Bob (Harold Robert) Hammond
of Kimberley/Cranbrook passed away in his 100th year on Friday, July 31. Born in St. Anne de Bellevue, QC on April 22, 1916 to Harold and Georgina, he was the second of 4 children. His early years in Ottawa were filled with sports, clubs, and many outdoor adventures – summers spent biking, swimming, paddling and sailing his canoe and winters spent downhill and X-country skiing and skating. From an early age he had a passionate desire to learn about, put together, and then become competent in an endless array of interests including Boy Scouts of Canada, where he earned every skill badge they had from knot tying, to starting a fire without matches, to knitting. After high school, he was off to Queens University and subsequently graduated with honours and a degree in mining engineering. During this time, he continued competitive downhill and X-country skiing and added to his already notable medal collection. He was appointed captain of the basketball team though he could never figure out why and would laughingly say, “I really wasn’t very good!”
After graduating in 1942, his adventurous spirit lead him to the far north in the Yukon where he worked and co-ordinated crews of prospectors in remote locations including both the mighty Nahanni and Pelly River Valleys. Many of his lively and animated renditions were recounted from this incredible chapter in his life – some hilarious and some riveting like his mid-winter crash landing in an old bush plane way back in the wilds, with no form of communication, finally walking out after many harrowing days. One of his best stories was of spending part of a bitterly cold winter in Yellowknife (instead of in his remote prospecting camp’s walled tent), where it seems evening visits to the hospital for cocoa became a regular occurrence—-hmmm! Appears a very pretty young nurse from Saskatchewan had the right recipe and after a fun and eventful courtship, Elsie Anna Biensch and he were married in Wetaskiwin, AB on September 26, 1946. Soon after, they moved to Kimberley where kids Rick & Sally were born. In 1952, the north beckoned again and Tulsequah, BC, a remote Cominco mining settlement about 90km NE of Juneau, Alaska, became home. Five years later, the family returned to Kimberley for many happy and fun years filled with outdoor activities especially skiing, camping and fishing. With his 3 hunting buddies, many mountains and “secret” valleys were climbed and scoured in search of the elusive Rocky Mountain bighorn ram.
At Cominco, he became immersed in developing a new alternate to dynamite for blasting – ammonium nitrate. For 5 years, there were many long days, skipped lunches, and late evenings developing the prills for different detonation speeds. Success finally came so blasters could blow a specific area with a much safer and more predictable outcome at a fraction of the cost of dynamite. In the early ‘60’s he was also instrumental in developing an underground circular cone shaped raise borer which was up to 10 times faster and much safer. During this time he researched and implemented major improvements to underground ventilation. He travelled a lot sharing developmental information with counterparts in the US and Scandinavia. Soon after, he got a new label – Superintendent of Research & Technical Development for the Mines Division of Cominco and he’d say as he laughed, “Big title, lots of work, little pay”.
In the late 1960’s, as empty nesters, Bob and Elsie spent over 20 years in the West Kootenays of BC between Riondel and Tadanac (Trail) where they had many active retirement years mountaineering, camping, tending their fruit trees, and gardening in the summers as well as both alpine and X-country skiing in the mild winters. Bob was community-minded and volunteered on Boards of ski clubs and wildlife organizations. Some of his fondest memories were of The Old Guys, his X-country ski buddies. Known as “Hi-Ball Bob”, he and “Ol Trapper” Griffiths, “Sniff the Roses” Willey Dorey, “Never Wait” McKay, “The Red Bearded Guy” McKerracher, and “The Convert” Forrest, built a whole series of wonderful trails and cabins in the Nancy Greene Lake area near Rossland. His love of downhill skiing in powder snow with blue skies overhead endured and at the ripe age of 69, he skied just over 1 million vertical feet in one season.
Bob and Elsie moved back to Kimberley in 1990 where Rick, his wife Daphne, and their sons Dana and Benson relocated soon after. Daughter Sally was fairly close by in the Slocan Valley during the summers. Bob’s two grandsons were now one of his main focuses, sharing many outdoor experiences and stories with them.
Bob was an engaging, enthusiastic and sometimes theatrical story teller, quick to laugh and joke, with an impressive and colourful vocabulary. He lived life to the fullest. He cherished Elsie (his wife of 68 years, deceased 2014) and loved his family. At 99, after his heart had beat over 3 billion times, it finally wore out. He often said, “Gee I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had a wonderful life”.
His surviving family remembering him are son Rick & his wife Daphne in Kimberley, grandsons Dana in Whitehorse and Benson in Calgary, daughter Sally & her husband Randy in the Slocan Valley, granddaughter Karen and great grandson Dylan in Ottawa.
Should you wish, a donation to the Kootenay Wildlife Heritage Fund, PO Box 100, Kimberley, BC, V1A 2Y5 would be welcomed. Please add: “In memory of Bob Hammond”.