Keith Simmonds managed Great Wolf Lodge, supported numerous causes

Niagara has lost a popular business leader and charity supporter in a tragic cycling accident on the Niagara Parkway.

According to witnesses at the scene, Keith Simmonds accidentally fell from his bicycle onto the roadway and was struck by a passing northbound truck. Niagara Regional Police said Simmonds was cycling about 200 metres north of Victoria Avenue on the Parkway when he was hit by a vehicle heading the same direction.

Simmonds, who was the general manager of Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls, was pronounced dead at the scene.

He left a powerful legacy, despite his relatively young age. A passionate cyclist, he had recently completed an 850-kilometre bike trip from Toronto to New York City to benefit the charity Campfire Circle, which funds summer camps for childhood cancer victims.

A statement issued by The Jim Pattison Group, Ripley Entertainment Inc., and Great Wolf Lodge of Niagara Falls referred to Simmonds as “head howler” since the inception of the family destination some 17 years ago. He was recognized for his love of family, cycling, and philanthropy.

“Keith was a loyal friend and a compassionate giver, in both his personal life and professional endeavours,” said the press release.

Simmonds leaves behind his wife, Toby, and two sons, Ben and Nick.

Perry Hartwick, volunteer chair of the Niagara Peninsula Aspiring Global Geopark, said that he met Simmonds a couple of years ago, and explained the Geopark initiative to him.

Keith Simmonds on the recent R2//NYC Ride in support of Campfire Circle. BRENT GUSNOWSKI

“Keith saw the Geopark’s value to the Niagara community, and wanted to be a part of it,” said Hartwick. “Great Wolf Lodge was the Geopark’s first bedrock sponsor, and Keith’s endorsement opened doors all over the Region. He was a dear friend, and one of the most focused, driven individuals I have ever met. Great Wolf Lodge grew from a blueprint concept to the magnificently successful destination resort it is today under his constant direction.”

Hartwick acknowledged Simmonds’ recent completion of the R2//NYC Ride in support of Campfire Circle, “a camp for Ontario kids affected by childhood cancer, a cause near and dear to his heart.He and his group of close riding friends cycled from Toronto to New York City in five days. Of the $782,000 raised by the event, Keith, with his friends and Great Wolf Lodge, generated over $400,000 of that total.”

As a final tribute to his friend, Hartwick wrote, “Life is fleeting. It can be gone in the wink of an eye. We all should live each with the understanding that it might be our last. That’s what Keith did. He truly did.”

Keith was a loyal friend and a compassionate giver, in both his personal life and professional endeavours

Joel Hannigan, who was featured in a recent issue of the Voice as a cyclist participating in Campfire Circle’s Toronto to New York City fundraiser, shares his impressions of Keith, a man he met for the first time during the marathon ride, in the extended statement below.

Joel Hannigan

We rode the same roadways together on bikes, but in life, Keith always took the high road. Rolling into the parking garage beneath Marriott Harbour Centre in Buffalo, NY, there was a jubilant and raucous group howl. The sound of a wolf pack bounced around the concrete jungle that held nearly 40 tired, hungry, and thirsty cyclists. The group cheer was new to me, but it felt right after our 187-km bike ride starting at the headquarters of Campfire Circle in Toronto earlier that day.

We rode around the tip of Lake Ontario, climbed the escarpment twice, found our way to the Niagara Parkway and eventually over the Peace Bridge and into Buffalo. During the ride we had a brief but impactful pitstop at Great Wolf Lodge. We were enthusiastically greeted by a large group of their staff. They rolled out the proverbial red carpet for the riders and event volunteers. You could tell that this group had “bought-in” to the cause. It was an amazing boost for our tiring legs as we neared the middle of the afternoon.

Joel Hannigan. DON RICKERS

Toronto to Buffalo on a bicycle would be a considerable accomplishment for many, but this was just to the first leg of what would eventually be a five-day, 850-kilometre ride to New York City. Every good cheer, of course, has its instigator, and every pack of wolves has its leader. That day, it was none other than Keith Simmonds, who was also a participant in the gruelling trek to the Big Apple.

Once we were showered, changed, and presentable for dinner, I was introduced to Keith. He was friendly, unassuming, and down-to-earth. During a break in the meal, Keith was asked to say a few words. His energy and presence immediately took hold of the room.

“Hey listen up, listen up!” he boomed, a familiar opener to those associated with Campfire Circle, the charity for which we were riding. Keith spoke with passion about Camp, Great Wolf Lodge’s mission, and how the ride to NYC was a perfect fit for their organization and their team.

Keith brought with him the Wolf Pack, a fantastic group of riders passionate about the sport and the camp, which supports children and families dealing with cancer. The Wolf pack led the way in fundraising for the ride, helping the entire group eclipse the original goal of $500,000, amassing some $780,000 for Campfire Circle.

Keith’s energy and emotion were palpable. He was a leader in the community, his company, and on the road.

Some people lead with words, others with actions. But Keith had a way of doing both. Over the remaining four days, it was a privilege to get to know Keith, chat with him, and observe how he handled himself and treated others. He used his position of power and privilege to improve the lives of those around him. Keith had a way of listening to people, and making them feel seen.

The news of his passing sent shockwaves through the cycling community, and indeed across Niagara. How could a dynamic force just six days removed from riding to NYC be gone? I didn’t know Keith for long, but his impact on me will be felt forever. I know there are many more out there who are feeling his impact in their own lives. He will be missed, on so many levels.

We can all learn from someone like Keith. Taking time to notice those around us on the fringes, using our energy to encourage others, and whenever and whatever you can, give back to the community.

Niagara has lost a pillar of charity and kindness, and Campfire Circle a champion of their amazing cause. We all share the loss of an amazing person. There is a chasm of kindness and positivity where Keith once stood. My condolences go out to his family, friends, co-workers, and the R2//NYC family.

May he rest in peace.

A celebration of Keith Simmonds’ life will be held at the Niagara Falls Convention Centre, 6815 Stanley Avenue, on Sunday, October 2 at 11:30 AM.