Remembering Michael MacConaill

Mike MacConaill was one of the several hundred people who participated in the first Canadian Orienteering Championships held in the Gatineau Park in August 1968. From that date on Mike was a fixture at our orienteering events for close to 50 years.

Busy with his family and his career as a professor at the University of Ottawa Mike managed to find time for orienteering and cross-country skiing, sometimes combining the two in ski-orienteering. 

Mike and I crossed paths many times over the many years we have been in orienteering. My impressions of Mike were that while he was a gentleman and seemingly easy going, he was fiercely competitive when it came to what was happening in the woods. When he got in from a championship course, he quickly wanted to know how his age-class rivals, names such as Dick de St Croix and John Charlow had done on their runs. I may be imagining it but I think there was an extra bounce in his step when Mike could find his name at the top of the results. I guess we were alike in that way.

We also found ourselves alike in our penchant for volunteering to help grow orienteering. We can find Mike’s name printed on several local orienteering maps from the 1970s as he helped with various field work projects. He also chipped in to help at every major event we held over several decades.

We also served together on the Board of Orienteering Quebec. That meant near monthly trips, sometimes by bus, sometimes in one of our cars, down to Montreal in the late afternoon and back to Ottawa late that same night. I think Mike’s penchant for conversation helped keep me awake when it was my turn to do the return drive to Ottawa.

Do you remember a long-time feature of the CJOH Evening News called “You’re Never Too Old”? They featured older athletes who were keeping active despite advancing age. Mile was our natural nominee to be featured. At an agreed time, a CJOH reporter and camera operator showed up at one of our events at Nakkertok to film and interview Mike.  Mike would have been then just into his 80’s.  The interview went well and it was time for some action shots. It was decided to film Mike doing the run in to the Finish. It took several takes as Mike insisted on running at top speed and the camera operator had trouble keeping up with him. I did say Mike was competitive, didn’t I?

For a long time, I had one block with Mike. I was a long-time editor of a magazine called Orienteering Canada. Mike’s name would often come up for articles I was writing. I had a difficult time remembering how to spell his family name. Was it MacConnail or MacConail or MacConnaill? None of those were correct. Mike just told me to remember that there was one N like Heaven and two Ls like Hell.  I have never since forgotten that and I will never forget Mike. May you Rest In Peace, dear friend.

Gord Hunter.

 Note -- Michael's obituary can be found at the Ottawa Citizen Obituaries