The life and times of Chris Sorensen

Life changed pretty quickly for Chris Sorensen when he was barely 20 years old.

Chris Sorensen's daughter Gerry won a World Cup in downhill skiing and was a Canadian Olympian. Gerry Sorensen Way is named after her.

Life changed pretty quickly for Chris Sorensen when he was barely 20 years old. In the blink of an eye his father (Chris Senior) was gone, killed in a car accident coming back from a Calgary Stampeder Football Game.

The accident occurred at the tunnel just outside of Fernie. The devastating news soon reached Kimberley B.C. Altogether three Kimberley men perished in that auto accident in 1956.

So 20 year old Chris Jr. who was doing an electrical apprenticeship with C. M. and S. became the head of the family which included his sisters Vivian, and Kathy, who was only 8 when the tragedy occurred.

A LITTLE SORENSEN FAMILY HISTORY

(courtesy of John “Mauck ” McKenzie who has lived here in town since 1932, born and raised as they say).

So the Chris Sorensen we all know had a father named Chris as well. Chris Sr. and his brother Carl were professional hockey players in the 1930s playing for Portland Oregon, and Calgary. They were actually traded for one another when they played pro. Carl had a reputation of being “poetry on ice”.

The Kimberley Dynamiters Senior A Team recruited the brothers to come here and work for Cominco and play hockey for the Nitros. Both Chris and Carl were star players here in the late 30s and early 40s (McKenzie saw them play at the old Arena when he was a child) Chris Sorensen Sr. married a girl named Matilda, who helped her husband open Sorensen’s Grocery up on Spokane St in 1947 near where the Kimberley City Bakery is now located.

They had three children, Vivian, Chris Jr. and Kathy. Mrs. Sorensen passed away at a relatively young age in 1950 of a rare disease called Addissons, so her husband Chris Sr. raised his family, retired from hockey and ran the family grocery store, until that fateful day in 1956 when the car accident claimed his life.

Things moved pretty quickly at that point Chris Jr. quit the mine, where he was taking his electricians apprenticeship, to take over Sorensen’s Grocery, and keep the family together with now both parents gone.

Chris told me recently that at age 20 he could not legally sign cheques at the store, so his Grand- dad would come over to sign cheques for the business. how times have changed eh. A neat bit of Sorensen Family History. Chris had a Great-grandfather (Christian Sorensen) who was a grocer merchant in 1850 in Blackfaulds, Alberta. Christian was also the town mayor and amazingly enough , he could neither read nor write. But the man had common sense. Chris’s other Great-grandad (John Turner) ran a ferry between Windermere and Golden BC (, he lived in Ft. Steele). Talk about local ties that go way back .

By the way Danny Jarrett who later bought Super- Valu from Chris Sorensen in 1978 used to deliver groceries up at Sorensen’s Grocery when he was a boy, with his friend Jimmy Crewe who was an excellent short- stop here in Kimberley for the Senior Dynamos. This was funny because Chris Sorensen Sr. and Jr. sponsored the arch rival Hobos when Senior Ball was huge in Kimberley.

Now Chris Jr. was a darn good hockey player himself. How good could he have been? We will never know because running the family business and supporting Vivian and Kathy became his number one priority. In hockey Chris was a great skater, very strong on his blades, and almost impossible to knock off of the puck. With his business now a Super Valu Chris had to limit his hockey playing to Kimberley Commercial League and the odd tournament.

I do remember Sorensen could really motor out there, more on his hockey later. . Chris was also into good competitive bowling in Western Canada with Bill Lobban who worked at Super Valu back in the day, when he was not out in Bowling Tournaments with Chris. Bowling was their passion back then, and they were pretty excellent at it too. Chris told me recently that bowling was his best sport, he started bowling up at McDougall Hall at age 6. Chris was in two Canadian Championships as a bowler. Diane Sorensen was a great athlete in her own right, finishing third in Curling at the Scotts Tournament of Hearts with Barb Hryciuk, May Shaw, and Dot Musser. Diane was a hot bowler too.

