BY JEFFREY HEYDEN-KAYE
courtesy of Ponoka News
The tragic death of Tom Hamilton in an avalanche has reverberated through the community of Ponoka.
Hamilton, 29, was snowmobiling with three friends in McBride, B.C. March 21st when the snow started to break apart from right beneath him. He and another friend, Curtis Fries from Sherwood Park, were unable to escape the avalanche in time and they were buried.
“As he was turning around, the avalanche let loose underneath Tom,” explained his father Jim Hamilton. “The whole plateau let loose.”
He said the other two snowmobilers were able to locate Fries’ emergency beacon. They were able to dig him out but he succumbed to his injuries. The four riders had proper safety equipment.
Search and rescue crews searched for Tom’s body, but they had to call off the search as the evening wore on. He was found the next day approximately 15m under where Fries was found. Hamilton said their emergency beacons were right on top of each other, which made it difficult to locate Tom’s body.
“That we get to bring him home and give him a proper burial is huge to me and to his wife,” said Hamilton. “Until he’s found, you’re praying he’s alive. You know it’s not likely.”
Tom leaves behind a young family with his wife Amanda and two young children, Kaitlyn and James.
As his children will never know what their father was like, Amanda has requested people who knew Tom write a story about him and his life. As they grow older, she hopes to pass on these stories to her children.
Tom’s death has also created a void in Jim’s life; not only was he his son, but Tom and Jim were partners at Hamilton’s IGA.
“I’m scared,” said Jim simply. “I don’t know how I can do it without him.”
He has received hundreds of emails and calls from the many people who knew Tom and each one has been about the lasting memory he had on them.
Tom could be found in many parts of Ponoka. While he was a fixture at the store, he was also a big advocate of community events. He was past-president of the Ponoka Kinsmen and was always busy during Ponoka Stampede.
Tom’s good nature and work ethic is another thing Jim is proud of.
He told the story of Tom working at a plant picking lettuce some years ago. Tom had to take on extra work to cover a sick employee and in an effort to be efficient, Tom managed to do the work of two people.
That work ethic got other staff members in trouble and he was told to reduce the workflow.
“So he got his back up and the next day he bribed the kid beside him to move down one and he did three rows to prove a point. And he got fired,” explained Jim fondly.
It was this kind of work ethic that Jim loved about his son, who was on his way to being a fourth generation owner of Hamilton’s IGA. Jim said most families don’t make it past three generations. “We found a way to make it work,” he said.
Tom was getting so good at the job that when Jim was dealing with an injury last year, his son handled it well. “We actually made more money with my leg when I was at home than I did when I was there.”
Jim said they were in the midst of planning a surprise birthday party for Tom, who was going to turn 30 on April 30th. There were no details at the production time on a funeral date.
In the meantime, Ponoka Kinsmen, where Tom served as president between 2011 and 2013, has announced that a decision was made to dedicate the toboggan hill, which the deceased was so instrumental in creating, to his memory.
“Any donations can be made to the Tom Hamilton Memorial Hill through the Ponoka Kinsmen,” said the press release issued by the organization.