Calgary man whistling a new tune
By Claire Miglionico
Not everyone can whistle and, surely, not everyone can whistle their way off the streets.
For Mike Holloway, whistling helped turn his life around.
Two years ago, Holloway was homeless, an alcoholic and whistling in the streets of downtown Calgary.
“I could not imagine a day without beer,” he said in an interview held at the Calgary Dream Centre.
Things have certainly changed since then for the man with an unusual talent.
Holloway has now had various whistling gigs around the city, from whistling at a Calgary Stampeders game to whistling on the radio and was even awarded the Country Gospel Music Association’s Whistler of the Year at High River’s Full Church in June 2009.
Holloway arrived for his interview at the Calgary Dream Centre directly from a whistling gig at City Hall, wearing a dark blue Stetson hat and a blue-buttoned shirt.
His crystal-clear blue eyes were sparkling with excitement and happiness as he shared his journey to a now joyful life.
Holloway had no motivation to make changes in his life until one day at Olympic Plaza.
While a church group was handing out free lunch to the homeless, a member of the church walked up to him and told him he could do so much better with his life than singing in the streets and drinking all day.
That unexpected wake-up call convinced Holloway to turn to the Calgary Dream Centre for support in Sept. 2007.
“Before I walked into the Dream Centre, I was determined to make a difference,” he recalled from the experience.
Holloway was accepted into the Centre’s rehabilitation program and became a resident among the average 114 men that live at the Calgary Dream Centre.
The residential stream of the centre’s program is offered at no cost and includes all meals, program modules, and shared accommodation for the residents.
In return, the residents are all expected to participate in residential duties as a way to contribute to the operations of the centre.
Of all the various Calgary drop-in centres Holloway has been to, he said the Calgary Dream Centre is where he feels the most at home.
“The guys get to know each other and comprehend and support one another. We get along like a family here,” he said.
Men at the Dream Centre vary in age from younger males in their 20s to older men in their 50s.
They are seen mingling in the cafeteria in the game room or working on their resumes in the computer room.
The Dream Centre is a simple, yet well-rounded, building. Everything has been donated by the community — including the TV, the pool table and the computers.
The basement coffee shop called The Starfish is run by the residents and, to this day, Holloway takes the time to run it Tuesdays, Saturday nights, and Sundays even though he is no longer a resident.
At the beginning of July, Holloway moved out of the Dream Centre and now shares his own place with two roommates who are also former residents.
Gus Kerr, one of Holloway’s roommates, promised Holloway wouldn’t be a disappointment to interview.
“He’s quite a character,” Kerr said with a laugh.
After feeling lost in life, Kerr came to the Dream Centre and said he has known Holloway for two years, and has now also found joy and peace in his life.
“Mike has calmed down quite a bit since then. He has more confidence in himself,” Kerr said.
Kerr added that Holloway is a generous and kind-hearted man who is easy to talk to and get along with.
“He’s a good roommate, and is very respectful and conscious of the others in the house,” he said.
As a child, Holloway grew up in Halifax, N.S., to a highly religious family of seven kids, where he was bullied by peers and led an overall rough life.
“My dad was addicted to religion,” he said of the not-so-close relationship he shared with his father.
Holloway recalls having faith in nothing when he led a life of alcohol and homelessness. He had no faith in God, in himself or others.
Holloway now considers religion part of his life but says it is limited to his personal relationship with God and himself.
He says he isn’t there to impose his views on anyone but does believe some kind of faith in something is necessary to move along in life.
“If people think they can make it on their own, (they’re wrong),” he said.
He explained that at first, he didn’t really realize he had a talent for whistling.
“I didn’t actually recognize it, other people did,” he said. Since realizing how good he was, Holloway has been perfecting his whistle.
“I don’t really practice because I know how to do it,” he explained, adding that he’s always looking for a way to make his sound different. For instance, he may whistle one song four different ways.
“(Whistling is) the change that people love to have. They get tired of the same thing all the time.”
Holloway says he owes where he stands today to the Calgary Dream Centre.
“It’s all about finding something to do when you’re not drinking,” shared Ken Whitehead, one of the Dream Centre executives who remembers seeing Holloway whistling away on Stephen Avenue.
“The Dream Centre made (Holloway) realize there were more important things in life than drinking. It’s his safety net here. Overall, he’s a good guy. He’s really grateful to recover and volunteers a lot of his own time,” said Whitehead.
Despite having lived on the streets, Holloway says he has never considered himself a “bum” nor a recovering alcoholic.
“We don’t recover, we train ourselves. It’s self-discipline,” he commented on his alcoholism.
Holloway says he has now learned to live with the fact that he is an alcoholic who has shifted his focus from drinking to whistling and giving back to the community.
Holloway humbly concluded the interview by saying he agreed to do this profile to “give hope to the guys at the Dream Centre.”
“There are a lot of good guys here. These guys are my backbone. We look out for each other,” he said.
Holloway says that if there was a centre that people should donate to, it has to be the Calgary Dream Centre.
“The guys are trying to make a life here,” he said on the importance of helping out others through donation.
Holloway has donated toys through his whistling for the many men who have kids and families at the centre.
“I’m using my whistling to make a difference,” he said happily.