An unexpected tragedy that took the life of Jozo Weider in 1971 pushed Gordon Canning into a leadership role at Blue Mountain Resort when he was just 28 years old.
In the years following, Canning steered the resort toward three tenets: caring, trusting and commitment.
Now, 52 years later, Canning was recently named one of six 2020 inductees into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame and Museum for his contributions to the sport as an alpine builder. Canning served as president of Blue Mountain Resort from 1978 to his retirement in 2014, and is credited as developing the destination into a year-round resort.
“I was really honoured and surprised,” Canning said of when he heard he was being inducted. “We were left a great foundation by Jozo Weider. Our vision was to complete what he started, which we did.
“When I look back at all of what our management and employees did, I genuinely believe that this award belongs to everyone,” he added.
Canning grew up in Cornwall, leaving his hometown after graduating high school to attend Queen’s University to study math and physics. He worked at Imperial Oil in Sarnia in the summers to pay his way.
He also attended the University of Waterloo to get a master’s degree in math and computer science.
“I moved to Toronto to (continue) work for Imperial Oil, and I had friends there that said I just had to go skiing with them,” Canning recalled. “I had never done it.”
Canning said this was his first introduction to Blue Mountain. It was there where he met Katherine Weider, and fell in love. The couple was married in 1969.
“In the spring of 1971, I finally gave in to Jozo (Katherine’s father and founder of Blue Mountain Resort) who said, you should come and help me,” said Canning.
Canning said he didn’t intend to stay working at the resort for long, but when Jozo died unexpectedly in October 1971 in a car accident, Canning said he stepped up to help Jozo’s son, George, manage the resort.
“It was tragic for us. I had been with him for five months. I had a little bit of experience, but no experience in business,” recalls Canning. “I had so much support and guidance from the Weider family and the board.”
In 1978, Canning became president and CEO of Blue Mountain Resort. While he was president, he helped lead a partnership with Intrawest in 1999 to create and build Blue Mountain Village.
“The management and staff were fantastic. Part of that is because we all believed in our culture and values,” he said.
He also pulled from his own background in math and computer science to spearhead skier research for the Canadian Ski Council, studying skier population, demographics, growth, and patterns of visitation, which contributed to raising the standards and modernization of ski resorts across Canada.
“I believe, in business, that culture is the driving force. If you don’t have a good culture, you’re not going to have a successful business,” said Canning. “We embraced three values: caring, trusting and commitment.”
While an in-person event for the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame and Museum induction ceremony was put on ice this year due to COVID-19 uncertainty, Canning was able to participate virtually by providing a video and watching the rest of the ceremony online.
When Canning looks back on his time guiding Blue Mountain Resort, he notes there were challenges along the way, but also some big rewards.
“Whenever I saw someone having a good time, I felt really good because everybody worked so hard to deliver that experience,” said Canning. “It was a great feeling to be able to introduce people to skiing, which they and their families could enjoy throughout generations.
“It’s a fun business. I hope we’ve left a great foundation for the next generation,” he said.