Elder visits his cabin after decades, says Jesus and Mary protected it from fire
'[Mary] is the one who looked after my cabin. When I left, I prayed to her. I told her to look after it'
Pierre Beaverho got the birthday of his dreams this year.
The 89-year-old elder from Whati, N.W.T., got to revisit a familiar place, after his children and extended family members planned an epic two-day trip to his old cabin in the woods.
Planning to go to the cabin — about 130 kilometres from Whati — was years in the making, said Pierre's son Alfred Beaverho. The family even attempted the same trip about five years ago with a 10-snowmobile crew.
"We [didn't go] too far, the snow was too deep. The snow was up to our chest," said Alfred. "So we just gave up."
But this year, the family managed to gather a group and pooled money to attempt the trip again — just in time for Pierre's birthday.
'You look after my house'
Pierre said goodbye to his cabin indefinitely 35 years ago, when family circumstances pulled him away from his trapping lifestyle.
Pierre had built two cabins years before that, located near what locals call Living Lake. Alfred recalled how the family would haul out loads of food and fuel and spent months out on the land each year.
Pierre used to trap and teach his sons traditional skills there, said Alfred.
But there were two figures who resided in the cabin since its birth: Mary and Jesus. Alfred said Pierre's statues were blessed by a priest in Whati about 70 years ago, and that Pierre brought them out on the land when he started construction.
When leaving for the last time, Pierre left a special request with the holy figures.
"He picked up the Mary statue and talked to her and said a little rosary. He said, 'Mary, I don't know when I'm gonna return, but until I return to my cabin, you look after my house,'" said Alfred.
And then the fire happened.
Fiery heat in 1998
Pierre said vicious forest fires leading up and into 1998 burned the area where his cabin was.
That year the territory saw a record number of forest fires, according to the N.W.T. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Shortly after, Pierre went with resource officers by helicopter to observe the damage, and to check on his two cabins that were just six metres apart.
"When they got there, [it was] all burned up, the other cabin, it burned to nothing," Alfred said his father told him. "Just dust, like black dirt."
He was so happy. Just dancing.- Alfred Beaverho
But to Pierre's surprise, the other cabin was miraculously untouched by the fire or fallen trees, said Alfred.
The resource officer with him was "amazed," said Alfred.
"And then my dad told him, 'The statues … [Mary] is the one who looked after my cabin. When I left, I prayed to her. I told her to look after it.'"
To this day, Alfred said his dad believes over all these years that the statues protected the cabin from falling to the ground.
Pierre arrives by plane, dances in the woods
A fleet of seven men on snowmobiles, including Alfred, were the first to arrive at Pierre's cabin on April 9 this year.
The first thing Alfred did was look for the statues, which were still there and seemingly unscathed by time. Alfred said all the foliage had regrown around the cabin, which now had broken windows and the roof was weighing down.
"Brand new tree, brand new everything, brand new land — holy man, I couldn't believe it at all," he said.
The men then made a runway for a plane carrying Pierre, who has difficulty walking, to land.
As soon as Pierre got to the cabin — the first time in two decades — he planted a huge kiss on the statues and erupted with joy, said Alfred.
"He was so happy. Just dancing. And just said, 'I never knew that I'm going to return to my cabin,'" said Alfred.
The statues are now back with Pierre in Whati.
"My dad always talked about the Mary statue, all the time … He's so happy now. He has the Mary statue, the Jesus statue right on his table."
With files from Lawrence Nayally, John Last, Priscilla Hwang