ForeverMissed

We remember Gordon as in the photo above: in a canoe (his favourite place), with a twinkle in his eye (as always), leaning toward another person (his habitual attitude). He shared his love for creation and the Creator, his impish sense of humour (and the deep joy from which that humour sprang) and his unending concern for and interest in other people with us in his family. But he also shared those same gifts with thousands of others at Manitoba Pioneer Camp, in student ministries on the prairies, and in Christian communities in Manitoba and BC. He didn't just tell people that God believed in them; he believed in them, too. What a blessing he has been to all of us his whole life.

Memorial Service:  Gordon's Memorial Service will be held at 12 noon on Saturday, January 26th at Killarney Park Mennonite Brethren Church at 48th Ave & Kerr in Vancouver.

Donations: In lieu of flowers, we invite you to contribute to Manitoba Pioneer Camp in Gordon's memory.

Contributing Photos:  We invite you to contribute photos of Gordon via this Dropbox link and/or through the 'Stories' page on this site.


Posted by Sharon Brubacher on January 16, 2020
Thinking of you both, Donna and Gordon, on this (hard to believe it's been a year already) anniversary. Sending love...Sharon and Ray
Posted by Donna Stewart on January 15, 2020
I am still hearing from people whom Gord blessed in ways I didn't know about." Joy is like the rain."
Posted by Donna Stewart on June 14, 2019
Today Gord would have been 91, or is 91, but not in this world.I hope he's canoeing in some other realm, because that's how he'd celebrated a dozen birthdays including his 82nd, thanks to good friends Don and Duncan Irvine. Blessings upon them.
Posted by Mason McKenzie on March 27, 2019
I spent many years as a camper and then a JC. Scotty is great. He made my camp experience unforgettable.
Posted by Dietrich Desmarais on February 9, 2019
The wisdom insights and playful curiosity you’ve impacted me with have set the course for an amazing life Gordon!
You’re commitment to truth and courageous leadership has provided me with a framework to connect and empower others! 
The memories of deep discussions around Apologetics, Spiritual Direction, Philosophy, and Little Rabbit  FU FU have provided me with a delightful balance to embrace life confidently and yet with delicate wisdom.
Our deepest condolences to you Donna and the family... with sincere love and heartfelt prayers... Dietrich and Edith
Posted by Elecia Hart on January 30, 2019
Dear Donna and family
Thinking of you as you experience this most significant of life's losses.
My hope is that the amazing legacy of memories of a life well lived in the hearts of the many people who had the blessing of knowing him will be of comfort in the days and months ahead.   warmest regards Elecia Hart
Posted by John Dyck on January 26, 2019
One of earliest and most profound memories of Gordon took place at Pioneer Camp in the 60s when Gordon spoke some words of wisdom to me as a new camper. Not having qualified in swimming to go on the canoe trip I had come to camp for, I was sitting despondently on the dock watching my cabin mates head out in the canoes. I was frustrated and bitter that I couldn't go. Gordon came down onto the dock and sat beside me for a few minutes in silence and then offered these words: "In life you can't always get what you desire but you should make the most of your opportunities." With that he put an arm around my shoulders and encouraged me to get up and see what other things I could do at camp. It turned out to be a very good camp experience and I never forgot Gordon's advice.
Posted by Marianne Pengelly on January 25, 2019
Gordon
Valiant Stewart--
friend and mentor,
thoughtful, kind,
great wise heart--
has now departed.
Listen—
for the last dip of the paddle
the pull through the foam
for his laughter--
in the wind moan,
in the rustle of leaves
the rush of water on stone
Ever with us,
though he’s gone home.
Posted by Amy Campbell on January 25, 2019
Gordon and Donna were very gracious and hospitable to my mother and me during my teen years. As my mom struggled to find herself as a single parent, the Stewart family always found a spare bed for me on Eastgate or MacKinnon whenever mom needed to be out of town or even in hospital. I got to experience living with a big family in a household filled with faith and music (and chores). Mom’s first trip away in 1970 led to the first of my six fabulous summers at Pioneer. Gordon and Donna also led our junior high Sunday school class at First Pres. I know I am a better person for having had the opportunity to be so closely connected with Gordon, Donna and the whole family during my formative years. With prayers and thanksgiving for a life well lived as Gordon paddles on the river of the water of Life.
Posted by John LAKES on January 25, 2019
Donna
I always think of you and Gordon as team, always trying to make the world better, The world is a better place because of Gordon and yourself. My thoughts are with you and your family.
Posted by Sharon Brubacher on January 25, 2019
I think of Gordon as a patriarch not only to his family but also to the tribe I knew as Capilano Christian Community during his time there and beyond. This, though, doesn't capture his sense of humour and friendship and ability to laugh and just 'be'. It was my pleasure to work with Gordon for awhile and enjoy his steadfast, encouraging, unique Gordon-ness. I know it was time for you to go but you will be missed here and your legacy lives on in all of us in various ways.
Posted by Donna Stewart on January 25, 2019
These are words written to me (Donna) from some of the home-care nurses who looked after Gordon: "Gordon's twinkle in his eye, sense of humour and your devotion to keeping him at home, I will remember." "I am sad to hear Gordon passed away. I enjoyed visiting you both at your home. You are in my thoughts and prayers. I will always remember his beautiful smile." "Thinking of you and your family at this sad time. Remembering Gordon as he was such a great and kind man." "I will miss him." "It was an honor to be in your home and witness your loving care of Gordon."
Posted by Kelvin Dyck on January 25, 2019
I could echo many of the sentiments and words of gratitude shared in these tributes to Gordon's life and influence. I would add one additional gift that Gordon shared with me and that was never to despise the Christian heritage that I carried with me to IVF. There were times that I shared with Gordon my frustration and impatience with my church regarding theological and/or lifestyle issues. He urged me not to despise my youth or my upbringing. He encouraged me to honour my upbringing by following my convictions even when they differed from how I was taught and gently show how these convictions too could honour God. Like Gordon, I came to the pastorate later in life. And as I served my congregation, I thought of Gordon many times. Gordon's gentle and persistent example as a pastor was a wonderful legacy he left to me. Thank you, Gordon!
Posted by Karen Sunabacka on January 23, 2019
My memories of Gordon are mostly from visits to the west coast with my family. These were always wonderful times full of stories and laughter and watching my parents reminisce with Gordon and Donna. My dad, Leonard Carlson, continues to talk about Gordon as a mentor. Even through my dad's dementia he keeps returning to how much he respected Gordon and wanted to be like him. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.
Posted by Donna Stewart on January 23, 2019
from Calvin Desmarais

