Weekend Warrior: BCCA president and CEO Chris Atchison curls up in his spare time

Chris Atchison has twice competed at the Brier, Canada's annual men's championship.

There are three things that Chris Atchison claims are “in his blood”: fishing, hockey and, of course, curling.

The British Columbia Construction Association (BCCA) president and CEO saw both his parents curl competitively, and he coached his own children to play college hockey. He started curling at nine years old himself, going on to represent B.C. twice—in 2001 and 2007—at the Brier, Canada’s annual men’s curling championship.

“Curling was the passion that won out during my peak competitive years,” he recalls. “And I continued that passion wherever I lived in the province.”

Although Atchison contends that he has lived in every region of B.C., he grew up in Prince Rupert. He remembers participating in a local tournament during his earliest days curling and scoring an eight-ender—a perfect score—that won his team a trip to Hawaii, sponsored by CP Air (now Air Canada). But he didn’t start playing the sport competitively until he qualified for junior championships in high school.

Before Atchison’s career in sports, he worked with nets in a different way. Born into a commercial fishing family, Atchison landed his first job as a fisherman at 17 years old. Working on and off for 10 years helped him pay his way through UBC, where he studied international relations, political science, economics and history.

At the time, he was also playing junior varsity hockey with the UBC Thunderbirds. But he didn’t actively step behind the bench until his own kids enrolled in minor hockey. He began coaching in earnest around 2004 and continued to do so until 2018, when his daughter graduated from the BC Hockey Midget AAA program.

What always remained a constant was Atchison’s love for curling. The first time he attended the Brier, he was invited as the fifth player (or the sub), and he remembers it being an “absolute dream come true”— even though B.C. missed the playoffs with a 4–7 record.

Calling on fifth players to play throughout the game was less common back then. Of course, there is just one answer to the million-dollar question: Who is the only fifth player to have competed in the 2001 Brier? It’s Atchison.

“And then, because we won the game that I played in, I think that I’m pretty much the only undefeated player at that Brier as well,” he says with a laugh.

That was hardly his peak moment on the ice, though. The pinnacle of Atchison’s curling career would have to be the 2007 Brier against Olympic champion Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We had a fantastic game,” Atchison remembers. B.C. was awarded the shot of the week (which Atchison calls the “miracle shot”) as a result of the team’s performance. But the match came down to Gushue, who needed to make his last shot to beat B.C. And he did.

“Even though we lost, it was close,” Atchison says. “Hard fought both ways. Could’ve been anyone’s game.”

It was during this era when Atchison noticed something wrong with his hip. Five years of pain, lack of sleep and conversations with specialists led him to get hip replacement surgery in 2014. “It was a game changer,” he insists. “I was walking around that evening, and within a week, I was pain-free.”

But that’s when the other shoe dropped. Although he was still coaching hockey and curling recreationally, everything had to be put on the back burner when Atchison landed back in the hospital six months later to undergo surgery for prostate cancer.

Ultimately, he credits his full recovery to his family, the teams he played on, the teams he coached and the teams he worked with, all of whom expressed their confidence in his ability to get back on the ice.

Now, Victoria-based Atchison is back on skates and in curling shoes. He chaired the host committees for both the 2009 women’s national curling championship (the Scotties Tournament of Hearts) and the 2013 world men’s curling championship. He coaches hockey voluntarily, skips a team in Victoria and calls himself a “free agent” in the competitive curling realm. That is, when he’s not serving the industrial, commercial and institutional construction sectors in B.C.

“There’s so much in the lessons that you learn from coaching sports and competing in sports that is reflective in real life,” he says. “I think there’s always an element of competition, but there also needs to be an element of camaraderie.”

Warrior Spotlight

Chris Atchison, who calls himself a “servant leader,” took over as CEO of the BCCA in 2017, two years after joining the nonprofit organization as its provincial coordinator of workforce development. The BCCA advocates for construction companies on issues such as standard practices and prompt payment. Prior to his appointment, Atchison spent 15 years as COO of the Association for Service Providers for Employability and Career Training. He says it was the BCCA’s initiatives to fill skill shortages in the province that drew him in: “I’ve always been driven to help people find their potential.”