Strictly speaking, a legacy is something you leave to your survivors after you’ve gone. It could be a material inheritance, it could be memorable advice, or it could be enduring influence.
Gaston “Gus” Hamel has left an amazing legacy to Cold Lake, but it’s not something he just left to us. He shared it with us his whole life.
It’s easy to see that he built a successful business, participated in community affairs, gave generously, and was well-liked and respected. But what is more remarkable—and a lesson we would all do well to learn—is that none of this was artificial. He was as true to his values in business as he was in person.
Nearly everyone in Cold Lake has experienced the pleasure of being a customer at Hamel’s Meats. Greg Hamel says Gus taught “the boys” the importance of the personal touch not because it’s good for business, but because it’s a good way to live.
Greg had stories for me about Gus and his attitude toward people. He considered everyone to be his equal, and would generously share his time (and more) with anyone. If he chatted with you in the store, he wasn’t just making conversation—he was taking an interest.
I shared an experience of my own with Greg. I told him of a retirement job I had taken at a “Mom-and-Pop” grocery store in Saskatchewan a few years ago, and how the owners wanted me to relate with their customers. I told the owners about the customer experience at Hamel’s in Cold Lake, and they said, “EXACTLY.” I loved that job, and did well at it—I learned it all from my experience as a Hamel’s customer.
“It all came from Dad,” Greg said. “He had time for everyone.” At Gus’s funeral, Greg said “He treated his customers so well, genuinely enjoying their visits to the store and always trying to satisfy them. He taught us this from an early age, the trait I’m sure which keeps our business going today.”
Cold Lake enjoys a rare kind of relationship with Hamel’s Meats. It’s not just a local landmark or a favourite local business—we’re genuinely proud of the store and its standing in our community. In a small city famous for its fighter force and powered by the energy industry, we see a small local butcher shop as an equal source of pride and a claim to fame.
Greg said that Gus was enormously proud when some Hamel’s beef jerky was flown up to the astronauts at the International Space Station in 2009. We all shared in that feeling. Even though Cold Lake has direct and indirect ties to the space program, including a few famous astronauts, that small butcher shop represents us in a much more tangible way.
And, as Greg said, it all came from Gus.
To succeed in business you have to put your customers first. To succeed in life you have to be true to yourself while understanding you are part of a bigger world. It’s rare to find people, like Gus Hamel, who are good at both.