A veteran sports journalist has published a biography of Nelson’s Ernie Gare, the Notre Dame University athletic director who helped establish the first university athletic scholarship in Canada.
“Ernie always fascinated me when I worked in Nelson,” says John Korobanik, who was sports editor of the Nelson Daily News from 1965-70. “He’s an amazing man who helped people in whatever way he could.”
Korobanik says the idea for the book, entitled Visionary: The Ernie Gare Story, came about 20 years ago from former national ski team manager Peter Webster. But there was some hesitation from the Gare family at the time. Two years ago, Korobanik revisited the idea with Gare’s son Danny, a retired NHL star who is now a broadcaster. This time, Korobanik received the family’s blessing.
Gare earned a reputation as a tough defenseman with the Nelson Maple Leafs of the Western International Hockey League before joining Notre Dame as the head of its athletics programs. In 1964, he and the university’s president, Father Thomas Aquinas, came up with the idea of awarding scholarships to athletes.
“Ernie felt an athlete should never give up his education just to pursue his sport,” Korobanik says. “Father Aquinas felt the same way.” The Canadian Interuniversity Athletics Union was opposed to athletics scholarship, but because Notre Dame was not affiliated with them, they were able to do it anyway, Korobanik explains.
Gare and Aquinas initially decided they would try attract hockey players to play for the university. Later, the national ski team ended up training in Nelson while its members attended the university, including Nancy Greene. In writing the book, Korobanik spoke to many of those people, who were all enthusiastic to share their memories of Gare.
“They felt the same way, that Ernie deserved recognition for what he did for amateur sport in Canada … He was one of those people who felt that a) you never stopped learning, and b) you should never stop teaching. So it seemed like a natural thing that people should know about this man.”
Gare also worked with former Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson in the late 1960s and early ’70s to develop the Program of Excellence, which is still used to develop players for the World Junior team.
Korobanik says Gare always went out of his way if he saw someone who needed help, with “school work or in the gym or shoveling a sidewalk. He felt he had the knowledge or ability to help people do things to further themselves.
“He would sit down with some of the hockey players when they struggled with the school work and say ‘This scholarship program is a two-way street. It’s athletics and education. So what help do you need to get your marks back up to where they should be?'”
Gare also reminded the young athletes not to forget what Nelson had done for them. Most didn’t. Several still live here.
One person Korobanik sent an advance copy of the book to called Gare “maybe the most influential person in sports in Canada that the country doesn’t know about.”
“It’s time the country did know about him,” Korobanik says. “I hope people read the book and understand who this person was and what he did for the community and for athletics in Canada.”
Gare died in 1981 of ALS at age 52. The Ernie Gare Scholarship Society continues to provide local student athletes with financial support for post-secondary education.
The book can be ordered online through Friesen Press. A launch is planned at Touchstones Nelson, but a date has not been set.
You can listen to the full interview with Korobanik below.