Nick Lees: Edmonton Swiss Men’s Choir President Hans Voegeli makes plans to gallop into the end of the pandemic

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A hopeful sign Covid-19 driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant might be nearing its peak locally is learning Hans Voegeli is riding his horses again and yodelling his favourite Swiss-German song.

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“I usually ride at least three times each week, but I didn’t ride for several weeks during our awful sub-zero spell,” says Swiss-born Voegeli, who lives on his acreage near Sherwood Park.

“But our Edmonton Swiss Men’s Choir is considering rehearsals again for a future concert and I have been warming up my voice by riding my two horses and singing Kamerade.

“Kamerade means friends and the song has such a wonderful, warm melody, we declared it our choir’s theme song.”

Choir President, Hans Voegeli (back row, first on left) with the Swiss Men’s choir and Director Elizabeth Anderson (Front row, Fourth from right) and Assistant-director and pianist Irena Tarnawsky. (sitting at piano)
Choir President, Hans Voegeli (back row, first on left) with the Swiss Men’s choir and Director Elizabeth Anderson (Front row, Fourth from right) and Assistant-director and pianist Irena Tarnawsky. (sitting at piano) Photo by Nick Lees /Supplied

Voegeli has been president of the Edmonton Swiss Men’s Choir since 2005 and has led it to several competition wins in the U.S. and Switzerland.

“I have tried to resign from the choir several times, but members insisted I continue, saying ‘Just one more year?’” says Voegeli.

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It might be a men’s choir, but it should be noted the director, who has led the choir for 35 years of its 42-year history, is a woman, the congenial Elizabeth Anderson.”

“Hans is the ultimate classy gentleman,” says Anderson. “He’s highly organized, efficient, gentle and polite. You might say he’s typically Swiss.”

Voegeli’s smiling face is well-known to many Edmontonians. After working for CP Hotels in Calgary and the Four Seasons Hotels in Montreal, Calgary, and Edmonton, he welcomed guests as manager of some of Edmonton’s favourite former restaurants, such as Walden’s, Boccalino, Chef’s Table and Trumps.

“In 1992, I became manager of the Chateau Lacombe’s La Ronde revolving restaurant,” he says. “I still make an appearance there now and again if required.”

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Kurt Blesi joined the choir one year after it was formed and says Voegeli is an excellent leader and is positive about the choir’s future.

“We lost some members for assorted reasons recently and Hans has encouraged everyone to bring younger people forward to join us,”  says Blesi. “His leadership may have something to do with his being a former Swiss Army officer.”

Hans Voegeli has two ambitions he plans to fulfill when the Covid-19 pandemic ends. He plans to make one last Rocky Mountain trail ride with friends he has ridden with for more than 20 years – and he would once more like to make a fox hunting trip to Virginia. “We have to do the things we love as long as we are fit and able,” he says.
Hans Voegeli has two ambitions he plans to fulfill when the Covid-19 pandemic ends. He plans to make one last Rocky Mountain trail ride with friends he has ridden with for more than 20 years – and he would once more like to make a fox hunting trip to Virginia. “We have to do the things we love as long as we are fit and able,” he says. Photo by Nick Lees /Supplied

Voegeli’s love of horses began when he was an infant.

“My grandfather was in the horse business and drove a stagecoach over the Swiss mountains,” he says.

“My father took over the business, which included riding stables and supplying horse-drawn carriages for weddings, movies, tourists and to pull sleighs in mountain resorts.”

His father also supplied horses to the Swiss Army Mountain troops and it was Voegeli’s love of horses that saw him serve his compulsory army service with the Cavalry.

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“Most of Switzerland is mountainous terrain and normal temperatures in the Alps can often be 25 degrees below zero in winter,” says Voegeli.

“Trucks would generally be useless, but horses and mules can withstand the temperatures and are capable of carrying up to 220 pounds of equipment over the mountains and through deep snow.”

Knowing they would be traded, Voegeli says it was hard to become affectionate with horses when he was young. While his brother now runs the family horse business, Voegeli says he now has a close friendship with his two horses here, both of which turn 25 years old this year.

“Zarek is the grey Warmblood and Spike is part Warmblood with a bit of Arabian blood in him,” says Voegeli.

“They are cousins. Both have thick coats and are considered outside horses. But I brought them both inside when it was alarmingly cold and gave each a blanket.”

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Voegeli has two riding ambitions when Covid-19 is definitely under control.

He hopes to bring back this summer a Lake Louise trail ride that was held for more than 20 years, while also hoping to return to Virginia on a fox-hunting trip.

“I last visited Switzerland in 2019 and old Cavalry friends who had ridden previously on our trail rides here are pushing me to organize one last such ride,” says Voegeli.

“I am also regularly in contact with my old friend Jim Fitzgibbon, one of the first general managers of the former Four Seasons Hotel when it opened in Edmonton in the late 1970s.

“Jim is keen to go Fox hunting in Virginia and I would again like to join him.

“It’s a different style of riding than a Rocky Mountain trail ride. But it is just as much fun and exciting. We have to do the things we love as long as we are fit and able.”

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