A very reserved hero

When I started writing this series of columns called “The forgotten”, I wanted to shine a bit of a spotlight on the individuals and families of Mont-Tremblant who played an important role in my childhood.  Perseverance, love for this area, pride and passion are the character traits that influenced and guided the development of a young person in his journey to maturity.

This month, I will write of a man who never sought fame or recognition and yet, he is an Olympic gold medalist and a world champion in bobsledding.

Peter Kirby was born in Montreal in 1931. It was with his family, in 1938, that he discovered Mont-Tremblant. He began his athletic career in alpine skiing and became, in 1953, Canadian Junior Champion. In 1954, he joined the Canadian alpine ski team, with which he participated in FIS races in Europe.

When he was studying geology, at Dartmouth, he became a member of the school’s ski team which was, at the time, considered quite a force on the university circuit. He became co-captain of that remarkable team. It’s worth noting that two of his teammates participated in the 1960 Olympic Games in Squaw Valley: Tommy Corcoran for the American team, and the silver medalist, Chiharu Igaya (Japan).

His discovery of the bobsleigh

Degree in pocket, Peter went after a master’s degree in geology at McGill University. He was employed as a prospector by the Wabush mines in the Far North. In 1962, his good friend Victor Emery approached him to suggest he try a new sport: bobsleigh.

Emery had been totally seduced by the sport. He had taken part in the bobsleigh competition at the 1956 Olympic Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo (Italy) and had met the man who was arguably the greatest bobsledder of the era, Eugenio Monti.

Peter Kirby took time out from his career as a prospector and started to train seriously. He joined the Canadian team and participated in competitions across North America and Europe. At the time, Canadians competing in bobsledding paid their own way. The equipment was rented or borrowed and their results were pretty pathetic.

Initial recognition

In 1962, the Canadian Bobsleigh Club was founded and its members participated in the world championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where they came in ninth out of 16 teams. The following weekend, in the grand finale of the four-man bobsled, they came fourth.

On their return, the press gave them a very warm welcome. Subsequently, they started aiming for official Canadian representation in the 1964 Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria.

The gold medal

As it happened, Peter Kirby and I met at Innsbruck where both of us were participating in our first Olympic Games. The Canadian bobsleigh team and the Canadian ski team were housed in the same building. As usual, the bobsleigh competitions ran very early in the morning and we quickly found out that the Canadians – pilot Victor Emery, John Emery, Doug Anakin and brakeman Peter Kirby – had won gold.

A brotherhood that transcends borders

When we returned from training that day, the party had started and the bobsledders had taken the Olympic village by storm. You couldn’t move in the village. Everyone shared their success. That it was pure euphoria goes without saying. For two days, Innsbruck experienced the biggest party in its history.

Peter Kirby, who witnessed the camaraderie between the Russians, Germans, Italians and Japanese during the Games, thinks that major sporting events bring people together much more than do politicians. To underline their superiority, the members of the Canadian team returned the following year to the world championships in Saint-Moritz and again, took home gold.

From Olympic medalist to business leader 

Back in Canada, Peter Kirby, newly married, left geology and launched into the world of business. He created Northsport, a ski equipment company. Peter retired from competitive sports and, with his family, turned to skiing at Mont Tremblant. At the time they lived in the family home by Lac Ouimet.

In the winter of 1971-1972, when I was joining the professional circuit, Northsport became my first sponsor.  In 1982, Peter sold his business to take up another passion: photography. From his plane, high in the sky, he photographed land for companies. You can even see some his shots in the Mont-Tremblant city hall. To this day, Peter Kirby and I share a friendship that holds many good memories.

Here’s something to think about. Peter Kirby’s family were neighbours to Lucille Wheeler’s family, on the shores of Lac Ouimet. Two neighbours, two gold medals. Do you think it’s something in the water?

 

By the same author: The Letendre brothers’ general store (Click the image below)

Peter Duncan54 Posts

Membre de l’équipe canadienne de ski alpin de 1960 à 1971, skieur professionnel de 1971 à 1979 et champion américain en 1965, Peter Duncan a participé aux Jeux olympiques de 1964 à Innsbruck ainsi qu’à ceux de 1968 à Grenoble. Intronisé au Temple de la renommée du ski au Canada, au Panthéon des sports du Québec et récipiendaire de la médaille du gouverneur général, Peter a longtemps été commentateur de ski à la télévision./ Peter Duncan is a Canadian former alpine skier who competed in the 1964 and the 1968 Winter Olympics. He was named to the Canadian National Alpine Team in 1960 at the age of 16 and competed at the national level for the next 10-years until 1970 before retiring.

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