Longtime resident Bertha McBryan passes away in Edmonton at the age of 87

Waves of sadness travelled through Hay River when news broke of Bertha McBryan’s passing last week, but it’s a sadness that isn’t accompanied by despair. 

The 87 year-old Hay River resident died in an Edmonton hospital of a heart attack on Dec. 14. 

McBryan also lost her husband of nearly 70 years, Red (Wilson Roderick) McBryan, earlier this year. 

Originally from near Fort Smith, NWT, McBryan ruled the roost of the Buffalo Airways family and loved the North.

She lived in her home in Hay River for 49 years even after losing both her legs due to complications from diabetes.

“She looked around the house, told people to lower the phone so she could reach it and took a leaf out of the table, and that was it,” said son “Buffalo Joe” McBryan, president  of Buffalo Airways.

“She didn’t demand or want a lot. She was feisty, and she was very much alive, and people will remember her that way.

To Red and Bertha, Hay River was the only place they could imagine being.

“She certainly loved the North,” said daughter Mary King.

“They always said they were married in a snow storm and lived in a blizzard their whole life,” said Joe.

“But they were satisfied with that. They were never looking for something more than what they got. You never heard them wish for more.”

Joe was one of eight in the McBryan family, and the reality series Ice Pilots NWT depicting the northern institution popularized the family far past the North.

But Bertha was a northern institution herself.

Aside from running the shuttle boat between Yellowknife and Latham Island, she also cooked at mining camps around the North and in a receiving home for troubled youth in Hay River for 25 years.

Aside from the children she raised, many of the youth looked up to her.

“All the young people in the receiving home spent time in kitchen with her,” said Joe. “These were kids who didn’t have parents who were there for them. She was the only one there without a uniform or any conditions. They could tell her things—she was safe and she wouldn’t judge. It was probably the best therapy they got.”

“That was how she lived her life—she gave, and gave,” he said.

And as with his father, McBryan said there wouldn’t be any goodbyes when it came to Bertha.

“I don’t know how you say goodbye to your mother,” he said.

“When you say goodbye to people you’re saying goodbye to a piece of yourself. I ain’t saying goodbye.”

Bertha did miss her husband immensely, especially coming up on Christmas, said King, and one of her drivers in town, Elise Marie.

“The last time I saw her she said ‘I’ve been dreaming a lot about Red lately,’” said Marie.

“She missed him a lot. I think a lot of people are saying she wanted to spend Christmas with Red.”

But she didn’t spend her last days in despair, said Joe.

She put on a brave face, never one to complain.

“She had a good life, a full life, a full run,” said Joe.

“In a packed full train, she was at the head. She rode up front and had a good view. She missed dad lots but she didn’t wallow in any self-pity.”

The funeral service for McBryan is scheduled for 2 p.m. this afternoon at the Roman Catholic Church.