Sailor, skier and well-known (retired) family practitioner, Michael Swangard lived a full life, committed to service through medicine, research, volunteerism, search & rescue, and first-aid. He was known as a skilled professional but also a compassionate and nurturing individual. He interacted with others with humility, generosity, and empathy. He was also really funny.
Born in Colfax, Washington as his Canadian parents raced for the Canadian border for his birth, Michael spent his early years in Eugene, Oregon, then attended boarding school at University School (now St. Michael's University School) in Victoria, BC, graduating in 1957. Summers were spent with family at Grantham's Landing on the Sunshine Coast.
Michael first attended UBC, then re-joined his family in Des Moines, Iowa, where he completed his BA in 1964. He then moved to Freiburg, Germany to study medicine, as well as completing doctoral studies in Physiology. He then returned to Canada for residency at Foothills Hospital in Calgary, where he studied family medicine, GP surgery, and anaesthesia, all while continuing research in physiology (particularly hypothermia), thanks to a grant from Volkswagen (Germany) which was matched by the National Research Council of Canada. During his time in Calgary he also found time to learn to ski!
After completing the Canadian Medical exams for foreign educated students in 1971, and his residency in 1973, Michael joined the Mission Medical Group family practice in Mission, BC. A few years later, he opened his own clinic with another young doctor, Keith K.C. Wong, with whom he would work until his retirement from full-time practice in 2003. For many years, Michael was also the physician representative to the BC Ambulance Service in the Fraser Valley.
During his first years in Mission, Michael joined the ski patrol at Hemlock Valley Resort (now known as Sasquatch Resort). Michael was instrumental in developing the patrol, initiating its membership in the Canadian Ski Patrol (CSP), a national organization with first class first-aid training. Thus, the CSP Greater Vancouver Zone (GVZ) was established. Over the next 44 years Michael helped the Zone expand to multiple ski areas: Manning Park, Mount Arrowsmith, Mount Seymour, Cypress Mountain and Mike Wiegele Heli-Ski Resort. He founded GVZ's ski swap, which funds most of the zone's volunteer first-aid activities, and negotiated the purchase and funding of two alpine rescue centres as well as a training and coordination centre. From 1987 to 2014 Michael was a member of the CSP's National Medical Advisory Committee and initiated several first-aid protocols that are still in use today, including how to deal with heat and cold injuries. He also Initiated CSP's approach to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Bid Committee and was a member of the Vancouver 2010 Safety and Security Committee, with CSP being named the on-hill first-aid service provider at all four outdoor Olympic venues. Michael has been honoured with the highest patroller award (CSP Award) and the CSP Life Membership award, among others.
Building on his years studying in Germany and becoming a fluent German speaker, Michael became involved in the International Commission of Alpine Rescue (ICAR) where representatives from 85 member organizations from 34 countries meet annually to discuss issues related to mountain rescue, including medicine, avalanche, land rescue and helicopter rescue. Through his participation on the ICAR Medical Commission, Michael connected with a member from Bavaria and an exchange between the CSP and the German Bergwacht (ski patrol) resulted. This exchange has continued for 38 years and has resulted in a continued exchange of first-aid and rescue knowledge, as well as genuine camaraderie. Michael has been recognized for his contributions to the advancement of research and formal training in mountain medicine with a Life Membership to ICAR, as well as an Honourary Membership in the Canadian Society of Mountain Medicine.
After learning to sail off Grantham's Landing in his early teens, Michael continued to sail, finally purchasing his first boat in 1989, then a slightly larger boat in 1994, naming her Arctic Swan, after the Trumpeter swans who winter in the Fraser Valley. In 2003, he and his wife, Kathy, realized a life-long dream of sailing in the Mediterranean Sea after purchasing a (larger) boat in France. While both of them continued to work intermittently for a few years, the adventure continued down the coast of Africa, across the Atlantic, visiting several Caribbean islands enroute to Florida where they arranged for the beloved Arctic Swan II to be trucked back to Vancouver. It was a 5.5 year adventure filled with new experiences, and friends who shared their passion.
In 2009, after their offshore adventure, Michael and Kathy settled in Nanoose Bay, BC, 5 minutes from Arctic Swan II moored at Fairwinds Marina, in a home with wonderful views of the mountains and the Salish Sea. While they were both active with Schooner Cove Yacht Club, Michael also contributed to the Council of BC Yacht Clubs and the BC Marine Parks Forever Society. They both became active in the Bluewater Cruising Association and Michael continued to contribute his knowledge and experiences, even when ill-health forced him to sell Arctic Swan II, and he became wheelchair bound.
Michael leaves behind his wife of thirty-one years, Kathy, and his UK-based son Michael, his wife Gally, and grandchildren Jack and Katie. Michael was proud of his family, especially his son Michael’s law practice and Katie’s acceptance into UBC. In Eugene, Oregon, he also leaves a brother, Robert (wife Ina) and nieces, along with cousins in Germany, the United States and Canada.
Michael's family wishes to thank the staff at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital for their care for Michael over his several years of illness. Thanks also to the Oceanside Community Health Services team of support workers, nurses, and occupational therapists who all treated him with kindness and respect, allowing him to remain at home and to enjoy a continued quality of life which would not have been possible without them. The BC Ambulance Service paramedics were also incredibly important in Michael's last years. And everyone seemed to appreciate his quiet humour.
Donations in Michael's memory can be made to the Nanaimo & District Hospital Foundation, the Canadian Ski Patrol, and/or the Parkinson Society British Columbia.
Celebration of Life to be held at a later date.