As a public figure, Jim Prentice was a gentleman’s politician. Decent, competent but guarded about showing his personal side. He was no backslapper.
I got to know another side of Jim when he departed federal politics to join the business world as vice-chairman of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and to sit on major boards of directors, such as BCE.
We had not been friends but he knew I was close to the land. We had both grown up in the northern Ontario bush country and he knew I loved the wilderness. So he asked me to join him in mid-July, 2012, to hike the mountain range that he gazed at from his cottage on Upper Kananaskis Lake.
“It was something he always wanted to do,” Mr. Prentice told fellow banker David McGown who accompanied us, along with Calgary environmental lawyer Gavin Fitch, consultant Jason Hatcher and our guide, David Stark.
“It was classic Jim. He organized it. He got us the guide. He was so enthusiastic. So upbeat,” Mr. Fitch told me Friday.
Except for the younger Mr. Hatcher, the rest of us were in our 50s. This was not a hike for the faint of heart. We had to carry heavy backpacks for what was supposed to be an 11-kilometre hike with about 500 metres of elevation.
The trail was challenging. We had to bushwhack around the deadfall at Hidden Lake, and undergo a steep grunt up a steep scree slope with some sketchy drops and climbs, where we had to grip with our hands. We lost the trail at the top because of heavy snow, making our guide earn his money by breaking trail, before we got to our campsite at Aster Lake.
There was a lot of swearing and moaning during that hike. Jim tried to keep us all upbeat even as he struggled.
“I have done a lot of hiking in the Rockies but that was a really hard hike. It was really steep and not a great trail,” Mr. Fitch remembers. “Jim never complained about anything. He was one of these guys who always remains optimistic, upbeat and enthusiastic when everyone else is grumbling and bitching.”
The Aster campsite was magical. It is situated at a crystal clear lake, filled by bubbling mountain streams. We were surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
Our first hike the next day was up Warrior Peak. There was so much snow on the mountain that we needed crampons and rope. Jim had purchased a GoPro camera to record the whole hike, something we still treasure.
“It was such a glorious day. The brilliance of the sunshine off all that snow,” Mr. Fitch said. “God that was amazing.”
The next day, we climbed Mount Sarrail, which stands at 3,179 metres. It was tough going but so rewarding when you got above the clouds.
Some of our best moments were by the campfire, despite the swarms of mosquitoes.
“As we sat around the campfire and learned to carry bear spray when you go to pee in the middle of the night, I think what I learned from Jim was this incredible quiet competence that he exhibited in decisions he made over the course of his life,” Mr. McGown said. “Jim’s great line to me was that life is not linear. It will take you places that you will never be expected to be taken. Each one of those changes is an opportunity to learn and to grow.”
There was a lot of serious campfire talk. Jim spoke eloquently about the injustices done to Canada’s aboriginal people and how important it is to build more success stories. Although a Conservative, he was an environmentalist. He believed in carbon pricing.
“For Jim it was the obvious market response. For Jim, as a good Conservative – not a nutty Conservative – Jim felt that was the right approach,” Mr. Fitch said.
There were moments of humour. One night as we were swatting mosquitoes, we heard music coming in the distance that got louder and louder. Out of nowhere comes a young, strapping mountain man with an antenna dragging behind him so he could listen to music on his radio. He was from the Netherlands and planned to hike his way across Canada.
The conversation began to take a turn for the worse when he started speaking like a character of out of the movie Deliverance, recounting what he would like to do to park rangers.
“I remember when he first came into camp, we were all saying, ‘Hey, you know, another hiker’ and then the more we talked to him, the more we were looking at each other saying, ‘This guy is nuts’ ” Mr. Fitch says. “But again, there is Jim just chatting away with this guy.”
Our guide, David Stark, from Yamnuska Mountain Adventures, spent decades guiding people in the wilderness. He said Jim Prentice’s character shone through.
“I was quite impressed with the man. I liked his outlook on life. I loved his regard for the wilderness and his appreciation for where we were,” Mr. Stark said. “I was a Liberal all my life but I walked away from that thinking this is a man who can give positive change to the country.”