NewsCanada Mourns Passing of One of Its Greats, Shirley Firth

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One of Canada's greatest cross-country skiers of all time, Shirley Firth (l) passed away Tuesday at the age of 59 in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. (Photo: Cross Country Canada)
One of Canada’s greatest cross-country skiers of all time, Shirley Firth (R) passed away Tuesday at the age of 59 in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. (Photo: Cross Country Canada)

(Cross Country Canada press release)

We are extremely saddened to report that four-time Olympian and one of Canada’s greatest cross-country skiers Shirley Firth Larsson died Tuesday at her home in Yellowknife. Shirley passed away peacefully surrounded by her family at age 59.

Our sincere condolences goes out to Shirley’s family and friends.

She was a member of the Gwich’in First Nation and became one of the first aboriginals to represent Canada at the Olympics, along her twin sister, Sharon Firth. They participated in four Olympics: in 1972 at Sapporo, Japan, in 1976 at Innsbruck, Austria, in 1980 at Lake Placid, New York, USA, and in 1984 at Sarajevo, Jugoslavia.

Shirley Firth, together with her twin sister, Sharon, were the product of a pioneering program to introduce skiing to Canada’s original peoples (First Nation and Inuit). Her career was an outstanding testimony to the dedication displayed by her in achieving a level of excellence very rarely attained by any athlete in this country.

According to family, Shirley took special pride in her three daughters and her Gwich’in heritage.

Shirley was a strong advocate for family values, healthy lifestyle and believing that you can accomplish anything you want.

After marrying Jan Larsson, they started a family in Europe before moving back to the Northwest Territories.

Shirley was a recipient of the Order of Canada and the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals.

We were very privileged to have Shirley and her husband visit the Cross Country Canada National office in Canmore last summer.

We were also very honoured to welcome the Firth sisters back in Canmore for a surprise event celebrating Linda Dunbar’s 2012 Firth Award, organized by Blair Dunbar. The Firth Award was established in 1985 to honour Sharon and Shirley Firth and is presented annually at the Cross Country Canada AGM to a woman who has made a longstanding outstanding volunteer contribution to cross country skiing in Canada.

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2 comments

  • Avatar
    Tim Kelley

    May 2, 2013 at 3:14 am

    Very sad. Here is a good picture of 15 year old Shirley on her way to winning the US Jr. National XC Skiing Championships in Girdwood, Alaska in 1969: http://www.alsap.org/GirdwoodJrNatl/ChuckJohnson_1969_One%20of%20Inuvik's%20Firth%20Twins_resize.jpg

    Note the perfect technique, and no gloves. This picture came to the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project from Chuck Johnson, who was watching and photographing the 1969 races. Friends and relatives are welcome to download this picture from ALSAP.

  • Avatar
    Martin Hall

    May 2, 2013 at 11:00 am

    It’s interesting when you see the two twins racing, as it is about the only time they were separated, until Shirley was married to Jan Larsson (Rossignol Race Director for many years), and had a family. The past few years, Shirley and Jan, moved back to Yellowknife. So Shirley and Sharon were back together in the end as they were in the beginning.
    I was there when they hit the NA racing scene, and they were only happy with winning. I was with the Canadian Team in their last years of international racing, and were they ferocious competitors on the WC circuit, also.
    Shirley was the more competitive of the two, they were shy in first meeting them, but once they knew you they were very interesting to be around—double the experience.
    Shirley has numerous(like a lot) of National titles and will never lose that record. Sharon is next and she will never be topped in National medals either.
    I was a lucky coach to have had the experience of being around and with these two ladies for many years and I am the richer many times over for it. We will all miss Shirley, but definitely will remember our times and experiences with her—you were a great lady as a friend and competitor.

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