My memory of Gordon is always Gordon and Donna. Not they were always together in the same place but I knew somehow they were together with each other in each of their spaces. There was room for each other in each others space and it was welcomed. This allowed them, in turn to welcome others. And, I was welcomed. For this I am eternally grateful.

Gordon was many things to many people. He had a way that included, welcomed and challenged people. In my eyes and heart, I knew and saw he could be trusted. This was both freeing and terrifying. For all his gentleness of spirit and openness of heart, I also knew he was serious about what was important.

I saw for Gordon that people were important and God was important, and faith was important. From Gordon I learned about faith and being deliberate and thoughtful about it and to take it seriously for it was indeed a serious thing because it informed how one was to think, act and be.

We all know that this seriousness did not preclude humor, fun and enjoyment. I have many memories of Gordon enjoying himself with others and taking pleasure in good natured laughter. The camp songs, the stories and the experiences of life he shared were welcomed and anticipated each summer at camp.

I consider myself fortunate to have worked under Gordon at Manitoba Pioneer Camp and InterVarsity and to know him as a friend and to have shared time with his family. Gordon, and his family, are an integral part of the story of my life. For this I will be grateful throughout eternity.

Through a heart that loved God, Gordon loved and reached out to people throughout his life. It was a heart touched and redeemed by God. Heaven rejoices to have him home.       Calvin Desmarais
Posted by Rick Andruchuk on January 23, 2019
Scotty
Scotty was one of the most influencial people in my life and I dare say, thousands of other lives. I met him as a camper, watching him lead campfires, greeting us each breakfast with "Good Morning Campers," admiring and then later on in my life, working at camp, trying to emulate his character.
Scotty was the first person I told when I recieved news that I had been accepted into my future career. And what did he say to me? Rick, you'll do a fine job! I am certain that those who knew him as they grew up will have a similar story. He was truly a mentor!
Scotty was a "Holy" man. Yes, he must have had doubts when he said that he would be glad to have me work at MPC as a teen but he welcomed me, with faith that everything would work out fine and it did. His belief in God and in people was contagious. My life has been blessed by his influence and confidence in me. Of this, I'm certain!
Rick "Andy" Andruchuk
Posted by Norm Fuhr on January 22, 2019
Gord, in the 1960's, gave me a deep love for scripture and a desire to go deeper into my faith with God by reading thought- provoking books.
Posted by Joe Moder on January 22, 2019
While our times with IVCF and Manitoba Pioneer did not really overlap it was wonderful to follow in Gordon’s footsteps in the Mid-West. Impossible shoes to fill, but Gordon in his life-sharing style, wisdom, and stature laid a foundation of ministry and staff that would continue to shape the lives of students, campers, and the Fellowship as a whole, for the Kingdom for decades. It was a privilege to help build on many good things he had begun and work with many fine people he mentored. He was never more than a phone call away. I fondly remember the times when we were on the Pioneer III together – initially him mentoring me and later when I was “along-for-the-ride” with Gordon leading the Stewart clan on Shoal Lake Reunion cruises. Blessings on you all.
Posted by Pete Dearborn on January 22, 2019
As a current Exe Dir of Manitoba Pioneer Camp, I am very aware of the sheer number of lives Gordon and Donna impacted in significant ways. I know this through the number of alumni who stay connected to camp essentially because of Gordon's influence in their lives. I see this new every year! What a profound legacy MPC has because of him. Camp still benefits by the unique community dynamic, characteristics, and values that were established by Gordon and Donna. We will remember him for his warm, gregarious personality, high energy and work ethic, mutual respect and concern, and his ability to inspire a love for God and others. My current role is shaped by the privilege of building on the foundation set by Gordon and all who have gone before me. Under God's enabling we will remain strong and honest to the solid biblical values and community dynamics established by him. Be convinced and assured, Gordon's presence and impact does and will, live on here, on the beautiful shores of Shoal Lake at Manitoba Pioneer Camp. We are eternally grateful.
Posted by Clare Hawkins on January 21, 2019
I treasure fond memories of Gordon from my early youth where he visited my family in Thunder Bay as IVCF Divisional Director to my time in the late 70s at MPC, where he helped me grow in Christ and fostered my love of canoeing. My best memories are two summers on the Berens River, learning about God, nature and leadership. You are missed
Posted by Kate Ramsay on January 20, 2019
