The World’s Most decorated

With three Paralympic gold medals, Sonja Gaudet is the world’s most decorated wheelchair curler. She currently resides in Vernon with her husband Dan.

In 1997, as a young mother with two small children, Sonja fell off a horse and experienced a spinal cord injury which left her wheelchair-bound. However, she was determined to maintain the healthy lifestyle she had enjoyed before the accident, and turned to Rick Hansen with questions about adaptive sporting opportunities and raising children from a wheelchair, since his children were around the same age.  

WheelChair Curling

She tried a variety of wheelchair sports, but discovered curling almost by accident in 2003 when the Vernon Curling Club sought her advice on making their building’s bathrooms more accessible.  Wheelchair curling was set to be a new Olympic sport, and with training from Sharon Morrison and Jan Mori, Sonja quickly qualified for the national team in 2005. She made her debut the following year at the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics

Paralympics

Sonja and her team went on to win three straight Paralympic gold medals for Canada: in 2006, 2010, and 2014. At Sochi, she served as Canada’s flag bearer for the Opening Ceremonies. Sonja is also a three-time world wheelchair curling champion, and her efforts saw Canada become virtually unbeatable in this sport between 2009 and 2014.

In 2013, Sonja became the first wheelchair athlete inducted into the Curling Canada Hall of Fame. In 2016, Sonja retired from her athletic career, and two years later, was featured on a Canada Post stamp.

Vernon Vanguards of Winter Sports

If you are interested in learning about other celebrated local athletes, the Museum and Archives of Vernon is hosting a Winter Sports Display featuring vanguards Larry Kwong, Josh Dueck, and Sonja Gaudet. Check it out during the museum’s open hours.  

 

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

 

Sochi Paralympic gold medalists at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre celebration in 2014. Left to right: Ina Forrest (Armstrong), Josh Dueck (Vernon) and Sonja Gaudet (Vernon).

An Unbreakable determination

Even a tragic accident could not slow down Josh Dueck’s remarkable athletic career.

Josh was born in 1981 in Kimberley, B.C., and now lives in Vernon. An aspiring Olympian, Josh learned to ski at the age of 13, and later worked as a coach of the Silver Star Freestyle Ski Club. 

In 2004, while attempting to demonstrate a jump to a group of club members, Josh experienced a crash landing that resulted in him being paralyzed below the waist.

Within a year, however, Josh was back on the snow as a sit-skier, and made his Paralympic debut at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Here he won a silver medal in the men’s sitting slalom race.

A remarkable Feat

The following year, Josh made waves by becoming the first person to complete a back flip on a sit ski, a feat which earned him a spot on the Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2012. In 2013, he was also named one of the National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year.

An Olympic Champion

At the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Josh captured his second Paralympic silver medal, this time in the downhill event, as well as a gold medal in the super combined. To honour his achievement, he was named Canada’s flag bearer for the closing ceremony.

A Community Icon

Josh is not only an ambassador for Paralympians across the country, but also an active community member involved with a plethora of organizations, including the Rick Hansen Foundation, Wings for Life, Spinal Cord Injury BC, and the Live it Love it Foundation.

In 2018, Josh Dueck was inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

Vernon Vanguards of Winter Sports

If you are interested in learning about other celebrated local athletes, the Museum and Archives of Vernon is hosting a Winter Sports Display featuring vanguards Larry Kwong, Josh Dueck, and Sonja Gaudet. Check is out during the museum’s open hours.  

 

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrated Local Athletes

The Winter Olympics in Beijing are underway, with Vernonites Kevin Hill and Emma Lunder having competed in their respective sports (Elena Gaskell was also nominated, but was sadly forced to withdraw after sustaining a knee injury). In addition to Hill, Lunder, and Gaskell, Vernon has been home to several accomplished athletes over the years, including Rob Boyd.

The highlight of Rob’s successful skiing career came on February 25, 1989, when he soared down Whistler Mountain to become the first male Canadian to win a gold medal in a World Cup downhill race in his home country.  

