Because she contributed so much to the sport of curling in the territory, Suzanne Bertrand’s nomination for the Yukon Sport Hall of Fame was passed with almost no discussion.
The decision a no-brainer.
“She was a teacher, coach and mentor to me, both athletically and in my personal life,” said Rose Heisz, who was coached by Bertrand and nominated her for the induction. “What struck me about her is she walked what she talked. She was ambitious and her appetite for life rubbed off on everybody around her. She was so positive and upbeat. Since we’re talking sports, I guess I’ll say, she always brought her ‘A’ game into everything she was involved in.”
Bertrand, who lived in Whitehorse from 1967 until her death in 2010, was posthumously inducted into the Yukon Sport Hall of Fame in the coach/builder category at Sport Yukon’s Annual Awards Night on Thursday at the Whitehorse Westmark.
“I was very proud and thought it was a longtime coming,” said daughter-in-law Dawn Cowan. “I know that if she was here she’d be very proud and very excited.”
“I thought it was great; it’s just awesome,” said son Chad Cowan. “It probably tops all of her achievements and gives her recognition for all her hard work in the sport of curling.”
Her positive, indomitable spirit and unwavering dedication resulted in a long list of accomplishments.
Bertrand first began volunteering at the Whitehorse Curling Club in 1981 and went on to affect uncountable lives as a coach, both at the junior and adult levels, from beginners up to the highest level of competition Canada has to offer. She coached at three Briers (the national men’s championship).
She also twice coached rinks at the Yukon/NWT Championships, three Canada Winter Games and several Arctic Winter Games.
In fact, coaching juniors – and introducing the sport to young people – was a major role of hers; she spearheaded numerous junior programs at the club. Bertrand, who taught at various Whitehorse elementary schools over a 35-year career, developed both in-school and after-school programs at the club.
“She started back in the 1970s, coaching and taking on the junior programs and she never really relinquished it,” said Chad. “She loved to see the development of kids through curling and their involvement in the junior programs.”
If there was one thing that came before curling for Bertrand, it was family. But the two weren’t mutually exclusive.
Through her guidance, Bertrand’s two children both became accomplished curlers. Daughter Michele Cowan – along with Dawn – won bronze at the junior nationals in 1988, with her mother coaching, and Chad would compete at three Briers, twice with his mother as coach, two mixed nationals and three junior nationals.
Dawn first met Bertrand, and subsequently her future husband, while competing against daughter Michele at the junior nationals and was asked to join Michele’s team when she later moved to Whitehorse.
“Curling and her family were her two big passions,” said Dawn. “She got to know her two grand kids – Chad and my kids – and got to teach them curling, which I think she thought was a thrill.”
“That’s what her life was,” said Chad. “She brought me up through the junior program, got my sister and I into curling, and we were able to be fairly successful in curling. It really helped with our careers and gave us the opportunity to travel through Canada.
“She coached my sister to three junior nationals. In 1988, my wife was actually on that team with my sister – that my mom coached – and that year they actually got the bronze medal at the national event.”
Her dedication did not escape the attention of Canadian Curling Association either, which named her Volunteer of the Year in 2005.
“She was really pleased to get that one,” said Chad.
At the time of her death, Bertrand was nearing a Level 4 NCCP coaching certification, which would have put her at the level very few coaches in the territory have achieved.
However, she also threw her share of granite as well.
Bertrand, who was originally from Saskatchewan, competed on behalf of the Yukon at the Dominion Club Championships in 2009.
“I think that was a big thrill for her, getting to play against other provinces and territories,” said Dawn. “She was on the very first team that went out from the Yukon.”
A ubiquitous theme in her coaching was mental preparation – if you can think it, you can do it.
“That was her religion: mental preparation,” said Heisz. “She could truly make me feel that there wasn’t a shot I couldn’t make. She just had that way about her.”
“Her big thing was mental prep, and if it wasn’t for that we probably wouldn’t have got the bronze medal when we went to nationals in 1988,” said Dawn. “Her whole thing was, if you think you can win, then you can win.
“She was one of the hardest-working people I knew,” she added. “When she was a teacher she spent a lot of time in the classroom preparing and trying to be the best she could be there. Then, when she retired, she put most of her energy into curling.
“She wanted kids to experience it, and if they liked it, they’d continue.”
Bertrand’s coaching, and her positive attitude, extended beyond the sport of curling. She could be counted on for advice and providing a friendly ear, on and off the ice.
“Even personally,” said Heisz. “If I phoned her up and I had big decisions to make, she was always so upbeat and positive. I can’t think of any thing negative that I know of with Suzanne. I could go on all night about how great she was, and all the things she inspired me with.
“She was tiny, but mighty.”
Contact Tom Patrick at