From Dominion Ski Champion To Canadian Skiing Dynasty
Name:Dorothy (Dee) Anne Read
Affiliated Discipline(s):Alpine skiing
Date of Birth / Death:1926–2004
Hometown:Montreal, Quebec / Calgary, Alberta
Active Career Period:1948–1988
Induction Category:Alpine official
Seventy-five years ago, a determined and accomplished 22-year old McGill science student named Dorothy (Dee) Anne Burden boarded a westbound train in Montreal with her ski equipment in hand. Three days later, she arrived in Banff, Alberta, ready to challenge Canada’s best women skiers on Mount Norquay’s acclaimed slopes. Little did she know that she was about to create one of Canada’s greatest sports dynasties.
Story by Dave Fonda, for the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame and Museum.
Canada’s Premier Rocky Mountain Ski Resort
Mount Norquay was named after a Manitoba Premier who’d failed to scale its summit. Following a devastating forest fire there in 1917, Gus Johnson, a local Swedish ski instructor, figured it would make a mighty fine ski hill. So he and the newly formed Banff Ski Club opened the first of the Bow Valley’s many world-class ski trails. With its sparkling new ski lodge, Mount Norquay became the premier resort of the Canadian Rockies in 1926.
Word quickly spread as skiers, mountaineers and vacationers flocked to Banff. In 1929, after staging one of Sir Arnold Lund’s revolutionary slalom races, Mount Norquay became a magnet for serious skiers. Two years later, it would host the first of three Dominion Ski Championships.
Photo courtesy Mt. Norquay Ski Resort.
Promotional poster for the 1948 Canadian Ski Championships.
The Dominion Ski Championships
The first national ski championships were an all-nordic affair staged by the Montreal Ski Club in 1921. Alpine wasn’t included until 1929 when Austria’s Harald Paumgarten won the slalom at Shawbridge, Québec.
Eight years later, Mount Norquay hosted the event under its new name, the Dominion Ski Championships, then again in 1937 and 1940. In 1948, the Dominion Ski Championships was the first major post-war event in western Canada. Skoki Lodge had emerged as a touring destination, while Sunshine and Lake Louise began to blossom as recreational centres. Tourists would soon flock to Banff to ride Norquay’s sparkling new North American chair.
When Dee Burden stepped off her train, Banff was buzzing with energy and excitement. Which left her even more determined to win the prestigious title. She would not disappoint.
The First of Many Feathers
A passionate outdoorswoman, Dee Burden loved camping, working as a camp counsellor and skiing in her beloved Laurentians where she’d excelled in the Penguin Ski Club in Ste. Adèle. A gifted technical skier, she also loved speed. And it showed.
At the Dominion Ski Championships Dee decisively won the downhill, beating the up-and-coming junior and future World Champion, Lucile Wheeler. After placing fifth in the slalom Dee captured the combined and returned to Montreal as the undisputed Ladies Dominion Ski Champion. It was just one of the many feathers she would keep adding to her cap throughout her illustrious career.
Dee Read’s race bib for the 1948 Canadian Ski Championships. Photo courtesy Read family private collection.
John and Dorothy Read in 1975. Photo courtesy Read family private collection.
The Birth of a Dynasty
1948 also saw Dee marry John Read, a medical student who’d left McGill to serve in the Canadian Navy during the Second World War. After graduating, Dee found lab work, so John could earn his medical degree. Following his residency, John’s specialization in medical education took the Read family to Vancouver (UBC), Kingston (Queens), Switzerland (World Health Organization) and eventually Calgary.
Though John’s passion for playing hockey equalled Dee’s love of skiing, they both agreed that while hockey may have been Canada’s game, skiing would be the Read family’s chosen winter pastime. And so, one by one, their children Jan, Ron, Ken and Jim learned to ski and race.
Says eldest son, Ron, “You don’t know what dedication is until you get in the car every single Friday night from December to April and you drive two hours to Ottawa, and then you get in the car every Sunday night and drive back to Kingston – and you don’t miss a weekend for four straight years.”
