Giving Back

After a two and a half-hour drive from Canyon Creek to Calling Lake Alberta, he pulled up to the boat launch. He got out of his truck, stretched his body, realizing he was a bit early. He took advantage of the quiet moment and watched the sunrise from the eastern sky. It was going to be a good day, he thought to himself, grabbing a bit of bannock and sausage from his lunchbox to ease the slight hunger he was starting to feel. Once there was just enough light, he unloaded the table, fish boxes, and net from the back of the truck and started to assemble what he needed for the day.

He backed up his truck to the boat launch and unloaded his 16 ft long Springbok aluminum fishing boat watching as it sliced into the calm lake sending ripples out into the bay. That morning the water resembled glass, and the sun with all its glorious kaleidoscope of pink and red bounced onto the water’s edge, lighting up the lake and sky. He revved up his 15 HP mercury electric start engine and set off for his favorite fishing spot as the loons, with their all too familiar wail, welcomed him back. He slowly maneuvered his boat up and down the lake to see what the fish were doing. Depending on the wind’s direction, he makes his decision about where to cast out his net.  Boat control, trolling, a lot of patience mixed in with a bit of luck are key to his fishing success.

Once he arrived, he set up the 100-yard net by holding it up in the air while setting his boat on idle, allowing it to run through his fingers spreading out into the water as the boat slowly backed up. He usually leaves the net out for about an hour or two at a time, with a final haul of around 600 to 1000 pounds, filling 6 to 16 boxes of fish. He fishes all year round, and whatever he catches, he brings it to his home in Canyon Creek, where community members come to help him cut it up, smoke it, pack it and take it home. A good day of fishing will last him several months and provide for anyone who comes out to help, and if an elder is sick and can’t come out, he will take it to them. You’ve got to take care of each other is something he has always been taught. He’s been offered money many times but won’t take it. He has been taught to give.

He loved coming out this early, and for the last 40 years, he had been fishing, it’s where he feels most at peace. Nature is where he belongs, and with the net in the water and some time on his hands, his thoughts turn inwards. Not everyone can get out as he can, and he feels very fortunate to honor his kokum’s memory. She was a selfless woman whose heart had room for anyone needing to be fed and loved.

Her name was Rachel Courtorielle (Frazer), and she was one of 11 children, born June 15, 1887, in St Albert, Alberta. Her father, Simon Frazer, discovered the Simon river and her uncle, Colin Frazer, was a fur trader who came up the Frazer River with Lord Simpson in 1880. In 1904, Rachel married Pat Courtorielle, whose grandfather was chosen as one of the representatives to sign Treaty 6 in 1876.
After they were married, they traveled by horse and wagon, moving north to Kinuso, Alberta. Pat’s grandfather had a trapline in the Swan Hills area, and during the winter months, he and Rachel harvested furs. Racheal was truly a multi-talented woman and an expert at tanning moose hides. At times she could tan as many as four hides in one day, and when they were ready, she would make clothing from them, decorate with beads and sell them to Harry Walker and others in the area. Another one of Rachel’s talents was serving as a midwife and a healer. She was self-taught and a lifelong learner, delivering over 200 babies and tending to the sick in her community.

Rachael didn’t just raise her own 9 children,  she raised some of her grandchildren and any other child who needed to be loved. She had a hard life and struggled to make ends meet, but that never stopped her from giving. She was a woman who believed in sharing her heart,  food, home, and traditional knowledge, always giving to others before she cared for herself. Rachael would give you her last bowl of whitefish soup even if she was hungry.

The flutter of the pelicans skimming low over the water’s surface interrupted his thoughts, reminding him it was time to retrieve his net. As he pulled the net in, filled with fish he would give most of it to the elders of his community, he thought to himself, he wouldn’t be the man he is today without the love and teachings of his Kokum, Rachel Courtorielle (Frazer)…

Gerald Jackson