Opinion » Alta States

Going Royal

Toulouse Spence and the heirs apparent



Titles are but nicknames, and every nickname is a title.

- Thomas Payne

I never really thought about his nickname. He was height-challenged. He enjoyed the company of women. Maybe he was an artist too. Whatever. Toulouse was Toulouse. He was like a Brazilian soccer star that way: a one-name guy. And it worked for him.

It still does. And way beyond Whistler's limits. Mention his name at the Krazy Kangaroo in St Anton or the Londoner in Kitzbuehel, and people will probably still nod in recognition. They might even point to a ratty old poster that may or may not still hang on the wall. "Yah," they will say of the naked young skiers posed there, "Das is the Kanata Team of 1973. A kift from Toulouss..."

Apocryphal? Maybe. But it's become part of ski racing lore. You see, during his stint with the Crazy Canucks, Toulouse unloaded his kooky Toad Hall posters on some of the hippest bars in the Alps. That his ski bum buddies became confounded with national team members over time, well, that too is part of the Toulouse legend.

But we were talking about his nickname. And yes, I did become curious about its roots. But I didn't know how to ask. Frankly, I was a little embarrassed about not knowing its exegesis. I assumed it was just one of those popular Toulouse stories that I'd missed.

Fortunately he brought it up himself. "Don't you want to hear how I got my nickname?" We were on our third or fourth conversation by this point and Toulouse was evidently feeling more comfortable with the storytelling process. "Well? Do you want to or not?" It's not that he was impatient, but...

"Of course," I said quickly. "I assume it's something that happened at Whist..."

He interrupted me. "Nope. Thunder Bay." He chuckled – Heh. Heh, Heh. "Do you want the long version or the short version?" I opted for the former. But I'm not sure I got the full story. See what you think:

"It was 1970," he starts. "And a bunch of us were skiing at our local hill, Loch Lomond." Terry Spence was 28 then, still working for IBM, still a buttoned-down young executive wannabe. His life-changing ski-trip to Europe was still a few weeks in the future. His Whistler adventures not even on the radar yet.

So yeah. Thunder Bay. Skiing with the gang. As was their custom, Terry and the boys continued their après-ski festivities at Port Arthur's New Ontario Bar. "We sat down and ordered beer," he continues. "And there was this woman on stage. And she called out that she needed a volunteer from the audience."

Hmm, I can see where this might lead. No matter. Spence continues: "I figured I had nothing to lose," he says. "I rose up from my chair and bravely offered her my services. So she tells me: 'Here's some paint and some brushes. I want you to decorate my torso while I strip.' So I told her: 'I don't need to use a brush. I could use my fingers.' But she wasn't amused. She said: 'Use the brush.'"