Born in Vancouver, B.C., Mike spent his early years on the lower mainland. He was the older of two children, and as a youth, played soccer and baseball.
After completion of high school, Mike attended the University of British Columbia (UBC) at the urging of his father. He recalls his dad telling him ‘I don’t care what you do, but once you graduate you have to go to university’, so he did.
Mike’s father worked for most of his life in the clothing industry as a cutter, and Mike worked with his Dad and saved enough to pay for his first year of university. He remembers having about $800 in the bank, from which he paid $450 for tuition, $100 for books and the rest was used for travel to and from school.
A geology major, Mike worked for exploration companies each summer. Money he earned would pay for subsequent years of school. Admittedly, somewhat distracted during early years of university, Mike laughs, “I crammed a four-year course into six years.”
Completing university, Mike secured employment with Texas Gulf Sulphur. In 1972 at the urging of a friend, he accepted a two-year position in South Africa. This relocation would shape his life.
A month after arriving he met Ina, and six months later they were married. Due to the economic climate in South Africa, the job shut down early, and Mike and an expecting Ina returned to Vancouver, where Mike worked for one of his university professors.
Recognizing that exploration work was a lot more fun as a single man, Mike sought work in mining. In 1974, Mike moved to Tasu on the Queen Charlotte Islands, and Ina followed shortly after with son Roy. Starting as a mining tech, then chief surveyor, surface mine foreman, mine engineer and then finally underground foreman, Mike recalls, “(this job) was like getting a second degree as I got to do so many things that it was good experience that worked for me later in life.”
In 1977, son Dirk was born, and in 1978, the family moved to Pickle Lake, Ont. Mike would work getting the lay of the land from a geological viewpoint, and in doing so correctly predicted the mine would run out of ore in 1982. Having this inside knowledge, he welcomed the opportunity to move back to B.C. to work as a geologist in Cassiar, where the family remained until 1986.
A move five years later to Tumbler Ridge and Teck-owned Quintet Coal got Mike into coal, and in 1993 a job offer brought him to Fernie and a position of senior geologist at Teck where he remained until 1998. “Fernie was the best place for the family, absolutely,” Mike notes.
Not yet ready to retire, Mike spent the summer of 1998 working as a foreman, building roads with a contractor to Crestbrook, After 28 years in mining, he was struck by the big impact forestry has on the Elk Valley. “Mining is the only important thing when you are involved in it – same is true for tourism and forestry.”
In 1999 Mike started working on a project at the Fernie Museum, doing research for satellite exhibits throughout the valley. Other museum projects followed, with Mike supervising. In 2004 the museum opened for what was to be three months for the Centennial of Fernie. Having overseen the renovations, and the transfer of exhibits, Mike retired in 2014 after a long and productive run with the museum.
Retirement has not slowed him down. In 2014 Mike and Ina visited family in South Africa, and in preparation for a much-anticipated reciprocal visit, home renovation has been underway. “Since retiring I have never been so busy. Work is easy compared to retirement,” Mike smiles.
Mike is most proud of his family. “I am very proud of my boys and how well they get along with each other and the world really.”
A committed and resilient member of the community, Mike Pennock is this weeks “face of the valley”.