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Colin Kirk, a key figure in developing Canadian orienteering, passes away

Colin Kirk of Ottawa, ON passed away on Monday Sep 24, 2012. Colin, as long time Executive Director as well as Past President of the Canadian Orienteering Federation, was a key figure in building orienteering in Canada.

Please send us your thoughts and memories of Colin (and some photos too). You can either leave a comment on this page or email your tribute to

The Ottawa Orienteering Club is dedicating their event on Sunday Sep 30 to Colin.

Colin in 1974 Colin on the cover of Orienteering Canada magazine in 1978

From Jim Webster:
Probably no one person has had the same impact on the development of orienteering in Canada as Colin.  He was a constant at orienteering events and as a leader and builder for almost 50 years.  He always had an orienteering story to tell and had a memory for details that I can only aspire to being anywhere close to achieving.  I’ll always remember the board meeting weekends where we worked hard during the day and socialized at night, always under Colin’s watchful eye.  So long good friend.  We’ll see you at the next control.

From Ross Burnett:
I think I first met Colin at some kind of an officials clinic he had come out to teach in about 1978 at Robert Burnaby Park in Vancouver. What I remember most fondly about Colin was his story telling and how animated he would get telling stories about things going on behind the scenes at big orienteering races, or things he and  his IOF cronies were up to. He always seemed to be in the know about all the various personalities and always had  hilarious anecdotes he enjoyed sharing. He was like a little kid, almost unable to contain himself as he told one of his stories. I also remember that every time I travelled to a World Championships he asked me to bring a bottle of Canadian rye whiskey so that he would have plenty to share with his IOF colleagues.
It always sounds like a cliché to say this, but the other main thing I remember Colin for was his passion for and dedication to the sport and in particular the energy he put into getting juniors out to the events. There have only been a handful over the years who contributed as much time and energy to the development of orienteering in Canada as Colin. I will miss him.

From Gord Hunter:
There is so much I could say about Colin and his contribution to orienteering. So much and it still wouldn’t be enough.
As great as Colin was at telling orienteering anecdotes he was also a pretty humorous writer. I remember back in the early 70’s looking forward to getting the Quebec orienteering newsletter mostly so that I could read his articles. He sometimes wrote under the double pen name of O’Ree and T. Ring.  He wrote how an Irishman was the first great orienteer. The Irishman’s name was Mark O’Polo.  He also wrote how many orienteers of the day got their names from the advice they got from their fathers/coaches. One lad who was told to hold his compass with ‘hands bent son’ became Hans Bengtsson (of NEOC). Another’s coach used to call out ‘Michael Don’t run orf’ the map (Michael Dorendorf). I can’t remember if Don Budge was often told to stand still but it would fit with Colin’s sense of humour.
In those carefree days Colin also hosted what must have been the most fun orienteering meet of the year, the Colin Kirk Invitational. Beer wine, screwdrivers and probably other concoctions were placed at several controls. Parties would form at these controls. Orienteers needed not only designated drivers to get home; they needed designated navigators to find their way out of the woods.
As much as Colin enjoyed the fun part of our sport he also had tremendous drive, pulling and pushing us to put on events suitable for the international stage like O’Ring Quebec in 1976 and the Canadian 6-Days two years later. A lasting legacy is that at Colin’s urging much of the profits of these events went to a trust fund for the development of Quebec orienteering. Map projects and athlete support have benefitted from this fund.
I could go on and on.

From Pippa McNeil:
As others have already remarked, Colin was a consummate story teller. Whether he shared tales of practicing dentistry in Newfoundland, eating slabs of porridge from a drawer as a child in Scotland, or stealing cows at IOF conferences, he always left his audience in stitches. But what amazes me was his ability to relate to teenagers and to willingly spend countless weekends and weeks carting a vanload of juniors to events. As my sister so beautifully noted: “He always called me sunshine, even if I was a moody miserable teenager”. He was game for any and all of our antics… whipping down the Brandon waterslides or donning full Snow White regalia for a night O event, where his Snow White was accompanied by 6 Demented Dwarves. He was my cheerleader – he believed in me when I couldn’t do that myself. I still have a letter he entitled “Colin’s Ten Step Recipe for Improved Performance”, which he wrote to me when I travelled, nervous and overwhelmed, to my first JWOC. It is full of solid advice and ends with “Enjoy yourself. Remember it takes 76 muscles to frown and only 18 to smile – so smile”. I am lucky I have a ton of Captain Kirk memories to keep me smiling. Thank you Colin.

