Barbara’s work as a nurse took them to Inuvik where Patreau worked as a carpenter. During their time off, they drove down the Dempster, hiked the Tombstones and visited Whitehorse. After Barbara’s contract ended, instead of moving back to Ontario, they set up home in Whitehorse. The spell of the Yukon had well and truly been cast. Patreau mentioned Ron Koser, of Old Country Woodworking, as being a huge supporter of his creative work.
“Ron helped me out a lot and never discouraged me,” he said. With encouragement from his wife and customers he only very recently made Nature’s Workshop his full-time job. He’s now navigating the world of entrepreneurship and writing business plans. It’s a far cry from the man in combat gear navigating the war zones of Afghanistan in 50 C heat.
“I don’t regret my decision at all. Now my wife and I have our first child, we love living in Whitehorse, the people here are fantastic. I love doing what I do. No complaints.”
Find Jason and Nature’s Workshop at the Spruce Bog, on Nov. 17, on Facebook @NaturesWorkshopWhitehorse and Instagram @Natures_Workshop.