One couch fits all - barely. The Russells make the most of their furniture to squeeze everyone in. From left: Kazka, 4; Kalyna, 7; Kaia, 9; Kasian, 12; mom Olena with baby Kealey; and dad Mike. (Photo by Don Bodger)

One couch fits all - barely. The Russells make the most of their furniture to squeeze everyone in. From left: Kazka, 4; Kalyna, 7; Kaia, 9; Kasian, 12; mom Olena with baby Kealey; and dad Mike. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Russell Troupe finds a comfort zone in small Island community

Family gathering with two parents and five kids a common scene around Chemainus

The Brady Bunch, the Waltons and Partridge Family are just a few of the large families of television fame that spring immediately to mind from being in the public spotlight.

Every community has its own famous families, maybe not well-known on a wider scale but easily recognizable in their own locales. In Chemainus, it’s the Russells and their five children who make their way around town like a pride of lions, a pack of mules, a caravan of camels – you get the idea. Let’s call them a group – or maybe a troupe – of Russells.

Mike and Olena Russell and children Kasian, 12 (the only boy of the five), Kaia, 10 in January, Kalyna, 7, Kazka, 4, and Kealey, 15 months as of Dec. 1, only moved to Chemainus a year ago on Dec. 1, 2018, but they’ve almost become instant celebrities since then because they’re the family that stays together, plays together and does everything together – mainly on foot or bicycles as the case may be with everything being so centrally located.

“We have never lived in a neighbourhood like this,” said Olena. “We know everybody up and down this block.”

Mike said all the neighbours have embraced them with open arms. It was a particularly eventful inauguration into the community with the big windstorm that knocked out power hitting only three weeks after they moved in last year during the already hectic lead-up to Christmas.

They also had a pipe that needed replacing during that time and having no power with a three-week-old baby was no picnic.

“This is when we really got to know the neighbours,” noted Olena. “They made soup for the kids.”

The early hardships still didn’t seem so bad because Chemainus immediately suited their lifestyle.

“We’re always looking for a place to live where we can be involved in the community and it’s walkable,” said Olena.

During the year, their fame has spread like wildfire.

“There’s hardly a business owner we don’t know downtown,” said Mike. “We didn’t realize the live music. Is that ever awesome for the family.”

“There’s enough still here for us not to have to go out of Chemainus for essentials,” noted Olena. “It needs to be somewhere I don’t necessarily use a car.”

The Russells came across many people in the community who share the same ideals, like Chris Istace, the president of the Chemainus Business Improvement Association.

“He’s probably one of our first connections here,” said Mike.

“I started chatting with Chris about biking things,” added Olena. “He’s a good connection.”

Another thing the Russells discovered after relocating here was the high standard of the professional Chemainus Theatre and daughter Kaia has since been involved in two productions during the past year – The Sound of Music and Miracle On 34th Street that’s currently on stage until Dec. 29 where she spells off in the role of Susan Walker.

“I thought it was some cute little community theatre,” Mike pointed out.

They came across auditions for Sound of Music and Kaia decided she wanted to do it. She got the part as one of the seven von Trapp children from another famous family.

“We sent a little girl to Sound of Music and we got back an accomplished actress,” chuckled Mike. “She has that confidence.”

Kasian has found his calling doing bike repair. Kalyna would like to get involved in the theatre as well as she gets older and the other children are sure to discover their areas of interest in due time.

Like many couples currently residing in Chemainus, Mike and Olena took the long circuitous route to get here. Both were born in Alberta, Mike in Fort Saskatchewan and Olena (nee Starchuk) in Sherwood Park.

“When I was growing up there, it was the population of Chemainus,” noted Mike of his hometown.

Mike turns 40 on Dec. 12, the date of the Courier issue this story appears in, and got together with Alena, who’s about six months younger, when he was 19.

Mike graduated from the University of Alberta in 2004 with an Education degree and Olena also has a teaching/counselling background.

Mike found there were no teaching jobs at that time and “I had no idea what to do with my life,” he recalled.

A family friend who also had a teaching degree wound up with the Edmonton Police Force and suggested that. Mike went for it, took the training and joined the Edmonton City Police in 2005.

“I was on the street, downtown Edmonton which was awesome,” he said.

Within the time Mike was on that job, the Russells had their first child, Kasian, and discussed a possible move to Vancouver Island.

“I had been to Victoria once in my life before then on my honeymoon and we drove through it,” recalled Mike. “I applied to the Victoria Police.”

After being in Edmonton from 2005-2008, they made the transition. Mike became famous in his own right during his time with Victoria Police as the media spokesperson.

“The job comes up and nobody’s interested,” he recalled. “I got it. That was the next four and a half years of my life.”

Mike was frequently seen on the news on Victoria television stations as the police contact, providing details on various incidents.

After a bit of a tumultuous time with the Victoria Police, Mike went to work for BC Transit in the communications department.

“It was a very different communications experience than I had with Vic PD,” he pointed out.

Mike did eventually go back to Vic PD for a year and the Russells were living in Sooke before an unexpected return to the Edmonton Police – mainly to be closer to family situations – for another year.