From Bill Anderson and Gloria Anderson:
I remember clearly my first orienteering meet on Mount Royal in 1974 when I met a wise-cracking, jolly Scotsman who introduced Gloria and I to the sport. What a character. What fun we had with him for almost 40 years.
To me he was a great friend, a mentor, a travelling companion, and a shining example of what a positive attitude can accomplish. He had an incredible memory and could recall details from events I could barely remember. I do remember how hard he worked and the huge amounts of personal time he spent promoting and administrating our sport.
Thanks Captain Kirk, we miss you already. Bill Anderson & Gloria Rankin

From Vicky Whaley:
I’m terribly saddened by the passing of Colin. His smiling face was always there when we arrived at an event in Ottawa.  Colin once told me about this amazing rose nursery in Sussex, NB which had the best and most hardy stock on the east coast.  I seem to remember him saying he would make special trips down to pick up roses.  I am not sure why I remember this, but since then, I have always thought of Colin when I prune roses and will continue to do so.

From the Whaleys:
Our thought are with Colins family. we have many happy memories of Colin. He was always so friendly and helpful  when ever we met.Orienteering is sadder for his going. God Speed Colin  you are greatly missed.

From Charlie and Diane Fox:
We first met Colin in the mid 1970’s. At our first meeting the thing that immediately struck you about Colin was his smile and his sense of humour. A true gentleman, a builder of the sport and a man of high ethical standards. It was through his efforts the sport of Orienteering grew in those early years. They were great years, the events the many Board meetings and the socializing afterwards will never be forgotten. Colin truly was one of the many characters that defined the sport in the early days and he worked tirelessly to get the deserved recognition for the sport of orienteering as a national sport body. He was well known on the international stage as well and truly carved a niche for Canada on the world stage.
Our family had the opportunity to travel with Colin on many occassioins and we were just reminising about one trip in northern BC to an event in Prince George just two weeks ago. Oursleves, Colin, our 16 year old daughter and two dalmations in an 8′ camper. A great time was had on that trip and the many more like it.
To say Colin ate, breathed and lived the sport is an understatement. He will be missed, rest in peace our friend!

Colin and the COCs club trophy awarded to the Loup Garou club at the 1988 COCs in Manitoba

Colin in France 1986

Colin in 2010 with Stian Langbakk

25 comments to Colin Kirk, a key figure in developing Canadian orienteering, passes away

  • James Richardson

    I left orienteering when I was 12. Without Colin, I probably would never have returned to Orienteering 15 years later. the sport has become my passion.

  • Brian Ellis

    When I started orienteering in 1973 in Ontario, there were two giants in our sport – Sass Peepre and Colin Kirk. Sass unfortunately passed away a few years later, but Colin continued to make huge contributions to Canadian orienteering for more years than I can remember. He could be found at virtually every meet in eastern North America, but while he often competed, it was Colin’s hilarious and salty story-telling that really stayed with you. His dedication to junior development in our sport, especially in the Ottawa area, was second to none. However, he was also a strong supporter of our little band of elite runners, and nothing thrilled him more than seeing how well they were performing on the world stage. I’m afraid that we’ve lost one of orienteering’s genuine characters.

  • andree powers

    I will always remember the Thanksgiving weekend in Ottawa (before kids!)when Colin set out some flags in the Buckingham area for a couple of newbies from Toronto to train on. Bill & I enjoyed our day training in the forest and then we were treated to Colin’s numerous stories of the early days. We laughed as he told us of orienteering map making “drive bys” and the black and white original maps they competed on. Colin was our history and our sport progressed because of his hard work. Rest in peace Colin!

  • Anne Teutsch

    Reading other people’s memories of Colin, it is his stories, his passion and his memory for details stand out for everyone. I can’t agree more!

    My personal little story to add:

    When our family started orienteering, and we were ready to try thumb compasses, we were directed to Colin and his collection of Moscompasses that he always had on hand to sell to anyone who needed one. We bought one, then another then another then another, until all 5 of us had one.

    In 2009 we headed out to Manitoba for the Canadian Champs. Colin couldn’t make it out to the meet, and so we arranged with him to take his compasses and sell them on his behalf. After the first weekend we had sold out and so contacted Colin to send more for weekend number two. He did,and they sold too. And six months later we were setting up the O-Store. Thank you Colin, for believing in us, and for getting us started!

    The Teutsch Family – Eric, Anne, Jeff, Alex, Laura.

