By Steve Hubrecht 

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Penny Powers was good at making friends. It seemed she knew almost everyone in the Columbia Valley. 

It didn’t matter if you’d known Penny for a month or for a decade — if she saw you walking down the street, she’d stop and talk. When it came to people, there was always room for more smiles, more friendly chatter.

Hers was a life lived fully, and lived well. Instead of asking what Penny did with her life, you’d be better off asking what she didn’t do. But you’ll have a hard time coming up with an answer because she did it all and more. 

She and her husband Max ran multiple local businesses, and volunteered or were involved with too many causes and initiatives to count. She flew through the skies above the valley when paragliding, and paddled its rivers, wetlands and lakes. She took her family — Max, daughter Katia and son Erik — on trips both short and long in the Columbia Valley backcountry (hiking, camping, horseback riding, skiing, paddling) and in fact all around the world. 

Who but Penny would organize a family backpacking trip to Egypt? And what mother but Penny would manage to take a newborn infant (Erik) and toddler (Katia) on a five-day canoe trip down the Red Deer River? She took her dreams and made them real life, in a way few other people do.

Penny passed away on February 1 after a brief illness, with her family by her side. Given just how many people in the valley were her friends, and given just how much of a part of the fabric of the valley she was, the tremendous outpouring of support, kind words and fond memories that followed were no surprise.

Friends of Penny placed a large canvas heart on the side of the Columbia River Paddle cabin by the Athalmer boat launch. A few days later the heart was scrawled with messages from valley residents.

A celebration of life was held for Penny at Kinsmen Beach on the sunny afternoon of Friday, Feb. 9, drawing many dozens, if not several hundred people down to the lake. Nearly 100 more watched on via livestream.

Max spoke of Penny’s deep effect on the community and described Penny as “a whirlwind of energy.” He noted she was “almost like a hummingbird — as soon as the daylight comes, she’s going full on.”

More tributes followed from family and friends, and there was even a pot of the famous chili that Penny made each winter for the annual Snowflake Festival.

Erik and Katia spoke about how their mother inspired them. Penny’s older brother Craig spoke of a letter home from Penny when she was backpacking in India. “The letter made clear how she really sees inside everyone . . . she sees that no matter who they are, and where they are from, they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Perhaps that is why she was a friend to all,” said Craig.

Max spoke again about how busy Penny kept herself, and encouraged those gathered to “pick up that inspiration and run with it. Go full steam with it.”

Penny was born in South Africa, moving as a teenager to Calgary. Not long after finishing high school, she embarked on the first of many trips, backpacking around the world. She settled in the Bow Valley, working jobs she loved, and became co-owner of an outdoor guiding company. It was through that company that she met Max. She and her business partner hired Max to do website work.  

Sparks didn’t fly right away, as initially Penny thought of Max as a bit of a “computer geek.”

But Max was (and remains) a flying fanatic. When Penny wanted to get into paragliding, she began hanging out with Max outside of work. Penny’s flying took wing, and so did a relationship. The pair eventually moved to the Columbia Valley, initially attracted by the great paragliding off Mount Swansea.

Once they arrived here, they realized that not only was the flying great, everything was great: the lakes, rivers, mountains, and the community itself. So they made the valley home, bought a house, raised two kids, and established and ran several businesses. The most well-known of these is Columbia River Paddle. 

Penny volunteered her time with numerous groups and efforts, including as firefighter in Edgewater and with the push by the Toby Creek Nordic Club to create the now-internationally famous Lake Windermere Whiteway, which holds the record for the longest ice-skating trail in the world.

Penny and Max had been together for decades, but only officially married in early 2021, in a simple but beautiful ceremony at their new Edgewater home. In a twist on typical tradition, it was Max who took Penny’s last name — Powers — as his own.

But Penny leaves behind a legacy far bigger than a last name, and will be remembered in the valley for a long time to come.

Penny Powers had a profound impact on everyone she knew during her business and personal ventures.

A heart was made and signed in Penny’s honour. In fact, many thought her own heart was as big as this one.

Penny with her husband Max and children Erik and Katia during one of their many skiing adventures.