'He's a man of strong will': Labrador town residents pray for mayor who accidentally shot himself

Happy Valley-Goose Bay mayor John Hickey was seriously wounded over the weekend by a gunshot wound while he was out trapping. Perry Trimper, MHA for Lake Melville, describes Hickey as 'a formidable gentleman' and a strong voice for Labrador.
John Hickey suffered a gunshot wound to the face in a hunting accident on Dec. 9. He was airlifted to St. John's that night and underwent surgery. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

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People in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador are worrying and waiting for news about their mayor John Hickey.

On the weekend, he was airlifted to hospital after accidentally shooting himself in the face while in the woods.

Perry Trimper is the Member of the House of Assembly, or MHA, for Lake Melville, and a friend of John Hickey. As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to him Tuesday in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Here's part of their conversation.

Perry, what's the latest news from the hospital about John Hickey?

Well, Mayor Hickey is still in critical condition. Indications are that the doctors are considering starting to move him out of the induced coma. So they're going to go very carefully given the trauma that he has suffered.

And what can they do for him?

First of all, they've been ensuring he lives. It was a very, very horrific injury he suffered on Saturday and here in Labrador ... He's been in critical condition since then underwent a extensive surgery on Monday and is still in a coma.

What happened? Tell us where he was and how he got hurt.

We're not sure exactly; we're starting to piece it back together. But essentially Mayor Hickey lives about 10 minutes to the west of Happy Valley-Goose Bay and for those you know Labrador, that's a big piece of wilderness and he enjoys the lifestyle [there]...

He was out checking his rabbit snares and had a shotgun with him. We surmise that he tripped somehow and the gun discharged and unfortunately into his face.

Oh no.

So it's a very terrible type of injury, and I think what's captivating so many folks who don't know John is what one would have gone through with that because of that accident, and then managed to snowshoe back to his snowmobile and then ride that snowmobile out to the Trans-Labrador Highway where he flagged down help.

For those who who don't know him, it is still regardless remarkable — John's a man of strong will. He's a strong community leader he's a formidable gentleman. Whether you're talking to a prime minister or anyone else he has strong convictions, a strong will a strong voice for Labrador. So that personality, we believe, is what saved his life.

Perry Trimper, MHA for Lake Melville, describes Hickey as 'a formidable gentleman' and a strong voice for Labrador at all levels of government. (John Hickey/Facebook)

Who was able to get him to a hospital?

Some folks from the community encountered him as he was snowmobiling alongside the highway and [he] flagged them down.

And so they called the ambulance and the ambulance was able to respond very quickly. And soon after that I received word and immediately responded to that hospital, where so many people from the community gathered and sort of witnessed the amazing heroics of the doctors and the medical staff to to get him to the point where we could medivac him to St. John's. 

Who came to the hospital? Tell us a bit about the people who came to support John.

Well you know, his wife first of all, family members, friends — John has a huge network of folks that know him. I'm in provincial politics ... and John and I have worked together for many years ... so it was there was quite a group of us. And at one point we gathered in the chapel. And as the situation was very dire but we managed to keep on going.

People in Labrador know him well, but tell us a bit more about John Hickey — what kind of person he is.

He spent most of his life here in Labrador and he's been in politics for the better part of a quarter century as a counselor and deputy mayor and then finally the mayor. And then he got into the provincial level of government and represented us as a cabinet minister.

I'm in that role myself now, so I know how hectic it is. One thing that I've noted in him the last three months is he's gotten back now into the mayor's chair is that he struck a perfect balance. He continues his outdoor recreational pursuits, yet he's able to keep a good strong leadership a hand on the tiller for this community.

The community is holding a vigil for John Hickey tonight. How is Happy Valley-Goose Bay being affected by this?

Labrador often feels a little left out at the provincial level. I know myself, I have a high bar to attain [as set by John] in terms of being a strong voice for this region.

But the council is committed to carrying on with the plans that John had established so tonight this vigil will be all about doing whatever one can do to show their support offer their help and just their spirits and prayers ... Even though it's cold, I expect a large crowd.

This interview has been condensed for length and edited for clarity. To listen to the full interview with Perry Trimper, click or tap on the audio link at the top of the page.