Gordon...leader, mentor, role model and friend...a life lived so deeply, generously and faithfully, touching so many lives with his kindness, joy, wisdom, humour, care for creation and certainty of the Creator's care for each of us. His example was an anchor for so many of us when we hit rough water, and a sail when we could see some destination. I don’t suppose he ever knew how many. I suppose that’s how it is with mentors, and role models. “What would Gordon do?” When I had to examine a decision, check the delineation of the moral compass, I’d always want to feel accountable to Gordon, a father who was not my father, but filled some gaps for me and so many others. And his way of being was a template of what it is to be accountable to “Our Father”, though there was never anything negatively patriarchal in his faith or his example. 
Thank you Gordon, and all your family who shared you with the rest of us. Yes, you will be forever missed, but always present. You will always send the boat to pick us up.
Posted by Elspeth MacEwan on January 20, 2019
Sending love to all the Stewarts at this time - May you be surrounded by the depth and breadth of Gordon’s love to so many people.
I have so many memories of MPC (where Gordon was the general director throughout my time there as a youth). My favourite one is his telling of the tale of that most precocious and courageous bunny, “Little Rabbit Foo Foo” who dared to live his life to the fullest despite threats from one Powerful Fairy... No need to reiterate the gory details.
No question Gordon’s spirit will always be with us - truly a spiritual father for so many people. Holding all of you in my heart.
Posted by Catherine Stewart on January 20, 2019
From Bill Aide, (posted by Cathy)
I knew Gordon best during our time in Winnipeg, '65 to '74. His leadership was not always accepted by more rigid evangelicals, and I remember stupidly urging him to quit.
But Gordon corrected me; he knew his calling, kept his balance and prevailed. His intellectual influence on young people like David and Peter Widdicombe was inestimable. A devoted Christian man in every respect, and a real mensch.
Posted by Catherine Stewart on January 20, 2019
A messsage to Cathy, from Rae Struthers (Cambridge Ontario)
I see from Facebook that your father Gordon died this week.
Sad, as well as the crown on a life well-lived. so far as I can tell.
I remember the best of Gordon from years ago ,,, a storyteller par excellence and a delightful person to meet and be with around camp (OPC) as I met him in the 70s. He seemed to me to be one of Wilber Sutherland's right hand persons.
I have met many people who recall him fondly. Blessings and love, Rae
Posted by Catherine Stewart on January 19, 2019
(a note from George and Jan Robertson, written to Gordon's daughter Cathy)
Jan and I remember your Dad from Regent College. We were classmates in the term of 1974. We had a history of involvement with IVCF/ISCF and Pioneer Camps. 
I remember with gratitude to God as an encourager, someone who was willing to engage in good theological conversation.
I will be remembering you in prayer. I'm reminded of the song by CityAlight - All my ways are known to you - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44mVzqGeS-Q.
It fits as I remember your father and as I pray for you.
Posted by Jacob Penner on January 18, 2019
Thank you Gordon for being such a caring pastor and friend over the years. We have been richly blessed by your friendship and that of your dear family. Our loss is Heaven's gain; what rejoicing there must be! Our love and prayers are with Donna and each one of your family. God bless you all. Jake and Anne
Posted by Michael Zywina on January 18, 2019
Having just received this news of Gordon “Scotty” death brings back so many memories as a young camper at MPC and as an adult. The man who I consider as my Spiritual Father who first introduced and led me to Christ almost 50 yers ago. His ability to make God interesting and understandAble
I remember the joy of camping and love for nature in his eyes. And truly appreciate as a now older the times we spent together.
I also appreciate Donna and the wonderful person that she is, and the family that I grew up with in many ways.
May The Lord’s work continue to Bless all who knew you and continue to be testimonies in the future.
Posted by Paddy Ducklow on January 18, 2019
I had the privilege of following Gordon as a pastor at CapChurch. Not always an easy privilege however. Some would comment on how Gordon preached, or told stories, or visited, and always to my negative comparison. Smile. His history at our shared church made me think more broadly. I would seldom lead communion in a senior’s home without thinking of him. I would remember Christmas Eve services when he would tell his fanciful children stories that deeply settled with adults as well. I also remember the piles of non-pastoral-type magazines (you couldn’t call them “literature”) in the back seat of his car as we left an inter-church prayer meeting. (Some of you will remember his advocacy for women.) So, I admire him, for what he did and for the progeny who carry his character today.
Posted by Bryan Hill on January 18, 2019
I shared this with Gordon on his 90th birthday. It summarizes as well as I can what his life (and Donna's) have meant to me.
