Almost 30 years ago, a young Conservation Officer with the Ministry of Natural Resources started writing a novel. And just to put things in the right time perspective, this budding author was using a Commodore 64 – one of the very first home computers.
The Commodore 64 is long gone, but David Ferguson’s first novel has finally been published. Toxic Waters tells the story of Conservation Officer Rick Webb who teams up with an environmental crusader to take on a waste management company that’s dumping toxic material into Georgian Bay.
“Even after retiring 18 years ago, life was too busy to get serious about completing the book — there was a retirement house to build, family to visit and a bucket list full of travel plans,” says Dave. But with enough of the bucket list checked off, he returned to that unfinished novel.
“Working in a career where telling ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ was crucial to my professional reputation, my artistic side craved to embellish something,” he says. “Writing fiction was the logical way to satisfy that craving.”
Dave started with the Ministry of Natural Resources (then known as the Department of Lands and Forests) at a young age. His first job was in Eastern Ontario at the White Lake Rearing Station fish hatchery in 1970. Two years later he became a timber technician and he landed his first job as a Conservation Officer in 1975 in Moosonee – “an amazing place to invest part of one’s career.”
His job as a CO took him to Elliot Lake and Minden before he retired in 1999. Dave then moved back to Northern Ontario to live in the community of Algoma Mills with his wife, Pat, a retired registered nurse.
Dave was able to retire at age 51 because he had the foresight to buy back some of his pensionable service.
“In the late 1970s we were offered a chance to buy back casual time, so I invested a modest portion of my pay to turn three, two-month summer jobs from my Lands and Forests days into pensionable time,” he says. By 1999, his combined age and total years of service allowed him to retire early.
(The early retirement option that Dave took is no longer available. However, there are still early retirement options available. You can retire at age 60 with 20 years’ service. You can also retire if you have Factor 90 – meaning your age and service equals 90 points. For further information call OPTrust at 1-800-637-0024.)
Now that his first novel is finished after a three-decade gestation period, Dave is working on a second book: Bear Runners is the story of another fictional Conservation Officer who works with an MNR pilot to stop polar bear poaching.
“The first rule in writing is ‘write what you know.’ Both my professional experience in natural resource law enforcement and our Great Lakes boating, which was this family’s vacation passion, gave me a great bank of experience to draw from. And while the fictional stories are just that – unabashed embellishment – there are still elements of those life experiences woven into the fabric of my books.”
Dave is quick to admit that his OPSEU pension has allowed him to start a whole second life in retirement.
“While I certainly don’t make what a Conservation Officer does today, between my (OPSEU) pension, my CPP and OAS, we live in reasonable comfort,” he says.