Historic rifle, called symbol of friendship, returned to K'atl'odeeche First Nation

A historic relic was returned to the K'atl'odeeche First Nation this weekend, and it came from a man with his own storied past in the community. 

Rev. Ken Gaetz first came to Hay River, N.W.T., as a missionary in January 1949 when it was just a small village on Vale Island. He said he caught a ride with a truck driver from Peace River, Alta., who was bringing lumber north.

"It was I think 40 below the night I arrived, there was no accommodation available ... so the trucker and I we just slept in the cab of the truck through the night." he remembered. "I didn't know a soul." 

Gaetz went on to become a prominent figure in Hay River for more than three decades. He was the community's first Pentecostal pastor, he started the first Boy Scouts group, and he was the first administrator of H.H. Williams Memorial Hospital. 

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The 91-year-old is now retired and living in Kelowna, B.C., but he says Hay River is still "like home" to him. He recently returned for a visit with a rifle he was given nearly 70 years ago by Charles Norn, part of a well-known family on the First Nation.

"I never used it of course but it was a wonderful keepsake," said Gaetz, who made a wooden and glass case for the gun that he displayed in his home for many years.

"Now I feel it's time for me to relinquish it and I'd like to give it back." 

The rifle was a symbol of his friendship with the Norn family, Gaetz said. He visited them often and worked with Henry Norn as part of the Pentecostal Sub-Arctic Mission.

I've got nothing but thankfulness and I'm so happy and we are so blessed. - Doug Lamalice, Norn's great grandson


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"They were one of the very first family's that sort of endorsed my coming," he said. "They were the ones that taught me a lot about the North, how to trap and how to live in the North, how to travel by dog team."

Though Charles Norn was bedridden when Gaetz met him, he had worked for the Anglican church's mission school, hunting and fishing. 

"Actually he was nicknamed Peter because of his fishing abilities," Gaetz recalled with a laugh, referencing one of Jesus's disciples. "He was a very Godly man." 

On Sunday, Gaetz presented the rifle to Norn's great grandson, Doug Lamalice, who is the sub-chief of the K'atl'odeeche First Nation.

"I've got nothing but thankfulness and I'm so happy and we are so blessed that Ken could come up here and return this. It means so much to me," Lamalice said.

He was emotional as he recalled fond memories from his childhood like singing at the small log church by the riverbank, and getting candy and an orange at Christmas time.

"I saw beautiful, powerful times with my parents and the church and Rev. Ken Gaetz," he said. "To me those powerful times can exist again, to me those powerful times need to happen."

Lamalice said, for him, the gun represents something even bigger than friendship. 

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"It reminds me of how close we used to be with the town of Hay River," he said. 

"There needs to be unity, there needs to be love and dedication to one another. That was what Rev. Ken Gaetz brought into our community." 

Now the gun belongs to the First Nation, Lamalice said, and they will decide together where it will be displayed.