We’ve lost one of the pioneers of ‘O’ in BC: Tony Byrne

Prepared by Ross Burnett (VicO)

BC orienteers will be very saddened to hear of the passing in 2020 of Tony Byrne, who had a heart attack at the end of February. While most current members may never have heard of Tony, he was one of the key early trailblazers of orienteering in BC, and was very instrumental in developing the sport here, from the mid-1970s through to the mid-90s.

Orienteering in BC really started in 1974 when an informal group was lucky enough to attend a talk at UBC put on by Sass Peepre and Brian Ellis, from the University of Guelph. That group then chose four delegates to attend a national orienteering leadership development conference in Guelph later that year. Tony Byrne attended that first talk, and was one of those delegates to attend the conference.

The energy and enthusiasm of the conference stayed with these delegates upon their return to BC, and led to a first local leadership development clinic on October 19 of that year, at UBC attended by 120 people! Besides the leadership clinic, that evening the organization of the BC Association was formalized and our first executive elected. This was followed the next day by the first formal orienteering event in BC – at Lighthouse Park, on a black and white map prepared by Tony.

Tony may also be credited with organizing the first relay event in BC – in April of 1975; also at Lighthouse Park – as well as organizing the first mapping clinic in May 1975, at BCIT, with practical sessions at Mundy Park.

The first BC Championships was held September 28, 1975 at Mt. Seymour on a 3-colour map prepared by Tony, who was also the Course Setter.

Many of the early O maps in BC were created in whole or in part by Tony – for example, Black Mountain (BC Championships 1976), and Cosen’s Bay, Vernon (BC Championships 1977).

Tony did manage to actually compete himself now and then. He was one of a large group of BC orienteers that traveled in 1977 to Wentworth, Nova Scotia for the Canadian Championships, and in 1978 was part of a similar BC group that participated in the Canadian “Six-Days” event in Ontario and Quebec. From old newsletters, one can also see that he was BC champion in 1978, and that he was 8th/45 in the elite men’s category at the Canadian Championships at Milton, Ontario that year. He was 9th at the COC the next year, in St John’s, Newfoundland.

In those early years, Tony was also the first editor of the OABC Newsletter, and continued as editor for a number of years after it became known as Due West.

Tony was the sole BC participant at what was billed as the first ever Canadian Orienteering Federation “Advanced Officials Clinic” in Arundel, Quebec in August, 1980. He was one of the first to recognize the need to develop orienteering beyond just the lower mainland in BC, noting that the best orienteering terrain was to be found remote from the greater Vancouver area. The first orienteering workshop in Kamloops was held in October, 1975, organized by Tony, Anne Anthony, and Charlie Fox, and the first Canadian Championships to be held in the west was in 1981, at McQueen Lake near Kamloops. Tony was the mapper, as well as the Meet Director. Tony also contributed to the mapping for the Asia-Pacific Orienteering Championships hosted by BC in 1990, working on the Edith Hill map, south of Kamloops.

Unfortunately, in his later years Tony did gradually drift away from the BC orienteering scene, primarily as a result of ‘knee issues’ which had started to severely impact his ability to run without pain. Tony will be missed by many – he had an infectious enthusiasm that went well with his practical sense of how to get things done.

Tony Byrne recollections, from those who were there……

Charlie Fox

I remember being with Tony when we visited George to ask permission to run on that critical piece of his property [on the Edith Hill map, for APOC in 1990]. George lived in a humble home (e.g. no telephone just a two-way radio to talk to select friends) and was a minimalist (just like Tony) and he wasn’t the easiest to convince; but Tony used his magic and he accepted our request and we were able to get his permission. Tony had an easy way of dealing with every person, regardless of their background.

Mike Ackerfeldt

I have quite a few Tony stories but the funniest I can think of happened at the 1983 COCs in Barrie, Ontario. A group of us went into a biker’s bar in Barrie all wearing t-shirts printed with pink flamingos (that’s another story…). As we sat having a beer, a very large burly biker walked up to our table and asked “Who are you people?” Tony responded in a high-pitched voice “We are a dancing troupe”. As the confused biker walked back to his table (full of other bikers), we exited the premises in a hurry… Another Tony trademark was that he never brought a tent to events – he would just sleep inside one of those pink plastic insulation bags.

Jack Saprunoff

I was one of those lucky participants at the UBC / Lighthouse Park events hosted by Tony, Anne Anthony and others, and I can honestly say that it impacted on my life totally. Thanks, Tony!  My best reflections of Tony were those powerhouse legs that allowed him to make his way through the thickest understory, and he seemed to float through the salal. Regardless of the weather he always showed up in a threadbare t-shirt and short shorts!