That didn’t work out as expected and Mike applied for numerous communications jobs when he landed his current position as communications manager for Cowichan Valley School District 79 for Oct. 1 last year so it was back to B.C.

By then, they had their family of five and “we didn’t know where we were going to live,” conceded Olena.

The Russells were originally looking in Duncan before Chemainus entered the picture.

“We saw the open house for this place,” Mike explained. “We were driving down Chemainus Road and Olena said ‘we’re living here.’”

“It’s walkable, there’s fun things going on and it’s super cute,” she stressed.

The rest, as they say, is history, and the Russells have integrated themselves into the community while loving every minute along the way.

“Just love getting to know everybody and being around town,” Mike said.

The Russells look so at ease with their kids you’d never know they hadn’t planned for a large family.

“In my 20s, I did not like other people’s children – to teach them, yes,” laughed Olena.

“Lots of kids kind of happened.”

As for the names of all the kids starting with K, well, there’s no real explanation so don’t ask. Again, it just kind of happened.

 

The Russells outside the family home. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Russells outside the family home. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Russell household is a busy one as you can imagine with five children 12 years of age and younger. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Russell household is a busy one as you can imagine with five children 12 years of age and younger. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Russells out and about meeting folks on the way to the Chemainus Fire Department’s Christmas Craft Fair on foot from their home. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Russells out and about meeting folks on the way to the Chemainus Fire Department’s Christmas Craft Fair on foot from their home. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Russells on their way to the Chemainus Fire Department’s Christmas Craft Fair. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The Russells on their way to the Chemainus Fire Department’s Christmas Craft Fair. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Just Posted

Nathan Watts, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation near Port Alberni, shares his story of substance use, a perspective he said isn’t seen enough. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Watts)
Public shaming, hate perpetuates further substance use: UVic researcher

Longtime addict Nathan Watts offers a user’s perspective on substance use

Graeme Wright is the owner of Hullabaloo, a new ice cream and coffee food truck serving patrons at the Red Barn on West Saanich. (Photo by Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff).
VIDEO: Cool treats, warm bevvies a specialty for new Saanich food truck

Hullabaloo owner Graeme Wright passionate about blending green space with sustainability

The closure of Government Street to vehicle traffic between Humboldt and Yates streets began June 11. The corridor will be pedestrian-only between noon and 10 p.m. daily until at least this fall. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
Downtown Victoria timed closure of Government Street begins

Pedestrian priority times part of city’s Build Back Victoria program

Nicky Cook and Kelly Yee set up their stand at Peninsula Country Market. (Black Press Media file photo)
Peninsula farmers markets ready to welcome back patrons

Both the Peninsula Country Market and North Saanich Farm Market plan to expand offerings in the summer

Workers clean off the red paint sprayed on the statue of Queen Victoria at the front of the B.C. legislature Friday. It is unclear when the vandalism took place. A protest rally against old-growth logging was happening on the legislature lawns Friday afternoon. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
UPDATE: Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue base splattered with what looks to be red paint, old-growth logging protest held in afternoon

t
How to tell if a call from ‘CRA’ is legitimate or a scam

Expert says it’s important to verify you really are dealing with the CRA before you give out any info

The courthouse in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo man, already in jail, found guilty of sexual abuse of sons

Man previously sentenced for sexual interference involving girl in Nanaimo

British Columbia-Yukon Community News Association’s 2021 Ma Murray Awards were handed out during a virtual ceremony on Friday, June 10. (Screen grab)
Black Press Media winners take gold at B.C. and Yukon journalism awards

Publications received nods in dozens of categories

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets campers while visiting McDougall, Ont. on Thursday, July 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
71% of B.C. men say they’d prefer to go camping with Trudeau: survey

Most British Columbians with plans to go camping outdoors say they’d prefer to go with Trudeau or Shania Twain

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

Chilliwack cocaine trafficker Clayton Eheler seen with a tiger somewhere in Asia in 2014. Eheler was sentenced to nine years jail in 2018, but was released on bail in October 2020 pending his appeal of conviction.(Facebook)
Director of civil forfeiture seeks $140,000 from Fraser Valley drug dealer’s father-in-law

Clayton Eheler’s father-in-law Ray Morrissey caught with money in Fort St. John by B.C.’s gang unit

A Comox Valley shellfish operator pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000 in provincial court in Courtenay earlier this year. Record file photo
B.C. clam harvester fined $10,000 for Fisheries Act violations

Charges against three others were stayed in Courtenay Provincial Court

Frank Phillips receives a visit from his wife Rena at Nanaimo Seniors Village on their 61st wedding anniversary, March 31, 2020. Social visits have been allowed since COVID-19 vaccination has been offered in all care homes. (Nanaimo News Bulletin)
B.C. prepares mandatory vaccination for senior care homes

180 more cases of COVID-19 in B.C. Friday, one more death

Lorraine Gibson, 90, received a COVID-19 immunization at the South Surrey Park and Ride vaccination clinic. (File photo: Aaron Hinks)
Surrey has had 25% of B.C.’s total COVID-19 cases

Surrey recorded 4,012 cases in May

Most Read