An almost devastating experience ultimately solidified Cindy Derkaz’ direction in life.
It was 1967 and flames engulfed the historic Montebello Hotel in Salmon Arm. The inferno spread to other adjacent businesses, including Derkaz Shoes, owned by the 11-year-old’s parents, Walter and Betty.
“The store was substantially burned,” said Cindy Derkaz, North Okanagan-Shuswap Liberal candidate.
“The bank manager called the next morning and said the line of credit was cancelled because there was no business and then there was a call that there would be no insurance.”
Her parents were left wondering how they would put food on the table, but the tide turned when Walter contacted Vernon lawyer Neil Davidson. Within days, all financial activity had been restored.
“I decided then that I wanted to be a lawyer to help people with their problems,” said Derkaz.
Born in Ontario, she moved with her parents to the Shuswap in 1958 at age three. Her dad ran the Consumers Co-Operative but he branched out and opened the shoe store in 1958. Ten years later, another store was added in Vernon, where Derkaz worked relief shifts during summer holidays.
Derkaz, 59, was focused at an early age.
“I was horse crazy from the time I could walk and I was determined to have a horse at age nine,” she said.
Trying to encourage this equine passion, her parents sent her to live with a Notch Hill family for the summer. She was barely on site when she negotiated terms to purchase a horse for $150 (half of the money from her and half from her dad).
Derkaz graduated from Salmon Arm Senior High in 1972 at age 16, and immediately went off to law school in Vancouver. Completing her law degree in 1978, she articled in Salmon Arm, joined a law firm and eventually opened her own practice.
She sold the firm in 1991 and retired as a lawyer in 1996 so she could be more community involved.
“I grew up as an only child and had the sense that you need to give back to the community. I was the nerdy chair of the (high school) year book club,” she said.
Derkaz has also been involved in literacy programs and the film society, but her proudest achievement is helping found the Shuswap Community Foundation, which uses endowments to support local charities.
Another passion is running, which she often does with her husband of 26 years, Don Derby.
“It’s ironic because I was always the last to be chosen for sports in school,” she said.
Derkaz has accomplished half-marathons and she believes running has provided her with some basic skills to possibly prepare her for being an MP in Ottawa.
“I’ve learned to be on the ground and notice the small changes. When you are running a route, you notice changes in the seasons and in people. In some ways, it takes the same focus (to run for office). You need the skills of concentrating and observing, setting a goal and accomplishing it.”
While she was busy with her volunteer duties, Derkaz found it important to put all of that on hold and enter the political fray.
“Over the last five years I watched the direction Canada was taking under the Harper government and I realized that if you don’t like what you see, you need to get active,” she said.
“I was concerned about our democracy and economy. There’s a problem with the wealthy getting wealthier and leaving the rest behind.”