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Ron Kanerva.Courtesy of family

Ronald Wayne Kanerva: Businessman. Adventurer. Visionary. Sisu. Born March 30, 1938, in Sudbury, Ont., died Oct. 7, 2020, in Sudbury of a heart attack; aged 82.

Ron Kanerva was respected as both a businessman and an adventurous free spirit. He was known throughout Northern Ontario as the legendary owner of “The Shop Harley-Davidson” and Sudbury’s “The Shop” snowmobile, boat/motor and motorcycle store. Ron’s passion was adventure, engines and speed. His escapades vary from driving a snowmobile into the Brockdan Hotel bar to “rescue” a friend, to a harrowing experience in Lake Huron’s frigid waters when he and four others drove their snowmobiles off the ice in the Mississagi Strait.

Ron grew up in West Sudbury’s working-class neighbourhood of Gatchell, the second oldest of six siblings. Ron had strong grades but classrooms bored him. He didn’t graduate Grade 11 but earned a PhD in Life Experiences, and was known to deliver timely lectures, like-it-or-not. Ron’s love of machinery was in his family’s DNA. On Fridays, Ron helped his father transfer the family car’s engine into a stock car for weekend races, then reinstalled the engine into the family car for Monday’s drive to work.

At 18, Ron and a friend left to look for work in Thompson, Man., then Britannia Beach, B.C., where Ron realized he was “not the employee type.” They travelled by stowing away on freight trains, including to Tijuana, Mexico, before returning home to Sudbury.

Once home, Ron started a waste disposal business, sold it and went into a short-lived business with his family selling boats/motors, motorcycles and snowmobiles. Then he launched The Shop and, by 1989, it was recognized as the “world’s largest snowmobile dealer” by the International Snowmobile Congress. He also partnered at The Shop Industrial, designing two patents that changed snow-grooming equipment forever. In 2007, he closed The Shop and opened his pride and joy, The Shop Harley-Davidson.

Ron wasn’t just a retailer that sold toys, he connected like-minded enthusiasts to celebrate the outdoors, engines and speed. He was a founding member of a local snowmobile club, a champion of the region’s snowmobile trail plan and worked with the Ontario Provincial Police to create a trail patrol program.

Ron married Mary in 1957 and they raised five children – Eric, Donna, Myrna, Elaine and Mark – to be independent. Not surprisingly, all grew up riding motorbikes and snowmobiles. Eric worked alongside Ron until his death. They built and raced anything with an engine, including bathtubs off Vancouver’s coast.

After his divorce in 1984, Ron met his soulmate, Melanie. While they were dating, she asked him to dance. He wouldn’t. (“I was the guy with the penny loafers, leather jacket, ducktail and fast car. I didn’t need to know how to dance,” Ron would say later.) Still, the man known as the Fonz of Gatchell captured her heart. They married in 1988 and were inseparable. They snowmobiled, worked and supported charities together, most memorably, the hijinks of Copper Cliff Minor Hockey’s Porketta Bingo at the Beef N Bird.

Ron loved storytelling over a neat Scotch while fussing with his worn, oversized Harley-Davidson watch. He could spend hours reminiscing as there was a lot to tell. He was a proud Finn and Sisu personified. He always got up again, no matter what. After cheating death at Huron’s ice edge, he recovered from bankruptcy at 34, survived heart attacks at ages 37 and 60, at 47 was hit from behind by a snowmobile enduring multiple surgeries, and recovered from knee surgery at 79. He quietly accepted the discomfort and inconvenience life’s adventures left as reminders.

Ron rejoiced in the pleasure that his path brought to thousands of people. He was loyal, a man of his word, never late, a mentor and a friend who could not sit still. At the time of his death, he and Eric were building a prototype for Ron’s patented “articulated amphibious vehicle.”

When you hear the rumble of a Harley-Davidson or set out on a snowmobile trail near Sudbury, think of Ron. It is his legacy.

Steve Kanerva is Ron’s nephew.

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