Harry and Mary Underhill

Written by Canmore Museum

Harry Underhill was born in Calgary in January, 1933, and lived there until 1957 when he moved to Banff while working for Dickie Electric of Calgary. In 1961, he joined the Banff School of Fine Arts, now the Banff Centre, as journeyman electrician, working his way up to manager of buildings and grounds before moving to Canmore in 1976. He was at that time a member of the K40 club, past president of Kinsmen, and had been on the fire brigade for fifteen years, leaving it as fire chief. He was also a member of the Shrine Club and past master of the Masonic Lodge.

After Harry’s move, he retained his above noted memberships, transferring to the Canmore Kinsmen, and joining the local Lions Club, where he eventually became president.

Mary Underhill was born in Barrie, Ontario, in July, 1932, moving to the West in 1971 with her four children and their dog. Within the year, she had been asked to open two new departments at the Banff School of Fine Arts: printing and information services. While living in Banff, she concentrated mainly on her work and family, although there was time left to become part of an esoteric discussion and study group. She was soloist in St. Mary’s Catholic Church for the latter part of her sojourn in Banff.

On moving to Canmore in 1978, she worked for the town at the front desk, when the town office was on the corner of 17th Avenue and 10th Street. The employees in the office itself numbered about six, and the outside staff, three or four. Mary joined the Lioness Club, becoming president for a term or two, during which time she and Harry instigated the annual lobster dinner, a joint venture with the Lions and Lioness Clubs.

Then, one fine day, Harry walked into the town office – and life changed for them both! Harry was now a master electrician, owning his own business, Canmore Electric Ltd., operated from his home at 505 3rd Street. Mary became part of the operation, taking over the office work, after moving in with her belongings and her Siamese cat, Lady Ku, in January, 1979.

In conjunction with working in Harry’s business, Mary also was employed in the office of the Evans and Rencz legal firm as secretary to Dave Rencz, and later as office manager to Bob Sundberg, chartered accountant. Her final position before leaving the Bow Valley,was home support coordinator for the town. She also created Concepts in Health, under which umbrella she worked as a stress therapist and reflexologist, as well as leading various workshops. Mary was one of the founders of the Clinical Consultation Group which was made up of the many care-giving agencies in the valley. 

It was while she worked at Sundberg’s that Harry and Mary decided to tie the knot in January,1983, with Pat and Grace Byrne acting as witnesses in the latter’s home on 3rd Street. The news of this ceremony having taken place shocked several townspeople who had assumed that the newlyweds had married five years previously!

Some of the larger electrical contracts that Canmore Electric handled during the following years were: the high school, phase one of the recreation centre, and major renovations to the old hospital on Three Sisters Drive. The primary maintenance contract was with Steel Brothers in Exshaw, now Continental Lime. 

Harry was always one of the pancake flippers at the July 1st Kinsmen breakfasts, and performed again when Ronnie Marra held his pancake breakfasts on the Heritage Day weekend. Harry made a large gas grill for these occasions to supplement those already in use, and donated it to the Canmore fire department when the Underhills left town in 1992.

A joint project between the Lions, Lionesses and Kinsmen clubs was the annual Christmas hamper program. Each year the Underhills helped deliver hampers to those in need. One of the highlights of the year was to see the surprise and joy on youngsters’ faces when Santa arrived in person at the door.

At one point, Greg Stevens, MLA, appointed Harry chairman of the Low Cost Housing Committee whose planning resulted in the Larch housing complex.

Harry often enjoyed driving the Shriners’ limo in the Canada Day parade, while Mary, for several years, drove the lead car (their white Lincoln) with town flags flying and containing Mayor Pat and Mrs. Grace Byrne. What good times they were!

And what did the Underhills enjoy the most? What comes to mind are:

The many bush bunnies, squirrels and birds that frequented their yard. The winter that the elk took up residence due to the long grass on their lawn, resulting in seven orange garbage bags full of processed grass in the spring!

The peace of cross-country skiing in the meadow above the old mine. That beautiful area has now given way to residential development.

Being invited to the grand opening of the Alberta Film Development Corp. on Main Street one winter’s evening, and arriving in jeans, shirts and hiking boots, while surrounded by tuxedos and gowns! What fun! Since they had both worked at the Banff Centre, many of the celebrities were known to them, so hugs and warm greetings were given to the “country hicks”, much to the surprise of many of the “elite”. One starlet went through quite a range of emotions during the evening, glaring at Harry with nose tilted high, then looking puzzled at the greetings, and finally sliding the strap of her gown over her shoulder with a seductive smile for this man who must be a famous director!

Working at the Banff Television Film Festival, and thereby being invited to Awards Night at the Banff Springs Hotel, with Gregory Peck as guest of honour. When the Underhills were about to leave after the ceremonies, the Pecks arose and preceded them through the gallery. A battery of flashes greeted them as scores of Japanese tourists snapped pictures of the famous star and his wife – and the couple behind them! Famous director, perhaps? Again, what fun!

When the ’88 Olympics arrived in Canmore, thousands of people lined the streets for a chance to hold the Flame. Mary was one of them, and found herself, not only proud to be a Canadian and a Canmorite, but also privileged to be that close to such an ancient symbol.

Harry inadvertently set off the first (and only) bomb scare of Olympics ’88. He was then employed by the Canmore hospital, and was asked to deliver a parcel in the hospital van to the Olympics medical building downtown. The gate guard stopped him because he didn’t have an ID badge; eventually Harry did deliver the package to the medical area. Sometime later, someone noticed the package and asked where it had come from. No one knew, other than that a man in a fur hat, and driving a van, had delivered it. So they put the package through the fluoroscope and someone said, “Looks like a bomb to me!” The bomb squad, complete with dogs, was hastily brought in from Calgary – and very quietly returned when they found that the package contained the bundle of metal-encased wipes that had been ordered, plus an enema bag that the nurse had included.

Many people who came to the Olympic games in Canmore fell in love with the beautiful setting and decided that this is where they wanted to live, or to at least have a “weekend cottage”. So, when the ambiance of the town changed, and the cost of living soared beyond their means, the Underhills decided to sell their little house and travel for awhile. After several trips to wonderful places, they have settled in Creston, B.C., where they are very content, and hope to “live happily ever after”.

In Canmore Seniors at the Summit, ed. Canmore Seniors Association, 2000, p. 297-299.

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