By Charlie Senack
One of Manotick’s newest residents is looking to leave his mark on the world.
Chances are you’ve heard of 62-year-old Pepe Valencia. The husband, father, cancer survivor, and OC Transpo driver, has found an unexpected popularity on social media. He’s now using that presence to give back to others and the community.
Valencia started becoming a regular Twitter user in November 2019 after being nudged by one of his colleagues.
“A friend of mine, Ken Woods, saw my posts on Facebook and thought they were kind of interesting. My Twitter had I think only 63 followers at the time and my main platform was Facebook,” he said. “I like to be positive and I have always been that way. My father used to say ‘if your problem has a solution then why worry? And if your problem doesn’t have a solution, then why worry?’”
Besides knowing his upbeat and positive attitude, many Ottawa residents don’t know what drives Valencia to be so positive. He credits living a quiet and modest life, but also wants to share his story with the community in hopes of inspiring others.
Valencia was born in Mexico City and moved to Canada at the young age of 19. He could have had a decent life in his home country, but wanted to explore the world.
“My father owned a travel agency so I had the opportunity to travel a lot,” said Valencia, who added he visited Canada 10 times before moving here, sometimes on a student exchange.
“One day I just got it into me — I was 19-years-old — I was going to go to another country and try my luck,” the Manotick resident said. “My dad was not happy about it because he wanted me to stay with him and work in the business and one day inherit the business, but I said ‘no, I need to try my own thing.”
As a young adult, Valencia already had the fortune of having friends here and also knew how to take part in many stereotypical Canadian activities such as skating and skiing. His parents had a timeshare in Colorado, so he was accustomed to the frigid temperatures. But there were still some cultural experiences to be had.
“There were some things that were more surprising to me,” said Valencia. “Some of my first memories are from OC Transpo and I couldn’t believe that in Canada you had (bus) schedules. You could just walk up and see when the bus was coming. In Mexico you would go to the bus stop and hope it would show up. And if it did, you would hope there was room to get in!”
Despite living in Canada for 41 years, Valencia only moved to Manotick in November 2020 after falling in love with a spot along the Rideau River. Prior to moving to the community, he and his wife Lee-Ann lived near downtown.
Lee-Ann, a massage therapist who wanted to be close to her clients, decided a career change was needed when the pandemic hit, and accepted a job at OC Transpo. With nothing keeping the couple in the city, they headed to the water.
“All of a sudden there was no need for us to be downtown and we wanted to get out,” said Valencia. “It was strictly coincidental because we were on a trip on our motorcycles and we got lost. We took a wrong turn and landed on River Road where there was a property for sale — and the agent was a friend of ours. We ended up buying the house.”
Since moving to Manotick, Valencia has been busy doing extensive renovation work to his new home. He also bought a classic mahogany boat called the ‘Srta Amaranta’.
“I love Manotick and Ottawa. It’s a great little community. I have had nothing but good interactions,” the 62-year-old said. “I have met really good people. I run into people in Manotick all the time and they wave and say hello. It’s been great and I love it.”
Now almost fully settled into his new place, Valencia is looking to give back to the community. On Saturday, August 7, the doors of his Manotick home opened for an outdoor concert put on by local artist Gravin.
Valencia says many artists have struggled to make ends meet during the pandemic, with all events being cancelled. But now as the province starts to reopen and small gatherings are allowed again, it was a simple way to bring the community together for a night of fun while supporting local talent.
Gavin and Valencia first met over Twitter and started to promote each other’s work.
“I promoted some of his concerts and all of a sudden Gavin hit me up and asked me if I wanted to throw a concert at my house,” said Valencia. “We had close to 30 people sign up, and really it’s just to support the artist. Traditionally Gavin would share the gate with the host, but we told him not to.”
This is not the first time Valencia has found a way to give back. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the OC Transpo bus operator knew the world lacked positivity. March 2020 was an uncertain and scary time for everyone, as a new virus raged throughout the world.
As someone with a big heart and even bigger rush on life, Valencia wanted to turn his attention and passions towards others. But that wasn’t something new for a man who has spent the greater portion of his working career dealing with the public.
Valencia began making masks for those in his circle, an initiative which quickly grew.
“When I was growing up I learned how to use a sewing machine thanks to my mother. Believe it or not, I knew how to sufficiently use a sewing machine before I could drive,” states Valencia. “I gave some to my family, and offered some to my friends, and before you knew it, it just blew up.”
Valencia predicts he made over 1,000 masks at the beginning of the pandemic, and initially sold them for $10.00 each. He gave free masks to those who were on low income, and donated a large portion of the proceeds to the Ottawa Food Bank.
“On my days off I’d see who needed masks, I’d make them, and then I’d also deliver,” he said.
More recently, Valencia shaved off his beard for charity. Just before CTV’s annual CHEO Telethon got underway in late May 2021, Chris Hofley, the PR person for the Ottawa Redblacks and Ottawa 67’s, launched a campaign which raised over $100,000 for the local children’s hospital. At the beginning of the campaign, Valencia was one of the first to get involved, and shaved his long white beard when they reached the $15,000 mark. Ottawa’s top Doctor Vera Etches dyed her hair blue, white and green when they reached $80,000, and Barrhaven radio personality Stuntman Stu ate pineapple pizza live on the air and got a tattoo when they reached $100,000.
For Valencia, who has a passion for motorcycles and photography, he’s always excited to see what opportunity will come knocking next. Enjoying every day of life, his only mission is to help others. And his selfless acts of kindness go a long way towards supporting complete strangers.
“I am really happy, grateful and blessed to live in this country and to be a part of this community,” concludes Valencia. “Ottawa is a great place to live; it’s beautiful. If I can help one person that is enough.”