Maskwacis, Alta., woman inducted to 8-ball hall of fame

Jana Montour is not someone you want to challenge to a game of pool at the local pub.

'She's wonderful to interact with ... she's been a true ambassador to the game'

Jana Montour has her game face on as she lines up a shot. Her success at the pool table has earned her a spot in the VNEA Hall of Fame. (Jana Montour)

Jana Montour is not someone you want to challenge to a game of pool at the local pub.

The unassuming 45-year-old mom from Maskwacis is likely to have you behind the 8-ball before you can chalk your cue. 

Montour, a member of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, has just been inducted to the Valley National 8-Ball League Association Hall of Fame.

VNEA is a not-for-profit organization, based in Bay City, Mich., boasting nearly 100,000 players in 1,400 leagues around the world.  

"Yeah, it was kind of a shock," Montour said in an interview with CBC News. "The first person I thought of was my dad."

Despite only having one hand, Montour's father, who died in 2016, taught her how to play billiards when it was obvious she had no interest in her mother's game of choice.

"My mom dragged me to bingo and I'm not kidding when I say 'dragged' because I can't stand the game," Montour said.

The uninterested child was encouraged to check on her dad who was playing in a nearby pool tournament.

"We go into a little place that used to be here in Wetaskiwin; it was called the Silver Coach," Montour said. "I sat there and I couldn't stop watching everybody play. I found it amazing."

Lifelong love affair

It was the start of lifelong love affair with the game.

"I'm not too sure how he did that night, but I couldn't stop asking him questions about how to play, what to do, and if he could teach me," said Montour. "He said, 'Yeah,' so he started working with me."

Montour's talent was obvious early on and her father, knowing his limitations, soon realized she'd need tougher competition than he could provide.

"He said that he taught me all he knew, and that I needed to find pro players to help me now," she said.

Montour was soon entering tournaments in Edmonton where she caught the attention of Elmar Klapstein, president of WAL-MAC Amusements.

"WAL-MAC runs a pool league in the Edmonton area and we send teams down to a couple of international championships," he said. "The big one that we send the most teams to is the VNEA championships in Las Vegas every May."

The players are considered amateur and all of the games are played on coin-operated tables, but the competition is tough.

Edmonton's league is one of the largest in North America so Montour's rise to the top was no easy feat, Klapstein said.

Jana Montour can now add 8-ball hall of fame to her pocket full of accomplishments. (Jana Montour)

"Jana's been playing in our league for over 20 years and she's had a lot of success," he said.

"Just going back in the VNEA history, she's won singles, either 8-ball or 9-ball or both in Vegas."

At the height of her success, Montour was considered one of the best in North America. For a brief time she joined a semi-pro tour in Oregon and Washington. She earned enough points to get an invitation to the pro tour but the costs and challenges of competing in the U.S without sponsorship proved to be too difficult. 

Eventually regular life caught up with Montour, who went on to study accounting at MacEwan University and start a family.

"I had my kids and got married," she said.

The love for the game is still there though.

"I can get lost in it, I feel good when I play," she said.

Klapstein said it wasn't just talent and tournament success that prompted him to nominate Montour to the hall of fame.

"The other part about her is her character, she's wonderful to interact with," he said. "She's been a true ambassador to the game."

'It's that work, that want, that drive'

Now she's passing on her knowledge to the next generation.

"This last year we resurrected a junior league and put a call out, 'Who would like to help out?' " Klapstein said. "Of course Jana stepped up and came out and mentored some of these young pool players."

Montour has some advice for girls who might want to take a cue from her.

"Even if a person isn't naturally talented with any game, they can work at it," she said. "It's that work, that want, that drive."

This year's VNEA Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Las Vegas has been postponed until next year due to the pandemic but when it arrives it will be a special moment for Montour.

She can still remember when her dad pointed out the banner listing the names of hall of famers as you enter the tournament room at Bally's.

"He said that one day I would end up there and I didn't believe him," Montour said. "I don't know what to think about it still. I'm speechless actually, and I'm honoured to be chosen."