When we went to Newfoundland [1979 COC], Tony had the habit of disappearing once the event wound up –  “Pick me up at Finnegan’s Pub first thing in the morning.”  None of us ever knew where he was or what he was up to.  Definitely something in the realm of secret squirrel!  He was one of a kind.

Colin Preston

The godfather of the FlamingOs! Many thoughts washed over me reading about Tony – his ramshackle, huge rental on West 13th; great road trips to the Interior before he finally got his own car; and a wicked sense of humour. For some reason, two concepts/memories came to me – 1) Tony was all about Minimalist Camping long before it became a thing, and 2) how he became this ‘accidental mentor’ to so many young orienteers through this odd combination of puckish teasing, yet always accepting and treating them as equals.

Afan Jones

Tony liked adventures on the edge. He coerced me into checking out interior terrain for orienteering in early May 1980. We drove up to Kamloops in my VW bug for what was supposed to be a day trip. We stopped into the Findlay household to get some ideas, then headed south toward Lundbom Lake and Aspen Grove. We poked around until the early evening, when it was time to head back to Vancouver. Tony suggested we try the back roads through Coquihalla Pass toward Hope. Around 9 pm we hit a snowbank. We needed to backtrack to Spences Bridge. So far so good. Around Lytton I realized my brakes had failed. No problem says Tony, “just gear down”. Heading down the Fraser Canyon, in the dark, it was nail-biting for me; normal for Tony. We got back to Vancouver at 3 am, another “normal” day in the life of Tony Byrne.

Another memory is climbing Sky Pilot, above Britannia Beach, south of Squamish in the early 1980s. We went with Robin Draper and his mechanic friend, Jan Schier. After bushwhacking to the top over about 6 hours, it was time for breakfast/lunch. Three of us had the usual jam butties. Tony pulls out his only food – a full head of pineapple.

Ross Burnett

I have so many fond memories of Tony it’s hard to know where to begin. When I was still a junior, he was one of my first coaches, then my first mapping instructor. On one of the first times anyone had ever shadowed me on a training course, he stopped me and said “You need a good spanking! You’re stopping too often, and reading the map too much. Remember – orienteering isn’t about knowing where you are all the time; it’s about knowing when you need to know where you are.” I still try to coach the same point.

I recall great road trips to the interior to map various places – including McQueen Lake and Hamilton Corrals, and other great roads trips to the various events – so many memories of camping, campfires, laughing…. Tony and I even did a road trip to Eugene, Oregon, for what had been billed as an “A-Meet”, but the event and map were laughably bad. On the way back from one interior event (I think it was the weekend Mt. St Helens blew its top; so perhaps it was Sage Stomp) we went via the Duffey Lakes Road and hiked into Joffre Lakes; this was long before it was on anyone’s radar screen, or an ‘internet sensation’.

I remember at one of the first big races in Manitoba (may have been the North American Championships in 1982) a number of orienteers, while on their course, happened to notice a couple of plants, the possession of which was legalized just a few years ago. Of course, Tony went back afterwards to harvest it.

Mark McMillan

I met Tony in 1980 and he quickly took on a mentoring role with many of us young ‘uns. I remember him teaching three of us (Ross Burnett, Pat Berting, and myself) how to make an orienteering map at Lost Lake and conveying one of his rules: “If you can pee over a boulder, you don’t put it on the map”. I have so many fond memories of travelling across Canada, and in the Pacific Northwest, to many orienteering events – including Barrie and the FlamingOs! Tony was fun – and talented. I recall him once showing up at a Canadian Championships outside Montreal and describing his adventures from the night before while eating herring; before medaling in M35.

Another memory – at the McQueen Lake cabins, possibly the 1982 Western Canadians – post banquet, late at night manually over-printing maps (a little sloppily) for the relay. [Ed. Note – while everyone under 45 is asking – “What is this manual overprinting of which you speak?”] We weren’t in the best shape the following morning, and Tony stood before the crowd and brokered a deal in his usual cheerful manner   – “We will not be charging for this relay, on one condition: there can be no complaints”. He rocked.

Tony Byrne: the man himself, in images


Mushroom harvest while mapping McQueen Lake June, 1980.
(I believe we did slice this and fry it up over the campfire)

Meet Director for the 1981 COC. With friends Gord Hunter and Colin Kirk.
At a training camp at McQueen Lake, 1982.
After-race socializing at Aspen Gove May, 1983.