  • Tim Lee

    Colin and my dad were always together at (and usually after!!) large O events in MB and elsewhere. As a young lad it would always be a thrill to listen to him tell stories in that Scottish accent. When I was 13 or so, about 3 of my O teammates from MB and myself stayed at his place in Ottawa and were treated to the show “Gregory’s girl” which made us laugh. We had the run of the house for a couple days and didn’t break any of his royal doulton so he was happy!
    Unfortunately my parents were in Ottawa the day he passed away and were planning on seeing him the next day. Someone I will never forget.

  • Ted de St. Croix

    Captain C. Kirk,
    Canadian Orienteering was very well respected internationally thanks to your work at home and abroad. Avid mapper, Junior development coach, mentor, official, clinician, raconteur. Your friends all over the world respected you, enjoyed your company and welcomed you and anyone associated with you. They were known as “The Canadian Club”. You opened the doors for so many Canadians everywhere.
    COF’s phone bills were a hot topic at any COF board meeting but you had the answer to any question, a solution to any problem. The go to guy. Your maps were a challenge which is what we loved and kept us coming back for more. Your courses took us through some of Canada’s most spectacular forests. Your stories entertained us long into the night.

    Ted,Richard,Gene,Andy,Nick and our families

  • hans-ove eriksson,Sweden

    I met Colin Kirk the first time when he was one of the organisers of the Canadian 5-days ol in 1976. The second time was when I was on an orienteering travel in Winnipeg after the WMOC in Minnesota (1998 ?). I remember him as a positive person with always a smile in his face. I will remember him like that.

  • Andrea McNeil

    Colin was a second Dad to me as a teenager. I spent so many weekends with him and the Loup Garou or Ontario juniors in a van, singing along to Simon and Garfunkel (Cecilia!) and Colin’s favourite Jennifer Warnes/Leonard Cohen cover album. He may have called me sunshine but it was really Colin who put some sunshine in my life. I feel lucky to have had him in my life. I truly loved that man.

  • Claire McNeil

    Colin opened up a whole new world to us as teenagers – from being agroup of athletes with perhaps more heart than talent, we were transformed, under his guidance and with his endless encouragement, into a team of budding “elite” athletes who competed under flashy sounding names like Ontario Junior O-Team and National Development Squad. Of course, we happily overlooked the fact that there were no other teenagers vying for spaces on these “elite” squads…..We had so much fun together. I remember him telling me I was ready to go off trail for the first time, and so at the age of 12 or 13 I bounded hopefully off trail in Gatineau Park, looking for a control. After 15 minutes of intense panic and turning myself around and around, I heard the happiest sound of my life (cars on the parkway), headed that way, stopped a car, and asked them if they knew where I might be! I loped back to the start where Colin gave me a hug and told me I would do better next time……I also remember him managing my fear of bears (I came face to face with one at a Lac Philippe Score-O, thankfully with my two sisters beside me, and ran so hard I tore my shoelaces half off and left part of my backside behind skinning down a cliff)…He used to tell me, “no, there are no bears on this map”. In hindsight, I know that there definitely were bears on those maps – but I am glad he told me otherwise and that I trusted him that much! As I said to my kids last night, very tearfully, in toasting Colin – I wish for each of you a Colin in your lives.

  • Greg Nix

    I was shown a video of Colin doing a park event in my early teens. His easy way of explaining the sport (not to mention the great accent) inspired me to keep orienteering…which I do to this day. I had the privilege to meet him at my first COC event in Ottawa in 2000…a wonderful friend of Orienteering!

  • Pierre Brassard

    I knew Collin through my brother Alain when I was a teenager in Montreal. Colin and Alain were working buddies at IBM. Very quickly I also met Chris and Pam Skeene along with Gloria and John Charlow who dragged me into the sport. Collin was a total keener and had a hand in everything orienteering. My best moments were when he would take me with him to plan courses near Mount Orford. That is, he planned and I got lost in the rather thick forest up there. After a few episodes I improved and actually became useful. I met him often at meets after than as I moved from Montreal to Hamilton to Ottawa. The sport grew around him.

    Most of us love this sport because of the challenge it offers to body and mind. But it also brings together all sort of dedicated people to keep it going. In the end, orienteering is a great sport in large part because there are, and were, some great people in it.
    Farewell Collin.