CHRIS SORENSEN BUSINESS GUY

Of course you cannot write about Chris Sorensen of Kimberley without writing about his business ” Vision” I came to know Chris at Super-Valu in 1965 when he hired me as a box boy. A few of us at the store (where Mark Creek Market now sits) were into athletics. The aforementioned Billy Lobban was a terrific bowler, Lonnie Leinweber, Ron “Humble” Hume, Kathy Sorenson, myself and Roy Moe Jr. were into ski racing. Chris was really good to all of us, letting us off work to go to races, and juggling our schedules at Super Valu so we could go to Selkirk, and still give us hours.

Vivian and her husband Roy Moe Sr took care of the front end of Super Valu, while Roy did the deliveries in Kimberley of which there were a lot ( free too ).

Then in 1974 Chris Sorensen expanded his food business taking a gamble that something called McDonalds was going to take off (boy was he right) Chris built McDonalds on the Strip in Cranbrook, and it was a huge success from the get go.

Chris owned and ran McDonalds from 1974 to 1989. I moved away and lost touch with Chris Sorensen. He had by this time married Diane Cox of Kimberley, (her brother Bobby was a phenomenal hockey player) drafted by the Detroit Red Wings after a stellar Junior career with the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Chris and Diane started a family, Roberta (Bobbi), Jacquie, John, Bill, and their super star skier daughter Gerry who won a World Cup in Downhill skiing for Canada and was a force on the Canadian Olympic Team , and World Cup Squad. Gerry Sorensen has a street named after her up towards Kimberley Resort. She is out of skiing and lives in the USA.

CHRIS AND HOCKEY

Chris Sorensen lived up in Townsite on 2nd Ave. As a four year old, he would skate up to the outdoor rink, play shinny hockey all morning, then skate home where is mother Matilda would lay out newspapers so young Chris could ” walk up ” to the kitchen table with his skates on, have some soup and a sandwich, then off he would go back to the rink for the rest of the afternoon. At supper time Chris Jr. would skate home, eat some food and then head back to the rink to rejoin his chums for more shinny. No wonder he turned out to be a terrific skater (very speedy and hard to get the puck off of him).

Another regular at the outdoor rink in Townsite was Les Lilley who used to stuff magazines in young Chris Sorensens socks and put him in “goal ” which was actually standing between two trees that were their goal-posts of the day. Les would shoot wrist shot after wrist shot at Chris, developing that wrister that was to serve Lilley well in pro hockey.

Some fond memories Chris has kept through out the years, was when he was a ” rink rat” at the old Kimberley Rink (where Coronation Ball Park parking lot now is.) The natural ice needed boys like Chris Sorensen to scrape out the corners and numerous other duties. Every job has a reward, so after watching Sully Sullivan, Sammy Calles, Gerry Barre, Earl Betker, Ginger Craig, Ray McNiven and Sammy Quigley twirl around the ice for the hometown Dynamiters, when the last fan had departed into the snowy night, the rink rats would make up two teams with the Manager of the rink, Bill Heaton playing too. They would play their own game until 11.45 p.m. and then lock up the barn and be home by midnight up at the Sorensen home in Townsite.

Chris Sorensen had a skiing accident at age 14 on the OverWaitea ski jump hill, when Chris piled into some logs at the bottom of the run and broke his leg, one week before he was to go away for a Junior Hockey tryout. Chris never cared much for skiing after that.

Now every kid in Kimberley dreamed they would go away and play Junior Hockey somewhere. Chris went to the Lethbridge to play for the Native Sons who had Seth Martin playing goal , Ron Hemmerling, and some other fellows who went pro. After the car accident that claimed the of his father ( Chris Sorensen Senior) Chris shelved any aspirations of playing “serious hockey”, content to play in pick up games, the Kimberley Commercial League, and a few Tournaments.

In the late 1970’s Kimberley had some really good hockey players, who were retired from the Dynamiters, these guys were a bit long in the tooth as they say, but were still pretty awesome. The guys here in town grabbed a few players from Cranbrook and created a team called The East Kootenay All Star Old Timers, which included Ken “Cowboy” McTeer, Dickie Vincent, Chris Sorensen, Bobby Wardle ( goalie par excellence), Ed Babiuk, Peter Leiman, Ed LeGare, Bill Steenson, Wally Souter, and a few other fellows. The team was assembled and to “do it right” Chris and the boys decided to build them selves a house in Kimberley and put their own time in doing the project, get some materials donated here and there, and basically make it a team project. The house was built in orderly fashion and the second guy who looked at it bought it, so it was ” Hello ” Hockey tournaments in Regina, Calgary, Vancouver, Saskatoon, Victoria, and others in Western Canada which culminated in the Canadian Old Timer Championships in St. John, New Brunswick. Kimberley won that in the Spring of 1976.

