War veteran and volunteer, the region’s first COVID-19 vaccine recipient has lived to serve

·7 min read

Donald Fisher, known to some as ‘Scotty,’ is known to others as: Don, Pappa, Grandpa, very recently great-grandpa, ‘Buddy’ to his sister-in-law Evelyn, ‘My hero’ to his other sister-in-law, Jeannette, and Donnie-Onnie (thanks to his love of rhyming everyone else’s name.)

You can also replace Fisher with its original, Odjig. More on that later.

There is also ‘Odiepop,’ the name given to him by his grandson, Drake, and often called out to his grandfather while Fisher would take his daily walks past the school. A name also given to him by the entirety of Drake’s schoolmates, who would call out to him just as his grandson did.

Other titles? Veteran of the Second World War, chief engineer on The Philip R. Clark, beloved Wiikwemkoong community leader, nonagenarian, recipient of the 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Union of Ontario Indians, golf-enthusiast, a joker and … The first COVID-19 Vaccine recipient in Northeastern Ontario.

He said it only hurts a little, just in case you were wondering.

Donald Fisher (Odjig) was born in Wiikwemkoong (as it was then called) on June 18, 1926, to Dominic and Joyce Odjig (née Peachy). Fisher and his three older siblings were raised on a small family farm.

Fisher left home at 15 to work at a lumber camp in Sault Ste. Marie, but the stories his father told of the First World War made him dream of fighting as well, and in 1943, Donald Odjig left the lumber yard to enlist, lying about his age in order to do so.

He changed his name from Donald ‘Odjig’, to the English translation of the word, ‘Fisher’. An often-repeated story has Fisher telling the enlistment officer that, as the man’s friends recall, “Indians don’t have birth certificates.” Just like that, he’s going to war.

Of course, while Fisher heard many stories of the war from his father, his own seven children never heard much.

“Painful memories linger for Scotty,” said his daughter-in-law, Lynda Fox Trudeau. “He will not openly talk about his personal experiences of the war. He always swore he would never talk about it with his children, a personal promise he keeps to this day.”

They know he received his training in Shilo, Man., and volunteered to become a paratrooper. As a member of the 1st Canadian Paratroop Battalion, Fisher was sent overseas on Christmas Day, 1944. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and on March 17, 1945, he crossed the Rhine River, fighting for his country until the end of the war.

Well, sort of. The end of Fisher’s service is somewhat legendary among his friends and family, as related to Sudbury.com by his friends Patrick and Patricia Ryan, both retired teachers who have known Fisher since 1970.

“He was with the first group of Canadians who met up with the Russians near the end of the war,” Patricia said. “While busy ‘celebrating’ with them, he fell off a horse, broke his ankle, and was shipped back to England. He used to laugh about his noble war injury!”

She also said this sense of humour is the core of who Fisher’s being.

“Don is a fun-loving extrovert. He never hesitated to voice his opinions and had no time for people who complained, but did nothing to change a situation. He is smart, well-read and kind. He does not suffer fools and demands the best from everyone. If Don was running anything, you knew it would be done the right way, and efficiently.”

And her descriptor, ‘well-read,’ is an understatement. His favourite book? “Anna Karenina” (Leo Tolstoy, 1855).

Another core part of who Fisher is? Wiikwemkoong.

“With the ending of World War Two,” Fox Trudeau said, “Don began his 27-year chief engineer career, shipping iron ore on the Great Lakes. Upon the passing of his wife, Rosemary Peltier, he returned home to look after and raise his family. He embarked upon his next career working for the then Department of Indian Affairs for 17 years.”

Fisher worked as a local government advisor for the department, a position that his colleague Larry Leblanc describes as “the federal government had finally realized that having Native people to communicate with Natives was a good idea.”

Leblanc was also the person who sparked Fisher’s interest in running, something Fisher was not keen on previously. When he learned that Leblanc was a marathon runner, Fisher got curious and began training in secret on the island. He was shy, so he would run at dawn or at night, and no matter how hot the weather, never in shorts.

Leblanc said Fisher told him, “I don’t want those old ladies seeing my butt.” But he later loved running so much, he helped the youth on the Island understand and love the sport as well.

In addition to this, Leblanc describes him as a true community member.

“He volunteered to coach countless hockey teams for I don’t know how many years. He initiated and developed community projects such as, Thunderbird Ballpark, the Wiikwemkoong Recreational Centre and, his pride and joy, the Rainbow Ridge Golf Course.” Those who speak of the golf course say that Fisher was the driving force behind its creation.

Fisher is a big fan of golf and his grandson, Drake Trudeau, remembers getting ice cream with his grandfather and driving by to check on who was golfing at the golf course. Of all his accomplishments, Trudeau thinks his grandfather is proudest of “anything to do with golf.”

Of course, because it is Donald Odjig Fisher we speak of, there are many other descriptors for him, courtesy of family and friends.

For instance, he is regimented. Or so says his sister-in-law, Evelyn Corbiere, the one who calls him ‘Buddy.’

“Mostly everything he did was on a schedule. Our fond memory to illustrate this were their (Fisher and his late wife, Lori) Sunday morning coffee visits. Guaranteed, their vehicle would come down our road precisely at 8:25 a.m. so he and Lori would be here for 8:30. After a good visit, jokes and coffee and Lor's one or two slices of bacon at exactly 9:10 he would say, ‘Okay Lor, time to go as I have to go for my walk’."

And there are few things Fisher likes better than a good joke.

“Scotty always has a good joke,” said Donna Debassige, his friend and former colleague. Sister-in-law Corbiere adds, “He would tell jokes at social gatherings or after Couples' Night at golf. Although the jokes were often repeated, or whether he needed reminders with the punchlines, we would all have a good laugh. He would always look at Lor for help, which made it funnier.”

Plus, he knows the keys to good health, said his family.

“He believes that a healthy diet of fish, a glass of red wine a day, exercise, and a good joke is the secret to living a long and fulfilling life,” said Fox Trudeau.

A vaccine helps with that, too.

“Scotty is important in so many ways that Wiky would not be the welcoming community it is today,” says Leblanc. “He was a band councillor, education committee leader, community recreation director, and a multi-sport player and coach. He loves children and would go out of his way to help them be better in every way.

“This honourable man is more than just a friend to me. He is a mentor, a brother, a man devoted to the humanity around him. He always gave of himself – his all. He is a devout giver and leader. It is easy to say, ‘He is my brother.’ Chi miigwech Nitchke.”

Jenny Lamothe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com