Alex Van Bibber, Yukon legend, dies at 98
Van Bibber, 98, was one of Yukon’s last surviving aboriginal veterans from the Second World War
Alex Van Bibber, 98, died in a Calgary hospital Wednesday morning "surrounded by friends and family," says Dianne Strand, the family's spokesperson, in an email.
“At 98 years he had lived an active and vibrant life.”
A member of Yukon’s Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, Van Bibber was awarded a lifetime achievement award last year from Indspire, formerly known as the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards.
Van Bibber was one of Yukon’s last surviving aboriginal veterans from the Second World War.
In recent years he shared his story with The Memory Project, a Canadian web archive of veterans' stories. The site features a recording of his voice.
Van Bibber's account begins as he was helping to build the Canol Road in Yukon. He says in the fall of 1944 he was sent for basic training. He completed four months training and was set to ship overseas before an unexpected twist of fate.
"We were on board to go to Europe and seeing the last medic before we board the ship. And if they didn't find the mumps! They pulled the whole company off draft and put us in quarantine," he said.
In quarantine Van Bibber soon contracted the mumps himself and was sent to a Halifax hospital to fight the viral infection.
After recovering he was sent to another company — where soon there was another outbreak of mumps. "I was slapped back into quarantine again" he recalled.
"I spent six months in quarantine. It’s hard to believe, but that’s true. I was there, still in quarantine, when VE-Day come along."
Van Bibber spoke of aboriginal people's experiences in the war.
He says aboriginal veterans had to fight for compensation after the Second World War.
"We were all equal in the army, but the big mess-up was on discharge," he said.
"The aboriginal soldiers, when they were discharged, were sent back to the reserved with probably just $100 for their clothes. And the white soldiers they got a parcel of farmland and they got backing to build a home. They aboriginal veterans raised heck about it and the native veterans asked for compensation. The government came up with $20,000 each. So that was a good payoff."
Longtime friend Harvey Jessup says Van Bibber loved to tell a story and enjoyed teaching children the traditional ways.
"I can't say enough about the man. He was a living legend. He comes from a family of 14 children, all of them long-lived, all of them well-known in the Yukon. He loved life," he said.
Van Bibber was a trapping instructor for the Yukon government for almost four decades, leading his final outdoor camp just two years ago.
He was also involved with the Assembly of First Nations and was a member of the Order of Canada. Van Bibber was a founding member of the Yukon Outfitters Association and the Yukon Fish and Game Association.
In 2013 Van Bibber visited Whitehorse to speak about a book called I Was Born Under A Spruce Tree.
He said the book, written by his late brother JJ Van Bibber, described their childhood.
"We were all raised in the bush and did a lot of outdoor things. Hunting, trapping, gardening and plowing the garden with the dogs. Using dogs for packing in meat out of the bush. It's about wilderness living," he said proudly.
Van Bibber was 'breaking horses into his 70s'
"I can remember him breaking his last horse in Champagne. He got thrown on his head a few times, and always got up. He always got back on," he said.
Hume said Van Bibber leaves an important legacy in Yukon.
"I think he'll never be forgotten," he said. "When I heard his passing this morning I thought there's a gentleman who made himself a good life. He carved it out of the bush and raised his family in the same manner. In my books he came out a winner."