So, there we were… Jim’s favourite way to start a story. Seems only fitting to begin his story the same way. Jim’s 66 years had many different chapters. Starting off in Woodstock, Ontario, his early years were the quintessential free range childhood dream. The neighbourhood gang’s adventures included hopping freight trains, breaking the rules, and building lifelong friendships in the process. Not without tragedy, he lost his mom at age 8 and later left home as a young teenager.
The highlights of Jim’s high school years were playing football and organizing school ski trips to Quebec. This helped inspire his grand plan of studying Hospitality, which would help him secure a job at a ski resort in the west. Jim followed the path of earlier Woodstock friends to Rossland in the 1970’s. It was love at first snow, with one problem- there were few women in town. Jim returned to finish his degree in Ontario, where he met his first love, Linda Finkelstein. They got married at age 21, and soon after bought a house on 2nd Avenue in Rossland. He quickly turned his passion for skiing into a job and became one of the original five professional ski patrollers at Red Mtn. Tragedy struck again when he lost Linda in an avalanche. Jim always said that the support of the Rossland community got him through his darkest days.
Jim and Catherine met at a windsurfing race in Sandpoint, Idaho. It was love at first sight, witnessed by a full moon and the northern lights. Married soon after, windsurfing led them to spend the next 18 years in the Columbia River Gorge. They opened a restaurant together, to allow windsurfing all day and work at night. Lean winters were supplemented by ski patrolling on Mount Hood. Jim designed and built their first house, followed soon by two sons, James, and Mark. Jim decided the restaurant business was not the best for raising a family. So he switched gears and sold land for a few years. Meanwhile, Jim’s passion for football led to him being hired as a coach at the local high school, (despite some concerns about his Canadian football background). Jim’s enjoyment working with kids encouraged him to return to university in Portland for his teaching degree. He decided to study math and science “to get his money’s worth”. It should be noted that Jim graduated as an “Academic All American”, which included a ceremonial lunch with the Governor.
In 2001, the Spence family moved back to Campbellville, (Onterrible) something teenage Jim never would have imagined. It was time to raise the boys as Canadians, and move closer to family. Jim built their second home adjoining the family farm. He built it in classic Ontario farmhouse style, cursing the complicated gable roof design along the way. There were great family times at the farm and at the Go Home Lake A-frame, another wonderful Jim building project. He satisfied his need to ski through winter trips to Quebec, Northeastern USA, and vacationing back to his roots at Red Mtn. Jim had a very successful career as a high school teacher in Milton, and his ability to work with the toughest kids resulted in the toughest classes. As a result, he told great stories around the dinner table. From teaching knife skills in food school to troubled teens, to befriending the most feared kids at school, he was always willing to take on new challenges. While teaching, Jim joined the Milton Fire Department as a part timer. At age 45, he was their oldest recruit ever and was well accepted because of his great skill set. He worked his way up to Lieutenant and was well respected by all.
A teaching sabbatical brought Jim and Catherine back to Rossland and it was an easy decision to buy a house. Their five year plan became one year, and they soon followed Mark here in 2015. Jim had 6 years in his happy place, renovating both their house and their Christina Lake A-frame. He spent nearly every winter day on skis and rejoined the Red Mtn ski patrol as Señor Spence. A closing accomplishment is that Jim reached his personal goal of skiing 100 different ski areas across North America. Jim was the best husband and father, and his love for us is giving us support and a way to move forward. He had much to teach us all about loving life and each other. He will be dearly missed by his friends and family.
Please direct donations to the West Kootenays Friends of Refugees.
You are invited to leave a personal message of condolence at the family’s online register at www.myalternatives.ca
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