Nick Lees: Royal Glenora Club interim CEO constantly pursuing passion for photography

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Had the Russians not invaded Prague in 1968, Jan Novotny would not have just been rehired for the fifth time by the Royal Glenora Club (RGC).

“I told the club I would be happy to stand in as interim CEO while the club looked for a permanent CEO,” says Novotny, a retired former RGC club manager, who, in his one of three positions at the Derrick Golf and Winter Club, also served as general manager.

The future looked bleak for Novotny in August 1968, when 500,000 Warsaw Pact troops attacked Czechoslovakia.

“I captured great images of Russian soldiers in Prague during the first three days when it was OK to take photos,” he says. “It was chaos and emotional. We were mad and yelled at those 18-year-old Russian kids on tanks that they were just like the Nazis who had invaded Prague 30 years earlier.

“On the fourth day, I was arrested. Taking photos was no longer allowed. Troops grabbed my camera bag and exposed all my film. It broke my heart. To this day, I believe they destroyed some of my best shots.”


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Novotny owned a camera at the age of 14 and loved photography and writing. But a year later, when he had finished Grade 9, the Communist Party did not support his going to high school.

“They didn’t like my family’s dissident politics,” he says. “I was offered the chance of becoming a bricklayer or a toolmaker. I was fortunate and found a job in a photographic studio.”

During the following four years, while learning at the studio and studying photography at night school, he decided to act on a dream.

“At 19, a big draw for me was Canada, with its freedoms, exciting landscapes and the Rocky Mountains,” says Novotny. “We also had empathy for the Canadian college hockey players who battled Czech and Russian professionals. We loved the Canadians and sang songs we wrote about the Canadian wilderness.”

He found his way to Montreal and worked as a bus boy before moving on to renew his artistic ambitions by working in film labs in Toronto and Vancouver.

“I was playing competitive badminton in Vancouver and moved to Edmonton in 1971 to become the RGC’s badminton and tennis professional when a friend there asked me to take over coaching for him,” says Novotny. “He wanted to play tennis in Australia for the winter.”

Novotny later moved to the Derrick to become the badminton and tennis pro, and two years after that, he went on to become Canada’s Ottawa-based national badminton coach.

“When coaching funding ran out, I returned to become the RCG’s badminton coach, and two years later, the Derrick made me a coaching offer I couldn’t refuse.”


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Opportunity saw him return to RGC as sports director and progress to become the club’s general manager for four years.

“I love both clubs and think they are great additions to Edmonton’s community,” says Novotny. “I accepted the GM’s job at the Derrick in 1988 and was there until I retired in 2017.

“I feel very fortunate everything has fallen into place in my life and sometimes feel like Forrest Gump. Everything just seemed to work out.”

Moving to Canada gave him the artistic license he needed, and while he has enjoyed his positions in private clubs, he is still an avid photographer, often working with old-style cameras and developing images in his darkroom at home.

Novotny has regularly staged photo exhibitions, his most successful perhaps being his relatively recent photo diary from the Russian invasion of Prague. It ran for four months, first at the Edmonton International Airport, then City Hall, Ross Sheppard High School and finally at the U of A.

“I continued to take pictures in Prague after all my film had been destroyed,” says Novotny. “But it was tricky taking shots with my bulky camera. I was scared what might happen if I were to be caught again.”

Presently on display is Novotny’s 120-image public installation at 89 Avenue and 99 Street.

“I have been delighted the exhibition has been so well received,” says Novotny. “It’s 15 metres long and more than one metre in height. It is mounted on large aluminum sheets and displays photos I shot over three years in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada.

“It explores the nature of reality and the underlying interconnectedness of all people. I’d hope the images will get people thinking and draw an emotional response.”

How does he balance his constant drive to create artistically with club management duties?

“It’s easy,” he says. “I don’t have to shoot weddings and dog shows to pay my bills.”


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