North

Broadcaster Les Carpenter leaves lasting legacy in the North

People across the North remember the late broadcaster and Inuvialuit leader Les Carpenter as a champion of Indigenous language and voices.

'Les was probably the first northern celebrity ... the first name that everybody knew,' says friend

Les Carpenter, who most recently was CEO of the Native Communications Society of the Northwest Territories, was a champion of Indigenous rights and languages. (cklbradio.com)

Les Carpenter was known by many people as a longtime northern broadcaster and champion of Indigenous languages and rights. 

That includes his work with the CBC in Inuvik and across the North, with the Native Northern Broadcasting in Whitehorse and most recently as CEO of the Native Communications Society of the N.W.T., which owns CKLB Radio.

"He just had a passion for it. He had the voice, he had the charisma, he certainly entertained," said his brother Merle Carpenter.

The northern broadcasting legend and Inuvialuit leader died at his home in Yellowknife on July 3 at the age of 61, after being diagnosed with stage four brain and liver cancer at the end of March.

But there are many that will remember his legacy. 

Les Carpenter was the second oldest among his seven brothers and sisters and grew up in Sachs Harbour, N.W.T.

Merle Carpenter, left, with his brother Les Carpenter. He said their siblings looked up to Les for advice. (Submitted by Les Carpenter )

He was the first in the family to go to university, studying journalism at Western University in London, Ont. He was an avid sports fan, rooting for the Montreal Canadians and the Toronto Blue Jays.

"We always admired him and looked up to him for advice as we grew up," Merle said.

In addition to his broadcasting career, Carpenter was also an advocate for Indigenous people around the globe.

His many roles included being the founding chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, vice chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, a commissioner for the N.W.T. Constitutional Commission, a special advisor to Australia's Aboriginal Peoples and Prime Minister's Office and a member of the United Nations Special Task Force on Aboriginal Peoples. 

This guy rubbed elbows on the international level in the circumpolar world, and then he could fit right in at the Mad Trapper. -  Dëneze   Nakehk'o

"He had a passion for his people in the Arctic, he had a passion for Aboriginal people around the world, which you know is pretty significant from a little guy from Sachs Harbour to do something as significant as that," Merle said.

Carpenter's longtime friend and former CBC broadcaster Louis Goose says he'll remember the "magic" of working with Carpenter in Inuvik and the innovative programming they created.

That included Carpenter's days as 'Mr. Saturday Night' hosting a live radio music request show. 

Les Carpenter, left, with his father Frank. Carpenter was a longtime northern broadcaster and advocated for Indigenous people around the world. (Submitted by Merle Carpenter )

"It became a hit, we never knew that it would become such a hit," Goose told CBC. "Les became very well known and it was a chance, finally, for the youth to get connected."

Goose said the first time he met Carpenter was when he was preparing for the noon hour radio show and Carpenter, who was in his teens at the time, gave him poems that he wanted to share. 

"All he did was hand me maybe eight sheets of poems and he was out the door, didn't say a word," he said.

Goose heard of Carpenter again a few years later when Carpenter became mayor of Sachs Harbour at the age of just 16, he said. 

Another longtime northern broadcaster and champion of Inuvialuit culture and language, Roy Goose, also worked alongside Carpenter for many years. 

He said his first memory of Carpenter was when he was doing the noon radio show in the 1980s and Carpenter handed him the album of a band he'd never heard of before — REO Speedwagon.

"I only heard a few bars of it and it sounded really good, I couldn't wait to have it on the air," Roy Goose said.

But it wasn't until after the show was finished that Carpenter let him know the band's name was pronounced "R-E-O" Speedwagon not "Rio" Speedwagon.

"I never forgot that and I still have that band in my head," Goose recalled.   

Longtime friend Dave Kellett also remembers Carpenter from his days working at the CBC in Inuvik. 

"Les was probably the first northern celebrity, you know the first name that everybody knew, that everybody couldn't wait to see," he said. 

Les Carpenter's many roles included as founding chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and as a commissioner for the N.W.T. Constitutional Commission. (CBC )

But he said despite his celebrity status, Carpenter was always a private person.

"It's kind of funny because a guy who was sort of the centre of attention on a lot of the things that he did — you know both politically, being mayor, being the host of the radio, all that — he really didn't like being the centre of attention."

Carpenter also influenced a generation of younger broadcasters and Indigenous leaders.

Deneze Nakehk'o said Carpenter was a role model and mentor who he met when he began working at CKLB.

He described Carpenter as highly intellectual and a storyteller, who carried himself with confidence and dignity.

"This guy rubbed elbows on the international level in the circumpolar world, and then he could fit right in at the [Inuvik bar] Mad Trapper as well," he said.

Many remember Les Carpenter from his days as 'Mr. Saturday Night' on CBC. He was also a mentor to a younger generation of broadcasters. (CBC )

But Nakehk'o said what he'll remember most about Carpenter is the time he took for people in northern communities and his support of Indigenous voices and languages.  

"Even though he was Inuvialuit, he was a strong advocate for all languages, including Dene languages, and I'm happy to have learned with him and laughed with him and heard some of the stories."

Carpenter's family said his ashes will be spread on Banks Island following a private service.

With files from Mackenzie Scott, John Last, Loren McGinnis, Wanda McLeod and Emily Blake