The lonely death of Ricky Jordahl

Ricky Jordahl GigCity EdmontonWhyte Avenue has lost one of its most beloved street characters.

The body of homeless man Richard Lyle Jordahl was found early Thursday morning, on a pile of pallets in the alley behind a strip mall where he often slept. There was no report of the fatality on the Edmonton Police Service news release feed, and calls to the EPS were not immediately returned.

UPDATE, Dec. 7, 2016: There are reports that Jordahl had a blocked artery and likely died of a heart attack in his sleep. His funeral will be held Saturday, Dec. 10 from 2-4 pm in his hometown of Castor, Alberta. People are invited to donate blankets and warm clothing that will be taken back to Edmonton.

Jordahl’s death did not go unnoticed by members of the Edmonton music community, some of whom busk on Whyte Avenue and had grown fond of the man. They knew him as “Ricky.” At an emotional memorial held Saturday at H20 Lounge, he was remembered as a friendly, happy-go-lucky fellow who sometimes worked or helped at businesses in the area, and always had a kind word for everyone. You couldn’t miss him: a short man with a red beard and a raspy voice who liked to laugh, joke, fist bump, click his heels like an Irish dancer, and jig past any busker he passed on the Avenue. Some likened him to a land-locked pirate – but a happy pirate nonetheless.

Mark McGowan of the McGowan Family Band spread the sad news on Facebook, “Rest in Peace, Ricky! Whyte Ave has always had a certain charm with you around. Your laughing and dancing along to my busking has been a highlight of many evenings on the Ave. Your spirit will remain on these streets!”

Local musician Sean Brewer, who also often busks on Whyte, said he’s seen Ricky on the street since two met more than 20 years ago. “He was one of the oldest surviving old time homeless men of Whyte Avenue,” Brewer says. Not much is known of Jordahl’s earlier life. He’d recently had some health issues.

Meghan Donovan Richard Lyle Jordahl GigCity EdmontonArea childcare service provider Meghan Donovan (right) spoke to Ricky almost every day. She remembers he was a proud man who would never ask for anything, “One really cold morning as I was getting ready for work, I got a knock on my door. It was Richard. He was freezing and asked if he could come in and warm up. So he did. He laid on the couch and fell asleep until it was time for me to go to work. I made him some snacks, he rejected politely, I insisted. He rejected any blankets or cushions. He was so grateful, humble, happy, funny. He had it rough and he was the most sunshiny person I ever met.”

So why did this happen? A man cherished and beloved by so many people couldn’t find help? Are there no resources? Well, there are – but not without complications. According to his friends at the memorial, Ricky didn’t cross the river to the downtown core where most services are located because he didn’t want to engage with the gangs that exist in the inner city. There was no place for Ricky to go for shelter on the South side.

Rylan Kafara, program lead of the Inner City Recreation and Wellness Program at Boyle Street Community Services and Bissell Centre, says, “Unfortunately, there are no overnight shelters for adults South of the river. Only the YESS youth shelter. The Neighbour’s Centre is South of Whyte Ave, but it’s only a daytime drop-in. Many people either sleep in the river valley, or as Ricky did, in alleys, or wherever they can get some cover from the cold. Or they just keep walking all night to keep warm. Obviously, Edmonton is severely lacking affordable and supportive housing, and a drop-in space that’s open 24 hours for the homeless community.”

There are a lot of unanswered questions about Ricky’s lonely death.

Homeward Trust Edmonton recently released results of their latest count of identified homeless persons in Edmonton: 1,752 in 2016, a 25% drop from 2015.

They’re not just numbers; these are real people. Ricky had lots of friends around Whyte Avenue. One person at the memorial (who didn’t want their name used) said, “Ricky made people aware that the homeless are still part of our community. They do not exist on some separate plane.”

The Hope Mission and other organizations are now accepting donations of badly needed new or gently used winter clothing, as well as other clothing such as socks. Especially socks, in fact. It’s cold out there.

Top photo by Bryce Zimmerman

24 Responses to The lonely death of Ricky Jordahl

  1. Mark McGowan

    December 4, 2016 at 8:47 PM

    Thank you for writing this and sharing the communities sentiments. RIP RIcky!

  2. Laurie Adkin

    December 4, 2016 at 11:02 PM

    Thank you for publishing this story. Why can Edmonton not prevent such needless suffering? We have the wealth, and the buildings that could provide housing. C’mon, Edmonton, get it together.

  3. Connie Killaly

    December 4, 2016 at 11:40 PM

    I was sad to learn of my cousin Rickys lonely passing. Even tho I haven’t seen him in at least 30 years it’s amazing how ppl describe him today, is exactly how I remember him back then. The Jordahl family were from the Brownfield, Castor, coronation area. I’m sorry he left our family in this manner and that he lived such a lonely existence when he had sooooo many of us out there more than willing to help. I hope you find peace and comfort in Heaven with so many of ur relatives Ricky. I’m sure the band is already warmed up n waiting for another member to join in.

