Friends, colleagues and even a few clients inquired where the name Whitehorse Group came from. One colleague suggested I should have used my own name as the name for my firm. While I am somewhat well known in a limited circle of folks in the preparedness and employee relations communities, I didn’t think it would make a big difference as far as bringing business to my door. Besides, I love the name Whitehorse and here’s why.
My mother, Jessie Hayes Smeaton, told me this version of the story. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s there was an outbreak of Polio in Canada. People did not have a clear understanding of its causes. My father, William J. Smeaton, determined that the risk of his children getting Polio was likely greater in the city, than the countryside. So he started to take us out into the countryside as much as possible. He was a great lover of the outdoors all his life.
This strategy resulted in annual summer camping trips to a location near my Grandmother’s home, about 80 km from the city. Compared to cottage life today or even camping today, we were really roughing it. A rarely waterproof army surplus military tent with no floor was our home for up to six weeks. By the end of each summer we were sick of eating trout, “even if it was cooked over an open fire in the great outdoors.” My brothers, Jim and Ed, and I would have sold our souls for a burger and fries.
Our campsite was located off a terrible dirt road that tested the axel strength of our old panel van. The road followed the shoreline of a large pond that had only one or two summer homes. On the far side of the pond was what we thought of as a huge mountain called Horsechops. Why, I don’t know. When I visited the place later in life, the mountain appeared to have shrunk and was actually just a very large outcrop of rock, but still “mountain like”. On our side of the pond was a smaller hill. This is where we set up camp. My father had apparently explored the area as a young man when his parents moved to a nearby settlement during the Great Depression. We returned to this same campsite for several years. My father called this location Whitehorse Hill. My mother made a camp flag for us with a white horse sewn on a red background. We thought it was very cool.
All summer we hiked, fished, visited nearby settlements, learned to make a fire in the rain, made real bows and arrows and gained a youthful confidence that we could deal with anything.
None of us got Polio. But when I think about it, this was my first experience in emergency response. Much later in life, when I led Pandemic Influenza planning for a large government, I remembered my father’s strategy when people would suggest that advising the public to leave the city for their cottages, if they could, would help limit the spread of the illness. So, what’s a better name for my firm than Whitehorse Group?