When Claude Fontaine arrived at the fork of the Mackenzie and Liard Rivers 20 years ago, he told his brother that he knew he had arrived home.
Long-time resident of Fort Simpson Claude "Froggy" Fontaine died in a workplace accident on Dec. 8, 2020, but his memory lives on with his family and community. He was 58 years old.
André Fontaine, Claude's youngest brother, described Claude as a searcher who "lived hard and loved hard."
"His biggest legacy is the love he left for his sons," André said. "They know they are loved."
Claude was born and raised in the small town of Prud'homme, Saskatchewan, with his seven siblings, along with his mother and father.
Once Claude found Fort Simpson, André said his brother was in harmony.
André visited Claude in Fort Simpson some years back. He said they couldn't walk from one place to another without getting stopped by someone saying "hey Froggy!" Then starting a conversation or asking for help.
"That just showed me how connected he was to the community," said André.
Claude was a "jokester," storyteller, and a people person who went through life looking for adventure.
Although Claude may have been small in stature, he had a big, colourful personality. "He was a very big person in his own way," said André.
As an extrovert, he was happiest around others. He also loved to be in nature and had an innate connection to animals, particularly horses. His deep admiration for animals and the land was passed down by their father, André said.
Claude worked in various different trades. He was a machinist, heavy equipment operator, a welder and a trucker.
He also taught welding at Aurora College. André said many students of his would eventually go on to make welding their livelihood because of him.
Claude had a company called Flying Frog Welding. Andre said the name was emblematic of his light-hearted, funny nature.
In high school, Claude was a part of the yearbook committee and made sure that in the first couple pages there was an image of a frog with a graduation cap.
André said this was a running joke that related to his French heritage, which was a big part of who he was.
Growing up, André said, his family always spoke French around the dinner table.
He said his family misses him immensely.
"Claude, on t'aime énormément ... "et puis tu vas toujours rester avec nous," André said.
Family thanks community for support during difficult time
"It's a bizarre time to grieve together when we can't be together [physically] because of COVID," André said, but the family is gathering in different ways, like through Facetime or Zoom.
Despite how the pandemic has impacted the ways in which the Fontaine family is able to grieve and do they're rituals, André said they are still thankful.
"Our family has felt such a big support from the community throughout this whole ordeal."
To the Fort Simpson community, he said "mahsi, mahsi, mahsi."
He said the community has rallied to support Claude's surviving sons, Kaleb and Kole, along with his stepson, Tristen.
"We know that our nephews and grandsons are going to be okay. It will be hard, but they'll be okay."
A GoFundMe page has been organized by Solange Bakker on behalf of André Fontaine to raise funds for Claude's surviving sons, André said. It is meant "to assist Kaleb and Kole for their difficult days ahead."
A memorial for Claude is scheduled for Dec. 28 in Fort Simpson.