Jason Beck thought farming was his destiny. An Abbotsford boy born and bred, as a teenager he assumed that his future was literally in his backyard, working on his family’s farm.
“That was my plan,” Beck, 39, says before quickly clarifying. “Well, it wasn’t even a plan, it’s just what I thought was going to happen with my life. And then my family decided to sell the farm.”
Pivoting away from the family business may have been a blessing when you consider the impact he has had for nearly two decades as curator at the BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. Since he joined the Hall in 2003, Beck has been instrumental in exposing the public to the province’s greatest past athletes and moments, while making a push towards inclusivity.
For his service and contribution to the preservation of BC’s sports history, the UFV Alumni Association has named Beck the 2021 recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award (DAA). The honour has taken this multiple award winner off guard.
“I was in a meeting and I remember seeing an email come through and I kind of looked at it like it wasn’t legit. I didn’t believe it,” says Beck. “I’m extremely humbled and honoured.”
As a sportswriter, Beck has contributed to several local publications and international journals over the years, telling historic sports narratives. One of those stories became the subject of his debut book The Miracle Mile: Stories of the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games which was released by Caitlin Press in 2016.
For Beck to have gone into sports history is actually not that far-fetched. As a child, he would spend hours in the library reading sports biographies. Beck was always fascinated with the anecdotes of the athletes’ upbringings, their setbacks, and their internal drive that ultimately made them great.
He was also a standout athlete himself, turning down scholarship offers elsewhere to try to earn a spot on the University of Victoria’s men’s soccer team. After deciding to transfer after his freshman year, UFV (then the University College of the Fraser Valley) caught his eye for reasons beyond athletics and hometown proximity.
“I remember going through UFV’s academic calendar and all of a sudden this one course jumped out at me, and it was Canadian Sports History taught by Robin Anderson — History 325,” he recalled. “And honestly, that moment kind of changed my life.”
That course and Anderson, who is a history professor at UFV, not only fueled Beck’s passion for BC sports history but challenged him to dig deeper and uncover untold stories of his own. For a thesis-like directed studies course assignment, Anderson had given Beck the heads up about an epic rowing race that took place in 1954 on the Vedder Canal, not far from Beck’s family farm, as part of the British Empire and Commonwealth Games. Anderson told Beck that he’d have to do some hands-on research to pursue this topic and that the best place to start was the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
The thesis project turned into a summer hire, before becoming a part-time job. Beck’s drive, natural curiosity, and creative instincts did not go unnoticed by his peers and supervisors. In 2006, curator Bob Graham, as well as director of operations Allison Mailer, lobbied for Beck to succeed Graham, despite Beck’s youth and inexperience.
Graham and Mailer’s gamble clearly paid off as Beck has remained in the position ever since.
“People need to know all stories,” he says. “Especially more recent ones from groups that haven’t been given the recognition that they deserve, such as Indigenous, Paralympic, and female athletes. And even the LGBTQ movement — there’s a whole other group of athletes there and stories that haven’t been looked at in detail.”
Along with the highs in his job, there have been lows. As it did with many companies and organizations across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted the BC Sports Hall of Fame’s operations. Most of the staff were laid off, and Beck’s hours were cut down to two days a week. He passed the time returning to his roots in the Fraser Valley and drove a tractor part-time.
And Beck’s passion for digging deep into B.C. sports history continues. He is wrapping up a new nearly completed book on a series of great Vancouver Rowing Club crews in the 1950s.
Despite being busy with family time, writing a book, and working on a farm, he returned to full-time hours in Oct. 2020.
“My time away made me appreciate what I had even more,” Beck concludes. “Like, ‘okay, you’re decent at driving a tractor, but you’re not great. You’re meant to be doing what you do at the Hall of Fame.’”