"Hi Gord,
A little bird by the name of Joy reminded me that tomorrow is your birthday - 90th!! Congratulations.
God has blessed you in so many ways. And I speak as one who has known the blessings you have provided others.
Your leadership, guidance, friendship, and teaching have been a blessing to me in my life.
Perhaps most of all is your example of living faithfully for God that has continued to impact my living (hopefully) faithfully for God.
You have not just lived 90 years - you have journeyed with God and been a blessing to many.
Thank you that for a few years I had the privilege of knowing you and journeying with you.
With deep appreciation, love and celebration.
Bryan
P.S. Donna, I know your relationship/partnership with Gord has been equally faithful. Thank you.
Posted by Karen Mason on January 18, 2019
Gordon ("Scotty") was such a rock for me as a camper and counsellor at MPC. Camp was where my faith became real as I saw God answering prayer in the "here and now". Thank you, Gordon and Donna, for demonstrating love in action in all that you did and said. My parents so enjoyed their visits with you when you lived in Winkler.
My mom died soon after Elizabeth Elliot in 2015 and I enjoyed imagining them in the Newcomers Orientation Group in heaven. I'm enjoying thinking about Gordon and Mary Oliver in their Newcomers Orientation Group. I'm also enjoying thinking of Gordon paddling on the River of Life. I'm sure that Bill Mason has organized a fleet of canoes by now! :)
Thank you for always sharing your laughter, love and deep wisdom.
Posted by Paul Sharpe on January 17, 2019
I knew Gordon as "Scottie" from about 1962 through 1972, while I was a camper, CIT, JC and part of maintenance & boat crew. He was the best leader, boss, minister, manager, mentor, entertainer, navigator and boat captain that I ever experienced. Thank you for sharing memories of him.
Posted by Paul Borthistle on January 16, 2019
For all of my adult life Gordon has been a mentor. I first met him when I was a young staffer at MPC in 1968. His character, humour, grace and life of faith was a shining example of what a human is meant to be, fully alive in the image of God. Rest In Peace brother and rise in glory.
Gordon and Donna individually and together were the finest, real team, I have ever known.
Posted by Rob Parkinson on January 16, 2019
Gord was, is and will always be the most important person in my life. 
Words cannot begin to express what he means to me, but I will try. Gord enabled me to grow. He made me feel valued. He allowed me to fail. He taught me forgiveness. He led me to explore new avenues for pursuing dreams. He refused to let me be a loner. He enriched the lives of all whom he touched. He cared.
He exemplified God's love.
Thank you, Gord.
Posted by Kathy Suffel on January 16, 2019
So sorry to hear of Gord's passing. Loved reading your words Donna and looking through all the photos. I was honoured to have known him. I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that Gordon had an inner light that won't ever be extinguished. I will remember him fondly for his interest and kindness. And, of course, his robust "Amen's"! Thinking of you and your family with love and a wish for sweet healing in the coming days.
Posted by Anne Kaario on January 16, 2019
As a member of St Andrews where Gord (and Donna) are so loved and have been for quite a few years, I am sad to see his bodily life has gone - especially for Donna's sake who we know was so much a part of him. But he truly does leave behind a beautiful legacy in this world. Donna, you wrote about his life so eloquently on this site; I cannot even begin to disagree with anything you said. I knew him best once his best physical years were over, but he truly was a saint, always giving with his encouragement and wit and wisdom and faith. You're right, Donna, as one of the choir members we loved the way he shouted out AMEN in his strong and lusty voice after an anthem. Not sure if you'd characterize them as "brash" which has a bit of a negative connotation: Gordon could never be seen negatively - he was loved by all for very good reasons. The choir loved to sing to him over the phone on occasion once he was pretty much home bound, just to try to return a wee bit of the goodness he had given over the years to us and everyone else too. I am so glad to have known him even a little with his beautiful energy, kind and always-twinkling eyes , loving ways and intelligence. A spirit like his leaves the world a much better place, enriching everyone who has been part of his life. Much love to you, Donna, and all his family as you celebrate his life and mourn his passing from this earthly life.
Posted by Andrew Stewart on January 16, 2019
Dear Uncle Gordon,
From my first recollections of you as a little boy, through to my last time with you a few months ago, you were in the best sense, always the same. You always engaged, took seriously, told the truth winsomely, left room for uncertainty, maintained a great sense of humour, and loved. Thank you.  I will miss you very much. I enjoy thinking of you together now with my Dad and other loved ones, in that great light.

