Calvin Fairburn

Aug 12th 1933 — Jan 16th 2024 (90 years)


It is with a heavy heart that we share words to convey a sense of the man and the life he lived over his 90+ years until his passing in hospital in the early hours of 16 January 2024.

Calvin, our Dad, often spoke of the changes he’d seen over his lifetime. Born to Evelyn and John Fairburn, in the family farmhouse on August 12, 1933, he was the middle of 5 children living on the Saskatchewan prairies during the ‘Dirty Thirties’. He appreciated the books of Pierre Berton (The Great Depression (1990), The Promised Land: Settling the West 1896-1914 (1984)) for their portrayal of the setting and the challenges of life on the Canadian prairies. The world he grew into was tough; hard work was required and you needed to learn to make things happen, and that was apparent in every action he took and in every fibre of his resilient body.

Calvin was a student of life and one of his most frequently cited statements was ‘a short pencil is better than a long memory’. We’ll be discovering his notes for years to come; from to-do lists, status notes, instructions, and words of encouragement, to phrases in other languages so he could thank those who cared for him in his later years.

Calvin was our rock, our compass, and a man bigger in presence than his physical size. He claimed his opportunities and worked hard to make them possible. He learned from those around him, such as his brother-in-law Walter, as much as he learned from his degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan. He shared his love of learning with his family who joined him on the field trips north and to the Saskatchewan farms, which were as much about watching rivers and observing crops as they were about finding a good ice cream cone. For him, learning wasn’t about history, it was about the present and the near future, as he welcomed innovation in the form of an Apple IIe in the early 1980’s, cell phones, and more. He was adept using technology up until his final months. ‘Retirement’ wasn’t in his vocabulary; for any equipment he repaired, or for himself.

Calvin loved with a big and tough heart. He met Marie (née Tomski) in Calgary and her gorgeous smile and sparkling eyes quickly made their impact on his heart. They married in the chapel at St. Mary’s Cathedral on 26 January 1963; a cold blustery day in Calgary. Soon after arrived their three daughters, Judy, Lori and Susan, who joined them on ‘working holidays’ at the farm and in the garden, ski trips, and summer vacations in the Okanagan. While working as a Professional Engineer and then as an executive in the oil & gas industry, Calvin continued to actively steward the farms.

Calvin’s resourcefulness was legendary as he always had an inventory of spare parts and white grease to ease any problems, to accompany his ability to fix anything. His engineering mindset often had him trying to trouble-shoot his own health, experimenting with magnets and such to support his heart and being an early adopter of the value of vegetable water and supplements to support his joints. Calvin’s knowledge and skills were in demand in the family, in the field, and in the neighbourhood as he helped out where needed, until the days when the tables turned and it was family, friends and neighbours who stepped in to support him.

No life is devoid of milestones and achievements, though they hardly sum up the person. Calvin’s commitment was often most himself in moments where he believed change needed to happen - examples were his work in the early days of developing operations at the Athabasca Oil Sands (and a neighbourhood ski hill in Fort McMurray), exploring for energy, fundraising for the extensive dinosaur park at the Calgary Zoo as a director, his passion for building houses with stronger beams and wider staircases, and the value he placed on building a good fence, maintaining a solid vehicle, and baking a proper carrot cake or nutritious apple cinnamon waffles. His biggest achievements though were his love of land and his love for his growing family, as grandchildren became part of his world.

We recently found one of Dad’s most poignant notes; “My winter boots. Please not wear. We talk as to why.” What was the reason? Was it to remind him of the lean years, when the boots he had were little protection against the cold winter snow as he and his siblings walked to school? Was it the memories of time spent hiking up and around remote parts of the B.C. coast during his summer job as a surveyor for the BC Government? Or maybe they were the boots he wore when, in lieu of church, we’d spend a regular spring and fall Sunday damming a small creek and climbing a ‘hill’ in Kananaskis Country. We didn’t ever find out why, but we know that he wanted to go with his boots on.

Calvin was predeceased by his parents (John and Evelyn), his Sister (Merrilly), brother-in-laws (Walter and Wilf) and his Son-in-Law (Mark). He is survived by his sisters Clara and Doreen (Irene) and brother Jack (Elsie) and numerous nieces and nephews and their families. His wife of over 60 years (Marie) and their daughters and their families Judy, Kate and Neal; Lori (Murray), Garrett (Michelene) and Cade (Ashton); and Sue (Stewart) and Isaac. There will be a small gathering with family and friends to celebrate his life well-lived.

Sincere thanks for the superb care from Dr. Fine, Maria Carducci and colleagues, for extending Calvin’s life by a few poignant years after a challenging health diagnosis.

The fragments, notes, stories, and memories we’re left with will never stop as his voice and his ways remain in us and all who knew him. In the words of Max Erhman’s Desiderata (1927) “...With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

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