BY MIKE BOONE, THE GAZETTESEPTEMBER 29, 2010
When he leads west-end students participating in Walk to School Day next week, maybe Ted Fairhurst will slow down to give the kids a break.
Fairhurst is 63 and grew up on Westmore Ave. near Somerled Ave. in Notre Dame de Grace. Twice a day, he walked a kilometre to and from Elizabeth Ballantyne elementary school in Montreal West.
It was the 1950s. Children walked to school in the morning, came home for lunch, walked back to school, and walked home.
I don’t have 2010 statistics at hand, but it’s a safe bet very few elementary students walk four kilometres a day. And it’s a safer bet few sexagenarians have climbed Mount Everest.
Fairhurst reached the top of the world’s highest mountain on May 23. It was his birthday, and he celebrated by brandishing a Frisbee on which he had written “Distinct Tibet/ United China.”
“I was going to launch the Frisbee off the top of Everest,” Fairhurst told me yesterday. “But the video function on my camera didn’t work. There was no point doing it just for fun.”
A friend of Fairhurst, Steve Aker, knows Mike Cohen, who is in charge of PR for the English Montreal School Board. When Cohen heard about Fairhurst’s Everest exploit, he approached him to be honorary chairman of International Walk to School Day.
Next Wednesday morning, Fairhurst will walk with students and parents from Elizabeth Ballantyne, Royal Vale, St. Monica’s, Willingdon and Lower Canada College. The event, he says, is “all about what I stand for.”
“Get out and be active,” he elaborated. “That’s seen as a problem these days with kids, and it’s scary.”
Fairhurst has been actively getting out and about all his life. As a guide at Expo 67, he met tourists from all over, which piqued his interest in seeing more of the world.
“I probably had the travel bug already,” Fairhurst said, “but that gave it to me in a big way.”
In the summer of 1969, Fairhurst drove an old beater out to Banff and worked there for the summer before moving on to Vancouver, where he planned to sign on as a seaman for a trip to Asia. He couldn’t do so without union papers, so Fairhurst hitchhiked back east to Halifax and caught a cheap flight to Scotland.
“I was hitching around England and met an American guy with a Volkswagen camper,” Fairhurst recalled. “He said, ‘I’m going to Afghanistan. Want to come?’ So off we went.
“A Canadian kid who had never travelled in his life not only crossed Europe but also Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, back when it was peaceful and you could go there.”
His journey continued into Pakistan, India and Nepal. With “zero experience camping or mountaineering,” Fairhurst spent 32 days hiking to the Mount Everest base camp. He had no tent, slept in a summer-weight sleeping bag and lived on rice.
Through the 1970s, Fairhurst worked as an artist, specializing in abstract acrylics on canvas. He spent a lot of time in Europe, where he bought and ran a tour bus.
While his CV may conjure up visions of a pony-tailed eternal hippie, Fairhurst is a button-down businessman who has been buying, renovating and selling Montreal buildings since the early 1980s.
“You could call me a developer,” he said, “but that’s a bit grandiose for what I do.”
As an entrepreneur, Fairhurst is able to carve out time for his mountaineering projects. Everest was the fourth of seven peaks he plans to scale.
Fairhurst has been a serious climber since 1999. At an age when his contemporaries were playing golf, he was scaling peaks in the Andes and has been mountaineering ever since, with breaks to have old skiing injuries repaired in both knees.
Fairhurst, who has weighed an unvarying 130 pounds for as long as he can remember, is also a serious mountain biker. He trains with a group of 20-and 30-somethings.
“They sometimes call me Pops,” Fairhurst said, “but I can do all the things they can do. And they respect me for it.”
Posted with the express permission of: “Montreal Gazette”, a division of Postmedia Network Inc.