Leave a Tribute

 
Recent Tributes
Posted by Sharon Brubacher on January 16, 2020
Thinking of you both, Donna and Gordon, on this (hard to believe it's been a year already) anniversary. Sending love...Sharon and Ray
Posted by Donna Stewart on January 15, 2020
I am still hearing from people whom Gord blessed in ways I didn't know about." Joy is like the rain."
Posted by Donna Stewart on June 14, 2019
Today Gord would have been 91, or is 91, but not in this world.I hope he's canoeing in some other realm, because that's how he'd celebrated a dozen birthdays including his 82nd, thanks to good friends Don and Duncan Irvine. Blessings upon them.
his Life

This Good Man - by Donna Stewart

“The life of a good man who has died belongs to the people who cared about him, and maybe itself is as much comfort as ought to be asked or offered.” Wendell Berry in A Place on Earth, “A Knack for the Here”

I met Gord at breakfast at an Ontario government camp for training 16 year olds to be counsellors at non-profit camps. My first day there, before the campers arrived, at the staff breakfast, my attention was arrested by witty comments from from the other end of the table. I was a brand new Christian and I didn’t yet know that Gord’s sense of humour was what allowed him to get away with being a committed Christian in a secular sports context…without being shunned, that is. But I quickly learned that he commanded the respect of everyone from campers to the locals who worked on maintenance. I noticed that the campers called him “Scotty” behind his back, but “Sir” to his face, a neat combination of affection and respect. And when the bureaucrats from Queen’s Park were assessing staff for the delicate task of shepherding the girls’ staff canoe trip, all agreed that Stewart was the most trustworthy.

if you are going to live together for over sixty years and raise five children together, a camp is a great place to meet. I saw that he was cheerful first thing in the morning, and controlled even at the end of that women’s canoe trip when he had to do ALL the portaging. But it was almost the end of the summer before we got our other relationships sorted out and then I had to leave for my first teaching job 1500 hundred miles away! That’s when I found out that he was a great letter writer, because, except for school breaks, that was how we got to know each other.

The next summer we became engaged and the summer after that we married. By the third summer our lives changed completely because we had Ruth and Gord was already passing on his love of music. I found him holding her in front of the record player, sometime in the first six weeks of her life, saying “Now Ruth, this is GOOD music”. I know it was the Messiah they were listening to, because those were the only records we had. But people from St. Andrews will remember his brash AMENS at the end of an uplifting anthem. He lost some Inhibitions as he aged. And after he was bedridden, music was a great consolation.

Gord had been trained by his family in his evangelical Presbyterian context to be a leader. to help his father in the Sunday School, to lead a Scout troop, to head up an Inter School Christian Fellowship club in his high school and Vacation Bible School in summer. It always makes me laugh that his one experience of camp, at Pioneer Ontario when he was 15, the first week he was a camper and the second week he was the assistant leader of a canoe trip. But somehow in all of that, he learned how to fit in socially while not being mainstream in his faith. Sports had a lot to do with it: wrestling, water polo, track, places where size wasn’t prime, but I think there was something more…an interest in people, a willingness to accept and respect people the way they were. I think he may have been the least judgmental person I have ever met. I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that he lived the faith he’d committed to before he was ten. Other people could write books challenging the historicity of Jesus. Gordon KNEW him.

So in our home we were partners. Gord took the little ones to the library while I shopped…or he did the shopping for me, when it was very rare for a man to be do that. He helped with the laundry in our first primitive setup in the country outside Orillia, Ontario. And when automatic washers were still only for the rich, but we had two children under two, he invested, without my knowledge, in an automatic washer.

