How I met THE Jack Rabbit

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I would love to write something about Herman Smith-Johansson the Jack Rabbit but it seems to me that his life has been very well documented already. There is always Wikipedia and there are books by Alice Johansen, his daughter, Brian Powell and certainly others. There is even an NFB film.

Here is the link to see the film.

Maybe someday I will attempt a more historical rendering of his life, but here I will just recount my own experience meeting the Jack Rabbit.

The first time I crossed paths with JRJ was around 1958. I would have been 7 years old. I was out skiing in the Laurentians on some old logging road with my parents and my sister when my Dad noticed something moving in the bush off to one side.

Out of the bush came this really old guy. Jack Rabbit would have been around 83 years old at the time. He stopped and talked with my Dad for about 5 minutes and when a man less than half his age sprang from the woods from where JRJ had come the Jack Rabbit said “OK, we have to be going” and headed straight into the bush on the other side of the road with the young man trying to keep up to his partner of the day.

When they were gone my mother, excitedly told us who that guy was.

I also was in the presence of the Jack Rabbit on 2 other occasions. One about 1969 at the MOC house in Shawbridge where he would put in an appearance about once every winter to encourage the students to get out there and ski ski ski instead of sitting around the house socialising. The other time was at a Ski Marathon banquet around 1974 and the Jack Rabbit was playing the same song.

I have one other anecdote from 1987 when Alice, Jack Rabbit’s daughter, wanted a Telemark lesson. Alice was 76 years old at the time. The lesson did not go all that well, but I did get her down the Red Bird at Mont Saint Sauveur in one piece.

When I attended the memorial service for JRJ in Saint Sauveur in 1987 I had the privilege to be sitting with one of the Gillespie brothers and was in the presences of so many of those solid skiers of days gone by.

I think that you can take one message out of these anecdotes and that is the indomitable spirit of that Johansson family.

Please add your own personal memories of Jack Rabbit and I would also like you to suggest subjects for future articles. How about sending me the names of trails that you are familiar with that have disappeared over the years. The more obscure the better. I will see if I can find out more about them.

About Chriss Cross


Sarah Locke - 29 February 2016 Reply

I just found your Club as I was looking for a cross country ski club up near the Mont Tremblant Airport (have a pick up to do!). Read your blog and am so happy to see that Jackrabbit is still very much alive and loved in the minds and hearts of Laurentian skiers. I am in fact married to one of his great-grandsons (Peter Austin Jr.) and he and I both love hearing about these encounters and how he touched those he met. He had lot of time to do so in 111 years! We are headed up to Tremblant for March Break and can’t wait to tell Peter Sr. about Auntie Jo’s (Alice – Auntie “Jo”hansson) first , and probably last, tele-lesson! Thank you for sharing.

Eddy Walsh - 25 December 2019 Reply

I met JackRabbit once at the MCS camping area in early 1980’s. He was quite deaf then and did not always answer the questions accurately, but was always entertaining. Some one asked if he was still a good skier. His answer: “I’m not very good anymore, but 100 years ago, I was good!”.

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