Olav Slaymaker first fell in love with the mountains while hiding from the Gestapo in the Norwegian mountains in 1939, after his family’s one-month vacation from their home in Wales turned into six years of fear once war broke out. That interest in mountain environments has guided Slaymaker for the past 75 years, and has most recently gained him the Order of Canada last December.
According to the official citation, the award was given to Slaymaker for his “contribution to geology and the understanding of landform evolution in Canada.” He has “no idea” why he was nominated, though. The
process is quite secretive, but someone nominated him and a number of people wrote in their support of the nomination.
“They have said all sorts of things about me, some of which may be true and some may be false, I have no way of checking.” Slaymaker said with a laugh.
“He’s a very humble person,” said his wife, Margaret. “He does a lot of international travel and research, working with people abroad.”
His work has taken him to mountains all over the world, including the Andes, the Alps, the Himalayas and New Zealand, where he has worked with communities in mountain environments.
“I’m interested in the variety of ways in which people achieve sustainability in mountain environments,” said Slaymaker. “It’s one of the really pressing issues, in my opinion, in international development”
Margaret and Olav first met in Wales in 1965, and immigrated to Vancouver in 1968. He has taught at the University of British Columbia since he first arrived. Five years later, they gained full Canadian citizenship and “haven’t used [their] British passports since then,” he said.
The Order of Canada award is particularly special to him, because Canada isn’t his original place of birth.
“I’ve received a lot of recognition in my research work,” Slaymaker said. “But the idea of endorsing the decision to make Canada our home has really only come in this kind of award.”
“Not every country can feel this way about itself,” he said. “A lot of countries wouldn’t have this kind of award, so I think it’s a tribute to the country to have this.”
Slaymaker’s love for Canada is apparent when he speaks of it. He is currently writing a two-volume book on the landscapes of Canada, which will showcase the beauty of the country.
“It’s a tribute to the country of our adoption,” he said.