Greg Garbula has been described as down-to-earth, a portrayal he shrugs off as “easy to say.”
“I just like to relate to people,” says the Liberal’s candidate for MLA in Nelson-Creston, thinking nothing of the description that pegs him as an everyman.
But in his 11 years as general manager of the Kokanee Springs Golf Resort, he proved he could relate to visiting oil executives while picking up and pitching in.
“I have no problem picking up a shovel and helping someone out,” he says. “When we need to get something done, we need to get something done and at the end of it all, if we want to go for a beer, we want to go for a beer.”
Lately, Garbula’s been making his rounds for coffee, excited for the chance to chat with folks he considers lucky to call the Kootenays home.
The businessman, with 17 years experience in the hospitality industry, made the Kootenays home with his wife, son and two young daughters when he took the job at Kokanee Springs.
“We packed up and moved and lived in this little log cabin on the side of the golf course,” he says. “It was all five of us with an Irish wolf hound. Those were some wild years.”
Deciding that this neck of the woods was where he and wife Victoria wanted to settle, they built a home on the East Shore, “this ultimate home for me, scratching out the drawing on the back of a napkin,” Garbula says.
There, the couple raised their family for 16 years.
Now residing on Nelson’s North Shore, they hold onto that Crawford Bay home despite leaving rural life behind for more opportunities for their daughters, 17 and 15, now attending L.V. Rogers secondary school.
Their son remains on the East Shore in Riondel where Garbula hopes he can eke out a living as he too starts to consider family life. Passion about strengthening rural economies comes from close to Garbula’s heart.
“We’ve got to be able to have more young families and people come here and stay here — enjoy it, work here and survive comfortably,” he says
No stranger to venturing off to make a life, Garbula is originally from Windsor where he started work at a very young age. He put himself through St. Claire’s College, where he earned a business administration diploma, working in manufacturing plants. But the high wage didn’t hook him.
Moving to Lake Louise in the early ‘80s, Garbula found adventure, mostly on the slopes where he spent 100 days a season wearing skis.
“You can’t beat that. It was a great life,” he says.
It was there he also got his start in the hospitality industry, launching a lifetime of customer service and a keen interest in tourism.
“I started out as a room clerk at the Chateau Lake Louise, at the front desk. I was a bellman and a bartender and a busboy,” he says. “I followed all the way through the hotel doing whatever needed doing. And I kept getting promoted. I had no intention of really being in this industry. It found me.”
And find him, it did. Garbula’s career took him from Fairmont’s Chateau Lake Louise to the Banff Springs Hotel, as well as the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Delta’s The Lodge at Kananaskis and the renowned Emerald Lake Lodge, moving up along the way.
“It wasn’t like I was out there trying to work my way up for the sake of my career. If you do a good job, they tell you ‘this is where you should go.’ It’s sort of how I’ve fallen into this political scene. They said to me, ‘you should be that guy, Greg — you’re going to do a good job. We need a guy like you to do this.’”
Working hard, putting in the time and the effort is what he does. His first foray into politics is a new challenge and that comes with great appeal.
“Politics is wild,” he says. “It’s a roller coaster ride but it sure is interesting.”
Garbula also sits on the board of Directors of the Kootenay Rockies Tourism Association, the regional transportation advisory committee, and is the past president of the Kootenay Lake Chamber of Commerce.
After years working in Alberta resort communities, the Kootenays were an easy sell for Garbula.
“When you get here, you see there’s the whole package. The weather, the lake, the glacier,” he says, adding community cohesiveness rounds out the perfect picture.
Garbula still likes to ski as much as he can. He golfs and has a boat he likes to put into Kootenay Lake.
“That’s why we’re here — to try and get out and enjoy the area,” he says.
But most often, his hobby is his work.
“I enjoy it. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s my passion,” he says.