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Gary Foy: The man at the centre of the Lively Ski Hill

When thinking of the towns that sprung up on the outskirts of Sudbury, it would certainly be fair to acknowledge that there remains a certain community spirit to these outposts.

To suggest that this community spirit comes close to mirroring the environment that existed some fifty or sixty years ago, however, would be nothing short of pure folly.

That was an era when one and all banded together to make things happen, when there was no alternative but to tap into every available cross connection that one might enjoy, a time when civic and business activism so often aligned and functioned as one.

Consider, for a moment, the story of the Lively Ski Hill.

Sure, there was the central cog that was Gary Foy, the now 83 year-old devotee of all things skiing who will soon be recognized for his tremendous efforts when the current Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame Class is finally inducted.

Yet for as much as he was the constant that moved everything forward, many were the helping hands that provided much of the necessary support.

“We had a little group of guys that really wanted to see that hill go,” said Foy, who would spend the better part of the ensuing 35 years involved in one capacity or another at the hill. “The high-school had cleared parts of it and they were using it to ski on, but there wasn’t any kind of a tow.”

The ingenuity of that time was a wonderful thing.

“I went to look at the rope tow at Onaping and I came back home and drew it up and took it to the engineers at the mine,” said Foy. “I was working at Creighton Mines and I knew people there, so I could get help from others to work on the hill. The engineers drew up something official so that we could submit it to the elevators and lift people, because it had to be inspected and approved by them.”

Between Foy and his merry men, there was clearly a resourcefulness that was not to be denied.

“I just drew it up based on what I had seen with rope tows. It was a very basic principle. People at the mines really helped: they bought the rope tows, did all the welding, provided us the poles to put up, gave us our first electric motor. Our first motor was a gasoline motor that the local garage had donated to us.”

Foy knew his way around a ski hill, for very good reason.

“My dad got me a pair of skis when I was eight or nine,” recalled the father of three. “We had a little bit of a hill in our backyard, so we would ski there. I think my first race was when I was attending MacLeod Public School.”

As he enrolled in grade nine at the Sudbury Mining and Technical School, Foy had ascended to club skiing, part of the Ellis Hazen-led Nickel Teens Ski Club. Their early training grounds, still evident if one looks closely enough, during the summer from the road, was at the far east end of Long Lake, a property that eventually became a gravel pit.

Foy progressed to the point of contending for the overall aggregate championship in the national U20 championships in his final year of competitive skiing at the age of 17. “I won the downhill, was 7th in cross-country and 12th in jumping,” he said. “I would have won the slalom, but I missed a gate near the top of the hill.”

“I’m pretty proud of my last year of ski racing - that was exceptional.”

Come the next fall, Foy would sustain a knee injury playing football, one that effectively eliminated his ability to race effectively. It would be some seven years later, shortly after he and his wife (Lori) were married and moved to Lively (1962) that Foy would return to the sport wearing an entirely different hat.

With the Lively Ski Hill now fully operational, the man behind the rope tow was not about to step away.

“That first winter, I set up a race course,” said Foy. “Once those kids got racing and winning prizes, well, that’s all that it takes to get them interested in it. The following year, it became a little more serious. Around 1965, we started to ski in the Northern Ontario ski division, racing all over the north.”

Though he fancies himself more as a builder in the sport of alpine ski, the truth is that Gary Foy has covered the gamut. “Well, I suppose I was the club head coach - but honestly, if you name it at the ski hill, I was it,” he said. “I never received a cent for teaching and coaching kids during my 35 years there.”

“When I taught adults, I would charge a small fee for that.”

Actually, financial economies helped to spur the early growth of the hill.

“As soon as we got the hill going, the number of people that showed up was incredible,” said Foy. “Of course, we only charged $20 for a family membership - so there were tons of kids.”

Though the Lively race team would eventually reach the heights of landing athletes on national developmental teams and the like, Foy fully understood the limitations of his surroundings. “All of the runs that we competed on were longer than our little hill in Lively,” he suggested. “The kids would find themselves getting tired by the end of their runs in the longer races.”

As many of that generation will recall, travel to races and tournaments and such frequently involved a handful of kids hopping in with the coach. “I would take the older team by myself,” said Foy. “I always had a station wagon - bought it for that purpose, so that I could carry everything in it, with roof racks and ski bags.”

And though Gary Foy would expand the scope of his community involvement in Lively to include playing a primary role in the design of what is now the Tom Davies Community Centre/Arena, his heart was always at the ski hill.

“My greatest sense of satisfaction was standing at the bottom of the ski hill in Lively, watching that first person going up the rope tow - officially,” he said. “We had Creighton Mines management there, and there were big smiles, all around, knowing that they had played a big part in that.”

None bigger, however, than Gary Foy - the man at the center of it all.

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