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Gord Michener died recently at age 76

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

Gord Michener

Gord Michener

A naturalist. An astronomer. A pilot. A lawyer. A father and husband. Gord Michener was a modern-day Renaissance man who left his mark among many in Orillia.

The long-time Orillia lawyer, who was appointed to the Queen’s Counsel in 1984 before joining the Yukon justice department and moving to Whitehorse in 1986, died recently at his home, surrounded by his family. He was 76.

His wife, Sandra, remembered him as an unique man.

“He was just so curious about everything,” she said. “(He had) multiple interests and liked to share his knowledge.”

The two were married 52 years and moved to Orillia in 1970, two years after he graduated from law school at the University of Toronto. Law was his profession, but his interests spread far beyond the courtrooms of the country. He was known to dabble in botany, astronomy, physics, aviation and the bagpipes.

“He started to learn to play the bagpipes in ’68,” Sandra said. “We lived in a big, old house and we had a big dog. The dog, when he heard the bagpipes, he’d come running, sit down beside Gordon, put his head up and howl. Around the house ... you’d hear the girls slamming their doors because it was so loud.”

He was also a tireless volunteer, serving on the boards for Orillia Naturalists’ Club, the Orillia Museum of Art and History and Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital.

The Couchiching Conservancy also benefited from his selflessness, as Michener volunteered with the organization for a number of years before serving on its board of directors beginning in 2013. Mark Bisset, executive director, remembered Michener as someone who was dedicated to nature preservation and conservation.

“He was really thirsty for knowledge, particularly about the natural world,” Bisset said. “He has been a long-time supporter of the organization and a volunteer. He’ll be sadly missed by us.”

Bisset called Michener a “life-long learner” who was keen to share what he knew with those around him.

“He was always trying to improve his skills and improve his knowledge,” Bisset said. “He was really willing to share that with other people.”

That was the experience Dick Johnston had with his friend. Johnston joked he could qualify for a degree just from what he learned from Michener. Michener was always “willing to share his knowledge and enthusiasm, even with the great unwashed like myself,” Johnston quipped.

Once, Johnston recalled, the guest speaker of an Orillia Historical Society meeting had to cancel at the last minute. Johnston, as chair of the meeting, called on Michener to speak on any topic that came to mind. Michener didn’t disappoint, giving an impromptu but detailed talk about the history of First Nations treaties.

“We always learned something from Gord,” Johnston said. “I visited him right up until his last weeks and always came away with a new story and learned something about plants, flowers – you name it.”

Johnston recalled Michener’s dedication to astronomy in particular. Johnston considers himself very amateur when it comes to astronomy, but not Michener. He had a passion for the stars, and would share it with whomever chose to take part.

Recently, that was during the transit of Venus, educating Johnston and other friends on the movement of the planet and its visibility in the night sky. But it was perhaps best exemplified in the 1970s. Johnston shared a story of a solar eclipse happening that was hampered by an overcast sky. The legend goes Michener chartered a plane with some friends and flew above the clouds to see the majestic sight.

But Michener subscribed to the theory of not letting the truth get in the way a good story.

“In 1972, just after our third daughter was born, the day she came home from the hospital, he took the flying club plane – he had ownership in it – and he flew somewhere on the border of Quebec and (the Maritimes),” Sandra recalled. “He flew to see it, even against all my objections, and it was clouded. It was just rewards for him going to see that eclipse.”

Michener was born in Copper Cliff in 1940 to Charlie and Audrey Michener. He was the nephew of Roland Michener – a former governor general of Canada and the first person named to the Order of Canada when it was created in 1967.

He is survived by his wife, four children Christine (Kingsley), Dee, Anna (Glen) and Jane and eight grandchildren. 

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