So in the end Chris Sorensen did get to play high level hockey, which he had not done since his Junior days in Lethbridge Alberta., when the death of his dad took Chris down another path. Chris Sorensen Sr. and his brother Carl were exceptional hockey players, Chris Sr, Dynamiter days came to a premature end when he took a rock in the eye in the mine. In those days every team in the W.I.H.L travelled to away games with their own referee, sounds odd but thats the way it was done back in the day. Chris Sorensen Sr. became the Dynamiter Referee after suffering the eye injury.

Kimberley B.C. has always been synonymous with alpine skiing. It has been that way since the 1950s. Nancy Greene probably would not have attained her No.1 World Ranking, if not for the winter she spent here in Kimberley as a 16 year old living with Bill, Marg, John and Doug Rodgers up in Townsite, and getting rides up to North Star Mountain from various neighbours. Nancy Greene came to Kimberley to train with Helli Schuller an Austrian Ski Coach who came here for three glorious ski seasons, and start North Star Racers, which Chris and Diane’s daughter Gerry Sorensen joined as a 10 year old in 1968.

Gerry burst on the World Cup Ski scene in the early 80s. What a ski career Gerry Sorensen had — World Cup Downhill wins at Haus Austria (1981) Grindelwald Switzerland (1981,1982) Puy Stunent (1984) World Champion Downhill, and Womens Combined Champion in 1982. Altogether five wins on the World Cup Circuit. It could have been six since Gerry won a F.I.S. Race too. She was Female Athlete of the Year in Canada for 1982, (the Bobbi Rosenberg Award), which Chris accepted for Gerry, who was at a ski race in Europe. Wayne Gretzky was on the podium for winning Male Athlete of the Year with Chris Sorensen that night, which must have been cool for Chris a hockey player himself) In fact Chris went out to dinner with Wayne a couple of times and said he is a great guy. Gerry represented Canada in the 1984 Winter Olympics at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia and retired at the end of the 84 season. Simply a brilliant career.

Chris and Diane were proud of Gerry, but they never played favorites with their kids. The Sorensen children are Jacquelyn (who worked in the bakery at Super Valu when we were kids, a hard worker too ), Roberta (who works for the City of Kimberley, retiring next year), John in Kelowna works for Petro Canada, Bill (who runs Kimberley Appliance and Repair), and Geraldine (Gerry) who moved to the USA after Ski Racing. Her son Nicholas is in the US Army and has just returned from a tour in Afganistan, Gerry lives in Palm Springs with her husband. Brendan.

Sports have always been a huge part of the Sorensen Family. Katie Jones of Cranbrook was Chris Sorensen’s Mother in Law. Before Katie married she set an Olympic Record in the 75 Yard Dash in Cranbrook of all places. Miss Jones broke an ankle in high jump, which ended her sprinting career, at the Olympic Trials in Vancouver later that summer after setting the record. Diane Sorensen was a Cox before she married Chris Jr. (Bobby Cox who was Dianes brother) was a hockey super star here in Kimberley before going to the Edmonton Oil Kings.

CHRIS SORENSEN REINVENTS HIMSELF AGAIN

Chris went into business with his sons Billy and John, in Sylvia Shell and Petro Canada in Marysville.

Actually in 1964 Chris owned and operated Sylvia Motel in town behind where the A and W now sits. It was a skiers haven close to North Star Mountain, and reasonable. I used to see Chris down at the old Super Store in Cranbrook, wheeling huge dollies of groceries to his truck, groceries which were headed for his stores. He was hard working and never a man to rest on his laurels. Let’s face it, Kimberley has never seen a business man the likes of Chris Sorensen, an entrepreneur to the max. As John “Mauck” McKenzie so succinctly said to me the other day, “Chris was a Master of Mathematics”.

