Resort builder ‘honored’ with Canadian Hall of Fame induction

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Gordon Canning, who served as president and CEO of Blue Mountain Resort from 1978 until his retirement in 2014, one of six inductees in 2020

An unexpected tragedy that claimed the life of Jozo Weider in 1971 pushed Gordon Canning into a management position at the Blue Mountain Resort when he was just 28 years old.

In the years that followed, Canning guided the station around three principles: caring, trust and commitment.

Now, 52 years later, Canning was recently named one of six 2020 inductees into the Hall of Fame and the Canadian Ski Museum for his contributions to the sport as an alpine builder. Canning served as president of Blue Mountain Resort from 1978 until his retirement in 2014, and is credited with developing the destination into a year-round resort.

“I was truly honored and surprised,” Canning said when he learned he was inducted. “Jozo Weider left us with an excellent foundation. Our vision was to finish what he started, which we did.

“When I look back at all that our management and employees have done, I sincerely believe that this award belongs to everyone,” he added.

Canning grew up in Cornwall, leaving her hometown after graduating from high school to attend Queen’s University to study math and physics. He worked at Imperial Oil in Sarnia during the summers to pay his fees.

He also attended the University of Waterloo to obtain a master’s degree in mathematics and computer science.

“I moved to Toronto to (continue) working for Imperial Oil, and I had friends there who told me I should just go skiing with them,” Canning recalled. “I had never done it.”

Canning said it was his first introduction to Blue Mountain. It was there that he met Katherine Weider and fell in love with her. The couple 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,” Canning said.

Canning said he didn’t plan to stay at the resort long, but when Jozo died suddenly in October 1971 in a car accident, Canning said he helped Jozo’s son, George, to manage the complex.

“It was tragic for us. I had been with him for five months. I had a bit of experience, but no business experience,” Canning recalled. “I had so much support and guidance from the part of the Weider family and the board of directors.”

In 1978, Canning became president and CEO of Blue Mountain Resort. While president, he helped lead a partnership with Intrawest in 1999 to create and build Blue Mountain Village.

“The management and staff were fantastic. It’s partly because we all believed in our culture and our values,” he said.

He also leveraged his own background in math and computer science to lead skier research for the Canadian Ski Council, studying the skier population, demographics, growth and attendance patterns, which helped to raise standards and modernize ski resorts across Canada.

“I believe in business that culture is the driving force. If you don’t have a good culture, you won’t have a successful business,” Canning said. “We have adopted three values: benevolence, trust and commitment.”

While an in-person event for the Hall of Fame and Canadian Ski Museum induction ceremony was suspended 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 reflects on his time guiding Blue Mountain Resort, he notes that there have been challenges along the way, but also great rewards.

“Every time I saw someone having a good time, I felt really good because everyone worked so hard to provide that experience,” Canning said. “It was a great feeling to be able to introduce people to skiing, which they and their families could enjoy across generations.

“It’s a fun business. I hope we left a great foundation for the next generation,” he said.

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