I always felt listened to, paid attention to, and probably the kids did too. When John didn’t fall easily into faith, Gord did not push him into roles he wasn’t ready for. He found ways for John to serve at camp that didn’t violate his convictions. I honoured him for that.

And when I was in a Bible study with minister’s wives, I found out how blessed I was. The other wives were required to conform to certain norms of dress or entertaining or housekeeping and childraising. I didn’t feel that pressure. I could be myself.

I could keep you for a long time singing Gordon’s praises, because I think I’m being realistic when I call him a saint, or at the very least a true disciple, but the “kids” who are all in their fifties and sixties now, can add their own testimony and I will move on to wider spheres.

I always claimed that Gordon married me under false pretenses, because he promised me that he’d never become a preacher, but I forgave him. Why wouldn’t I? He grew in that responsibility. He didn’t grow in his use of audiovisuals, and he always lamented his inability to remember stories, including some very remarkable experiences he had in his ministry, but I got to sit for over fifteen years under a minister who truly honoured the Word, and never once said anything from the pulpit that wasn’t true in his own life. And I would know, wouldn’t I?

Gordon was, I think, the most forgiving person I have ever met. He didn’t make a big deal of it. He simply forgot the offense, as if it had nothing to do with that person’s reality …or his. Once he was seriously maligned to the Board of InterVarsity by a former staff member, but when he was asked years later to talk it over with that person, who apparently still harboured a grudge, he said he couldn’t. “I don’t remember enough about it,” he said. It is a marvellous thing to live with a man who keeps such a clean slate. And he did that right to the end.

Even as his three terminal diseases were changing him, and I couldn’t accept it and got really cranky, he didn’t hold it against me. As recently as this August he was reluctant to let go, because I would find it hard to lose him.

He was right, of course, but I think we all give thanks for having known him, and we’re all glad that his struggle is over and he is at rest.

Recent stories

This day is called the feast of Gordon!

Shared by Don Irvine on March 7, 2019

I remember the year Gordon was scheduled to turn 70: Sometime in May I got a call from my brother Duncan. “We have to take Gord Canoeing” he said. “We’re all of us starting to get a little old.”

And for the next dozen years or so, various combinations of us hangers-on went out on canoe trips with him—every June, mostly. This meant that for quite a while, Gord celebrated his birthday on the road with us, rather than in the bosom of his family—which proved remarkably tolerant of our incursions. We generally marked the day by sticking a few candles into a bannock and singing “happy birthday”; but one year—was it Gord’s 80th?—I thought something more grandiose might be in order. Something to let him know what this annual trip really meant to us, but without being so blubbering as to embarrass him. 

So, on June the 14th a few years back, tongue-in-cheek, I pillaged Shakespeare’s most rousing speech—over a bannock and a campfire....

"This day is called the feast of Gordon! He that canoes this day and comes safe home, will stand a’tiptoe when this day is named; and rouse him at the name of Stewart! 

"He that shall see this day and live old age will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors, and say 'tomorrow is the feast of Gordon!' And he will strip his sleeves and show his scars, and say 'there was I injured on Little Devil Portage!'
"Old men forget, and all shall be forgot, but he’ll remember with advantages what feats he did that day! Then shall our names, familiar in his mouth as household words: Duncan the Solicitor, Donald and Daniel, Ooto and Cassel, Johnson and Whatmough, be in their flowing cups fully remembered!
"This story shall the good man teach his son; and no canoe trip shall ‘er go by, from this day till the Monsantoing of the wilderness, but we in it shall be remembered.... we few, we happy few, we band of brothers: for he today that is mosquito-bit with me shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition.
"And gentlemen in Duncan and Billings, now a’ bed, Shall think themselves accursed they were not here; and hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks that camped with us upon fair Gordon’s day!"
Thank you Gordon—for everything.

(And thank you Alicia for giving this a rousing reading!)

A Eulogy from Elizabeth Hodgson (Gordon's Daughter) on Behalf of Gordon's Children

Shared by Elizabeth Hodgson on February 5, 2019

This is a compilation of memories and insights from all of us five children and our spouses.

We shared our father with many of you, but he was still also our dad.   To us when we were younger, Dad seemed heroic: a multi-talented public figure who could hold 80 boys spellbound with a story; who could carry on whistling dialogues with chickadees and was a beautiful tenor; who could toss a canoe up on his shoulders, pilot a boat through islands in the dark and build a fire in the pouring rain.   He was handsome, and strong, and kind, and funny, and articulate, and wise, and we treasured the occasions when we got him to ourselves.