  • Chris Seligy

    This past July 31st marked the 25th anniversary of the tornado that struck the eastern part of Edmonton. I remember that event well, since at the time the tornado struck I was in a van just east of there, travelling with Colin and several other juniors to participate in the meets leading up to that year’s COCs. The torrential downpour and strong winds forced us to pull over and wait out the storm, since Colin could no longer see the road. Colin wasn’t phased by any of this and he eventually got us to our destination, safe and sound with a good story to tell.

    I was only 14 and I barely knew Colin the first time he took me to the COCs, along with his sons Jonathan and Christopher. Each year after that, he organized transportation and lodging for a growing group of young orienteerers, so we would all have a chance to travel and compete in Canada’s biggest orienteering events. Beyond acting as coach and mentor, he went out of his way to ensure that we took in whatever sights there were to see along the way and those were some of the happiest days of my young life. I owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for all of the life-changing experiences that I surely would not have had were it not for him.

    Many of us met Colin as an older man with notoriously bad knees, but not many know that in his youth he was quite athletic. I believe he once ran a marathon under 2 ½ hours, in a time when running shoes could easily be mistaken for medieval torture devices. In spite of the chronic pain his knees caused him later in life, he tirelessly traipsed through the woods setting up courses so that others would have a chance to compete as he had, and I never heard him complain.

    It saddens me that I did not have a chance to say goodbye and let him know just how much he did for me. I’m sure if I had, he would have shrugged it off anyway, and then entertained me with another story from his archives.

    So thanks Colin, for all that you have done for us. We will remember you fondly.

  • Kelsey Kirk

    I am Colin’s grand-daughter, and it brings tears to my eyes with a smile on my face at the same time to know that my grandpa touched so many people’s lives. I loved reading all your stories and memories about him :) it makes me so happy to know that he made a difference in so many people’s lives, and so many people will remember him for all that he did for them :) he was such a great man, father, grandpa and great grandpa and he will be greatly missed by us all. I will miss his stories most of all. He always had something interesting to talk about and had some very interesting stories to tell :) I just wish he would have been around longer to be able to tell some stories to my two daughters, but I know that even though they won’t remember him, I will continue to tell his stories to them both so that he lives on not only in my heart, but theirs as well.
    Rest in peace grandpa, we will all miss you tremendously, and you will forever live on in our hearts, I know you are watching over us all now :)

  • Allison Stoddart

    The older I get the more I realize how lucky I was to have had Colin in my life. When I think back to my Loup Garou days it brings back memories of Captain Kirk at the helm of a large rental van full of teenagers. He not only brought us together as a group or “team” he also cared for us all as individuals making all of us feel special in some way.

    I still remember meeting up with Colin in the middle of my first Canadians race in Brandon Manitoba, I think I was 15 years old at the time. I had been out for about an hour on the course and had managed to find 2 controls. With me on the verge of tears he put his arm around me and said that I was doing great and then proceeded to tell me that I should just do the course backwards and not tell anyone he said so :) I think I finished in just under 3 hours, the finish line had already been taken down but Colin (and Pippa) were still there to cheer me on.

    I never really got much better at orienteering but due to Colin’s patience and dedication to all of us I continued for many years and learned to love it.

    Thank you Colin for all you did for us, we will miss you and never forget you.


  • Francis Kawam

    The first time I met Colin is when my son Andrew and I had actually missed his meet by showing up a day late! (which he changed at the last minute so as not to interfere with another meet that evening) Not one to let someone be left out he invited us to help him pick up controls which we enjoyed thoroughly as he recounted tales of Ottawa orienteering history.
    We both remember that day fondly..
    Thereafter he always remembered me, the discussion of our common acquaintances and he always made time for a little chat.
    Thanks Colin.
    Your passion for the sport will be sorely missed.

  • Tom McOwen

    I first met Colin at a meet he was running in Oka in 1971. His obvious enthusiasm
    and flair immediately attracted me to the sport. He was the driving force in the Montreal Orienteering Club at that time. I’m sure he is now introducing the sport to a few souls upstairs. Bravo Colin!

  • Laura Teutsch

    I am very very sorry to hear of Colin’s passing. Colin was a wonderful man and he was always fun to talk to. I know he is going to be missed by many many people in the orienteering community. I wish I could have been at Ottawa’s memorial meet yesterday.

    Thank you Colin for all you’ve done in the orienteering world!


  • Frédéric Bédard

    My first experience with orienteering was with you, Colin, in one of the countless meets you have organized in Ottawa and Gatineau Park. I appreciate the passion you were able to transfer to myself and to many many other orienters of all ages.

