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  • Writer's pictureLorna Hamilton

A Life Transformed: Local Outfitter’s Remarkable Gift Brings Hope To Heinsburg Resident


Heinsburg resident Dan Peterson with his son Asher . Photos submitted

On September 8, a heartwarming moment forever changed the life of Dan Peterson, all thanks to the generosity of Neil Johnson, the owner-operator of North Star Outfitting and SaskAlta Waterfowl. In a surprising twist during the electrifying Gord Bamford concert, Johnson presented Peterson with an all-terrain track wheelchair, transforming his world in an instant.

Neil Johnson, primarily known for his guided hunts of various species in the County of Vermilion, made headlines when he decided to extend a helping hand to his local community. Johnson’s main client base hails from America, and he is closely associated with the Northwest Sportsman’s Club in Spokane, Washington. Over the years, through his clientele, convention attendance, and charitable contributions to hunts, Johnson developed a special connection with this club.

“I have clients from the Northwest Sportsman’s Club who have been hunting with me for many years. About five years ago, the Northwest Sportsman’s Club initiated a program to provide all-terrain track wheelchairs to deserving individuals. They began accepting applications from candidates who met their criteria,” Johnson explained. “This initiative was inspired when one of my employees, Blaine George, received a chair from them in May of 2021 or 2022. It got me thinking about the lack of such programs in Alberta, so I decided to purchase one of these specialized wheelchairs and launch a similar initiative here.”

Community support is at the core of Neil Johnson’s ethos. He sponsors PBR events in Marwayne and Paradise Valley, sponsors jerseys for the Marwayne hockey team, and supports the Lakeland Women’s Hockey team in Lloydminster. Johnson, with an unwavering commitment to his community, funded the $14,000 USD wheelchair between his two companies.

To make the gesture even more remarkable, Johnson reached out to the Alberta Professional Outfitter Society (APOS). APOS offered to contribute $3,000 Canadian to the cost of the wheelchair, while North Star Outfitting and SaskAlta Waterfowl combined to donate $7,000 each.

Johnson then partnered with Agland in Lloydminster to showcase the all-terrain track wheelchair in their showroom. Prospective applicants were encouraged to submit their applications, with the requirement that they be from Alberta due to APOS’s involvement.

“To qualify as a prospective recipient, applicants needed to be from Alberta, have a lower income, and be avid outdoors people involved in hunting or fishing. I also preferred applicants from the areas where I operate my businesses, mainly St. Paul County and Vermilion Country,” Johnson emphasized.

After a thorough selection process, Dan Peterson of Heinsburg emerged as one of the fortunate five to be chosen. Matt, a minister from Dewberry Church, nominated Peterson without his knowledge. Peterson, a 46-year-old teacher at Heinsburg School and a loving father of two, has been battling a degenerative disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy that has confined him to a wheelchair for the past 32 years. Unfortunately, his condition will not improve, leaving him with limited lower and upper body strength.

The moment of revelation came during the Gord Bamford Concert in Marwayne, where Peterson and his family were graciously provided with four tickets by the arena board. During an intermission, Neil Johnson took the stage and announced Peterson as the lucky recipient of the all-terrain track wheelchair, presenting it to him that very night.

Johnson revealed the motivation behind this incredible giveaway: “I embarked on this initiative because I do a lot of hunting in the County of Vermilion, and it wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of private landowners who grant us access. I wanted to show my gratitude and emphasize that while American hunters are essential to my business, giving back to the local community is equally important. All the sponsorships from North Star and SaskAlta Waterfowl are a direct result of the support from American hunters, allowing me to make initiatives like this possible.”

Recipient Dan Peterson, who is an Outdoor Education teacher for the first time this year said that he can’t believe the incredible generosity shown by Johnson and that he feels incredibly thankful for being the winner of the track chair, “I just can’t express enough how thankful I am,” said Peterson. “I have been in a wheelchair since I was 14 years old and I have always tried to be as active outdoors as I could possibly be. I have used the chair even with my classes; I have taken the students hiking since getting it.”

Peterson noted that he didn’t have any idea that he was nominated by Matt until he learned he had won the chair.

“I didn’t know anything until Matt accidentally texted my wife that I had won it so the surprise was given away with the text,” Peterson said laughing.

Peterson commented that the chair has been life-changing for him and that he can now go places he hasn’t been able to go in years.

“It’s been crazy how much it has already changed my life; I went hunting already once this fall and got a moose with my son Asher. I never would’ve been able to get to do that with my other chairs. I can now get out and go to an area I wouldn’t normally be able to get, so for sure it’s absolutely life-changing,” said Peterson. “I actually took the chair up to my in-laws this past weekend, and I probably put close to five miles on it going through the bush hunting and enjoying the outdoors.”

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