His life as a natural health pioneer
We look back at the life of Siegfried Gursche, the founder of alive magazine. Known as the father of natural health in Canada, he left a legacy of achievements.
True pioneers initiate new enterprises or establish new settlements in uncharted lands. Siegfried Gursche did both—often. Over the course of a career that spanned almost 60 years, he initiated many groundbreaking enterprises in the “new” Canadian land of natural health.
Born in Germany to vegetarian parents, young Siegfried’s schoolmates often stared at his lunches in disbelief. They were convinced he’d die if he didn’t soon eat sausages. This prompted Siegfried to begin reading about nutrition, and set him on a path that not only guided his career but influenced his life.
Siegfried went on to study herbs and organic farming, and apprenticed in a health food store. When he came to Canada, he purchased a book store in Vancouver. He sold books about natural health and nutrition, but his customers couldn’t purchase the herbs that they read about. Siegfried solved the problem by importing the herbs for his customers—in what would become his characteristic way of filling unmet needs in Canada’s natural health industry.
In 1968, he turned his passion for natural health into the manufacture and distribution of quality herbal remedies and supplements through the creation of Flora Distributors.
The birth of alive
At that time, natural health manufacturers and retailers had no means to educate the public about their products. At a meeting of the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) on April 1, 1975, members decided to shelve the often-discussed idea of creating a natural health newsletter. Undaunted, Siegfried literally took a paper placemat and with some folds and a pen, he had mocked up a magazine. By the end of the meeting, he’d sold enough advertising to create a 16-page publication: alive magazine was born.
Just two weeks later, 30,000 copies of alive rolled off the press. Siegfried spent 30 years as its publisher, working alongside his wife Christel who was the food editor and food stylist for the magazine.
“The words I hear most often used to describe Siegfried are visionary, pioneer, and entrepreneur, but to me Siegfried was simply living life to the fullest,” says Ryan Benn, Publisher of alive. “Siegfried lived life, and most importantly, inspired others to live their lives to their maximum potential. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, have seen their lives improved by the positive actions of Siegfried Gursche.”
alive was just one of Siegfried’s publishing ventures. In 1978, he created alive Books. This division published dozens of nutritional guides, including the Encyclopedia of Natural Healing, a labour of love that he co-authored with Zoltan Rona, MD, MSc.
A passion for education
Education was the driving force behind everything Siegfried did, including the establishment of the alive Academy of Natural Health in 1992. “I believe he relished his role as an educator, helping people to find their own glorious sunrise in good health,” says Chris Gursche, Siegfried’s son.
“One of the things I found while I was cleaning out his desk was an envelope with cheques for speaking engagements, which he never cashed. For Siegfried, it was all about the education and never about the money.”
After retiring from alive in 2005, Siegfried wasn’t content to put his feet up. His next venture, Alpha Health Products, provided him with the opportunity to educate people about the health benefits of coconut oil. In 2008, he and Christel were the first North Americans to visit a South Pacific village where fair trade coconut oil was pressed.
“When Siegfried began that journey 10 years ago, you couldn’t find coconut oil, except perhaps in some specialty ethnic stores. He took on the task of educating people to the benefits, but also of educating them to the value of fair trade, which 10 years ago, didn’t exist,” says Chris. “The last conversation I had with him, we talked about finding ever better ways to tell that story.”
Siegfried’s boundless passion for natural health was recognized in 1997 when he was inducted into the CHFA’s Hall of Fame as the father of the natural health movement in Canada.
As Siegfried wrote in the foreword of the Encyclopedia of Natural Healing, “Health and wellness, of course, are not only physical in nature. They involve our whole beings, including fostering good relationships in our families, in our workplaces, and in our social lives. Equally important is a healthy attitude toward spiritual growth. Attaining a healthy body, mind, and spirit is a continuous and enjoyable, lifelong journey.”
Through Siegfried’s many endeavours, including alive, he’s helped to guide many on the journey to good health—a journey alive humbly continues in Siegfried’s honour and memory.