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Passings / Trapper led by example

Roger Carriere lived history of Canada's storied fur trade

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He is a cultural icon of the North and a man who lived the history of Canada's fur trade.

True to the ideals that helped found our country, Roger Carriere brought together the best of the aboriginal world and mainstream Canada. He lived a life in pursuit of excellence, a life that was never easy yet whose achievements were second to none.

Roger Carriere was my hero.

He died last week.

While his death marks the end of an era, his lifetime holds lessons that must be followed by future generations of Canadians. The legendary status he held in our northern communities conveys the importance of fitness, strength of spirit and knowledge in our culture and our environment. Most importantly it demonstrates the cultural importance of a strong work ethic and maintaining high expectations.

Sesame Street showcased Roger's talents years ago. Some of you may remember him as the Elder, teaching a group of youngsters how to make bannock over a fire and other bush skills. He taught us all that we could compete with the best in the world, that hard work pays off and that our culture is based on a pursuit of excellence in everything we do. He is everything that I respect and admire about my culture and Canada.

Roger was born in Cumberland House, Sask., in 1929. He worked for the Canadian National Railway for 43 years and was a fur trapper all his life. He was well-known throughout Western Canada as King Trapper of the North and holds the record for most titles in prestigious king trapper events -- competitions that showcase the skills that were at one time so important for survival in Canada's North. Being able to light a fire in any conditions, run for miles in showshoes and efficiently set a trap are not commonly practised skills today. But they were the basis of the fur trade and integral to the development of the Canada we know today.

Roger exemplified the fierce self-reliance of Canada's fur trappers and voyageurs. Years ago, at the height of his reign as King Trapper of the North, Roger's canoe-paddling partner did not show up for the start of the canoe race at Opaskwayak Indian Days, the pinnacle event in this summer festival. When the other two-man teams raced away, Roger jumped in his canoe and took off after his fellow competitors alone. At the end of the daylong marathon race, he placed second.

As part of Canada's centennial year events in 1967, Roger paddled in the Centennial Canoe Race for Team Manitoba. Following the watery trail of Canada's famous voyageurs, they raced more than 4,800 kilometres across Canada from Rocky Mountain House, Alta., to Montreal. Roger paddled in the fourth seat -- the power seat -- for the duration. Roger used his trapper's skills and knowledge of the land to help propel the Manitoba team far ahead of the others.

For example, after arduous paddling for several daylong stages, Roger's teammates complained of blisters on their hands. Roger taught them to warm a young poplar sapling over a fire. He then had them grasp and hold the hot branch until it cooled -- no more blisters.

His skills helped them safely cross massive Lake Winnipeg far ahead of the others, part of why at the end of the race, Team Manitoba won by days.

Roger's nephew is Solomon Carriere, five-time world marathon canoeing champion. He has carried on in Roger's footsteps. Solomon and his wife Renee raised their kids out on the trapline, homeschooling them and training them to be world-class athletes and scholars. Solomon says Roger told him: "I am not the best at anything, but I am Top 10 at everything."

I hope, pray and am thankful that the lessons from Roger Carrier, last great King of the Fur Trappers, live on.

 

James B. Wilson is director of education at Opaskwayak Educational Authority Inc.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 27, 2010 H12

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