Meet the President, Vol. I
In 2019, we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of the NWT Recreation and Parks Association by looking back at the people, events, programs, and projects that have made the NWTRPA what it is today. In our last post, we learned the story behind the NWTRPA’s distinctive logo. In this post, we meet the people who led the organization between 1989 and 2004. Next month, we will introduce you to the more recent NWTRPA presidents.
In the late 1980s, a small group of people working in the recreation field thought it would be helpful to establish an association for recreation professionals in the NWT. Max Hall was one of those people: “We believed an association would provide opportunities for those interested in delivering recreation programs to meet to discuss issues, establish contacts, provide learning opportunities, and take action to support and further develop recreation opportunities in the NWT.” At the time, Max was the director of community services for the City of Yellowknife.
A steering committee, of which Max was a part, was formed to lay the groundwork for a recreation association. In 1989, Max was elected as the NWTRPA’s first president. Under Max’s leadership, a number of important administrative activities were completed, including identifying the scope and priorities of the NWTRPA, drafting bylaws, registering as a society, and developing a logo. It wasn’t all paper work, though. Max shares, “My best memories of those days were meeting recreation directors from other communities and attending conferences in various communities.”
Max served two terms as the NWTRPA president, as well as two terms as the past president. In 1993, he represented the NWTPRA on the board of the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRA). His contributions to recreation and to the NWTRPA were recognized with the NWTRPA Award of Merit in 1996 and a Honourary Life Membership in 2007. Max retired from the City of Yellowknife in 2010. “I am now a full-time consumer of recreation rather than an organizer,” he jokes. An avid golfer, Max lives and plays at the Seville Golf and Country Club in Gilbert, Arizona.
Gordon “Gord” Johnston was a familiar face at NWTRPA meetings and conferences in the organization’s early years. He joined the NWTRPA Board in 1990 as the vice president. The following year, he was elected president, a post he held for two years. Gord also served for two years as the past president. While leading the NWTRPA, Gord was the coordinator of the Recreation Leadership Program at Aurora College in Inuvik.
In 1995, the NWTRPA recognized Gord’s contributions to the recreation sector, but especially his work training recreation leaders, with an Award of Merit. Four years later, he was named an Honourary Life Member at the Association’s annual awards banquet. In addition to being a dedicated recreation professional, Gord was an avid curler while living in Inuvik.
Gord retired from Aurora College in 2003. He now calls Nakusp, BC, home.
Tony Kulbisky became involved with the NWTRPA while he was the recreation director in Ulukhaktok. Initially, he served as a director at large and as the chair of the Awards and Recognition Committee. Then, in 1993, Tony was elected president, a post he held for three terms. At that time, he was the manager of facility development for the Sport and Recreation Division of MACA. Tony recalls, “It was very exciting in those early years to be part of ‘laying the foundation,’ so to speak.” Amongst things, during Tony’s tenure, the NWTRPA hired its very first executive director, Kathie Adam.
Tony recalls that, before the days of reliable Internet and Facebook, the NWTRPA served an especially important role in connecting recreation leaders spread across the vast Northwest Territories (this was pre-division) and supporting leadership development: “Bringing everyone together as a profession to network, be inspired, learn from each other, and celebrate our peers in the work they were doing” were all key components of the early association. In 1996, Tony’s contributions to northern recreation was recognized by the CPRA with the Claude Langelier Award for Young Professionals. The award was all the more meaningful because he accepted it in front of his colleagues during the CPRA conference in Yellowknife.
Tony continues to live the NWTRPA’s motto, “Recreation for life!” In his spare time, he is the general manager of the very accomplished Devon Barons. He is also an avid runner. He ran the Vancouver BMO marathon when he turned 50 and has fourteen half-marathons under his belt, in addition to several 10 km and 5 km trail and road races. Tony has been chief administrative officer for the Town of Devon, Alberta, since 2009.
Doug Rentmeister was involved with the NWTRPA for over a decade. Along with Max Hall, he was part of the steering committee that laid the groundwork for the association in 1988-1989. In 1992, he joined the NWTRPA Board as a director at large. He remained in that role for two years. From 1994 to 1996, he served as the organization’s vice president. In 1996, Doug was elected President, a position he held for one term before moving into the past president role for one year. During his time on the board of the NWTRPA, Doug was the sport manager for Sport North. Later, he became the executive director of Sport North, a position he has held for almost two decades. Doug and his family still live in Yellowknife.
The organization’s fifth president was Angela Luciani. Angela was a regional recreation development officer with MACA in Inuvik when she was elected to lead the NWTRPA in 1997. Angela had previously served as a director at large in 1993-1994 and 1996-1997. Angela took the lead in developing the program for the 1997 NWTRPA Conference in Fort Smith.