An origin story

Rob started skiing in Vernon when he was only three years old, using a homemade tow rope his father, Sandy Boyd, had built. By his mid-teens, Rob decided to pursue a career in skiing; the fact that his parents owned their own ski hill (the New Winterside Ski Hill and Recreation Area in Tillicum Valley, which operated in the 1970s) was likely a great help in sharpening the young athlete’s skills. He also competed with the Silver Star Ski Club

Rob qualified for the provincial ski team at the age of sixteen and moved to Whistler with his parents. Two years later he made it to the national downhill team. In 1985, he won his first downhill at Val Gardena in Italy’s Dolomites; it is this Italian mountain that saw Rob place in the top-ten six times during his career, including two of three World Cup victories.

Crazy Canucks

Rob was following in the footsteps of “Crazy Canucks” Jim Hunter, Dave Irwin, Dave Murray, Steve Podborski, and Ken Read, a group of Canadian athletes who earned a reputation for impossibly fast downhill skiing and consistently challenged European athletes on the World Cup circuit in the 1970s and ‘80s. Besides the  three World Cup victories, Rob finished on the podium six times and captured 28 top-fifteen results in his twelve years on the national team. He also qualified for six world championships and three Olympics before retiring in 1997.

Rob Boyd was inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.

Vernon Vanguards of Winter Sports

If you are interested in learning about other celebrated local athletes, the Museum and Archives of Vernon is hosting a Winter Sports Display featuring vanguards Larry Kwong, Josh Dueck, and Sonja Gaudet. Check is out during the museum’s open hours.  

 

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

 

Aerial photo of the ski runs at the New Winterside Ski Resort (Tillicum Valley) circa 1972. The raceway can also be seen.

SilverStar’s Little SIbling

It may have only operated for a few years, but Vernon’s Tillicum Valley Ski Hill played host to several professional athletes and even launched the career of a future downhill champion.

In the mid-1960s, Vernonites Molly and Sandy Boyd decided to rig up a tractor-driven tow rope from an old purse seiner so that they could ski down a hillside on their property, since the couple were too busy with five kids and a farm to make the trek up to SilverStar. After a few quiet first seasons that saw mostly family and friends using the hill, it began to garner attention following the addition of a new tow rope, safety gates, groomed slopes, and even a children’s ski school.

Night Skiing at New Winterside, undated.

Moving on up

By 1969, the Boyds and business partner Neil Wolliams had decided that it was time to move their venture five miles up the hill to their Tillicum Valley property where a northern exposure offered better snow conditions. They installed a 2,000 foot T-bar to service two lit runs that could be used for day or night skiing, and named it the New Winterside Ski Hill and Recreation Area.

The resort officially opened in January of 1970. In addition to the two slopes, it included a skating rink, snowmobile trails, and ski-doo rentals. Eventually, it would come to be year-round playground with a hot spring, a raceway, hiking trails, and even an alpine slide. It is here that Rob Boyd, one of Molly and Sandy’s sons and the first male Canadian to win a gold medal in a World Cup downhill race in his home country, began his athletic career.

Sandy Boyd and an unidentified woman looking at the bottom of a cart for the alpine slide at Tillicum in 1979.

From New Winterside to Camp Tillicum

After several seasons of poor snow conditions, the Boyds were forced to sell New Winterside in the early 1980s. They moved to Whistler to support their son’s blossoming skiing career, and New Winterside faced an uncertain future as its assets were sold off. Thankfully, in 1989, the property was purchased by the Girl Guides of Canada, and “Camp Tillicum” is still used by the group today. Molly and Sandy eventually moved back to the Vernon area, and continued to serve as active and energetic community members. 

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

Larry Kwong wearing a New York Rangers jersey in 1946.

2021/’22 Hockey Season

With the cooler weather setting in, hockey season is only just around the corner. The 2021/’22 National Hockey League season begins on October 12 between this year’s Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The NHL has a long history, dating back to 1917 when it replaced the National Hockey Association. But it was not until 1948 that the league saw its first non-white player; the player who broke the colour barrier was named Larry Kwong, and he was born right here in Vernon.