As he grew older, and as we grew up, though, Dad was able to put aside that Superman cape and become human with us—making peace when we needed it, letting us see his fears and uncertainties, welcoming our advice, accepting our accidental slips, sympathizing with our failures and losses.  He wept when recalling a young man he knew who’d gotten addicted to glue; he wept hearing his granddaughter Miriam give her first professional cello solo.  And this growing openness, too, was a wonderful gift.

What was he like to live with?  

He was, first of all, joyful.  Well, maybe “goof-ball” is a better term: he sometimes pretended to store clerks that he could only speak German, provoking an elaborate point-and-nod charade (“Nein, nein, das ist nicht..”).  He would answer our home phone on occasion with “Schlitsky’s Meat Market!” or (more dauntingly to our friends, “Speak!”).  He became famous at camp  for his stories of Peter Rabbit and “The Horse”; he also once led us at the dinner-table in the chicken song in the presence of Samuel Escobar, his boss’s boss’s boss.  And he sure loved a good pun (“just for the halibut” got dusted off every time we had fish for dinner).   All of that goofiness came, more deeply, though, from a real delight in the world, its beauties, its blessings.  He and Mom had a daily practice of listing together things they were thankful for, and I think for both of them it was easy: he saw beauty in the woods around Shoal Lake, in music, in a wood fire, but also always—especially always—in other people.  And even more in God, in whose love he trusted and whose grace he felt in his very core.

He was in some ways childlike in his sense of his own value (when he was hungry, he would sometimes wander into the kitchen and say “that roast must be done now.”  If he made the salad, he would comment, “Wow, what a great salad.  I wonder who made it?”  And he was in some ways a man of his generation, letting Mom run an incredibly complex household while he worked long hours and traveled.  He learned a full range of cooking skills only in his fifties.

But not many men in their fifties tackle new culinary frontiers, and that says a lot about Dad: he was also in most ways a man long ahead of his time.  He married a strong, bold woman and we have all seen the ways in which their marriage was a real partnership.  He changed diapers, he folded laundry, he encouraged Mom in her professional accomplishments and political activism (never a more fearsome heckler than Dad when some politician was casually sexist in her presence).  He led his daughters to believe that they could get Classics degrees, thrive in calculus, earn a doctorate, solo-portage a canoe, be president of a national organization.  He admired his son’s creativity and trusted his questions.  He said to his granddaughter recently, “Hey, Kate—are you going to the protests at Standing Rock?”  He made friends with the First Nations communities near Pioneer camp and mentored young indigenous men and women.  When Martin Luther King was assassinated 50 years ago, he said to Cathy sadly, “that is what we do to prophets.”  He supported poverty research and women in ministry.

I don’t think Dad thought of those attitudes as somehow radical; he just believed that the world should be fair and kind because he was fair and kind.  He was fundamentally interested in others, believed in others.. He was a wonderful listener.  He saw the people around him, ALL the people around him, as children of God.  

That is I think why he loved the version of Psalm 23 we’ll be hearing shortly: https://youtu.be/BsQCLrXXuvQ not only because it honours the women in his life, especially Mom, as he would want us to, and not only because it is beautiful music, but also because it pictures a God who is the shepherd for everyone, whose love is unbounded and unboxed, and that was really who Dad was, too.  You all know what a generously caring man he was, and we in his family saw this daily.  One of his last words was a prayer for his granddaughter who had been in hospital.  He held our hands and ruffled our hair and hugged us; he smiled when we arrived and twinkled at us when we left. He loved us, and he loved us without categories or judgement.  That love was, in every sense, divine. And we know that love will never leave us.  We have all we need.

In words excerpted from e.e. cummings’s poem for his father:

joy was his song and joy so pure
a heart of star by him could steer….
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)….

because my Father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all

A Eulogy From Duncan Irvine - One of Gordon's Canoeing Comrades

Shared by Elizabeth Hodgson on February 3, 2019

Some of you may not know me. My name is Duncan Irvine. I met Gordon over fifty years ago as a camper at Manitoba Pioneer Camp when Gordon was the Director there. Eventually I worked for Gordon at camp, helping to lead canoe trips, and subsequently I became a friend. After Gordon and I left camp, we continued to take canoe trips together and in 1998, as Gordon turned 70, we began a series of annual canoe trips that went on until he was 82. Along with my brother Don, an assortment of other friends, and, at one time or another most of Gordon’s children, we set out to paddle the lakes and rivers of Northern Saskatchewan and Northwestern Ontario. 

I’m going to return to these canoe trips in a minute but I want to say a few things about Gordon first. As most of you know, Gordon approached the world with an unbounded sense of joy. He found joy everywhere: in his family; in his relationships with other people, particularly those who were in doubt, or whose spirits were wounded; in telling the tragic story of Peter Rabbit over and over and over again; in singing loudly, everything from religious music to the collected works of Gilbert and Sullivan; and in the search for meaning and understanding that comes with daily travel through life. This joy flowed from his faith in a transcendent loving creator who wanted to share that love with the world. While that love was expressed most obviously in the figure of Jesus, it was also expressed in creation itself. Gord loved the wilderness, and he felt that sharing this love with others was a good way of demonstrating God’s presence. 

