Economist, backcountry lodge-keeper, mentor, family man. Born Nov. 18, 1943, in Edmonton, died Dec. 28, 2012, in Banff of cancer, aged 69.
Michael’s inquiring mind was evident early. At the age of 3, he started exploring the river valley near his Edmonton home, once making it as far as the High Level Bridge before being rounded up.
He took that curiosity into the field of economics, earning a PhD from the University of British Columbia. He taught at the University of Manitoba, joining the staff so young that he didn’t qualify to contribute to the pension plan. He headed up a federal/provincial experiment in guaranteed annual income.
Michael’s successful start in academia looked like the beginning of a lifetime career, but in the mid-1970s, he and his wife Marsha made a huge leap. They left Winnipeg to embark on a 37-year career as owner-operators of Lake O’Hara Lodge in Yoho National Park, B.C.
The lodge has welcomed guests into the park’s backcountry since 1926. It was always known for its beautiful surroundings and warm hospitality, but Michael and Marsha took it from pleasant to legendary. Michael’s welcoming smile became a hallmark.
Backcountry lodge operations are not easy. Everything needed at Lake O’Hara has to come in over an 11-kilometre gravel fire road. Everything from power to plumbing is handled on-site, and Michael learned how to solve the inevitable problems. Guests come on foot, on skis or by bus – and occasionally arrive tired and cranky. Michael always listened courteously, his accommodating manner calming everyone. His temper was so even that the one time he got visibly frustrated – and started beating with a hammer on the wall of the maintenance shed – passed into Lake O’Hara legend.
Michael and Marsha raised two beautiful and talented daughters, Marika and Aviva. A 1992 car accident ended Marika’s life at 17.
Michael was a loving father to his girls, and so close to Marsha that friends called them “M’n’M.” But his “family” extended far beyond that. The generations of young people who worked at Lake O’Hara and went on to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, cabinet-makers, ski guides, rock stars, opera singers and more remember Michael as the father of the Lake O’Hara family. One fatherless bride even got him to walk her down the aisle.
At a costume party where staff members were to dress as “what you want to be in 20 years,” one dressed as Michael, complete with flour in his hair to get that salt-and-pepper look (that staffer manages the lodge today).
The young employees talked to Michael about their education, career choices and relationships. He would listen, ask questions, offer perspective.
He served the broader community as well. Any organization in Banff with a space on its board would ask, wistfully, “Maybe we could get Michael?” His broad knowledge and intellectual curiosity made every job easier, and every dinner party more interesting.
Michael brought that same inquiring mind to bear on his final illness. He didn’t expect a cure, but researched all options, volunteered for experimental treatments and continued to explore new horizons. He made time for friends and family, and – as always – showed us how to deal with a challenge.
Leslie Taylor and Tim Wake were friends of Michael.