TALES AND LEGENDS OF THE MOUNTAIN KINGDOM: Rossland’s “Tiger”, Nancy Greene
What would Rossland’s longest running history column be without a piece on the most famous Rosslander ever? It would surely be much more desirable than this week’s plan B of mine, which was a history of Rossland’s longest running history column. That would be exciting – not.
So I decided to provide my readers young and old, those who remember and those who are too young to remember but might want to know anyway, with an article about our most revered athlete, Canadian darling of the sports world back in the 1960s, namesake of the lake and highway, and Conservative senator: Nancy Greene Raine – AKA Nancy Greene. Yes, she is from Rossland, and yes, she is a big deal.
Nancy’s parents were Rosslanders and avid skiers who helped set up and were founding members of the Rossland Ski Club, which, if you recall, I wrote about here. During WWII, Nancy’s father was transferred to Ottawa where he was “on loan to the government”, and the nation’s capital is where Nancy was born, on May 11, 1943. When the war was over, the Greene family moved back to Rossland, and Nancy was not yet three years old. One of an eventual six siblings, she grew up skiing on the slopes of Red Mountain, and upon entering high school, began to race in local high school club races. in 1958, she won her first ever ski trophy, a silver medal, in the Canadian Junior Championships. The winner of that race, incidentally, was Nancy’s older sister, Elizabeth.
Nicknamed “Tiger” because of her aggressive style of skiing, Nancy soon became one of Canada’s up-and-coming talents, and the 1960s would be a whirlwind of a decade for her. She would go on to win the Canadian Ski Championships a total of nine times, and the US Ski Championships three times.
Skiing all over the world, Nancy saw and participated in the the inaugural World Cup of Skiing in 1967 – which she won with a margin of seven one-hundredths of a second over the second place competitor. She won the same title again the next year.
She represented Canada in three winter Olympics: Squaw Valley in 1960, Innsbruck in 1964, and Grenoble, France in 1968.
That final Olympics would be where Nancy would shine most brightly on the world stage. She participated in three events, though one month before the games started she had an ankle injury. Despite that, she was highly favoured to win the three events she entered.
The first one was a downhill race, and she placed a disappointing 10th overall. But Olympic games have a habit of wringing out every ounce of will and spirit in competitors and Nancy would come back with two victories that would make her an international star in a European-dominated sport.
She won the silver medal in the slalom the day after her disappointing 10th placement in the downhill. But Nancy’s biggest moment would come during the giant slalom race: she won the gold medal by a margin of 2.68 seconds, a margin that still stands up today as one of the most decisive victories in Olympic history.
At the age of 24, after 9 years of competing on the world circuit, Nancy retired from competitive skiing, but life certainly wouldn’t become dull for her at all. In 1968, she was appointed to then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s “Task Force for Sport” and became involved with promotions and fundraising for Canada’s national ski team. It was here she’d meet the man she’d eventually marry, Al Raine, who was the ski team’s program director. They married in April of 1969 in Rossland, in St. George’s Anglican Church, which, unfortunately, burned down shortly thereafter (you can read more about that here). The following January, Nancy would give birth to twin boys, Charley and Willy.
Nancy did a bunch of promotional stuff in the 1970s, particularly for ski makers Rossignol, whose skis she used in her competitive years, and she works with them still. She also appeared in Mars bars commercials!
Nancy and Al were two of the key people behind making Whistler-Blackcombe and world class ski destination. According to Nancy’s web site, “Al was responsible for the planning of Whistler Village and the expansion of both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains in the early 80’s. Nancy became the unofficial ‘Whistler Ambassador’ promoting the area to investors, skiers and the media.” They even built a lodge there, called Nancy Greene’s Olympic Lodge and it was an important part of the allure of the burgeoning resort.
The couple’s passion for ski resort development didn’t end with Whistler, even though they eventually sold their lodge there in 1988. In the 1990s, they moved on to help develop Sun Peaks, near Kamloops, into another world class ski destination. They helped lead the forces of development there, and built the first hotel-condo at the resort, Cahilty Lodge. The couple make the lodge their home and Nancy is the Director of Skiing now for Sun Peaks Resort.
This darling of Canadian sport has earned not only all the most coveted sports prizes imaginable, but she has many other accolades as well. At the young age of 24, she was inducted into the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest honour. She is also Chancellor Emeritus of Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, and has two honourary Doctorates of Laws, one at Simon Fraser University and one at Royal Roads University.
In 1999, she was named Canada’s Female Athlete of the Century.
But perhaps the biggest feather in her non-sporting cap was the appointment to the Senate on January 2, 1999 (along with Pamela Wallin, incidentally), for the Conservatives by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Oh, and don’t we all want a feather in our caps like that!
Nancy Greene Lake (formerly known as Sheep Lake), Nancy Greene Summit, Nancy Greene Highway, Nancy Greene Provincial Park…they are all named after this remarkable athlete who not only put Canada on the sporting map, but also put Rossland on the international map, way back in the 1960s. And the “Tiger” continues to work hard as an ambassador to the sport, inspiring those who ski in her tracks.