 

One of Fifteen

Larry Kwong (1923-2018) was the second youngest of fifteen children. His father, Ng Shu Kwong, had immigrated to Canada from China in 1884, eventually setting up a store in Vernon called the Kwong Hing Lung Grocery.

Like many young boys, Larry grew up listening to hockey games on CBC radio. His passion for the sport was obvious even from the age of five, and two of his older brothers, Jack and Jimmy, encouraged Larry to start playing hockey himself. When the weather was cold enough, Jack and Jimmy would pour water into a vacant lot near the family store, creating a rink for Larry to practice. Larry and some of his friends also liked to frequent a nearby local pond to play their games and sharpen their skills.

 

A first hockey Team

When Larry was 16, he joined his first hockey team, the Vernon Hydrophones. His natural talent gained him instant attention, and his career took off from there. This is not to say that he did not face significant racial barriers along the way; in fact, in 1942, he was invited to the training camp of the Chicago Black Hawks, but the Canadian Government never processed the paperwork that would allow him to leave and return to Canada.

 

Joining the NHL

It wasn’t until after his enfranchisement as a result of serving in the Canadian Army during World War Two that Larry was able to accept an invitation into the NHL. He made his debut with the New York Rangers on March 13, 1948. However, Larry decided to leave the team after only one season; although he was the Rangers’ top scorer, he received very little ice time.

 

A long Career

He went on to have a long and successful career in senior leagues across Canada and the United States, and coached both hockey and tennis in England and Switzerland. He also helped to run his family’s grocery business, which had migrated to Calgary.

In 2011, Larry Kwong was inducted into the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame, and two years later, in 2013, into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame. This remarkable man passed away in Calgary on March 15, 2018. 

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, please visit https://vernonmuseum.ca/explore/heritage-field-trips/.

 

THE Silver Star Mountain Museum

A series of year-round exhibits by the Silver Star Mountain Museum located throughout the resort’s village share the ski-hill’s long history.

After more than 90 years of development, the hill now welcomes thousands of local, national and international visitors each year. Although hundreds of individuals worked to shape Silver Star into what it is today, it took just a few to discover its potential.

A First Ascent

In 1921, Bert Thorburn and Tini Ryan road their bicycles up Silver Star Road, stopping one half mile below the first switchback. Strapped to the frames of their bikes were pairs of skis.

After leaving the bikes behind, Bert and Tini continued to trek by foot and by ski for 17 kilometres up to the mountain’s summit. After many hours, they reached the open slopes of the Star and completed the first ever ascent of the mountain.

Exploring the Possibilities

Then, in the spring of 1930, Bill Osborn, David Ricardo, and Michael Freeman obtained permission to stay overnight in the mountain’s forest fire lookout.

The next day, they retraced their steps, and were among the first to ski down the mountain. 

In 1934, Phil Hoskins, Robin Richmond, and Carl Wylie spent four days at the summit, exploring the open slopes. They returned full of enthusiasm for the possibilities of future skiing at Silver Star.

A Club IS FORMED

Finally, in 1938, the Silver Star Ski Club was formed with Carl as president. Bert, Tini, Phil, and Robin were all instrumental in the club’s formation.

The City of Vernon even donated a log cabin to new club as a weekend home for the more adventuresome skiers.

The Village, courtesy of the SilverStar Mountain Resort.

 

Bert Thorburn, Mike Freeman, Jim Duddle, and George Duddle on Silver Star’s southern slope in 1939.

 

Group of people sitting in the Silver Star Mountain lookout tower circa 1930. GVMA #290.

a reputation is established

In December of 1938, the hill’s first downhill race was held, with competitors coming from Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton, and Summerland. In less than 20 years, Silver Star had gained a reputation as a skiing mecca across the Okanagan Valley, and it hass only been up from there!

 

 

Gwyn Evans