Eugene Emil Mercredi, known by hundreds of people from Lake Athabasca to the Mackenzie Delta, was born in Fort Chipewyan in February of 1911, three months before his life long friend and later brother-in-law John Evans was also born there.
He attended school one year in Fort Resolution, four years in Fort Smith and a year in Fort Chip. He left school at age 14 in 1924.
The HBC bought out Lamson-Hubbard and its subsidiary, Alberta and Arctic Transportation, in 1924. The steam driven paddle wheeler Distributor became a Company vessel. The Bay also bought all the boats owned by the Northern Trading Company that year.
IF YOU DIDN’T WORK, YOU DIDN’T EAT
Back then, "when you were 14," Eugene later recalled, "you had to get out of school and you weren’t allowed in anymore, too old for school. In those days you had to get out and work. If you didn’t work you didn’t eat, there was no welfare."
So Eugene went to work. He got a job from his father, Isadore, hauling mail from Resolution by dogteam for three winters. "I used to make five trips every winter," Eugene remembered, "once a month starting in December. Sometimes I was alone and sometimes I had a guy with me. Some of the traders would come up we had a lot of fun."
He remembered that his father worked at just about anything to support his family. "He was a carpenter for the RC Mission, working in the garden, hauling wood. He used to sell quite a bit of water because there were no running water and no power. We used gas lamps and wood in the winter."
MARRIED ROSA MERCREDI
Eugene was married to Rosa Beaulieu in February 1933. "We had three kids, two girls and a boy." The year 1933 was also remembered as the year of one of the big fires at Fort Fitzgerald. According to the HBC’s Moccasin Telegraph, "Fort Fitzgerald was completely destroyed by fire. It was again destroyed by fire in 1959, and finally closed in 1965."
Like his father, Eugene was involved in many different ways of making a living during his life. "We done quite a lot of trapping when I left school and in the summer working in the garden, hauling wood and water, making trips to Salt River by horses and then we got a truck later and it was a lot faster. I joined the army later in 1940 and I was gone nearly six years overseas.
OFF TO THE WAR
"There were four of us from here and we all came back [from the war]. There was Maurice Evans Sr., Frank McLeod,. and another one that died in Resolution in an accident, August Beaulieu.
"It was good and bad you know," Eugene recalled of his overseas years, we "stayed a couple years in Canada and a couple years in England [in] 1942 and went over to Europe, Invasion time, and stayed over a year and a half and came back in ’46."
His family received an allowance while he was away in the armed forces. "They got an allowance and they stayed right here in Smith and were going to school in Ft. Resolution."
17 YEARS DOWN RIVER
Returning to Canada after the war, Eugene moved from Fort Smith far down the Mackenzie River to trap and work. "I spent quite a few years up in the north in Aklavik, McPherson, Red River, Good Hope, Arctic Red; about 17 years. I use to work for the mission in the summer time and go trapping in the winter up the Mackenzie. I left in ’63 and stayed in Good Hope and worked for Indian Affairs building houses for the natives until my eyes went."
So Eugene trapped since 1924, except for his war years, and every year after the war until 1963 except for three or four years. "I trapped every winter except when I sold my outfit in 1957 and I worked for the Indian Affairs."
"Sometimes the furs aren’t there and the prices were low but I don’t know how it is now. It was a good spot when I was there. It’s about 45 miles above Arctic Red River, a lot of moose and fish."
Trapping worked out pretty well if you had a good location, Eugene recalled. "Good, if you get a good place. You have to have a good cabin right by a fish lake otherwise you have nothing. Fish for the dogs. A lot of caribou then too but now you have to go quite a ways out, by plane."
VALENTINES DAY RUM
"Yea, it wasn’t too bad if you had a case of rum out there," recalled John Evans.
"That was in 1940," Eugene said, "about 35 miles out from here in the main cabin. We were going to celebrate Valentines Day. He [John Evans] came into town to get a case of rum. Some of the trappers were going out but turned around and joined us. My old lady got a hold of that; she sent the cops out there. Nothing happened. Quite a bit of trouble the next morning, but we went back to the cabin and the rest of us came out and also the Special Constable and a cop. They joined in with us. That was the year the War was on."
Once, while out on a spring hunt, Eugene saved his own life by walking to shore along the bottom of a lake under water. "I was shooting a beaver about three in the morning, but left handed and I was kneeling and knocked myself right over. I tipped the canoe over and I lost my two guns and I was stuck underneath. I had my waders on but I had to roll the canoe over so I could get some air. My feet were stuck across the bar. It was eight feet of water. I managed to drag myself to shore. I walked underneath the water to shore. It was in May and it was cold. The wind blew the canoe to shore, that’s how I got it back. It took me all day to hook my guns out."
Eugene took his brother-in-law John Evans out for the spring hunt west of Aklavik in the spring of 1946. "We stayed in the mountains. Not too many rabbits around there."
WORKING MACKENZIE MARINE
Although he didn’t work for the Hudson’s Bay Company retail division Eugene did work with their shipping division, Mackenzie Marine. "Just on the boats," he recalled, "on the Distributor and on the tug to Ft. Nelson on the Liard River from Ft. Simpson.."
Eugene and John Evans were in the transportation business together for a time.
FREIGHTING WITH HORSES THEN HAULING BY TRUCK
"We had around five horses. We used to haul freight across the Portage at Fitzgerald and the traders had quite a few of teams on the roads. We would haul about a ton and some horses that were smaller couldn’t take as much."
John Evans recalled when they got the truck. "We had a truck between him and I and we drove it and split the difference, hard water was 25¢ a barrel and slough water was 10¢. So if some one came down to get a barrel I kept 5¢ and gave the other 5¢ to him."
Eugene left us on April 18, 2002. He had been a carpenter, trapper, dog team mail runner teamster, truck driver and was a Veteran of WWII. Predeceased by his parents Isadore and Elizabeth, wife Rosa, brother Cyril and sister Leonie Kennedy; Eugene is survived by his brother Rene, sisters Emelia Gratix, Seraphine Evans and Marie Louise Mercredi. He leaves daughters Anne Enge and Margaret Kurszewski, 16 grandchildren, 22 great grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.