An influential Cranbrook educator, mountaineer and writer has passed away, and the community is the lesser for the loss.
Peter Warland died April 23, after a remarkable life of 94 years. His whole life was a love story: for his community, the outdoors, the written word, the mountains, for his beloved wife Jimmy, and for life itself.
He was also a lover of the East Kootenay, the home to where he and Jimmy moved. He once said to us here at the Townsman that this region, the Kootenays, was his nationality.
As a teacher at Mount Baker Secondary School, over the course of a 30 year career, he taught everything from English, French, Drama, Social Studies, Geography, to Physical Education. He created a self-developed course in Anthropology, and was also active at MBSS with musical theatre, clubs and teams, helping found the Environmental Awareness Program (EAP), a precursor to Outdoor Education.
His students never forgot him, and decades later would approach him on the street to thank him for his influence.
One of his hiking partners recalls numerous pleasant ambles along the alpine ridges and valleys of the alpine terrain with Pete, and often meeting young hikers. Pete always struck up a conversation and frequently discovered that they were the children of folks he had in his classes at MBSS. Once while resting on a bench near Windy Bluff, three middle-aged ladies appeared and rushed over to hug Pete, while he was trying desperately to recall who they were. They also were former students.
Pete was also active in community theatre for decades.
He wrote a weekly column for the Cranbrook Townsman, starting in the early 1990s, which he dubbed “Curmudgeon’s Corner,” although there was never anything curmudgeonly about him, broad-minded and insightful as he was. His colourful columns covered the gamut of his philosophies and experiences, in a particularly English style of dry humour and wordplay that attracted, enlightened, and amused readers — sometimes puzzled them, sometimes infuriated them — over the course of the hundreds and hundreds of pieces he wrote for this publication. He had many debates over grammar and word usage with various editors, and usually prevailed.
His love and knowledge of the backcountry of the East Kootenay were often prominent subjects for his writing; he was a lifelong rock climber, skier and mountaineer. He and Jimmy were mountaineers, climbers and hill walkers in an almost classic English style — exemplified by, say, George Mallory — and they brought that style to their new country and helped it blossom here.
Warland was born in 1927 in London, and grew up in Kent and Wales, where he got his passion for rock climbing and the hills. He joined the RAF, but the Second World War ended just before he saw active service. He met Jean (Jimmy) Alexander, who shared his passion for climbing and mountaineering, and they married in 1951. They moved to Canada in 1955, seeking mountains, and they ended up in Cranbrook in 1959, “because Prince George was too flat and too far from the big peaks in the Rockies.”
Pete never stopped acquiring new experiences, or learning new things. It was as much a part of his make-up as it was to write, to inform, or to climb a mountain.
Peter Warland was a key member of Cranbrook over its years of growth and transition, and his personality — informed by humour, insight, adventure, and a lifelong love of learning — is very much part of the community that it became.