A visit with Sidney historian author, editor, and impersonator, Chris Gainor
by Sue Stroud, citizen reporter
How do you link Winston Churchill, the history of space travel and Terry Fox? Why through Chris Gainor of course, historian, journalist, author, communications director and impersonator.
When I sat down with Chris the first thing he told me was, “Fifty-four years ago today John Glenn went into space. I watched it on the TV in our basement in Calgary and was hooked. It was exciting, it was something brand new.”
This launch set the tone for Chris’s future, he became an authority on cold war politics and the technology it spawned.
The United States developed the Atlas rocket as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to carry nuclear warheads and that rocket became the starting point for many
space projects. President Kennedy, spurred on by his failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the multiple successes of Soviet space science, pledged his nation to land a man on the moon. “This was one of those rare eras in history where everything converged, it created the perfect setting for the Apollo 11 moon landing.”
Chris acquired his MA in Space Studies through the University of North Dakota, he heard about this online opportunity via Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly which he now edits.
As a journalist with the Vancouver Sun, he co-wrote a series with Tim Padmore on the medical treatment of Terry Fox which won a National Newspaper Award.
For a time he was NDP caucus communications director.
Chris worked with the NDP caucus when they were both in government and in opposition. He also worked in communications for the Hospital Employees Union (HEU) before he went on to get his Ph. D at the University of Alberta, studying the history of space technology with Dr. Robert Smith.
Chris is an author of four books, most notably Who Killed the Avro Arrow (2007) and Arrows to the Moon (2001) which tells the story of the Canadian and British aerospace engineers hired by NASA after the Avro Arrow program was shut down in 1959.
In 1980 he was at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena with Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto, Carl Sagan, Ray Bradbury and others to watch as Voyager as it flew by Saturn. It was another exquisite moment.
Chris is now First Vice-President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and spends much of his time at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory at The Centre of the Universe on Little Saanich Mountain. He credits MLA Lana Popham for her tireless efforts in the fight to keep it open after cuts by the federal government in 2014. He is also a fellow of the British Interplanetary Society the oldest space exploration advocacy organization in the world.
“The history of space exploration is undergoing change,” Chris says, “it’s time to reflect on the role of race and gender. It’s time to de-colonize our thinking.”
NASA recently hosted actress Nichelle Nichols, best known as Star Trek’s Lt. Uhuru, on its Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) to help promote interest in space science. She has been active with NASA since the TV series ended helping recruit women and minorities. As Chris takes on the editorship of the Quest he is hoping the magazine will begin to reflect these changes. Chris has one caution for us in this age of looking to the stars to escape the mess we’ve left behind, “if we screw it all up with climate change, there’s no time and no chance to move into space.”
Where does Winston Churchill fit in? Well, when Chris was a reporter in Vancouver he attended a Hallowe’en party dressed as Churchill. He’d spent some time learning Churchill’s voice by listening to a recording of John Diefenbaker imitating Churchill. Les Leyne, another reporter he knew heard of this and invited Chris to play Churchill at his annual Toast to Churchill in the Mayor’s Grove at Beacon Hill Park.
So if some January day you see a man with a bowler hat and a big cigar strolling into the park stop a moment and say hello to Chris Gainor.
And whatever you’re doing May 14th, 2016 Chris has you beat. He’ll be spending Astronomy Day in Burlington, Wash at a reunion of the Apollo 8 astronauts.