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Bringing history alive

The co-founder of the Kootenay Storytelling Festival, a summer staple in Procter for close to a decade, has died at 74.
Gord Reid

The co-founder of the Kootenay Storytelling Festival, a summer staple in Procter for close to a decade, has died at 74.

Gord Reid started the popular event with museum exhibits designer and seasonal resident Rick Budd when the village was looking for new uses for its old schoolhouse. Although the two didn’t think a museum would fly in such a remote location, they found a way to bring history — and the building — to life.

“I proposed the concept of a storytelling festival which would bring Kootenay heritage storytellers and history buffs together in Procter,” Budd says. “He loved the idea and, together, we pitched it to the community.”

Barry Gray, a Harrop resident enlisted to demonstrate the power of storytelling at a public meeting, recalls that “as a new idea, you’re never quite sure how it’s going to go, but 17 people put their names down that evening.”

While Budd sought storytellers, Reid chaired the committee and did on-the-ground planning and marshalling of up to 50 volunteers. Between them, Budd says, they poured “many hundreds of hours” into the inaugural festival, held over two days in July 1999.

“Gord was a guiding light through the whole process. In the early planning stages, I fondly remember him predicting ‘This hick town will never be the same.’“

Indeed, the festival was a smash and Procter’s core turned into a buzzing hive for a weekend each summer.

Yet for all the energy he expended on it, Reid never heard any of the stories. According to Gray, “He wouldn’t sit there listening. He would be out mingling with people who weren’t in listening to the stories either. He just loved hanging out outside.”

Reid had cousins in Balfour and visited the area from childhood. He moved to Procter part-time in the 1980s from Calgary, where he had been production manager of the James Lovick ad agency. (He enjoyed the TV show Mad Men.)

Active with the Young Liberals, he had pictures of himself with Pierre Trudeau. As Gray recounts: “I remember Gord telling me that he debated Joe Clark and Preston Manning and was pretty convinced that he was out of his league.”

Reid was also part of the movement in the ‘60s to redesign the Canadian flag.

Bev Clement, another Procter resident who knew him well, says his “most defining moment” came in 1982 when he attended summer sessions at the School of Visual Arts in New York, giving him his start in acrylic painting and cartooning. His comic strip, Chinook Country, ran in the Calgary Herald for seven years.

“When he moved to Procter he had a studio here and was working on his fine art as much as anything else. Then he would take his work back to Calgary,” Clement says.

He received commissions (including one for the IKEA offices) and held shows such as one at the Procter bakery comprised of his napkin art.

“He’d come in every morning for coffee, take a napkin, sketch on it, and leave it there,” Gray says. “Somebody gathered them up and the walls were full of them.”

Reid had other idiosyncrasies too: “He was well known in Procter for hating dogs.”

Budd adds Reid had a “gruff charm, a delightful sense of humour, a big laugh and a zest for life.”

He was benefactor to the library in the Procter schoolhouse, which is named after him.

Reid suffered from kidney disease and had a transplant several years ago. He bowed out from organizing the storytelling festival, but remained a mentor to its end in 2007.

As his health worsened, he moved permanently to Alberta, returning to Procter for a final visit last year. He died Saturday morning in a Calgary hospital.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. tomorrow in the Procter Hall — another of the storytelling festival’s venues. A collection of his art is being assembled to hang there.

“A lot of people in the community have pieces of his work,” Clement says. “They all have an overriding humour. It was his sense of humour and sense of community that defined him.”

Reid is survived by his children Judith McRae of Calgary and Andrew Reid of Washington, D.C. as well as sister Margaret Malmberg of Lethbridge and numerous nieces and nephews.