Danny Gail Dimm

A logger and outdoorsman, he named his son timber—then fought a gruelling custody battle to finally get him back

Danny Gail Dimm

Illustration by Ted McGrath

Danny Gail Dimm was born in Duncan, B.C., on Feb. 25, 1958. His father, Fred, and his mother, Eunice, both had two children from previous relationships, but Danny was their first child together. (Mike, his younger brother, came next.) “He was always a daydreamer,” recalls his sister, Jewel Juriansz. “And he adored animals. As a three-year-old, I fully expected he would grow up to be a vet.”

Danny inherited his father’s love for the outdoors. Fred was a woodsman and a pilot and a pipeline worker, and would often walk through the front door with souvenirs from the bush—from rattlesnakes to hornets’ nests. Eunice, a stay-at-home mom, was the family anchor. “Danny got a lot of his industry from her,” Jewel says. “He could work circles around most people, and he put his whole heart and soul into everything he did. He would run; he wouldn’t walk.”

After high school, Danny toyed with the idea of racing cars for a living; he even moved to Mont Tremblant, Que., the mecca of Canada’s Formula 1 scene. But by his early 20s, he was back out west, working as a tree faller in the town of Lillooet. “He was just a really quirky guy,” says Peter Ford, a close friend and fellow faller. “For somebody who was crawling around in the mountains all the time, he had a very, very broad knowledge base about a lot of different things. Even out in the woods, he would always have books by his side.”

In Lillooet (population 2,300), Danny’s bearded face was a familiar one. He liked to drop in at people’s houses—usually around dinnertime—and was rarely spotted wearing anything other than work clothes. (“Once, somebody offered him 10 bucks because he thought he was homeless,” Ford laughs.) He wrote poetry, rescued stray dogs, and built his own cedar strip canoe. If he found a spider in his kitchen, he would carry it outside. Killing it never crossed his mind. “He remained childlike in his view of the world,” Jewel says. “There was an innocence, a joyful playfulness, about him.”

Even when Danny lost one of his baby toes in a logging accident, he spun that into a joke, too. “He had a special bond with children,” Jewel says. “He used to play ‘this little piggy went to market’ with their feet, and then he would say: ‘Alright, it’s my turn.’ He would pull off his sock and the kids would be devastated!”

Danny met his wife on eHarmony, the dating website. Wendi Lee Bartell was living in Montana at the time, but after a wedding south of the border, she joined him in Lillooet. Their son—Timber—was born a year later. “For Danny,” Ford says, “he wanted to give his son a name that was like the greatest yell a logger could give.”

Sadly, the marriage did not last. A judge granted Wendi sole custody of Timber and allowed her to return to her hometown of Minnesota—on the condition that she and her son visit B.C. twice a year. Her refusal to follow that order ignited a lengthy court battle that would cost Danny tens of thousands of dollars and countless sleepless nights. Mere access, though, was not his only concern. Timber had been diagnosed with autism, and Danny grew increasingly worried that his son was not receiving proper care. At one point, police found Wendi and Timber living in her car.

The legal saga continued in June, when Danny went to pick up Timber for what was supposed to be a three-month, court-ordered stay in Lillooet. The boy was nowhere to be found. Police issued a warrant for Wendi’s arrest, but weeks would pass with no leads. In the meantime, though, Danny received one piece of news he had been waiting years to hear: a B.C. judge gave him sole custody of his son, now five. All he had to do was find him.

In August, a tip led police to a women’s shelter in South Dakota. Wendi was soon behind bars, and Timber on his way back to Canada. Waiting for him in Lillooet was a pirate ship bed (handmade by his dad) and his Aunt Jewel, a registered nurse who had travelled from Toronto to help her brother and nephew get settled. “When he got him home, all he wanted to do was strut about town with Timber and make sure he introduced him to as many things and as many people as he could,” Ford says. “He was so proud of him.”

On Oct. 3, a Monday, Danny was clearing trees on a piece of property not far from his home. Exactly what happened remains under investigation, but shortly before 10 a.m., a large pine tree fell in the wrong direction and struck a heavy piece of equipment. Danny died instantly. He was 53.

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