North

'Last fur trader' reconnects with northerners nearly 70 years after 1st trip to Arctic

Hugh Kroetsch's photos and grainy video footage of the North in the 1950s are being shown in the North for the first time as the 85-year-old retraces his steps in the Arctic with his son.

Hugh Kroetsch travelled to Arctic in 1950s as an engineer with Hudson's Bay Company

Hugh Kroetsch shows one of his photos from the 1950s while visiting Inuvik, N.W.T. He's retracing his travels with his son Frederick. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Roy Goose feels the memories flood back as he looks through nearly 70-year-old images of the places and people he knew growing up in the Northwest Territories.

The photo shows Ulukhaktok, known back then as Holman.

"I'm holding a photograph of my hometown where I was born," Goose said. "My father's house where I was born in is right here."

Hugh Kroetsch took that photo while working in the Arctic as a fur trader for the Hudson's Bay Company in the 1950s.

His photos and the grainy video footage he shot are being shown in the North for the first time as the now 85-year-old Kroetsch retraces his steps in the Arctic with his son Frederick.  

Hugh Kroetsch, 85, spent more than a decade working in the Canadian Arctic before finally settling in Alberta. (Last of the Fur Traders)

By showing the footage, and leaving copies behind, Kroetsch is giving back to the North, preserving its history, Goose said.

"Our people back then didn't have any cameras," Goose explained. "They are going to look at it and become very emotional because they are going to see loved ones that have gone since and the memories they have of them are in their brain."

Kroetsch is one of the last surviving fur traders who worked for the Hudson's Bay Company and is back in the North as part of a documentary about his life.

He looks back fondly on his time in the Arctic. He brought groceries and fuel north and returned with furs and pelts of animals such as polar bears and muskox.

"I went from one world to another, and I just loved it," Kroetsch said. "I got along with the people so well. They adopted me sort of."

Rediscovered film prompts documentary

Kroetsch documented his trips with his camera, and about 10 years ago, his son Frederick stumbled across an ammunition case full of the 8-mm film.

"I was like, 'Dad, what is this?' And he put it on a projector and I was like, 'This is you. Wow, we need to do something with this. We need to make a documentary.' Now 10 years later, we are finally making it."

The documentary is called Last of the Fur Traders. It focuses on Kroetsch as he returns to the North with Frederick.

Kroetsch's photos from the 1950s are shown in Inuvik, N.W.T. Kroetsch is back in the Arctic, nearly 70 years after his first trip there. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

They set out from Fort McMurray, Alta., and are continuing North to Aklavik, Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories, and then on to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

Krotsch brought his images along. He hopes it will help people connect with loved ones and places from their past.

"It will bring back memories of their grandmas and grandpas and daddies and moms," he said. "It's doing it; exactly what we wanted to happen is happening.

"I'll probably live an extra few years because of this," he said.

As Goose watches the film, he recognizes people and places he's known his whole life.

"I find it absolutely fascinating," Goose said. "People change, we grow older. We get wrinkles. The land is always the same and it's always there."

About the Author

Mackenzie Scott is a CBC North reporter based in Inuvik.

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