Herman Smith-Johannsen

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Herman "Jackrabbit" Smith-Johannsen, CM[1] (June 15, 1875 – January 5, 1987) was a Norwegian supercentenarian, credited for introducing cross-country skiing to Canada and North America. In his youth he was rated one of the best all-round Norwegian skiers.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Johannsen was born in Horten, Norway, the oldest of nine children. After studying in Berlin he moved to the United States[3] before settling in Piedmont, Quebec. He married Alice Robinson (born 1882) in 1907. They had three children; Alice (1911-1992), Robert "Bob" (1915-2001) and Peggy (1918–2014).

Johannsen died from pneumonia on January 5, 1987 at the age of 111 years, 204 days, near Tønsberg, Norway, being the oldest man in the world for the last 22 days of his life. He is buried by the St. Sauveur church in Saint-Sauveur, Quebec, Canada, next to his wife, who died in 1963. His archives are held at the McGill University Archives in Montreal.[4]

Professional life[edit]

Johannsen graduated from the Norwegian Military Academy in 1894 with a commission as a lieutenant in the Norwegian Army Reserve. In 1899 he graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Berlin. Two years later he moved to Cleveland, Ohio where he worked at selling heavy machinery.[5] In 1907 he became an independent agent, selling heavy equipment, based out of New York City and eventually Montreal.

The sportsman[edit]

Johannsen is credited with building many ski jumps and with blazing trails throughout Ontario, the Eastern Townships, and the Laurentians. In 1972 he 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.

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, Johannsen received an honorary doctorate from Sir George Williams University, which later became Concordia University.[6]

He was profiled during ABC Sports coverage of the 1984 Winter Olympic Games.[7]

He was an honorary member of the Norwegian skiing and gentlemen's club SK Ull.[8]


  1. ^ Order of Canada Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Herman 'Jackrabbit' Smith Johannsen". Canadian Ski Museum. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  3. ^ Johannsen, Alice E.,1993, The Legendary Jackrabbit Johannsen, Montreal, Canada, McGill Queens Press, pp.148ff, ISBN 0773511512
  4. ^ "Herman Jackrabbit Smith-Johannsen Fonds". McGill Library Archival Catalogue. Retrieved 2018-03-16.
  5. ^ "Herman Smith Johannsen O.C." (PDF). The Canadian Ski Hall of Fame. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  6. ^ "Honorary Degree Citation - Herman Smith Johannsen* | Concordia University Archives". archives.concordia.ca. Retrieved 2016-03-30.
  7. ^ 1984 Winter Olympics - Men's 15 Kilometer Cross Country - Part 2 on YouTube
  8. ^ Vaage, Jakob (1983). Skiklubben Ull 100 år 1883–1983 (in Norwegian).

Further reading[edit]

  • 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]