Herman Smith-Johannsen

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Herman "Jackrabbit" Smith-Johannsen, CM (June 15, 1875 – January 5, 1987) was a Norwegian-Canadian who gained widespread recognition for being one of the first people to introduce the sport of cross-country skiing to Canada and North America. He is recognized by certain groups within the cross-country skiing community in Canada for the many contributions he made to the sport and for his personal longevity, living to 111 years.

Early life[edit]

Johannsen was born in the town of Horten, and graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Berlin in 1899. He emigrated to the USA as a lumber machinery salesman shortly thereafter. Johannsen first lived in New York City, then Pelham, New York (from 1916),[1] then immigrated to Montreal, Canada with his family in 1928 and finally settled in the Laurentians in the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec. Johannsen learned French and further introduced skiing to the area.

While on a trip to Canada to sell machinery to the Canadian Grand Trunk Railway in 1902, Johannsen was befriended by the First Nations Cree in the wilderness above North Bay, Ontario. The nickname "Jackrabbit" is said to have been given to him by the Cree, who were impressed by his speed on skis compared to the snowshoes they were using at the time.

Personal life[edit]

Johannsen married Alice Robinson (1882-1963) in 1907 and settled permanently in the Laurentians region of Quebec in Canada during the Great Depression. They had 3 children; Alice (1911-1992), Robert "Bob" (1915-2001) and Peggy (1918–2014). He is credited with building many ski jumps and with blazing trails throughout Ontario, the Eastern Townships, and the Laurentians. On December 22, 1972, Johannsen was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada for fostering and developing skiing as a recreation and helping and encouraging generations of skiers in Canada.[2]

Johannsen is the namesake of Cross Country Canada's Jackrabbit program designed to introduce children 6-9 to cross-country skiing through local ski clubs. Some former "Jackrabbits" introduced to skiing through the program include Olympic medalists Beckie Scott, Sara Renner, and Chandra Crawford and World Champions Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey.

In 1968, he received an honorary doctorate from Sir George Williams University, which later became Concordia University.[3]


He was profiled during ABC Sports coverage of the 1984 Winter Olympic Games.[4]


He was an honorary member of the Norwegian skiing and gentlemen's club SK Ull.[5] Jackrabbit died from pneumonia on January 5, 1987 at the age of 111 years, 204 days, in a hospital near Tønsberg, Norway. He is buried by the St. Sauveur church in St. Sauveur, Canada, next to his wife, who died in 1963.


  1. ^ Johannsen, Alice E.,1993, The Legendary Jackrabbit Johannsen,, Montreal, Canada, McGill Queens Press, pp.148ff, ISBN 0773511512
  2. ^ Order of Canada
  3. ^ "Honorary Degree Citation - Herman Smith Johannsen* | Concordia University Archives". archives.concordia.ca. Retrieved 2016-03-30. 
  4. ^ 1984 Winter Olympics - Men's 15 Kilometer Cross Country - Part 2 on YouTube
  5. ^ Vaage, Jakob (1983). Skiklubben Ull 100 år 1883–1983 (in Norwegian). 


  • Johannsen, Alice E.(1993). The Legendary Jackrabbit Johannsen. McGill-Queens University Press. ISBN 0-7735-1151-2
  • Powell, Brian et al. (1975). Jackrabbit His First Hundred Years. Collier Macmillan Canada, Ltd.
  • Norton, Phillip. "Jackrabbit Johannsen. The Pioneer of Skiing in Canada". Canadian Geographic Magazine, Apr/May-1987:18-23.

External links[edit]