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Alfred the Flowerman, a Victoria legend, dies at 77

Always wearing a tuxedo, Alfred Sillem would travel from place to place and offer his wares to whomever wanted a little something to brighten the evening.

Alfred the Flowerman, a constant in Victoria’s pubs and night clubs for decades, has died at age 77.

Alfred Sillem sold floral ­bouquets, stuffed animals and other assorted gifts that he carried in a basket to the clientele of businesses all overthe city.

Always wearing a tuxedo, he would travel from place to place and offer his wares to whomever wanted a little something to brighten theevening.

It all started in 1983, and Alfred kept it going until the onset of COVID-19.

He would hit about 45 locations a night during the week and 65 on weekends, with the help of an assistant like his wife or one of his sons, hetold the Times Colonist in a 1997 article.

The start time was 4 p.m., and quitting time was 2 or 2:30 a.m.

Alfred likened himself to being “part of the furniture” in the ­article.

“Everybody knows me,” he said.

Pagliacci’s co-owner Solomon Siegel called Alfred “an incredible guy.”

“Alfred was always a staple at Pagliacci’s and he always sat in with the band, sang a song or two, and kibitzed with me and rest of the staff,”Siegel said. “He was a magical figure.”

Alfred had owned a flower shop before taking on his signature role. It was suitably named Alfred the Flower Man, said his son, Nik, the oldestof his three children at 52.

His acumen for flowers began well before.

“He was a gardener for the Dutch royal family when he was in Holland,” Nik said.

Alfred was predeceased by his wife, Susan.

Nik has two brothers, Kris and Dan, and they consider their close friend, Janet, to be their sister. Their home was well-known to youth in theneighbourhood as a place where they could always go.

Dan said his father had some tough times in his own youth. He was orphaned at 11 years old and then bounced around the foster system inAmsterdam.

His father was very supportive of his children, coached Kris in soccer, and kept up with sports himself by playing field hockey.

In later years, he loved being a grandfather of five, Kris said.

Alfred had moved to Canada in 1968 and tried his hand at being a machinist, a welder and a bartender before working as a commercialfisherman.

“After the fishing ended he went to what he knew,” Nik said. “And what he knew was flowers.”

While he was running his shop, he began to transition to another flower-related pursuit — selling flower arrangements to restaurants.

“He would go around to all the restaurants that had a contract with him and he would put new flowers in the vases on the tables,” Nik said.

That, in turn, morphed into delivering flowers to patrons. “He created relationships with owners and managers.”

From there, Alfred moved to bars and other venues.

“He realized ‘Hey, I can just walk around with a basket and sell flowers,’ ” Nik said. “It became how he raised his family.”

He described his father as a straight talker. “He was honest, people always knew what to expect when he spoke to them.”

Alfred would make his flower arrangements at home, and occasionally enlist the help of his children.

“If there was still some work left over to do he would come to us and say ‘OK, I need 200 flowers done’,” Nik said. “He gave us 10 cents aflower when we were little guys.”

One thing Alfred delighted in — one of his “calling cards” — was joining musicians to sing with them as he made his rounds, or belting out atune at a karaoke venue.

“He had a great voice,” Nik said, noting that his dad even made a CD.

“He loved Frank Sinatra, and at the end of the day he lived his life his way,” he said, in reference to the Sinatra standard My Way.

That song helps to sum him up, Dan said. “He saw a niche that no one was in and made a livelihood out of it.”

Alfred’s death has generated a big Facebook response with tributes and remembrances, and Nik said his phone has been ringing steadily. “Weare, to say the least, overwhelmed. We are very grateful for all the voices who want to be heard.”

Kris said that hearing all of the comments has been special, and is a testament to his father’s huge heart.

“He looked after everyone around him, and then some.”

jbell@timescolonist.com

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