Byron Olson: 1935-2019

Olson will be remembered for architectural, theatrical legacy

People from Cranbrook, Kimberley and beyond will gather Sunday, March 24, for the celebration of life of a great local resident.

Byron Olson — architect, artist, dramatist and director and mountaineer — passed away late last month, leaving an architectural and theatrical legacy that reflects his own unique and remarkable personality.

Born in Camrose, Alberta, in 1935, Olson attended the UBC School of Architecture (where he became friends with the late artist ManWoman) — later working in Vancouver and establishing his own architectural firm. While living in the Lower Mainland, he became an accomplished mountaineer, skier and rock climber, and as an architect gave voice to his whimsical nature as well, building cabins in surprising places.

He was struck with early onset Parkinson’s while in his 40s, but his physical strength and strength of character never let that hinder his love of wilderness, art, people and life, which he brought with him to the Kootenays.

As an architect, his influence and legacy is visible in the public and private buildings he left behind in Cranbrook and Kimberley and other communities in the East Kootenay and Lower Mainland — including the Kimberley and Sparwood Public Libraries, Trickle Creek Golf Clubhouse, and the Cranbrook Alliance Church.

He was also a playwright and prominent director of plays in both the Cranbrook and Kimberley theatre communities. Great works like “Seven Stories,” “Playboy of the Western World,” Oleanna,” and his own plays like “Hearing Lies” and “The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be.”

Those who knew him and worked with him remember him as a remarkable individual with a brilliant, uncommon mind.

Tanya Laing Gahr worked with him in many plays over the years, including David Mamet’s “Oleanna,” for which Olson won the Best Director Award at the Theatre BC MainStage Festival in 2004. She remembered him as an “incredibly gentle, intelligent and humorous director.

“He approached directing the same way he approached architecture—with a determination to create something singular, unusual, challenging and inspiring,” Laing Gahr said. “And, if possible, a little bit twisted. He liked altered perspectives and that showed up in his work.”

Laing Gahr, like others, remembers his kindness and sense of humor, but also his determination. “His Parkinson’s was a challenge, but never it was never a roadblock.”

The celebration of life for Byron Olson will be held Sunday, March 24, at 2 pm, at Centre 64 in Kimberley.

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