Jason Leslie Michalycia was born in Prince Albert, Sask., on May 20, 1979, the first son of Leslie Michalycia, the maintenance man at an orphanage, and his wife Jean (née Assman), who sold cemetery monuments. He spent his early childhood in Indian Head, a farming town of 1,500, before the family, including little brother, Curtis, moved west to Regina. “He was a good kid, happy-go-lucky, never got mad at anybody,” his mother says. “He had a little bit of a speech impediment, but as the years went on, it got better.”
Jason was his father’s son. Even as a young boy, he spent hours at his dad’s side, fiddling with engines in the garage or baiting hooks on the ice. “He was a good older brother, too,” says Curtis, three years younger. “One day my parents gave us candy and I ended up dropping mine in the mud. I was very upset, but Jason gave me his last piece with no delay.” Once, when Curtis accidentally whacked another kid with a shovel, Jason took the blame. “He ended up being grounded for something I did. But he didn’t care.”
James Coleman, Jason’s best friend, met him in Grade 5. “Me and him, we were both the class clowns,” Coleman says. “He did a lot of goofy stuff and made us all laugh.” At home, Jason had a habit (equally goofy) of taking things apart to see how they worked. “He was very inquisitive—very inquisitive,” says Don Leir, his uncle. One afternoon, Jason’s dad came home to find his new mailbox in pieces. “He loved to take things apart, but then he couldn’t get them back together half the time,” his mom laughs. If someone asked what he was doing, Jason’s answer was always the same: You’ll see. “Sometimes he’d finish,” Curtis says. “But usually he moved on to something else. You always heard, ‘You’ll see,’ but you rarely saw.”
Like so many sports fans in Saskatchewan, Jason bled green and white. He adored the Roughriders almost as much as reeling in a big walleye. For eight years, he had season tickets at Taylor Field, right beside his Uncle Don. After high school, Jason took a job in the production plant of the local newspaper, the Regina Leader-Post. It was there he met Hala Iskharya, whose family had fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and settled in the Prairies. They fell in love. “When he first met her, they were inseparable,” Coleman says. But in 2005, when Hala’s father decided to move to Ontario, he took the entire family with him. Jason was devastated. “She phoned and said how much she missed him—and she came back,” Leir says. “She took the bus. Jason told me it was the happiest day of his life.” They were married on Nov. 16, 2006; the reception was in his parents’ backyard.
Jason took a job at Jay’s Freight, a moving and storage company. He bought a camper and a new pickup truck (a red Ford Ranger) and dabbled in archery. Though famously social—he was a regular at one particular Robin’s Donuts—Jason was not a fan of cameras, ducking out of the way whenever someone tried to snap a photo.
Jason was especially close to Madeline, his two-year-old niece. “He was talking about having his own kids, and he felt that his job here couldn’t properly provide for a kid,” his brother says. “He wanted to better his life.” One of Jason’s cousins owned a plumbing and heating company in Edmonton, and offered him the chance to be an apprentice. It meant moving eight hours from home, but Jason was anxious for the opportunity. “I didn’t want him to move; I wanted him to stay here,” Jean says. “But to better himself, it was best for him to try this out.”
Jason left for Alberta on Feb. 8. The plan was to settle in Edmonton, spend a few weeks on the job, and prepare for Hala to join him. He texted his mom every day, telling her how much he was enjoying his new job and his new city. On Feb. 16, he phoned his little brother. “He wanted to brag that he was at the Edmonton Oilers game,” Curtis says. “He knew I loved the Oilers. It was weird. It was like he was saying goodbye. He wanted to talk to my daughter, Madeline.”
Five days later, on Feb. 21, Jason was at a job site in nearby Fort Saskatchewan, working in the basement of a partially finished house. For reasons that are still under investigation, a gas leak triggered a massive explosion. Severely burned, Jason died the following morning. Two of his cousins, brothers Wilf and Wes Michalycia, remain in hospital. Jason was 33.