Eugene Hodgson: Remarks at Stuart Hodgson Memorial

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Speaker Lafferty, Commissioner Tucaroo, Former Commissioner Whitford, Premier McLeod, Ministers, Members of the NWT Legislative Assembly, fellow Northerners.

Thank-you very much on behalf of the entire Hodgson family back in BC for this wonderful memorial tribute to my dad and for inviting my son Evan and I to attend.

A special thank-you to JTFN for your participation and the Rangers for making the trip in from your various communities. As my dad was the Honourary Lt. Colonel of the Rangers, I know he would have appreciated your attendance very much.

Also, thank-you to the NWT Pipe Band which was founded by my dad and John Anderson-Thompson, who also had the NWT tartan designed for them (along with an exceptionally loud jacket that my dad proudly wore!)

“At last we are home”. My father spoke those words in September 1967, nearly 50 years ago, at the Yellowknife Airport after the arrival of 75 NWT Government staff and their families aboard a chartered Transair DC-7 from Ottawa.

The Carrothers Commission had made a number of recommendations including that the NWT Government move to the NWT in its 1966 report. The bureaucrats at Northern Affairs had other ideas and thought that the report could be shelved.

But the decision was made to make Yellowknife the Capital and Minister Arthur Laing came north to make the announcement. The decision was of course well received here in Yellowknife, but not so much in Ft. Smith.

A very tense and angry crowd gave Mr. Laing a very tough time, so my father whispered to him to get out of there and he would handle the meeting.

My fathers experience in the labour movement and ability to handle an angry meeting allowed him to quickly bring things under control. He even persuaded Mayor Kaeser not to break all of the china in his jewelry shop with “Ft. Smith, Capital of the NWT” imprinted on them!

Shortly thereafter he was named Commissioner by Prime Minister Pearson and began preparing the Northern Administration Branch of DIAND to become the fledgling NWT Government for its move north.

He and John Parker became a perfect complement to each other. My dad’s strong personality and vision to bring government to the people and John’s amazing ability to organize the bureaucracy and keep the engine of government running made for a formidable team.

Homes and offices were still under construction so they worked in the condemned St. Pats School, the bowling alley and the curling club.

In my dad’s inaugural speech as Commissioner to the 35th Territorial Council at the William MacDonald Elementary School here in Yellowknife he set the theme of his tenure: “I have always believed that people with their needs and aspirations must be the most important consideration that any government has if it is to function democratically as the servant of those it purports to govern”.

“We are among them now, as neighbour’s, patrons of their businesses and social acquaintances. And we are trying to become true northerners and members of a community that stretches far wider than the confines of Yellowknife”.

He set about visiting every one of the 60 communities in the NWT and travelling over 100,000 miles annually and promoting the territory to the national media, senior government and business leaders. It soon became the place to visit and the government's voice in Ottawa became very loud and influential.

We didn’t exactly have a normal childhood unless you’re comparing it to Justin's. He mentioned his trip to the North Pole and a visit with Santa Claus during his father’s funeral. That was a trip secretly arranged by my dad. I don’t want to spoil the story but Santa was actually a soldier at CFB Alert!

The amazing Centennial celebration in 1970 culminated with the founding Arctic Winter Games and the Queen's visit. That was an amazing accomplishment for a three-year-old government!

During the Royal visit the Queen always is the last to board the plane and the first to deplane. My father had to be there to say goodbye and greet her when she arrived.

When the Queen's message came on that year, there she was interviewing my father on the penthouse balcony of the Fraser Arms Apartment. My English-born grandmother nearly fainted in front of her television!

In the 1970’s decentralization and responsible local government became the focus. The Berger Inquiry and subsequent Drury Commission recommended more autonomous government and greater local control. My father was seen as an impediment due to his significant power and strong personality.

He had many nicknames: Benevolent Despot, Emperor, Dictator and of course Omingmak! He was a bit of all of those, but mostly he was in love with the North and its people and wanted what was best for them.

My dad was known for his community meetings. It was his way of transferring decision-making power to the local communities. One meeting in particular was in The Belcher Islands, which are in the middle of Hudson Bay. They didn’t get many visitors. The South Camp where my dad was holding a community meeting was very isolated. After the meeting ended at 1:00am, some of the people travelled all night by dog sled and skidoo 70 km to the main village of Sanikiliquak. They told my dad at the next meeting, “that was great fun last night, we want to keep meeting”!

My father believed in passing power down to the communities where the local people knew what the needs of they’re people were. Meantime, the Ottawa bureaucracy was fighting against the transfer of more power to the NWT Government, so he was literally caught in the middle.

He felt that the indigenous peoples could run for office to gain their rightful seat of power, which they did in numbers and became the leaders of the NWT, which also occurred using the mechanisms of government that had been developed, including the Territorial Legislature and its unique consensus-based governance system.

The Council moved from a majority of appointed members to a fully elected Legislature in 1975, with elected members also in the Executive.

When he left in 1979,the Territorial budget had grown from $14 million to $282 million and most of the powers with the exception of natural resource revenues had been transferred to the NWT Government.

He also built the Territorial Heritage Centre, which was opened by Prince Charles and remained one of his proudest achievements.

It was time for my dad to leave and he knew it. He had done what he’d set out to do, but the very characteristics that made him so successful in developing the NWT from a remote territory run out of Ottawa, weren’t the right ones to lead the final journey to the virtual Province-like system that exists today.

He knew when to leave and took on many more important challenges in his career, but in his heart he never left and the North remained a part of him his entire life.