  4. Chris

    December 5, 2016 at 5:49 AM

    This issue needs to be dealt with on a more aggressive level man, RIP Ricky

  5. Kelley Schaffner

    December 5, 2016 at 5:54 AM

    Ricky was not from Saskatchewan he was from Castor Alberta as I grew up with him buthavn’t seen him in 30+ years

  6. Rick

    December 5, 2016 at 6:14 AM

    Rest in peace Ricky!

  7. Cody Thomas

    December 5, 2016 at 7:38 AM

    I grew Up with Ricky In my home town of Castor AB , “FLy Ricky Fly”,RIP Ricky

  8. Donna Patmore

    December 5, 2016 at 8:12 AM

    Ricky wasnt from sask, he was from castor Alberta, I went to school with him.he was quite a character, always laughing and havin fun, lots of great memories of that man

  9. heather macdonald

    December 5, 2016 at 9:47 AM

    so devastating

    thank you for this story

  10. Morgan Burchell

    December 5, 2016 at 11:32 AM

    Ricky and I were best friends, before high school saw life circumstance divide us. Though, we grew apart, he was always welcome in my home. He came for a couple visits to Castor, his hometown and I am thankful he saw my parents, as he spent a great deal of time, with me out at our acreage.
    I will cherish memories of our childhood, Ricky!
    Swimming at noodle rock, ski-dooing at the valley, dirt-biking on my XR80 Honda, driving around in the dune-buggy, playing hockey on the pond behind your Mom’s house and just being best buds!
    Some have said, over the years, that being my friend let you experience some things you, otherwise may not have. I think being your friend allowed me to learn how to be happy, despite adversity!

    I’ve, often missed our friendship, Ricky!
    Be warm, at peace and surrounded by love!
    (Had heard he was working and had a place! Reading this truly broke me. I failed you, buddy!)

  11. Carrie Jordahl

    December 5, 2016 at 12:15 PM

    Thank you for this touching memorial of this amazing man! Rick is my cousin, but more like my brother. We grew up in a little farming community, Castor, in central Alberta. He wore many badges in his to short of life some of which read: son, brother, grandson, friend, surf rider, fire walker, dare devil, ninja, the list is endless. I will call him “Hero” for he was mine. He gave without expectation! His love was unconditional! His energy was endless! His strength encouraging! His battles were many! His demons at last splayed!!!

  12. Mel Cooke

    December 5, 2016 at 12:45 PM

    RIP Ricky… I remember chatting with you one day on Whyte Ave… was a great visit! May God keep you warm and your tummy full, you deserve that. Ricky was also from my hometown of Castor, Alberta.

  13. Meghan

    December 5, 2016 at 1:05 PM

    Sending love to his family ❤️
    Thanks for commenting.

  14. Matthew von Saldern

    December 5, 2016 at 3:41 PM

    Rest in peace buddy. The community lost a big part with your passing.

  15. Mike

    December 5, 2016 at 4:14 PM

    Many great times with Ricky. Working with him was a riot always happy and up beat no matter the situation!!! Rip Ricky

  16. Darcy Muhlbeier

    December 5, 2016 at 5:20 PM

    Rip Ricky, I always enjoyed the too few times we talked .

  17. Kevin Turner

    December 5, 2016 at 6:25 PM

    Oh so true Ricky had an amazing personality that nobody could deny! R.I.P Ricky

  18. Jeff Bagshaw

    December 5, 2016 at 6:41 PM

    Ricky I have many fond memories of hanging out at the Cosomopolitn Hotel front step laughing and joking with you,how many midnight swims in the Castor pool or drinking beers at Kevin’s house. You were always great for a laugh your humour was next to none, thankyou for so many fond memories of my teenage years in Castor, rest easy and keep them laughing..

  19. Pearl Willsie (Trefz)

    December 5, 2016 at 7:00 PM

    Rest in peace. We went to school together 30 plus years ago.Sending condolences to all the family.

  20. Jim

    December 5, 2016 at 9:00 PM

    Later big brother

  21. Derek Gilchrist

    December 5, 2016 at 10:33 PM

    Rest in Peace Ricky. Thanks for making life fun. From racing wheelchairs in the hospital to shooting rubber bands in French Class you made everything hilarious. My heart goes out to your family and friends. Thanks for being a friend to so many growing up!

  22. Jj

    December 6, 2016 at 12:12 AM

    R.i.p. Ricky…your amazing sunshine attitude in the midst of days with no sunshine…is a legacy to leave .

  23. gladys wiart

    December 9, 2016 at 12:38 PM

    Ricky,you were known as a funny,kind and gentle man,that everyone loved.RIP Ricky,Heaven has gained what we have lost.Prayers for Family and Friends XO

  24. Dayna

    December 9, 2016 at 11:12 PM

    I remember Ricky fondly from my childhood in Castor as well.
    Lovely to see he made such a contribution and impact on his community.
    Perhaps this is all any of us can hope for in life.

    Now I can only hope Ricky is with my brother in heaven or whatever you want to call it….some more interesting dimension….just 2 goofy guys hanging out. An old song comes to mind…
    ‘We might be laughing a bit too loud
    Aw but that never hurt no one…Only the good die young’