Kaare Engstad. (Lakes District Museum Society/Lakes District News)

The blue-eyed, sandy-faced, shock-haired son of Norway

Kaare [pronounced KO-reh] Engstad was born in the village of Furness, Norway on July 16, 1906. One of eight surviving children of Johannes and Bertha Kristianson, he was forced to leave home at age 12 and lived with his grandmother. In those days, Norwegians had the option of choosing from a variety of surnames; it was decided that Kaare would take the name of the family home, Engstad.

In 1924, at the age of 18, he immigrated to Canada. After working for a time in Camrose, Alberta, he then traveled north to Takla Lake and Manson Creek in search of work. He landed a job in the latter community as a caretaker at two of two placer mines and spent the winter there.

In approximately 1927, he moved to Burns Lake and purchased the land now occupied by the Blue Spruce Trailer Park, and there built the log home, known as ‘Skaal Lodge’, that still stands on the property.

Engstad skied as a youngster in Norway and resumed the sport here. He built a large ski jump, complete with starting scaffold, on the hill above his property, and was instrumental in creating another one on the south shore of Burns Lake just north of the present site of Eagle Creek Road. These facilities soon became a mecca for skiers throughout the region.

Engstad was active in the Omineca Ski Club, serving as the organization’s captain in 1932. He participated in both ski jumping and cross-country skiing, known then as “Nordic combined”, but his best event was the arduous 50-kilometre cross-country race. On at least one occasion, he skied from Grassy Plains to Burns Lake.

In late 1931, Engstad felt he was ready to take his skiing to the next level. With support from the Omineca Ski Club and many residents, he traveled to eastern Canada for events there.

The community of Lucerne, Quebec, hosted the Olympic Winter Games trials in January 1932. Engstad started the 50-kilometer race in the ‘pole position.’ Despite stopping to re-wax his skis, he finished the event in a time of 5:44:17 – more than 16 minutes ahead of runner-up Hubert Douglas of the Ottawa Ski Club. His achievement was widely reported in newspapers across the country; one described him as the “blue-eyed, sandy-faced, shock-haired son of Norway … from Burnt Lake, B.C.”

Engstad’s stellar performance in the Quebec Championships, where he finished first in Nordic Combined, earned him a place on the Canadian Olympic Ski Team and a trip to the III Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.

Engstad competed in the 50-kilometre ski race at the Olympics the following month. His sixteenth place finish in that event remained the best by a Canadian Olympic male skier until Devon Kershaw crossed the 50-kilometre classic finish line in fifth place in 2010.

Despite being stranded in Eastern Canada for some time after the Olympics, residents of Burns Lake eventually raised enough money to buy him a train ticket home, Engstad returned to Burns Lake. He worked at a variety of jobs here, including camp cook, and remained active in the ski club and community affairs.

Kaare married schoolteacher Elizabeth Ida Weber of Victoria while she was posted in Burns Lake in the early 1940s. The couple had two sons, Phil and Pete. In 1957, the family relocated to Nelson, BC, where Kaare continued to be involved in skiing. He helped build and fund a ski jump in Nelson and oversaw the construction of the Whitewater Ski Resort’s lodge.

He died in 1981.

(c) 2021 Michael Riis-Christianson and the Lakes District Museum Society