The past two weeks have been a trip down memory lane for Joy Ward-Fera, who was recently in Prince George to take in the Canada Winter Games.
Ward-Fera, a Cranbrook native, was one of four people inducted into the Canada Games Hall of Fame for their athletic legacies with Canadian sport.
She has a history with the Canada Winter Games, as she competed in the slalom races back in 1971 in Saskatoon, winning a gold medal in the team portion of the event.
Not a bad accomplishment given her health at the time.
“I was at a race in Red Deer ahead of going to the Canada Games,” said Ward-Fera. “The night before, we left to fly from Edmonton to Saskatoon and as I was working on my skis and bent down to remove some old wax, I was really sore in my knees and ankles.
“I thought, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ and I thought I’d better not say anything to anyone or I might get sent home.”
Upon arriving in Saskatoon, she headed straight to the athlete sick bay and holed up for two days after doctors diagnosed her with German measles.
“I looked at the week of competition and thought, ‘I’ve got to get out of here,'” said Ward-Fera. “I must get back out to the slopes.”
“In those days I was allowed to sign myself out against doctors’ orders and you can’t do that today, understandably.”
Gathering her equipment, she made the great escape from the infirmary and found transportation to Blackstrap Ski Hill for her alpine skiing events.
“My wrists and hands were all affected and I couldn’t hang on to my ski poles, so I remember taking black electrical tape and taping my gloves to my poles,” said Ward-Fera. “Looking back, I probably could’ve had an arm ripped off, I don’t know, but it was worth it.”
There were alternates on the ski team and Ward-Fera figured if she didn’t do well in the individual racing, she’d give up her spot for the team event.
“For the team event, dual slalom—province against province—we won the gold and that was just so exciting,” she said.
Not only was she battling the measles, but a ski hill—in Saskatoon of all places—was a challenge for all the wrong reasons.
“Whoever is in charge of making snow forgot to push the compressed air switch or whatever it was called, and all it did was flood water. So for those of us used to lovely powder from British Columbia going against athletes from Ontario and Quebec who were, indeed, used to icy conditions, this was very difficult skiing almost on ice.
“I’ll never forget that.”
The hill itself was built up from a river bank to make it more height, given that the rest of the terrain around Saskatoon wasn’t exactly mountainous.
“It was a garbage dump, as I understand, built up with the earth and on the banks of the river that gave it a little more vertical,” Ward-Fera said. “Slalom was the only event they could host, they didn’t have the vertical to do anything else. So slalom was the only event.
“I remember looking down for a red light at the top of a hill to warn airplanes that there was this mountain near Saskatoon.”
She was in Prince George on the eve of the opening ceremonies to be feted for her induction into the Hall of Honour and was also a part of the medal-unveilling ceremony, as they were made by a local aboriginal artist.
“I was really honoured to be inducted into this Hall of Honour with other athletes that have gone before me,” said Ward-Fera.
“…The Hall of Honour up in Prince George was just a really humbling, wonderful, new memory from what all started out in Saskatoon.”
Following her gold medal win as an athlete at the Canada Winter Games, Ward-Fera went on to compete in rowing and competed for Canada at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. She also notched back-to-back bronze medal performances in the Eight at the 1977 and 1978 World Championships. She also co-founded the Delta Deas Rowing Club and currently resides in Tsawwassen.