Ex-forensics investigator finding ‘Homes for Gnomes’

Retired RCMP officer and former Army Reservist Richard Hessler poses with some military-themed gnomes he makes at his home in Cranbrook, B.C. A portion of the proceeds from sales goes to benefit the Calgary-area veteran’s charity Homes for Heroes. Credit: Richard Hessler

Peter Mallett 
Staff Writer

A retired RCMP officer has launched a unique fundraiser for veterans, selling military-themed gnome bird houses and feeders online.

In late January, Richard Hessler of Cranbrook, B.C., launched his charitable initiative called Gnomes For Homes. A portion from sales of his woodwork go to Calgary charity Homes For Heroes.

The charity helps integrate homeless military veterans back into a community, and offers them places to live and support programs. They build special villages of 15 to 25 tiny homes arranged inwardly-facing in a park-like setting.

So far Hessler has shipped over 100 bird feeders and bird houses to locations across the country. They are selling faster than he can make them, he says.

“The interest level and response from veterans has been overwhelming, and it’s pure satisfaction for me to know I am bringing a bit of joy to veterans and families.”

His military gnomes sell for $60 via the Facebook Page Canadian Veterans Marketplace. Five dollars from each sale goes to charity.

Gnomes can be personalized as well, with a uniform to match any regiment or unit of the Royal Canadian Navy, Army, and Royal Canadian Air Force, complete with personalized regimental badges.   

Accuracy is crucial, says Hessler. He knows military clients closely inspect and scrutinize everything he makes, especially when it comes to regimental badges on the gnomes. 

A self-described former ‘Base Brat’, he lived on or near military bases for most of his childhood and knows when it comes to authenticity it is important to get every detail of a military uniform correct.

His father was a member of the Corps of Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RCEME). He joined his local army reserve unit the King’s Own Calgary Regiment when he was 16 but opted for a career in the RCMP when he was 20. In 2003, he retired from his job as a Forensic Crime Scene Investigator for the RCMP after 32 years of service.

He started drawing and painting when he was six, and says art has been a huge part of his life.  It helps him cope with mild symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Although, not clinically diagnosed, due to the nature of his forensics work at countless homicide crime scenes he is certain he has it. Back then, he had to draw accurate sketches of the scene and some details were highly unpleasant. His artwork was then used as evidence in court proceedings.

“I am very lucky because my [PTSD] symptoms are very minor and I use my artwork as therapy,” he says. “Having a hobby or passion helps you cope with the painful memories and I know any other military person, or first responder, can understand this.”

When not gnome-making, he creates watercolour paintings and sculptures. In 2016, he created a cenotaph for the City of Chestermere, Alta, to preserve the memory of Calgary’s 14 Tank Regiment. In 2017, he built a memorial to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Allies landing that now stands on the beach in Dieppe, France.

 Richard Hessler Gnomes

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