Two decades separate Jon Popham from his first and his latest firefighter calendar gig. The Oak Bay firefighter, now twice dubbed “Mr. November” first appeared in the fundraising endeavour in 1995 to raise money for the Firefighters Burn Fund of Victoria.
“It was a fundraiser and they wanted to spread it out among the fire departments. It takes a bit of nerve to take your shirt off, your main motivation is to help the organization they’re fundraising for,” Popham recalls of the 1995 shoot. “All you need to do is get one guy and it ratchets everybody else. If they’re contributing, we have to step up.”
“I forgot all about this,” he adds, gesturing to the 20-year-old calendar open on the table at the fire hall.
But one Saanich woman hadn’t forgotten.
While fellow firefighters were promoting the new calendar at the Victoria Women’s Show in September, the woman approached with the 1995 calendar in hopes of getting a few signatures. While Popham wasn’t on hand, Oak Bay comrade Kyle Beaumont, organizer of the 2015 calendar, brought it back to the local hall.
Both men appear in the calendar this year, which now raises funds for the Professional Firefighters of Greater Victoria’s 10-year commitment to raise $250,000 to help improve pediatric care on Vancouver Island. Proceeds from the calendar featuring firefighters from Oak Bay, Victoria, Saanich and Esquimalt departments go toward that pledge through the Victoria Hospitals Foundation.
“It’s our main fundraiser now for providing money for our pledge,” Beaumont says.
A little planning and donated time and talent of photographer Jo-Ann Richards, assistant Allen Agopsowicz and makeup artist Diana Nielson, as well as each of the firefighters, kept the costs down. A series of photo shoots last year provided the materials needed for 2014 and 2015 and Bravo Advertising provided layout and design for the calendar.
“A lot of hours go into (organizing and promotion) and the proceeds all stay local,” Beaumont says. That means more funds raised by the 3,000-plus calendars out on the shelves this year for Victoria Hospitals Foundation.
“That money goes straight to the charity,” Popham says.
For Popham, the nice change over the two-decade interim was having a little time to prepare for the photo shoot this time around. They had a six-month warning to tone up their muscles.
“You kind of have one chance and you want it to be your best,” Beaumont says. “It is a beefcake calendar and you want to fulfill that role.”
Ironically, Beaumont was also featured in a 2010 calendar – so for both men it’s twice in a lifetime. Beaumont appears twice in this calendar posing for December 2015 of the 14-month calendar, and on the inside cover. His photo there, in full dress uniform, reminds purchasers just what they’ve spent their $20 for – a picture taken while visiting a family at the NICU.
Beaumont has also attended the annual graduation party where graduates of the NICU come back and celebrate their health successes and dubs it “awesome.”
“I knew what it was, but had never seen it in person,” he says. “Now I’ve had friends who’ve had kids there. It’s a real thing.”
If it takes being a “beefcake” in a career that compels you be fit anyways, so be it.
“It’s not that out there. You take your shirt off at the beach and walk around,” Popham says. He adds it’s a personal choice whether to purchase such a calendar, knowing what it’s all about.
“Obviously there’s people out there who want them,” Beaumont says, noting the Saanich woman held on to hers for 20 years. “To use that as a vehicle to raise money, it’s OK – more than OK.”
The buff factor brings in the repeat customers, whether as gag-gift for a favourite aunt or a personal indulgence, and that’s the bread and butter of the now annual fundraiser.
“It’s usually the same people, regular purchasers,” Beaumont says. “It becomes, every year around Christmas they’re looking for where to find it.”
Those seeking the calendar can get one without leaving the community. On Oak Bay Avenue, they’re available at Pharmasave or VI Women’s Fitness. Outside the village find them at Demitasse Café, 2164 McNeill Ave. or at the fire hall 1703 Monterey Ave. To become a distributor, contact Greg Swan, executive director for Oak Bay Fire Fighters Charitable Foundation, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.