Remembering Hans Blaser

Hans Walter Blaser
1922 – 2024

It is with great sorrow that we announce that on Monday, April 15th, 2024, Hans Walter Blaser, aged 101, of the city of Kingston, Ontario, passed peacefully at Cataraqui Heights Retirement Residence. Hans is predeceased by his wife, Vreni (nee Gasser), his siblings Emmy, Alice, Erwin and Elsbeth. Hans is survived by his three children: Bernard Blaser (Kathy (nee Mooney) and granddaughter Jennifer); Martin Blaser (Anne (nee Sisson) and grandchildren Mark (Andie (nee McHardy) and great-granddaughter Archer), and Amy (Todd Copeland); and Krista Simonds (nee Blaser) (Christopher Simonds (predeceased), and grandsons William, Nicholas, Matthew, and David Simonds). Hans leaves behind a large vibrant loving family spanning across two continents.

Hans was born April 30th, 1922, in Bern, Switzerland, to Gottfried Blaser and Lina Aeschlimann. In his youth, he was an accomplished singer featured in several international choir performances. He also had an avid love for track and field and long-distance running competitions. Hans completed his early education in Bern, training as an electro-mechanical engineer, finishing third in the Canton of Bern. In 1940, Hans served as a Swiss Intelligence and Communications Non-commissioned Officer during the Second World War.

Following the War, Hans worked in both Switzerland and Sweden as a toolmaker and electro-mechanical engineer until 1949. Hans worked for Charmille S.A. in Geneva, producing precision-mechanical parts on control valves in large-scale hydro-electric turbines for dams in India. Hans also contributed to the design and development of the first Elna free-arm sewing machine at Hispano Suiza in Geneva. In Bern, Hans developed the prototype Miltac electro-micro switch, subsequently patented by Saia; the Switch was used to measure the tension between threads or wires used in a loom for large-scale manufacturing. The Miltac Switch was subsequently used for other applications, such as safety switches. In 1947, Hans travelled to Sweden to do further research and development work as a precision-mechanical experiment technician working with new and innovative technology. Returning to Switzerland in 1949, Hans decided to pursue a new career path in correctional services, becoming an educator and sports teacher for young offender rehabilitation.

Hans immigrated to Canada in 1953, to work with young offenders as a mechanics and sports instructor. The promised employment was part of an arrangement with the UN’s International Penal and Penitentiary Commission, however, upon arrival in Canada, Hans found himself without work as the employment contract had fallen through. As an interim, Hans worked at the Scott Mission in Toronto as a handyman and cleaner. Relying on his past expertise in precision-mechanical metalwork, Hans applied for work with Corman on the AVRO Arrow project. He joined the team as a tool-room machinist ensuring that the precision measurements necessary for the wing and fuselage joints were able to function as intended. Following the identification of a mechanical design flaw, Hans redesigned the fuselage plans to accurately meet the project requirements. During his time with Corman, Hans married Vreni Gasser on July 3rd, 1953. With the closure of the AVRO project, Hans once again began the pursuit of a new career path, first as a registered medical massage therapist, and subsequently as a registered physiotherapist. In the summer of 1955, Hans opened his first private practice in Toronto.

In the autumn of 1955, Hans moved his family and business to Kingston, Ontario. In Kingston, Hans continued to develop his physiotherapy private practice while pursuing other varied work. Between 1955 and 1956, Hans completed precision-mechanical work for the Department of National Defence; for Humphreys and Burgham, he drafted Surveyors’ drawings of plans for Kingston’s Calvin Park, Polson Park, and the Kingston Shopping Centre; and also handcrafted wood-worked examination room furniture for Kingston physician offices. Ever focused on contributing to the health and success of his community, Hans co-founded several Kingston organizations such as the Kingston Homes for the Handicapped, the Kingston Stroke Club, and was a strong supporter of the Kingston Bus for the Handicapped.

In 1956, in addition to his private physiotherapy practice, Hans joined the staff at St. Mary’s of the Lake Hospital as the first male physiotherapist permitted work in a hospital setting. By the time Hans retired from St. Mary’s as Director of Physiotherapy in 1987, he was publicly recognized as the visionary force behind the development of the physiotherapy department. He shifted thinking and practice from passive chronic care to an active rehabilitative approach to restore people to their optimum state of health. This shift from chronic care to a supported out-patient model of care, the incorporation of student clinical training in a hospital setting, and the promotion of chronic geriatric care and rehabilitation, lead to a dramatic expansion of the physiotherapy department. During the early 1970’s, the department expanded from 800 square feet to 14,000 square feet and included the precedent setting inclusion of a therapeutic pool designed by Hans; the first in North America. Along with the new Gibson Wing came a Day-Hospital and an updated multidisciplinary approach to care and rehabilitation inspired by Hans’ holistic vision that ‘health care workers will be able to understand their patients not only as patients, but as people’. During this period, Hans was also an Instructor and Clinical Assistant, as well as a Lecturer in massage and soft tissue manipulation at the Queen’s School of Rehab-therapy.

Hans served as the President of the Ontario Society of Physiotherapy (O.S.P.T.) from 1966 to 1968 representing private practitioners in Ontario. Within this timeframe, Hans acted as the Physiotherapy Consultant to the Ontario Hospitals Services Commission (O.H.S.C.). Here, Hans was the initiator and instrumental contributor to the amalgamation of the C.P.A. members (Hospital) and O.S.P.T. members (private practice) to form the Ontario Physiotherapy Association to represent all physiotherapy practitioners in Ontario as one group at the Ministry of Health.

At his private practice, Hans was joined by his sons Bernard in 1982, and Martin in 1983. Hans’ retirement in 2001 saw Bernard and Martin take over the family practice until its sale in 2012. Even in retirement, Hans was compelled to participate in the Kingston community. He served the Cataraqui Cemetery for many years as a Strategic Planning Consultant, providing the inspiration and concept designs for the development of the Cemetery’s Forest Pond and Family Estate Garden, and advocated in support of Cataraqui’s designation as a National Historic Site. He created and supported several philanthropic initiatives with the Community Foundation for Kingston and Area and the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation. This included the creation of the Loving Spoonful Endowment Fund and the Hans Walter Blaser Education Endowment Fund to support practical, clinical, continuing education for physio and occupational therapy staff at Providence Care. He also remained an active advocate for promoting the positive, planned, urban development of Kingston.

Throughout his life, Hans emphasized exploring the different opportunities that life had to offer; he encouraged others to take chances to learn and grow. He has been described as a pioneer, an innovator, and a man ahead of his time. He always valued and emphasised family and community within his work and personal life. Hans was a leader, a mentor, and an inspiration to others. Hans was a man always eager and committed to contribute to the Kingston community.

A Celebration of Life will be held at James Reid Funeral Home in Kingston, Ontario on Friday 21 June 2024, at 1:00 pm. Interment will follow at the Cataraqui Cemetery in Kingston, Ontario. The Celebration of Life will allow for both physical attendance, as well as a live streamed digital component so those unable to attend in person may participate. Memorial donations may be made to The Loving Spoonful and/or the Kingston Community Foundation. Confirmation of the celebration details will be published closer to the event.

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