NEW CREDIT – Former Canadian Heavy weight Champ, George Chuvalo knocked them out at the Mississaugas of the New Credit Community Hall last week. The event was put on by the New Credit Mental Health Program and focused on an anti-drug theme. This is an issue Chuvalo is intimately knowledgeable about after losing two of his sons to drug overdoses and a wife to suicide caused by the grief of losing her sons.
Three young adults who are currently in treatment for their own drug addictions also spoke of the dangers and horrors of addiction and a call to seek help.
A CBC documentary on Chuvalo’s life was shown to introduce the champ, but even after so many years and after seeing that documentary many times, he still had a hard time holding back his emotions when old family pictures and interviews with his now deceased sons and beloved wife came on the screen.
“My youngest, Jesse, introduced two of his brothers, Steven and Georgie Lee, to heroin. Before I even realized I had one heroin addict under my roof, I had three,” Chuvalo said. “In February 1985, a year after Jesse started using, he lodged a .22-calibre rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger while the rest of us were on our way home from dinner at a neighbourhood steakhouse.”
“When I see my sons on the video I remember how addicted they were,” he said. “There were times when Georgie and Jesse would rob drug stores and leave the money in the cash register. They just wanted the drugs.”
He spoke of times when, after taking stolen drugs on a bus in Toronto, when they got off the bus they were both so wasted they fell on top of each other on the curb and passed out.
“That’s where the police found them,” said Chuvalo. “One stacked on top of the other passed out on the side of the road. Who would want to live like that? I just don’t understand.”
They were both arrested and sentenced to five years in federal penitentiary.
Even then, Chuvalo did everything humanly possible to get his sons off that path with limited success, but continued to support and love his sons through it all, hoping that one day, they would break through the web of drug dependence.
“The first thing they did when they got out of prison is look for a dealer,” admitted Chuvalo. “The penitentiary system didn’t help them at all.”
In the two months after getting out of prison, Steven overdosed 15 times.
While in prison, Georgie slit his wrists and throat but survived. Less than a week after his release, he was found dead at a flophouse in Parkdale with a syringe in his arm. Four days later, overcome by grief, Chuvalo’s wife Lynne overdosed on drugs her sons had stolen in a robbery and died leaving a suicide note.
In August 1996, Chulalo’s daughter, Vanessa, found Steven dead in her apartment, slumped over a desk with a syringe in his arm.
Many of those in his audience know exactly what Jesse, Stevie and Georgie were going through. The New Credit Mental Health Program runs a very successful treatment centre, which is dedicated to First Nations people but also takes non-Native clients.
Chuvalo’s message was also to the parents of addicted sons and daughters, as he gave encouragement and compassion to those who are going through the pain of watching their children destroy themselves and feeling helpless.
His message was to unconditionally love them, but not to become an enabler at the same time.
“I was convinced that my boys were tough enough to quit on their own,” he laments. “I’ll never forgive myself for that.
“If by telling people about what my family has been through can cause one person to stay clean, one person to save his own live, that’s what makes it all this worth it to me.”
Mississaugas of the New Credit Chief Brian Laforme was thrilled to meet Chuvalo and to host his visit.
Laforme is a big boxing fan, being a former boxer himself in his younger years, and he knew and followed the career of Chuvalo when he was in his prime and fighting the biggest names in the sport.
“I got my nose broke in the military and told myself I have had enough of this,” laughs Laforme. “I learned how to box on the west side of Buffalo New York. It was a group of policemen who took me in and taught me how to defend myself.”
“I really enjoyed my afternoon with George and tonight is going to be even better,” said Laforme before the event. “Even with the tragedy that he faced, he never hit the mat and that is a testimony to the man’s personality and his tenacity.”
Laforme is rightfully proud of the leading role his community is taking in dealing culturally with drug and alcohol addictions among Onkwehonwe (First Nations) people in particular.
“We have our Social Service and Native Health Centre in our community which treats alcohol and drug addictions from all over Ontario,” said Laforme. “It’s encouraging to see our young people come out tonight. Even for those who do not have addictions, it’s a strong message that needs to be sent to our community and young people that you can stay away from drugs. Part of our responsibility as leaders of our community and those who help people with addictions [is] to keep in mind these are our future we are talking about and we have to be the care-givers of that future.”