So Long, Cominco: A Legend of the Old Town Passes

He fought hard all the way to the end, no complaints, just courage and typical screw-you determination. There’s a photograph of him circulating amongst his friends on Facebook right now, on his hospital bed in Edmonton waiting for a double-lung transplant, an oxygen mask obscuring his face, his long greying hair sneaking out of a hospital cap, and his arms extended, both middle fingers fully flying, flipping the bird at death. 

I first met Greg “Cominco” Loftus when I was in my late teens. I’d just moved in to share a little green shack on Bush Pilot Monument Hill with my sister for the summer, and there in the living room, curled up under a table, was a skinny guy in his mid-20s. He was recovering from a heavy night out, and next to him under the table — he’d been curled around it like a cat with a giant kitten — was a Texas mickey full of rye he’d won at the Rec Hall. He was a key part of that ensuing early-’80s summer, a wild but essentially sweet figure, always up to some sort of mostly harmless mayhem out of the corner of your eye.

He loved to terrify my friends, a bunch of nice middle-class kids who weren’t used to the ways of the Old Town. But when we ran into him out on the town,  he also watched our backs, as protective as a Grizzly mother, making damn sure we didn’t get into any real trouble. He once made my friend Donald drink out of his (very stinky) boot. Then bought him another beer. Says my sister Amanda, one of his oldest friends: “When he partied, he applied intense amounts of focus to the task at hand. He would organize frozen fish duels, elaborate broom-jumping competitions.” 

He’d left home in Ontario at 15, hitchhiked his way across the country, and ended up in Yellowknife at the tender age of 16. He got his nickname from an early job at Con Mine, and it took me years to realize that he had another name, a civilian name: Greg Loftus. 

“This is myself, summer of 1973 hitchhiking to Alaska. Photo taken by Hugh drunken Irish poet from Montreal. This would be mid to late June roughly one month before I arrived in Yellowknife Age 15 years.”  – From Cominco’s Facebook page

He had major health issues even back then. The same day I met him, he told me he’d just been informed by a doctor he had to stop drinking or he’d die young. Then he laughed raucously and shook his head at the giant bottle of rye he’d just won. Life, it seemed, was out to kill him. Eventually he did quit, after a few more years of carousing. A double-kidney transplant (that doctor wasn’t fooling)  in the mid-’80s changed his lifestyle, but didn’t affect his intensity. He went from focused partier to focused raiser of awareness about organ donation, running Paddling for Parts, and travelling down the Mackenzie River from Inuvik to raise money for the cause. He became an ardent kayaker and trail-builder. He traveled the world, hiking in Britain, Southeast Asia, kayaking in South Africa, Central America, making friends everywhere he want. He was a great lover of dogs. 

The last longish conversation I had with him, I’d met him out on the Frame Lake Trail one afternoon, and we ambled along, talking about the city and how it had changed. He was mellow, but still, even fighting against the illness that took him, he could be ornery. One of the last short conversations I had with him was about a year or so ago, when I saw him standing out in front of Harley’s, his longtime haunt. EDGE had just done a photo shoot about the place and its subculture, and photographer Angela Gzowski had captured a stunning portrait of him. I knew Cominco was weird about the media, hated the press, did not want attention of any sort, but thought, maybe, if he’d let Angela shoot him, he might be relaxing a bit. We had a friendly exchange and then I said, hey Cominco, please let me interview you for this story we’re doing about the Woodyard. I’ve got this amazing photograph of you and you’ve got so much historical and unique knowledge that no one else has and —”Fuck off, Matthew.” 

If you’re out there somewhere, Cominco, you’re probably really pissed at this article. Sorry, pal.

He was, as far as anyone knows, around 59 when he passed yesterday. “He met the last challenge of his life with courage and focus,” says my sister. “He left with dignity on his own terms — he had strict instructions about his care. He was  accepting of the end. He donated his body to science and his hair to cancer survivors.”

A celebration of Greg “Cominco” Loftus’s life is being organized and will be held later in the year. “We have to do it well,” says my sister, “as Cominco always took it upon himself to make sure everyone else who died before him was properly honoured, so we all know we have to do it right or else…”


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