A LIFETIME OF SKIING, A LIBRARY OF MOUNTAIN STORIES

He may by hard of sight, but after 88 years in Jasper, Jack Pugh has seen it all.

Jack Pugh’s father, George, was 18-years-old and newly arrived from England when he disembarked from the train in Stony Plain, Alberta. It was March 1906, 20 degrees below zero, and Stony Plain was the end of the rails at the time. As the story goes, George reached into his pocket to count his money, hoping he might just have enough for a return trip.

Turns out he did not. That might have been tough at the time, but the circumstances turned out to be a good thing for Jasper. While homesteading and freighting goods along the Grand Truck Pacific railway, George Pugh met his future wife, Alice Gates. Not long after, the young couple moved to the young town in the mountains.

Soon the Pughs had a family. First born was Reg, followed by Alan and Nancy. Jack came last, born in 1928. The children grew up on an acreage outside of town where George and Alice ran a market garden on the south side of the Athabasca River. Although the house is no longer there—Parks bought out the family in the 1950s —if you look closely where the Miette joins the Athabasca, the foundation is still visible.  

If there was a solid foundation in the Pughs’ lives, it was skiing. All of the children learned at a young age, and in the 1940s, as Jasper was becoming known as a ski destination, the National Film Board of Canada followed a group consisting of  Jack, Fred Brewster, Doris Kensit, Tom McCready and Ken Cook into the Tonquin Valley. They spent a week staying at Fred’s camp, making turns in the spring snow for the camera.
In 1952, after a summer of running snowmobile tours on the Columbia Icefields, a friend suggested Jack apply for a job with the ski patrol in Banff.  He had spent the fall and early winter out on Vancouver Island when on the sixth of December he received a telegram from the chief warden in Banff, offering him a job at Mt. Norquay. 

“I said, ‘G’bye!’ to my brother, jumped in my truck and drove like hell,” he laughed. 

The winter rain on the coast wasn’t his bag. 

“I just wanted to go skiing,” he said.  

Norquay has never been noted for having the easiest terrain, especially for beginners. As head of ski patrol, he saw more than one person come up the chair, take one look around, and take the chair back down.

“Many just slid all the way down,” he chuckled. “You could see their finger marks in the snow.”

In 1956 Jack married Barbara Olson and they raised two boys, Ross and Jay. In the summers the family managed Brewster’s restaurant/hotel/gas station operation out at the Columbia Icefields.  Jack recalls watching a grizzly bear wander through the parking lot and wolverines showing up at the kitchen door, looking for handouts. 
Jack and Barbara later took over the running of Olson’s, her father’s drug store, which they changed to Jasper Camera & Gift in 1971.

Jack, a carpenter by trade, was also responsible for building the ski chalet on Whistler’s Mountain, completed in 1960.
Although Jack still keeps busy, it’s been about five years since he’s put on skis. He did ski until he was 83, however—notably, for the last 20 of those years he was skiing blind.  After he began to lose his eyesight in the late 1980s, his sons would take him out on the slopes, guiding him down the hill by shouting out directions from behind.

Of a lifetime spent living in the mountains, Jack certainly has many stories to tell. Of course, if you’d like to know more about Fred Brewster, or getting down from Cavell Meadows with a broken leg, or treeing bears in the depression days of the 1930s, you’ll just have to talk to Jack yourself.

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