Valley Lives - Craig Clost
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the May 17, 2017 issue. Reprinted with permission.
Celebrating the life of the party
By Mary Fahey
Craig Clost was the most popular guy in the Gatineau Hills. Or if he wasn't, then he was certainly in the running.
Clost, who began Captiva Farms in the early 1980s and owned it until its sale a few years ago, died on April 18 at the age of 69, but his legacy as a big personality with a penchant for a good party will live on in the Hills and beyond.
When people use the phrase "living life to the fullest", they're talking about the kind of life that Clost lived; Brian Lahey of Ottawa, a longtime friend and the executor of Clost's estate, remembers the first time he met Clost. He was hanging out outside the Harveys on Richmond Road in Ottawa as a 17-year-old boy, sitting in his mother's Mustang, when he was approached by a "wild man."
"And [Clost] walked up and said, 'Move over, brother, let's take this thing for a ride,'" said Lahey. "And we've been friends ever since."
Clost was born on Dec. 27, 1947 and raised on Woodroffe Avenue in the west end of Ottawa. Gale Clost Costen, Clost's older sister by seven years, said that growing up with her little brother was "busy". Friends Clost had had since childhood said that every kid in the west end knew him. He loved sports and staying active, she said; his time swimming in the Ottawa River as a child led to a lifelong love of swimming, and he played hockey in leagues in Ottawa and Low. His childhood love of bicycling and his father's job as a motorcycle supplier led to an adult fascination with motorcycles, which he eventually became known for.
As a young man, Clost opened the He and She unisex hair salon in the early 1970s. He had taken a motorcycle trip in the United States with a friend and noticed how many unisex hair studios they had, said Costen, and wondered why a similar venture couldn't succeed in Ottawa. He had his barbering license at this point, so he opened up a unisex salon himself - the first in Ottawa. No one in Ottawa had seen such a thing before, said Costen, and that's what eventually made He and She such a popular spot. Pierre Trudeau used to go in for haircuts with his boys, she said.
"We had loud music playing and there would be people lined up outside and on the porch waiting to get their hair done. It became a meeting place for young people," said Costen.
Clost sold the salon in the mid-70s for a new adventure in the Bahamas. He'd been to the region before, and he would go back and forth between the Bahamas and Canada for much of his life, but for about eight years he lived mostly in the island nation. He bought a sailboat and taught himself how to sail so he could take the friends he made there on fishing excursions. He made friends everywhere he went, said Costen, many of whom became lifelong friends.
The 42-foot teak wood boat he sailed in the Bahamas was named Captiva.
Clost bought the land that became Captiva Farms in 1982, said Costen, and he ran the farm for 32 years. They had aunts and uncles in Edelweiss, said Costen, and Clost fell in love with the area. He sold his boat in the Bahamas and moved to Edelweiss.
Clost loved horses, since his family had owned horses on Woodroffe Avenue growing up, but he didn't know anything about running a farm, said Lahey.
"This is a guy that had all the confidence in the world. Without knowing anything about horses, he bought a 200-acre horse ranch, filled it with 60 to 70 horses, and ran a riding stable there," said Lahey. "He became an expert but he went into it with nothing but enthusiasm."
Plenty of local kids grew up riding horses at Captiva Farms, but all of Clost's friends and family remember something else about the place: the legendary parties. Hundreds of people would come out to the farm for its many hootenannies, which Clost often spent weeks preparing. Costen said Clost would get half a cow to roast on a spit, or he'd dig a pit for a pig roast, and so many people would show up that they had to post ushers in parking areas to direct people. Clost rented bands to play at his parties, and the music could be heard all the way down the long laneway to the property.
Even his funeral was a party, according to long-time friend Don Frisby. Frisby, who lives in Edelweiss, was one of many who spoke at the service. With upwards of 300 people packed into the Pinecrest Visitation Centre and Chapel in Ottawa, Clost's life was well-celebrated; sure, there were tears, since Clost will be so dearly missed, but there was also storytelling and even dancing - things Clost loved so well.
"It was kind of like an Irish wake. Lots of laughing and lots of tears as well," said Frisby.
Manon Grand-Maître lives in Toronto, but she spent a lot of time in Wakefield during her years at university in Ottawa in the late 1990s. She met Clost through their shared love of horses, and they even dated for a bit, but Grand-Maître said their friendship didn't end when their relationship did. Clost loved the community, said Grand-Maître, and wanted to use his resources to give back. He wanted to mentor local kids and let them work on the farm, and he would lend his horses to Canada Day parades. And of course, the parties were always a local happening. Clost was a good friend to many, she said.
"[Clost] was a true seeker of freedom. An unwavering loyal friend. Loyal to his family, and loyal to his friends to the end," said Grand-Maître.
Frisby said Clost made a lasting impression on everyone he met, including the people in his adopted home. He was magnetic, said Frisby; he loved music and horses and the sun and nature and laughter.
"He loved life and lived life to the fullest. I know people overuse that, but in his case, it was absolutely true," he said.
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