Rick Griffiths, a longtime Whitehorse resident whose advocacy helped spur changes to the safety rules governing Yukon’s oil-burning furnaces, passed away from cancer on Tuesday morning at the age of 86.
Griffiths and his wife, Diana, moved to Whitehorse in 1967. Within two years he had started his own business, Griffiths Heating & Sheet Metal, out of his garage on the corner of Third Avenue and Rogers.
He ran that business until he sold it in 1975 when he moved to Quesnel, B.C. But he ended up returning to Whitehorse 12 years later.
When Griffiths first arrived in Whitehorse he felt that hockey needed more regulation and standardization, so he travelled to Grande Prairie, Alta. to become a certified referee, according to the Sport Yukon website. Upon his return he trained others to become referees and also served on the executive for minor hockey.
It was on a winter night in 1971 that he and several other concerned Yukoners met in his basement to create the Yukon Sports Federation.
The group would normally meet at the Jim Light Arena, close to where Griffiths lived, to play shinny hockey late at night.
They would hang around after the game and talk about a number of things but “eventually the conversation would come around to the Games and the government rec guy who controlled the whole thing,” Griffiths recalled in a 2013 interview for Yukon Sport.
According to the book, the group was tired of having the territorial government dictate policy on events such as the Canada Games and Arctic Winter Games. The Yukon government resisted the idea of the group forming.
“This place was all government control,” Griffiths recalled.
“And it was their control that bothered us. ‘You do it our way. We’re paying for it and providing all the expertise, so you just do what you’re told and shut up.’”
Griffiths was also involved in coaching hockey. Yukon Sport tells a story that took place during the 1971 Winter Games in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, when the Yukon’s minor hockey team was being badly beaten by a team from Ontario.
After the first period, Griffiths told the Ontario coach they’d already won and suggested they mix the teams for the rest of the game. The Ontario coach agreed.
Griffiths and his wife were both inducted in the Sport Yukon Hall of Fame in 1993 for their contributions to hockey, swimming and the Yukon Sports Federation between 1968 and 1974.
After a short period of time living in Prince George and on Vancouver Island, Griffiths and his wife returned to the territory in 1987.
That’s when Florian Lemphers met him, and the pair became good friends.
Lemphers would invite Griffiths to his Lake Laberge home where they would sit on the front deck, enjoy the scenery and chat.
“He would talk about his days as an outfitter in B.C. and what it was like to live in downtown Whitehorse during the 1960s,” Lemphers said.
“He was just a very likable guy who had all kinds of different stories to tell.”
One time Griffiths came over and asked his friend how his new furnace was doing.
“It’s working fine,” Lemphers remembers telling him, “but why is there oil leaking on my floor?”
Griffiths pulled out a pocket knife, jump-started the furnace and the leaking stopped. Griffiths explained the furnace needed to run more often in order to keep the seals lubricated and prevent leaking.
“He was good at figuring out stuff like that and improvising.”
Griffiths was passionate about the mechanical trade and lobbied the Yukon government for years to update its Oil-Fired Appliance Safety Statutory Amendment Act.
The new regulations, which came into effect in Dec. 2015, specify that all Yukon homes with a fuel-burning device or an attached garage now require carbon monoxide alarms. Moreover, oil-fired appliances and fuel oil storage tanks must also now be installed and modified by certified oil-burner mechanics.
“He pushed for that for over 15 years,” said Jim Duncan, Griffiths’s son-in-law.
“He was very personable and would talk to anybody about anything but things would always revert back to mechanics.”
Griffiths, who was one of the very first oil-burner mechanics in the territory, shared that passion with students at Yukon College over the past four years.
He lived in the senior residences nearby so he would teach the courses when Dan Scobie couldn’t make it, or he would simply drop by to talk about the industry.
“He loved that the college was getting back into training oil-burner mechanics,” Scobie said, referring to the courses that resumed in Aug. 2013.
As one of the first oil-burner instructors in the territory, Griffiths also offered workshops in the communities, Scobie said.
“He was so easy to get along with and my class always enjoyed having him come in,” Scobie added.
In his later years, Griffiths also became involved in the push to ban hydraulic fracturing from the territory. As an active member of the Yukoners Concerned about Oil and Gas Development group, he urged the legislative committee studying fracking to visit all Yukon communities, which it eventually did.
Griffiths also had a green thumb. He would never return from a trip to Saskatchewan, where he grew up, “without a truckload of twigs,” Duncan said.
That would usually mean cuttings from berry bushes that he would plant in Duncan’s flower beds. He was also one of the first to bring haskap berries to the territory, Duncan said.
“I’ve got them in my garden and I’ll keep them going.”
Contact Myles Dolphin at