While the future of the marine industry in Hay River tends to be a popular topic of conversation this time of year, one group is also looking back.
“The lake and the rivers are such gifts,” said Alice Coates, co-ordinator for the Northern Transportation Boats Project which has provided local youth with the opportunity to restore Northern Transportation Company lifeboats to then take out on the lake this summer.
“It’s wonderful to hear about the parts they play in peoples’ lives.”
Last Thursday, the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre hosted an evening of food and stories about the water in conjunction with the Hay River Seniors’ Society and the boat restoration project. While the last has been successfully connecting young people with the chance to learn skills and try out trades, Coates said the other component of the project is about local history and reconnecting the younger members of the community with the water.
Tom Makepeace, also a member of the project, was the first to tell a story about his own experience on the water. He said he had been checking nets later in the season than was prudent, and in an effort to race back to shore, he hadn’t noticed his 12-foot boat slowly sinking as a result of the ice buildup on the hull.
“It had been harder and harder to keep going,” he told the audience. “But I didn’t notice until I got to shore that my boat was nearly all covered in ice.”
Others took their turns at the microphone to talk about their own experiences on the lake or the many rivers that connect the region. Before highways and frequent and reliable air links, the rivers – particularly the Mackenzie – served as essential links between communities, and played a massive role in the settlement of Hay River itself.
But the people who continue to ply the waters for a living are concerned a new generation will not take their place. Bert Buckley Sr. said he has been fishing on Great Slave Lake for decades but doesn’t know what can be done to attract younger people to the life.
“How do we get the young guys out there? I don’t know,” he said, adding that he knows his work can be hard but is ultimately rewarding.
As the NT Boats Project moves into its second season, one that will see the youth taking their restored boats out on the water, Coates said its important to remain rooted in the history of the industry and the area while forging forward.
“I’m really happy with how many elders and community members have come out, both in support of the project – which is all about connecting youth to skills and to history – and to share their stories about life on the water.”