By Lorene Keitch
Special to the Pioneer
Editor’s note: Longtime Invermere resident and Olympic gold medallist Doug Anakin passed away recently. Gold medal aside, Doug was a legend in the Columbia Valley, and accordingly the Pioneer is re-running this profile of him, originally published in our 2017 UnWind magazine.
Doug Anakin’s basement is a treasure trove of history. Family photos paint the rec room fridge. Tributes to his sports achievements, accolades for his teaching career, and mementos from his volunteer efforts argue for attention over the stacks of photo albums and scrapbooks detailing a life lived in full. A faded black and white image shows Doug and his teammates celebrating their gold medal victory in the four-man bobsled at the 1964 Olympics.
As he talks, a steady stream of home movies plays in the background: his two girls playing in a backyard snow cave; warming hands by a campfire; raucous house parties in their garage, dubbed ‘the Doug House’; his wife Mary Jean dancing on the table and Doug playing his ukulele, entertaining a cluster of friends. A particular clip prompts memories of cross-country skiing in the woods behind their old house in Quebec, tapping trees to harvest 25 gallons of maple syrup each spring.
At 87, Doug might be considered old but he’s a long way from done. The day we met, Doug was recovering from a full day of cross-country skiing at Lake Louise. Conditions were wet, he admits, but it was a great day. Last year, he only got in 20 days of cross-country skiing and 80 days of downhill. By late November, he’d already gotten in three days of each so far this season, and is aiming for many more.
Today he’s taking it easy, at least by his own standards, heading to Fairmont Hot Springs in the afternoon for one of his near-daily swims. Tomorrow he plans to grab his trusty 3-Wood club and hit the closed golf course for a few swings. The ‘Doug Anakin golf method’ is to hit multiple balls down the fairway and putt each one in the hole, all with the same club. His eyes crinkle with delight when he says it is a much faster way to golf, allowing him to shoot 36 holes in the same time his friends shoot 18.
Doug is a familiar face to most in the Columbia Valley, be it on the golf courses, ski slopes, or the hiking and biking trails. He can often be seen pedalling Invermere’s quiet streets on summer evenings, and he’s developed a reputation as an ardent Jumbo Wild supporter, waving placards and penning letters to the editor throughout the long battle.
He grew up in Chatham, Ontario, with a penchant for adventure and an eye for ladies. Early photo albums depict a parade of pretty girls, parties, outdoor adventures, and customized cars. His first car – a Model T — was painted in bold primary colours and emblazoned with the slogan, ‘Girls who smoke, throw your butts in here’.
Doug’s father worked in a factory his whole life and Doug knew he wanted something different. He became a teacher, one who keenly passed on his love of sports and the outdoors to generations of students. He was also an avid traveler, exploring Europe by motorcycle and climbing the famed Matterhorn.
His sporting career hit a high with the gold in Innsbruk, Austria in 1964 (“When you’re a young guy, you just want to go fast. We wanted to sled and have fun,” he remembers), and the unknown, upstart team’s world-beating performance saw Doug and his teammates later inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame.
Not long after the Olympics, he met Mary Jean and decided to settle down. He likens getting married to fishing: “You got one on the hook, you grab it.”
The hook caught, clearly quite well. The couple celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary this past summer, have spent many active years in the outdoors, raising their two children, and now watching their grandchildren grow.
In 1992 Doug retired and the couple built a house in the valley. Through the past 25 years, Doug has helped launch many initiatives here, including a hiking group and the Mountain Friends program at Panorama Mountain Resort. He’s also an active member of the Invermere Lions club and the Legion.
You know you can look back, when you’re old and decrepit, and you can look back at the memories,” he reflects. For Doug life in the Columbia Valley is as fantastic as it gets.
Photo by Tracy Connery