Vince Bulic and Ursula Markovic
Original article published in The Globe and Mail
Published July 18, 2020
Updated July 22, 2020

Petar Bulic: Refugee. Sculptor. Fisherman. Family man. Born June 1, 1940, in Donji Palackovci, Bosnia; died March 2, 2020, in Burnaby, B.C., of vascular dementia; aged 79.

After Petar had an audience with Pope John Paul II in 1993 he told a local newspaper, “I think I was probably the first B.C. fisherman to ever go meet the Pope.” We are all unique, but Petar’s life took uniqueness to another level.

Born in a small farming village in northern Bosnia, Petar was the youngest of seven children. Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, his family had to leave everything and flee for their lives. They moved throughout eastern Croatia as refugees, but from an early age Petar’s talent for sculpture was evident. He could take a lump of clay and turn it into play figures for children. This made him quite popular as nobody had money to purchase toys.

Petar hoped to enroll in the faculty of arts at University of Zagreb, but this was impossible financially. Instead, he was able to secure a scholarship from a forestry firm to attend the faculty of forestry.

In 1966, Petar met Marija Durinovic at a university dance. She was wearing fashionable green eye shadow when they met, and Petar would often joke “the traffic light was green, so I was able to proceed.” They married in 1968 and a year later sailed for Melbourne, Australia, where Peter hoped to spend time with his brother and sister.

Their ship stopped in Durban, South Africa, and the couple went on shore and experienced apartheid at its brutal height. The visit left a lasting impression. After two years in Melbourne living in a cramped home with his siblings, their families and, eventually, an infant son, Petar and Marija moved to Vancouver, where he hoped to put his forestry degree to good use.

Petar Bulic shows Pope John Paul II his work at St. Peter’s Basilica in 1993. Courtesy of family.

They boarded a passenger ship (it was cheaper than flying) and they enjoyed pleasant stops in New Zealand, Fiji and Honolulu. Once in Vancouver, Petar found no jobs in forestry, but given that he had already sailed around the world, he started to work as a commercial fisherman. He did this for the next 27 years. Commercial fishing is dangerous work with much time spent away from home, but Petar never complained, other than telling his children (a daughter, Ursula, was born in 1973) that they could choose any future career – except fishing.

When not away fishing, Petar worked on his sculptures in his Burnaby basement studio with a strong cup of Turkish coffee close by. The highlight of his artistic career came in 1993, when Pope John Paul II blessed one of his sculptures in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Petar concluded his meeting with the Pope by presenting him with a wooden box of smoked B.C. salmon. “He really smiled when he got that,” Petar recalled.

Petar was grateful to live and raise his family in Canada, but he never forgot his roots in Croatia and Bosnia. He was happy when Croatia proclaimed its independence in 1991 but deeply saddened by the war and the hardships suffered by innocents. During this time, he helped Bosnian refugees who arrived in Vancouver – both Catholic and Muslim – in any way he could.

Although strokes and vascular dementia slowed him down, Petar never lost his sense of humour. Two weeks before his death, he told Marija, his wife of 52 years: “Don’t worry. I am not planning to die any time soon, because you just look too good.” Petar’s legacy is his art, found in churches and homes throughout North America and Europe.

Vince Bulic and Ursula Markovic are Petar’s children.