British Columbia

Richard Wagamese remembered by his 'chosen sister,' Shelagh Rogers

CBC's host of The Next Chapter, mourns the loss of a national treasure — and dear friend

CBC's host of The Next Chapter, mourns the loss of a national treasure — and dear friend

"The novel was unfinished, but we do know what Richard's intent was. It was to end in an act of redemption," says Shelagh Rogers of Wagamese's last book, Starlight. Wagamese (left) and Rogers (right) were friends. (Shelagh Rogers/Twitter)

The recent death of renowned indigenous author Richard Wagamese is a wound that's still fresh in the hearts of many Canadians.

Wagamese called himself a second-generation survivor of the government-sponsored schools, attended by his parents and extended family members.

In many of his 13 titles from major Canadian publishers, including the iconic Indian Horse, he drew from his own struggle with family dysfunction that he attributed to the isolating church-run schools.

One person who kept a close eye on Wagamese's work was CBC's Shelagh Rogers, host of The Next Chapter. Having interviewed the author during the early days of his career, the two would become close friends, and even 'chosen' siblings.

Shelagh joined host Sheryl MacKay on CBC's North by Northwest to discuss the tragic loss of the celebrated author.

Richard Wagamese, renowned Canadian author of Indian Horse, passed away at age 61. (CBC)

Sheryl MacKay: How long had you and Richard been friends?

Shelagh Rogers: It's a long time. When he came in to do an interview about his first novel, Keeper and Me, I'd never heard of this guy. And to tell you the truth ... I thought he was Italian! When he walked in and I told him that he had the hugest laugh. From that point on, it was the gift of a connection. 

I've been with him on quite a journey, and he's struggled a lot as a result of what happened to him as a child. He was my chosen brother, and he called me his "chosen sister."

It is like losing family. But I'm surrounded right now by all of his books, and I'm just holding them close — I'm holding the stories close, because that's who he was.

You've often said, 'He was story.' What does that mean?

[That's a line from indigenous author] Thomas King, and Tom was a friend of Richard's. The truth about stories is 'that's all we are.'

Richard had so many stories, many of them were painful because of how he grew up, and the legacy of residential school directly affected him and his family.

But beyond his pain, he did have so much love — he reached out to people. I would see him in a room talking and delivering stories. He was a great performer of story, it just sort of welled up hin him. He could change his face — he had a wonderful elastic face. Sometimes, if he was playing the role of an old man, he would take his teeth out! He really went the distance

Richard Wagamese's novel Indian Horse was a finalist in CBC's Canada Reads 2013. (submitted by Richard Wagamese)

How will he be remembered?

People call him a national treasure. That would have meant the world to him — he loved this country, he loved travelling the country. He used to get up and talk about ... the village that is Canada — how we really are village people. And then he sort of laughed because of the group The Village People

He had such a wonderful sense of humour — but he was so invested in the heart and spoke from the heart. I think he just reached people so easily because he really was full of love. In a society where we're not comfortable talking about love, Richard was really love on legs. His heart just told so, so much.

This interview has been edited and condensed. With files from CBC's North by Northwest

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Richard Wagamese remembered by his 'chosen sister,' Shelagh Rogers