British Columbia

Prince George mourns elder who revived Dakelh canoe carving

The artist and teacher was well known in the community for reviving the traditional practice of carving Dakelh dugout canoes.

Robert Frederick's canoes can be found in front of city hall and at UNBC

Robert Frederick taught a cottonwood canoe course at UNBC in 2013. He taught a second course that summer in the Lheidli T'enneh community where students made two more canoes. (UNBC)

The flags at the University of Northern British Columbia have been lowered to half mast and three days of mourning have begun at the House of Elders in Prince George to honour the life of Lheidli T'enneh elder Robert Frederick.

Frederick died on May 4 at the age of 69 due to complications from an underlying health issue, his family said. 

The revered artist and teacher was well known in the community for reviving the traditional practice of carving Dakelh dugout canoes.

His work can be found all around the northern Interior city, including in front of city hall, at UNBC and at the Exploration Place Museum.

"He got so much pleasure from teaching our Dakelh ways," said Jennifer Pighin, an artist and educator who worked alongside Frederick.

In 2011, the City of Prince George commissioned Frederick to create a permanent art installation in Veterans Plaza at city hall. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

In 2013, he taught a course to a group of UNBC students on how to create dugout canoes, and in 2016, he entered one in the Northern Hardware Canoe Race for a team of paddlers to take down the Nechako River. It was the first time a traditional Dakelh canoe had gone down the river in about 60 years.

"My husband was very, very proud that he revived an art that was dying. And to see the final product finished and launched, he was very, very proud that he did that," said his wife, Edie Frederick.

Caring man

His son, Jason Frederick, describes his father as a good dad who cared about everyone.

"His passion was carving and building stuff for the community," said Frederick.

His dad often attended powwows and cared a lot about passing on traditions like teaching him how to fish.

A photo of one of Frederick's canoes going down the Nechako River. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Fredrick admires the impact his father had on the community and that his canoe is in front of city hall.

"It makes me feel proud he accomplished that. He was always focused. He did everything for everyone."

Community support

Robert's wife is blown away by all of the support the community has shown her family, she told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.

"I'm just overwhelmed by how much people loved my husband," she said.

People have brought them food, sent flowers, given gift cards and monetary donations. 

"My husband was a very traditional man and I am trying to put the service together as traditionally as I possibly can."

A wake is being held at the House of Elders in Prince George Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday there will be a memorial for Robert Frederick at the Sacred Heart Church.

He will be buried in the graveyard in Lheidli T'enneh Memorial Park.

Robert Frederick's carvings can be seen around Prince George, B.C., from city hall to the University of Northern B.C. It's a testament to his importance in reviving cultural practices of the Lheidli T'enneh people, and is why three days of mourning are being held in his honour. 0:00

With files from Andrew Kurjata and Daybreak North