The Bow Valley Beckons
In 1968, John was named Dean of the Department of Community Health Sciences at the newly established University of Calgary Medical School.
Never one to sit still, Dee continued building her legacy as one of Canada’s great skiing pioneers. First, she coached the University of Calgary’s women’s alpine ski team. Then, as an alpine executive of the Lake Louise Ski Club, she helped establish a Nancy Greene League Program there. She also played various key roles with an ambitious team of intrepid volunteers that, in 1980, staged Canada’s first World Cup downhill at Lake Louise. Working tirelessly, they also helped Calgary win the bid to host the 1988 Olympic Winter Games. And, in 1991, they helped make Lake Louise the annual World Cup opener loved by both women and men.
Said Karen Stemmle, former Canadian alpine team racer, “She was the mom to all the ski racers.”
Dee Read worked just as passionately for the Alberta Alpine Ski Association (then the Canadian Ski Association, Alberta Division), where she sat on the Board of Directors and served as Alpine Chair and Treasurer. In 1976 she became one of the first women Technical Delegates of the Federation International de Ski (FIS).
Photo courtesy Whyte Museum archives.
“I can’t tell you the number of times people have mentioned how she encouraged them, provided good advice and stayed out on the hill in -25 degree Celsius weather all day. She was tough. She was a no-nonsense person who put the athlete first and stood up for fairness.”
– Ken Read
Jim Read (holding Canadian flag) competing on the North American Pro Tour in 1989. Photo courtesy Read family private collection.
Like Mother, Like Sons
While Dee was busy cementing Alberta’s place on the world stage, her sons, Ken and Jim earned top spots on the men’s Canadian Alpine Ski Team. An original Crazy Canuck, third-born Ken Read was a two-time Olympian, the first North American to win a World Cup downhill race, and a five-time World Cup downhill champion.
His younger brother, Jim also competed in two Winter Olympics in slalom, giant slalom, super-G and combined before becoming the most successful North American skier on the North American Pro Tour. After hanging up his racing bib, Jim became known as one of the best and most beloved ski coaches in Alberta with the Sunshine Alpine Races and the provincial team.
The Next Generation
Today, Dee’s grandchildren are busy making sporting news. Ken and Lynda Read’s sons, Erik and Jeffrey recently captured the bronze medal in the mixed team parallel event at the 2023 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Courchevel-Méribel, France. Another grandson, Stefan (son of Ron) was also a two-time Olympian and Canada’s leading ski jumper from 2002 to 2010.
All told, the Read family has won an eye-popping 32 national championship titles, with Dee garnering two, Ken seven, Jim eight, Erik four, Jeffrey three and Stefan eight.
Brothers Erik and Jeffrey Read celebrate with Valerie Grenier and Britt Richardson after claiming a bronze medal in the mixed team parallel at the 2023 FIS alpine world ski championships in Meribel, France.
Dee Read’s Lasting Legacy
Dee Read was a consummate skier. A national ski champion and the loving mother of four ski racers, she was also an instructor, coach, technical expert and powerhouse administrator who worked tirelessly at advancing almost every facet of skiing. In proving that women could excel in sport and in the boardroom, Dee inspired countless others to follow in her tracks.
In 1990, she became only the second woman to be named Sportsman of the Year by the Calgary Booster Club. And in 2001, Dee Read was inducted as an athlete and builder into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame. After ‘officially’ retiring, Dee volunteered at ski races where she worked on course control, as a gatekeeper and as a knowledgeable and enthusiastic fan.As one of Lake Louise’s famous Ski Friends, she delighted in showing visitors the slopes of Canada’s largest Rocky Mountain resort until the spring of 2004.
Dee Read, née Dorothy Anne Burden, passed away at Foothills Medical Centre, on May 8, 2004. But her indomitable spirit and winning ways live on.