He may live in a one of Leaside’s senior retirement condominiums, but at 82 Gordon Champion isn’t ready to give up work.
In fact, Champion figures he’s still at the peak in his career as a professional engineer.
He still works part time as one of Toronto’s foremost marine engineering consultants, on staff at the engineering construction firm SNC-Lavalin, and for the past 20 years has been the marine engineering advisor for the City of Toronto’s fleet of five ferry boats.
And just this past year Champion was hired by the internationally-recognized consulting firm Hatch for a special project, passing on his immense knowledge of thermal and marine engineering to two top engineering students.
“I’m teaching them everything I’ve learned about diesel engines from 67 years of practical experience” he says. “They’re bright and hungry for knowledge—it’s a fantastic job for me.”
His biggest claim to fame?
There are several, but for many, Champion is known as one of the key drivers behind the restoration of Toronto’s heritage paddle wheel ferryboat, The Trillium.
Now over 100 years old, the Trillium was once retired and rotting after serving Toronto’s harbour from 1910 to 1956. In 1976 the boat was put back into service, largely because of the effort of two men who recognized it’s value: Tommy Thompson, the parks commissioner at that time, and Champion, hired as the consulting engineer and project administrator. He worked tirelessly to return the boat to its original condition as authentically as possible, “a true labour of love,” he says.
Much of Trillium’s original appearance was recaptured by Champion’s work, which reproduced in accurate detail countless structures (both working and decorative), including railings, pillars, brass fittings, doorways and wood facings. All was done to meet current safety regulations.
Champion arrived in Canada at 21 from England. He joined the Canadian Merchant Marine in Montreal after a brief stay in Newfoundland. Working on ships, he trained as a first class engineer, which qualified him in Ontario as a professional engineer, then came to Toronto.
Champion and his wife settled in Bennington Heights where they lived almost 30 years. Today they are residents of Leaside Gate, a development built for retired seniors who wanted to remain in the community.
Where were you born?
In Sherwood Forest (yes, the forest of Robin Hood fame). To be more exact, I came from the wee village of Rampton in Nottinghamshire. My dad was the village blacksmith.
What brought you to Canada?
I saw Canada as having so much more natural resources than England, and was fascinated by the network of waterways created by the Great Lakes and the fact you could travel through the Welland Canal to the Lakehead by water.
When Marlene and I got married we lived in the apartments at Bayview and Moore. Then we moved briefly to a bungalow in Scarborough — boy, that was a mistake.
At Leaside Gate we are surrounded by friends in the building and family — one son lives on Rutherglen, another on Sutherland Dr. How lucky is that?
What has kept you connected to the community?
Well, for about 28 years I was president of the Bennington Heights Property Owners Association.
What do you like best about Bennington Heights and Leaside?
I was born in a village, and where I live now still has a village atmosphere.