Truro News - 2021-07-22


‘A life well lived’



UPPER NORTH RIVER - Victor (Vic) Macfarlane pauses for a moment, then chuckles as he responds to a question about his diehard passion of nearly 30 years. “I must be the dumbest guy in Nova Scotia,” he says. One night, in the late 1980s, Vic was lying in bed listening to a radio program about a relatively new sport called “Survival” that had been gaining popularity. So he jumped out, grabbed paper and pen, and wrote down the names he’d heard of the only two companies involved in the business at the time. The next day he began doing some research, only to learn that those American companies wanted $55,000 a year to use their names and $45,000 to rent the paintball guns, face shields and related gear. “So I said: ‘No, not now.’ “And, then, a few years later – bingo. It became more popular, and I started out with 10 guns and three fields.” With that, SNL Paintball Games was born. (The name is derived from the first initials of his three children, Sarah, Nathan and Leah.) “That was 29 years ago,” Vic says. “That seems like a long time.” SNL’S 29th anniversary is July 27. The years since the first log huts and other survival obstacles were created in 1992 have entailed an ongoing effort of rebuilding and expanding to a point where Vic’s largest games have encompassed nearly 14 acres of land. And that’s without including the neutral zone or parking area. “We’re replacing the old castle,” he says, as he proceeds up a trail to the hill above, where a mini-excavator is working away digging trenches that will surround the structure. Decades of weather take a toll on untreated spruce poles, pallets and plywood – the general material makeup of the SNL field huts and varying structures – and sometimes portions of the facility need a complete rebuild, as is the case with the original castle on the hill. “There is no winning with mother nature – there is just trying to hold the line,” he says, with his usual touch of humour that generally borders between half-in-jest and allin-earnest. As a former junior high school history teacher and self-described military historian, Vic implies that while his paintball endeavour may raise eyebrows for some, for him it’s been an ongoing passion. “Because I love it. That’s why I started it. It was right up my alley and I like(d) the concept,” he says. “It was just the adult version of all the games I had played as a kid. In fact, there’s a bunker over there in the tree line that I dug when I was nine years old. And it was a coveredover bunker with a hidden entrance.” So, why then, does he consider himself the dumbest guy in Nova Scotia? “Because I just keep dumping the money in,” he says, with another chuckle. “If, I make a profit, I just keep dumping it back into the business and delaying the day that I might actually make money. Somebody once asked me how much I had made since I started this. I said, ‘Do you want to know by the hour of work?’ Yeah? I’ve never been able to figure it out. You can’t work for less than a penny an hour.” Standing down inside one of the fortified trenches, constructed in a similar style to those of the First World War, Vic smiles as he explains their makeup. “So far, there isn’t a nail or a screw in any of this. It is all dynamic tension. We will be doing cross braces across the top, but for now, it’s holding itself up,” he says. It’s a big project, with the area comprising of trenches that will surround the castle measuring about 70 ft. by 70 ft. And except for the assistance of Cyril Upham of C-max Excavation, who occasionally climbs down from the excavator to take over the grunt work, Vic is tackling the rebuild on his own. “Otherwise, I’m the guy in the hole with a shovel and a bar and I love it,” he says. “I like building stuff. I like building fields and watching how people play them. I can’t remember the last time I played paintball, my body is not in good enough shape. If I lean too far forward to see my toes I end up on my forehead,” he laughs, in self-deprecation. “Like I said, what madman would do this? I mean some people have hobbies, I have insanity,” he chuckles. “A lot of people think I am bona fide crazy and I can’t prove that wrong. But I really get a kick out of doing this.” Vic is hoping to get a good portion of the castle completed in time for the anniversary, but what isn’t safe or complete will be roped off from the rest of the playing field. COVID restrictions and safety precautions will be also in place he says, with a maximum of 50 players permitted by pre-registration only. Last year’s COVID shutdown meant that he was only able to hold three paintball games because he couldn’t rent out the gear – most regrettable because it meant they were unable to hold the annual IWK fundraiser that, over the past half dozen years, Vic says, has garnered approximately $25,000. Just how much money he has invested into the venture is anybody’s guess, he figures. “My initial investment to buy 10 guns and 12 masks in 1992, I borrowed $2,500.” Since then, SNL has essentially survived off the revenue it generates, with no margin for profit, because as Vic wryly attests, he just keeps dumping it all back in. So, what does his wife Darlene think of his nearly three-decade-old time and money-consuming obsession? “This has been his baby,” she says. “It’s certainly something he enjoys doing.” Then, chuckling herself, she adds: “It’s kept him out of my hair during the summer months.” Paintball game popularity began during the 1980s and has reached a point where Vic has seen many other fields dying out in recent years. The question of how long SNL will survive has certainly crossed his mind, he says. But when he eventually does shut down, it won’t be for lack of trying. “I’ve been wondering, I’m 69. How much longer can I do this?” Vic says, the slow, raspy drawl from his lips once more transforming into a smile. “But now,” he laughs, “I just signed on for another five years without thinking about it because it's going to take that long for that thing up on the hill to pay for itself. So, it’s open-ended. If I drop dead building stuff, it will be a life well lived and I won’t rot in a bed somewhere. “Simple as that.”


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