What a nice gift to have in life, some people call it a “head for business”. I had a funny experience with Chris in the early 1980s, when we ran into one another in Spokane Washington. Chris Sorensen was playing for East Kootenay Old Timers in an old timer hockey tourney. We were sitting in the dressing room of the Spokane Coliseum after the first period, and Chris remarked to me he felt ” bagged”. I had a ginseng root with me in my pocket. A dubious Chris Sorensen chewed on it for 20 minutes, and promptly went out there and scored three or four goals, skating around like a jet plane ( he could always skate well anyways). Chris came looking for me in at the end of the second period, and I had to go out to my car slogging through the snow, to get him another ginseng root. Steener passed on the Ginseng. (this is a long standing joke between us after all these years)

Back to the grocery business for a moment, Chris Sorensen mentored Danny Jarrett in the ” biz”, Dan is still at Mark Creek Market,

CHRIS SORENSEN RETIRES KIND OF

It has only been the last year or two that Chris has slowed down somewhat, enjoying some time to relax a bit. ( his wife Diane passed away eight years ago) These days his sister Kathy Clarke is a Registered Nurse in the East Kootenays, while sister Vivian is retired and living in Kimberley. Chris Sorensen sponsored the Hobos Baseball team back in the day, but in retrospect perhaps he should have sponsored the Dynamos because Chris was a “Human Dynamo”. The man has boundless energy, and is currently bouncing back from an operation, When I called him the other day, Chris was his usual upbeat self. When you think of the Sorensen Family, you think of Sports, Super Valu, and Sylvia Shell. Saying that Chris Sorensen had a ” head for business” would be like saying Bobby Orr was “good at hockey” Chris always made the right move in the world of business.

Chris has always been a great communicator, so I guess that is why he bought C.K.E.K Radio in Cranbrook, with F.J. Hurtak, and Gary Cavers. They sold out to somebody named Jim Pattison a few years back.

It was always enjoyable to write about people you like, and I like Chris Sorensen. I have since the day he hired me at Super Valu – a snot nosed kid of 15, who could not get a summer job at Cominco, because my dad did not work for them (private businessman). I was a skier though and that was enough to propel me into my job as a box boy for Chris and Viv, when you are a kid it is always great when someone believes in you, and gives you a start on the steps of life. Last but certainly not least, Chris Sorensen is involved with the Kimberley Dynamiter Wall of Fame, and still supporting the Meat Draws at Kimberley Elks # 90.

Chris is still going strong at 76. These days Chris splits his time between Kerrisdale (Vancouver) and Marysville. Chris by the way had a neat story to tell me about Kerrisdale. In 1953 he played a hockey game for New West Minster in the Kerrisdale arena, 20 years later in 1973, Chris was trained at the McDonalds right next door to the Kerrisdale rink , before opening his McDonalds in Cranbrook in 1974, so nowadays when Chris is out for a stroll , he sees the Kerrisdale Arena where he played Junior hockey, and McDonalds right next to it. As they say life is a circle.

To sum up this article on Chris Sorensen, he was blessed with a great mind, and, as a businessman, the best way to describe Chris would be innovative and ethical. He worked hard for everything he has attained.

This is the windup of Chris Sorensen’s ‘Life and Times”, last weeknight I was calling Chris up to ask him something. A man seated nearby told me out of the blue ” I knew Chris Sr and Chris Jr. when I worked for Crystal Dairy, I delivered to Sorensens in Kimberley. One day Mr Sorensen told him that hiring his sons girlfriend ( Dianne ) as a cashier was the best business move old Chris ever made. Seems that Chris Jr was the delivery guy , and he would hustle all over town to deliver groceries, so he could spend more time with his girlfriend Dianne, who of course was later to become his wife.

Chris Sorensen has done as much for Kimberley BC as anyone I know of. I am sure I have missed a lot, but how can one possibly write about everything Chris has accomplished in life? As I stated earlier, it is easy to write about people you like.

A few corrections. When you write about such a full life as Chris Sorensen has had, and the fact it encompasses 76 years in Kimberley, there was bound to be a few minor screwups, so to correct those: Chris Sorensen’s mother-in-law (Diane’s mom) was Katie Martin, the sprinter from Cranbrook who broke the Olympic Record in the 75 yard dash, then broke her ankle. Secondly, Vivian Sorensen is a bit older than Chris, and was married to Roy Moe and out of the house and independent when her dad Chris Senior passed away, (Viv did stay in the family business with her brother Chris , and her husband Roy.) Third, Chris played hockey with Lethbridge Native Sons and the goalie was Gus Adams, not Seth Martin.

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