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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

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

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

Residents and supporters of Tofino’s Crab Apple Campground gathered at the Village Green on April 13 to draw attention to their concerns over losing their homes. The campground’s temporary use permit, which allows it to offer sites to Tofino residents, expires in October. The town’s council rejected an application that same day that would have permitted the campground to operate as a tourist commercial accommodation. (Andrew Bailey photo)
Crab Apple residents fear losing their homes as campground’s permit running out in Tofino

Council rejects application to allow campground to operate as tourist accommodation.

The entrance to the Lodge Property on Reef Point Road in Ucluelet. (Nora O’Malley photo)
The entrance to the Lodge Property on Reef Point Road in Ucluelet. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Ucluelet council approves the Lodge Property application

The decision changes the land use designation from Residential to Tourist Commercial

Wickaninnish (Clifford Atleo) plays the drum while singing the Nuu-chah-nulth song on the court steps in Vancouver In a picture from April 2018. Photo credit, Melody Charlie.
Five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations celebrate legal victory in fishing dispute

Ha’oom Fisheries Society and T’aaq-wiihak Fisheries announce “major legal victory”

Polystyrene has been outlawed as a take-out option for restaurants in Tofino and Ucluelet. (Black Press Media file photo)
Tofino and Ucluelet ban polystyrene take-out containers

Surfrider Pacific Rim chapter manager Lilly Woodbury touted the new ban as “definitely terrific news”

A lone traveler enters the Calgary Airport in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
VIDEO: Trudeau defends Canada’s travel restrictions as effective but open to doing more

Trudeau said quarantine hotels for international air travellers will continue until at least May 21

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, center, is taken into custody as his attorney, Eric Nelson, left, looks on, after the verdicts were read at Chauvin’s trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Court TV via AP, Pool
George Floyd’s death was ‘wake-up call’ about systemic racism: Trudeau

Derek Chauvin was found guilty Tuesday on all three charges against him

A total of 10 flight exposures have affected the Victoria International Airport in April so far, making it the highest monthly total since the start of the pandemic. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hits record-breaking number of monthly COVID-19 flight exposures

As of April 21, 10 flight exposures reported for the month

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Suspension of Barney Williams would be reversed if he complies with certain terms

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Most Read