When Brian Kelln was elected president of the NWTRPA in 1998, he was already a familiar face on the NWTRPA Board, having served as the treasurer from 1995-1997 and president elect from 1997-1998. Brian recalls that, “The NWTRPA had a strong vision at the time assisting communities in developing their outdoor resources in assisting with trails, parks, incorporating the community culture, through respecting of the land and the sharing these resources to everyone.” One of the more ambitious projects undertaken during Brian’s tenure as president was linking up with the Trans Canada Trail. Brian remained on the NWTRPA Board until 2006. His years of service to the Association and the recreation sector were celebrated with an Award of Merit at the NWTRPA Conference in 2005.
Like many former and current NWTRPA members, Brian’s fondest memories of the Association are linked to the annual conference. One high point was the Norman Wells conference in 2002, which included a helicopter ride to Mile 54, a campsite on the historic Canol Trail. He will also never forget the 1995 conference in Rankin Inlet. Still relatively new to the territory, he learned an important lesson when woke up in the morning and discovered someone sharing his room: sometimes northern hotels rent by the bed.
Brian was the pool supervisor at the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool in Yellowknife when he joined the NWTRPA. He still works for the City of Yellowknife, now as the manager of programs in the Community Services Department. Outside of work hours, Brian can often be found on or near a curling pad. He is a volunteer with the NWT Curling Association, through which he runs coaching clinics. He is also heavily involved in coaching junior curling, and participates in competitive curling. Otherwise, Brian enjoys spending time with family, friends, and, most importantly, his grandchildren.
Theresa Ross was introduced to the NWTRPA while living in Inuvik and working as the town’s recreation coordinator. She was elected as a regional representative for the Beaufort Delta in 1997. Two years later, she stepped into the position of president of the NWTRPA. She served for one term. When Scott McAdam died suddenly while in office, Theresa stepped into the role of president’s once again. She stayed in the position until 2004.
Theresa was proud to lead an organization that served people of all ages throughout the NWT: “The campaigns to get residents active have been very effective and have helped motivate people to live an active lifestyle.” Theresa also recognizes the importance of the organization beyond the NWT: “The NWTRPA is a voice at the national table, which ensures that northerners’ voices are heard.”
Two conferences stand out as highlights for Theresa. The first was the 2001 conference in Fort Simpson, at which Betty Fox was the keynote speaker. Theresa recalls, “It was so wonderful and emotional to hear her speak of Terry.” She also fondly remembers hosting members of the CPRA at the NWTRPA Conference in Inuvik in 2005: “It was great to show off all the great and unique things about the North, like snow golf and ski-doo trips.
Theresa’s dedication to recreation was celebrated with a number of NWTRPA Awards, including the Recreation Leader Award in 2003, the Award of Merit in 2006, and an Honourary Life Membership in 2010. Theresa continues to be involved in recreation as an instructor at a college in Alberta. She was previously an instructor in the Recreation Leadership Program at Aurora College in Inuvik.
Julian Tomlinson was a member of the NWTRPA Board of Directors from 1999 to 2004. He served as the Association’s President from 2000-2001. During this time, Julian worked with Aurora College, first as an instructor in the Recreation Leaders Program under Gord Johnston and, later, when Gord retired, as the coordinator for the program.
Julian’s dedication to the recreation sector was recognized with the Award of Merit at the 2002 NWTRPA Awards Banquet. In 2011, Julian was awarded a Honourary Life Membership. The award celebrated Julian’s years of service to the NWTRPA, his role in creating a recreation centre in Inuvik, and his involvement with the Trans Canada Trail. The following year, his work with the Trans Canada Trail was recognized once again with a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.
In 2015, Julian joined the faculty at Saskatchewan Polytechnic. In 2017, he was appointed dean for the School of Hospitality & Tourism and the School of Human Services & Community Safety. Julian and his family now call Saskatoon home.
Scott McAdam was very passionate about recreation, even before he became a recreation professional. He made a priority of helping youth and giving back to his community. Following his graduation from the Recreation Leaders Program at Aurora College in 1992, Scott worked as the recreation director in a number of communities across the north, including Aklavik, Tuktoyaktuk, and Repulse Bay. In 1998, he and his family settled in Fort Simpson, where Scott took up the role of recreation director. Scott was particularly passionate about badminton and hockey, helping to set up programs and clubs in the communities in which he lived and worked.
Scott was a very active volunteer. He was the Arctic Winter Games regional coordinator for the Mackenzie Region for two set of games and a member of the Sport North Games Committee for two years. Scott was also a founding member of the Beaufort Delta Sahtú Recreation Association (BDSRA) and served on the board of the Mackenzie Recreation Association (MRA).
Scott was a NWTRPA board member for two years before being elected president in 2001. His term was cut short by his sudden death in September of that year. Scott’s memory is honoured through a number of awards and events including the NWTRPA’s Scott McAdam Youth Leadership Award, the MRA’s Scott McAdam Badminton Tournament, and the Scott McAdam Memorial Scholarship, which is jointly administered by MRA and Sport North.
In our next 30th anniversary post, we will meet the NWTRPA presidents who served from 2004 to today!