Long-time N.W.T.'er Bob MacQuarrie remembered as history buff, music lover and friend

·5 min read
Bob MacQuarrie with his daughter, Catherine MacQuarrie. Bob died last week at 86. 'He just has such a zest for life,' she said. (Submitted by Catherine MacQuarrie  - image credit)
Bob MacQuarrie with his daughter, Catherine MacQuarrie. Bob died last week at 86. 'He just has such a zest for life,' she said. (Submitted by Catherine MacQuarrie - image credit)

A father, social studies teacher, artist, band mate, poet, philosopher and N.W.T. MLA died last Wednesday.

Bob MacQuarrie, 86, was many things to many people in the North.

Over the past week, his family, friends and former students have been remembering him and sharing their stories.

He came North in the early 1970s from Edson, Alta., and eventually became part of the North's arts scene, and a member of an N.W.T. folk band, The Gumboots, on their first four albums.

Catherine MacQuarrie, Bob's oldest child and only daughter — he also had three sons, Donald, Kenneth and Douglas — said her parents moved the family North in 1966 to Baker Lake, Nunavut. Bob was a school principal of the day school there.

They spent three years in Baker Lake, then a year in Churchill, Man., and then came to Yellowknife in 1970, where Catherine and her siblings grew up and spent much of their adult lives.

He was a tough dad, she said, but he also knew how to have fun.

"He told me once when I was small — and probably complaining about all his strictures — that he was brought up in a strict Scottish family, and by God, I was going to be brought up in one too," Catherine said with a laugh. "That was Dad."

And she said he was adored by his students.

It was later into her and her siblings' adulthood however, that they became "very close" to their dad. "We're lucky to have the joy of a good adult relationship with our dad."

Bob was also a member of the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly for two terms, and he served the shortest term, one year, as Speaker in the N.W.T.'s history, a job that was not for him, Catherine said.

"The pomp and circumstance of the whole thing, and the not being able to engage in debate, he realized that this wasn't for him," she said.

She said she remembers that at one point in his political career, he flew down to Ottawa during the constitutional talks to argue the North's political development.

"He just has such a zest for life," she said, adding she'll remember many aspects of her father. "The good humour, the jokes, the smiling, just the willingness to have fun."

"Proud to know him."

Teacher to band mate

Chic Callas got to know Bob well as a band mate, but his first memory of him was as his social studies teacher at St. John Franklin High School in Yellowknife.

"Bob was really well respected by all of the students, all of the staff. He was passionate about what he was doing, which was teaching history," Callas said. "That carried through his whole life."

Submitted by Ray Bethke
Submitted by Ray Bethke

Callas said he remembers Bob reading philosophy books, even though he said it was difficult reading.

"If he didn't understand it, he'd go back and reread it ... And I think that was his approach to life. He's very methodical," Callas said.

"He was intelligent. He did his research. I mean, that sort of describes a lot of what I think Bob was like."

Later on, Callas joined the Gumboots band — named after the people they sang songs about like fishermen, miners and farmers. He said Bob was the main lyricist, and often wrote songs of people from northern Canada.

A storyteller

One of the first songs Callas learned with the band was called Abadoo, a children's song, based on one of Bob's son's pronunciation of apple juice when he was very young. Callas said Bob also wrote a song about long Johns — historical long underwear.

"He had a sense of humour as well as, you know, driving desire to tell stories of Canadian history."

Callas said when he went through tough times, like battling depression, Bob was there for him.

Bill Gilday, who started the Gumboots, first met Bob around 1985 at a teachers' party. Bob later joined the band and together they wrote a number of songs with Bob writing the lyrics and Gilday setting the music. One song was about the RCMP and another, The Resurrection of Billy Adamanche, was based on a true story covered by the CBC about a man who was lost while out on the land and believed to be dead, but made it back to town.

"He had a really good sense of rhythm and rhyme. He could capture events, and tragedies or triumphs, or characters with really colourful lyrics," Gilday said.

Submitted by Ray Bethke
Submitted by Ray Bethke

Bob was an expressive speaker on stage, he said.

"He had a really booming voice when he wanted to," said Gilday. "He was eloquent, he was a gifted speaker, and he could improvise an introduction to a song in a way that I could never do."

Bob even wrote several of his own philosophy books to fill the gaps of the books he read, Gilday said.

"He read every single philosophy [book] out there … [but] he felt that they didn't answer all of life's big questions," Gilday said. "He took it upon himself over a period of years, to write his own secular humanist philosophy."

At the root of them was how to treat others as you would have them treat you," Gilday said.

Beyond all that, Bob was a friend, he said.

"He was a very warm and friendly, personable kind of a guy," Gilday said.

He said Bob knew how to work an audience, especially an audience made up of children, and he'll always remember that image.

"You know, him with his thumbs tucked into his jeans with his suspenders, sort of in gumboots, walking up in front of the band."

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