It’s not every day that a famous poet and author, who happens to be your cousin, convinces you to leave the family farm and head to the arctic with the Hudson’s Bay Company to work with and bring furs back from Inuit.
And that may not even be the most interesting thing that’s happened to Errington’s Hugh Kroetsch.
Still, it was the start of a time of adventure in his life — one that he’s recently revisited.
Kroetsch’s time working onboard Hudson’s Bay ships travelling to the arctic in the early 1950s is the subject of a new documentary called The Last Fur Trader which premiered last month.
Included is video footage and photos that Kroetsch took himself in 1950 and 1953.
Sharing that footage and his own knowledge about the communities represented an influx of forgotten history, giving some towns knowledge about the oldest buildings that still stand today, and giving others their first look at family members long gone, said Kroetsch in an interview with The NEWS.
For Kroetsch, seeing how the communities had grown was a surprise.
“It just amazed me,” said Kroetsch of visiting the arctic towns this summer. “One guy in the film… he’ll say the towns have all grown, the people have changed, but he says the landscape hasn’t.
“The landscape, when I come up there, I still recognized it, but I couldn’t believe the size of towns I saw. The schools at these places were just beautiful. I mean with all the paintings and carvings and everything that’s in them. The city halls… they were just done beautiful. It just amazed me.”
Kroetsch spent 10 years in the North, and two of those in the arctic — 1950 and ’53.
Kroetsch’s cousin, Robert Kroetsch, a writer who’s won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and many other awards, was working in the North to pay for university at the time, said Hugh.
“And he come out to the hometown, Heisler (Alta.), where we were born, and he said, ‘Hugh, you’re not the type of guy who’s going to stick around here,’ because I was building things all the time. You name it,” recalled Hugh.
“He said, ‘Come North,’ so I went with him to Edmonton… and he took me over to the Hudson’s Bay Company transport department and they said, ‘You’re a farmer?’ I says, ‘Yeah.’ They says, ‘You’re hired.’”
The company wanted farmers because it was accustomed to building and fixing and doing whatever needed to be done, said Hugh. That’s just the kind of people he worked with onboard ships, traveling by river through Alberta and the Northwest Territories up the Mackenzie River to the arctic.
For an extended version of this story, go to www.vifreedaily.com. For more information on the documentary, go to www.openskypictures.com/fur-traders.