'We'll meet again someday': Friends remember N.W.T.'s Sonny MacDonald

·4 min read
Sonny MacDonald was an artist from Fort Chipewyan, Alta., who made his home in Fort Smith, N.W.T., where he was a well-known community member. (Photo submitted by George Tuccaro - image credit)
Sonny MacDonald was an artist from Fort Chipewyan, Alta., who made his home in Fort Smith, N.W.T., where he was a well-known community member. (Photo submitted by George Tuccaro - image credit)

Friends are remembering the impact that Sonny MacDonald, an artist from Fort Chipewyan, N.W.T. had on them and the North.

"It's a big loss ... we spent a lot of time together," long-time friend George Tuccaro said of MacDonald. He met Sonny when he was a young boy and MacDonald was a teenager.

"We had [the] same kind of sense of humour, I guess ... about the North. Sonny always had a way of expressing himself as a Northerner.… There's probably a 1,000 stories we could tell."

MacDonald, born May 26, 1939, died Tuesday evening with family by his side in Okotoks, Alta.

When MacDonald, an artist and carver, would travel to trade shows throughout Canada, Tuccaro says MacDonald would bring all his carvings. He would also bring a cassette player that he used to play the call of the loon.

"Soon as you'd hear the loon, well everybody would flock over to his exhibit then and there he would greet everyone and tell him who he was and who he was representing," Tuccaro said, adding he would be sure to introduce other N.W.T. artists that were there.

"He had quite a way of getting to people."

MacDonald at Fisherman's Wharf in Hay River in 2016. His friend Beatrice Lepine says he loved Fisherman's Wharf and was the first in line every Saturday morning for fish.
MacDonald at Fisherman's Wharf in Hay River in 2016. His friend Beatrice Lepine says he loved Fisherman's Wharf and was the first in line every Saturday morning for fish.(Submitted by Beatrice LePine)

He says MacDonald was involved in the community, including chairing the N.W.T. Arts Council for about a decade.

According to a 2016 post on the N.W.T Arts Council website, MacDonald is a Chipewyan Dene and he made a home out of the Northwest Territories.

He had been a recipient of the Order of the Northwest Territories, a former Council Member of Salt River First Nation, an NWT Aboriginal Representative to the Mackenzie River Basin Board and a past co-chair of the NWT Arts Strategy Advisory Panel.

He was also a self-taught artist who began carving when he was just seven years old, the website says.

He was well-known beyond the N.W.T. — throughout Canada and internationally — for his works in wood, bone, antler, horn, ivory, stone and ice and snow.

"He was a strong advocate for the artisans of the Northwest Territories," Tuccaro said.

"He was a tireless worker in that sense and he knew that the North should have more money in place for the artisans to be able to travel around the world … to be able to show their crafts. That's just one of the things that he did."

He says he also will remember MacDonald by the physical marks he left in the North.

That includes carvings he helped work on that are stationed at the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly.

'A good friend who made us laugh'

Even driving down the highway will spark a memory for Tuccaro, who recalls how MacDonald helped with the installation of power poles in the Fort Smith and Hay River area.

"There's still a bit of Sonny left out there, that when you drive by it can remind us of [him]," Tuccaro said.

"There'll always be a part of Sonny somewhere."

Others took to social media to recall fond memories of him.

"With large, strong hands," wrote Patti Kay on Facebook, "he carved the most delicate pieces of art from tiny pendants to enormous ice sculptures. He breathed life into driftwood, diamond willow, antler, bone, ice and snow transforming pieces into loons, wolves and fish."

"Most of all, he was a good friend who made us laugh and could two-step his wife and partner, Helen all night on the dance floor."

Sonny MacDonald and his wife Helen.
Sonny MacDonald and his wife Helen.(NWT Archives/Rene Fumoleau fonds/N-1995-002: 7501)

There are plans for a celebration of life in Fort Smith, N.W.T., once COVID-19 restrictions lift.

"I just marvelled at how lucky I am to have known someone who was so hard to say goodbye to," Tuccaro said.

"And, [I] just pray that he rest in peace, and we'll meet again someday, somewhere in that big place."