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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.
Johannsen was born in the town of Horten, some fifty miles south of Norway's capital Oslo, and graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Berlin in 1899. He emigrated to the USA as a machinery salesman shortly thereafter. In 1907, Johannsen immigrated to Canada with his family and 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.
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.
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.
He was an honorary member of the Norwegian skiing and gentlemen's club SK Ull. 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.
- Order of Canada
- "Honorary Degree Citation - Herman Smith Johannsen* | Concordia University Archives". archives.concordia.ca. Retrieved 2016-03-30.
- on YouTube
- 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.