    You will be missed. Au revoir Colin et merci.


  • Gord Hunter

    Back in 1975 no less a paper than the Toronto Globe and Mail devoted a lot of coverage to the Ontario and the Canadian Orienteering Championships, half a page for each event. Colin Kirk featured prominently in the report on the Ontarios. The account is so Colin; I was a small part of it. “Colin Kirk, the jovial director of the Quebec Orienteering Association could be heard giving a running commentary of the elite action- as he competed on the Red course.
    “There he was running along shouting (to me) that so and so was doing very well but that someone else was closing on him,” said Hunter… “It was just like listening to a play-by-play of the meet.” Kirk ran to the finish line moments later, a twinkle in his eyes. “It was really something – I had a pretty cool view of two of the control points on the blue course from where I was on the red. Made it pretty interesting. ….”
    That was Colin – more interested in the success and well-being of others than of himself.

  • Ulu Unligil

    From a sports perspective, Colin was a great coach with just the right attitude. Back in grade 10, I was a horrible runner, with just a few months of orienteering experience, but Colin slated me in with my friends from Loup Garou for the Ontario Relays in Sudbury. To him, orienteering was not about winning, it was a sport that you did because it was a blast to participate in. Disastrous races could be just as fun as a good race; the underlying challenge isn’t against other athletes, it’s against your inner self: your ability to push your physical self to your limits, your ability to push your mental self to observe the world around you, and combining the two for the perfect race. I still remember that run in the hills near Sudbury, from the first half where I was moving as fast as my legs could take me, to the midpoint where I knew I had fallen behind, and struggled exhausted up a hill that still remains fixed in my mind as one of the most desperate and hilarious climbs of my life, to that moment where I suddenly knew I was back in the lead, and that if I just did not give up, I could win this thing. That personal struggle, pushing myself when I should be losing, is how I’ve gotten through life until now, and I credit Colin as the one who taught it to me.

    Of course, Colin’s example was one where humour and joy at the small things in life were the actual goal of all this work and effort. Whether it was baking up fresh muffins in Banff, or talking about a ‘good book’, or telling us his old joke that ‘if you want to get ahead, get a hat’, Colin always seemed to be in a jovial mood. Others have talked about his stories, and indeed he was a great storyteller. The main character in most of his stories was Colin himself, always portrayed with a personal irreverence, where his victories or failures in life were honestly told. Again, Colin taught me that not everything went as planned, but you had to enjoy the ride, and admit to your mistakes when you made them.

    Colin, you were a great friend, and will be sorely missed. Giving you a call at Christmas was something I’ve looked forward to every year since I left Ottawa, and moved on in life from orienteering. I can only hope to try to bring a bit of Colin to those around me in my work and life. Thanks for everything.

  • So sad to hear of Colin’s passing. He was a true ambassador of orienteering for old and young, experienced and well, people like me. I really enjoyed the challenge of orienteering because of good people like Colin. R.I.P. Colin.

  • Stig Skarborn

    I can not remeber when I first met Colin; probably at a Toronto area orienteering meet in the early 70’s. As I became more and more involved in orienteering in New Brunswick I had more and more interaction with him as a orienteering organizer, coach and athlete. He preached and practiced what orienteering should be; above all FUN.

    It saddens me to find he is no longer with us. Just reading the other eulogies produces tears. What a fine man he was.

    Thank you, Colin, for what you did for so many of us.

  • Although we lost a super friend and story teller in Captain Kirk, we have all gained significantly from knowing a person who didn’t need a compass to stay orientated. We met at the sports centre (CSFAC) and grew into “Safety Meeting” and more friends who shared the finer things in life with the frugality of the salvation army and value village shopper!

    We will forwever toast Captain at our safety meetings and honor the great Canadian he will always be …

    Reg et Neuf

  • Lee Leger

    I worked for Colin for 14 years as the Secretary for the National Office of the Canadian Orienteering Federation. He was a super person to work for. Even after my retirement in 1993 we kept in touch and always got together for lunch and a “gab fest” when Herb and I made our annual visits to Ottawa. I lunched with Colin in August, just weeks before he passed away – I am still in shock at the sudden passing. We knew he was ill but did not think his time would be so short. Orienteering has lost a great person.

    Lee Leger

  • I am colins grandson and I am so happy I found this I barely knew him as I was born only about 3 years or so before he passed but I am happy to hear he had such a great impact on orienteering in canada.

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