Last of the fur traders: Edmonton filmmaker inspires father to retrace his Arctic past
'I didn't have a clue what I was going to see. And it was amazing. It amazed me'
Reels of stunning film of the untamed Arctic, rediscovered after decades in a dusty attic, have inspired a former fur trader to retrace his steps through Canada's North, with his son at this side.
Hugh Kroetsch, 85, a former Hudson's Bay Company engineer, wants to see the icy landscape one last time.
'I can't wait to get back up there'
"I feel just outrageous. I can't wait to get back up there," said Kroetsch, whose journey will be the subject of a documentary film, Last of the Fur Traders.
A documentary filmmaker, Frederick was inspired to take on the project after discovering his father's own filmmaking chops 10 years ago.
He was going through some of his father's old things when he found an old ammunition case that was full of old 8-mm film.
The reels showed his father as a young man working on wooden ships and travelling to remote outposts across the North in the 1950s.
Frederick was stunned and inspired by the forgotten footage, which captured a chapter of his father's life that had become part of the family legend.
"Growing up, my dad talked ceaselessly about his time in the Arctic, I mean endlessly, to everyone he met," Kroetsch said during an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.
From there they will continue on to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., and Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, where the elder Kroetsch hopes to finally traverse the storied Northwest Passage.
'Come north with me'
"We ended up in the icefield, frozen there for 11 days.
"The ice beat us when we tried to get through the Northwest Passage in 1953. Now, in 2017, I hope it's different."
The elder Kroetsch first travelled to the Arctic at age 17. His cousin had been working in the fur trade for years, and knew Kroetsch would be cut out for life in the North.
"We were very good friends and he came home at Christmas time, and we had a talk and he said, 'Hugh, this area is not the place for you.'
"This was in Heisler, Alta., and he says, 'You better come north with me.' So I went up north with him and I continued going up for 10 years.
"I didn't have a clue what I was going to see. And it was amazing. It amazed me."
Kroetsch and his crew delivered supplies up the Mackenzie River and across the icy expanse of the Northwest Passage.
He traded and hunted with the Inuit and even monitored the skies for signs of incoming Soviet bombers — part of a secret surveillance effort during the early years of the Cold War.
In the 67 years since he left the North, Kroetsch's affection for the place and the people has not faded.
"I really loved working with the Inuit. I became their friend and I never worked with people that were so friendly, laughing all the time and the most honest people I've ever met.