This led him to the student ministry and to camping at Manitoba Pioneer Camp where I first encountered him. During Gordon’s tenure as Director, Camp was a special place. Children and young adults learned about God and creation by experiencing them both through the canoe trip. Gordon knew that out canoeing it is possible to hear the divine voice in the silence. Gordon changed the lives of both campers and staff at Pioneer through his patient, thoughtful and caring leadership. 

It was the same love for creation that that led, ultimately, to the canoe trips I spoke about earlier. Gordon showed his companions many things on those trips. First, he showed us the value of humility. Throughout his life Gordon always ended up in positions of leadership because he was a natural leader. Out canoeing, however, he relished the role of the follower, encouraging others to be responsible for the direction of the trip and accepting their decisions without complaint. Gordon was happy to sit in the front of the canoe and leave the job of navigating the canoe to others. Later, in camp, if someone wanted to fish, Gordon was the one who wanted to paddle them around the lake. He took great pleasure in doing the more menial tasks around camp, such as the dishes, and telling us how much he enjoyed it, although one year, after we allowed him to do the dishes by himself for several days, he invited the rest of us to share in his pleasure. 

Gordon’s humility was also reflected in the clothes he chose to wear – homogeneous outfits of either grey or brown purchased off the bargain table at Mark’s Work Warehouse. Sometimes, in this garb, he was indistinguishable from the forest. One year, to liven things up, we gave him a red shirt, also purchased from the bargain table at Mark’s, which had faded into two shades of red and was two sizes too large. He was delighted, and he wore this shirt on every canoe trip after that.

On these trips, Gordon also showed us the deep love he felt for his family. The first day of every canoe trip invariably consisted of a long drive to the starting point. In the car, Gordon would tell us in detail what Donna and the rest of the family were up to, and he would do so in each case with a profound sense of wonder. And this was not the kind of “wonder” in which the speaker is saying he is surprised that things actually turned out well. It was the kind of wonder that implies he could not see how he could have done any of these remarkable things himself. In Gordon’s eyes, each member of his family had unique and amazing gifts, something he took pleasure in expressing to us. 

Gordon also showed us the value of hard work. He liked to paddle hard and to carry his personal pack over every portage. This pack, for some reason, always seemed to be heavier that most of the other bags. We accused him of loading it up with rocks to make it heavier, although he denied doing this. Despite his passion for hard work he would occasionally lament his feelings of fatigue at the end of the day. On one such day, his 80thbirthday, I pointed out to him that it was not surprising he was a little tired as he had done a full day’s paddling, portaged his rock laden pack three times over portages of a mile, three quarters of a mile, and a half a mile in length, and then finished up the day by portaging the canoe 100 yards. After some thought he conceded that maybe he had a right to be tired. 

Finally, he showed us how to laugh, albeit in a terrified way, when you are in a rapid and the water is pouring over the gunwales into your lap. He showed us that the forest is full of birds that can be actually be identified. And he demonstrated that age is not a barrier to doing the things you love even though it may involve prolonged physical activity, although it helps if you recruit a number of younger men and women to assist with some of the heavy lifting.

Of course, it was on the last canoe trip in 2010, when suddenly he lost the use of his legs in the middle of the night, that he showed us all how to behave in the face of adversity. My brother Don and I hauled him out of the bush and took him by car to the hospital in La Ronge Saskatchewan. Later that night he was flown to Saskatoon where doctors found a tumour on his spine which they operated on the next day. After Donna arrived, we were told that despite the surgery he would probably never walk again and that he might even have only a few months to live. 

A year later, however, at his birthday party in June, he was defying the doctors by walking across the condominium party room with the help of a walker. After that he continued to press forward with his rehabilitation, with the result that we were able to enjoy his wit, counsel and friendship for a further eight and a half years. Gordon’s optimism and courage during this time demonstrated that it is possible to treat adversity as the opportunity for a new beginning rather than as an ending. It is this lesson we must apply today as we face a new beginning without him.

I want to finish by speaking about love, for in the end, that is Gordon’s legacy. Nowhere was this better expressed than in his relationship with Donna, his wife and partner for 63 and a half years. But it is also expressed in his love for his family and his friends, and his care for the countless numbers of campers, staff, canoe trip companions, and congregation members whose lives he affected and whose lives he continues to touch. We are lucky that the love he gave us will live on in our hearts and minds, and in this way, Gordon will always be with us.