When Susan Chaffee joined the Yellowknife adult literacy program in February 2020, authoring a book wasn't remotely on her radar.
"I never thought I'd write a book at all," the 66-year-old said.
But her instructor — after hearing Chaffee was the first female fishing guide in the N.W.T. — knew there was potential for a project.
"I thought to myself, there must be a lot of stories there. And when Susan showed me some of the photos from her time guiding out on the East Arm in the 70's with lots of denim fashion and flared out pants, I knew we had to do something with it," said Thomas Gagnon-van Leeuwen.
Chaffee was surprised when he suggested she write a book about her guiding experience at the lodge.
"When he came to me and said, 'do you want to write a book?' I looked at him funny."
But she agreed to give it a try.
The book is called Happy Thoughts of Arctic Star Lodge. It's 33 pages long with old Polaroid photos of life at the lodge with descriptions of her time as a guide out on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, N.W.T.
Beginnings as a dishwasher and 'laundry girl'
In 1978, when Chaffee was 23, she started to work there doing chores.
"I went out there to be a dishwasher and a laundry girl," she said.
But, it didn't take long for her to fall in love with the place and want to be out on the lake in a fishing boat. At the time it was a male-dominated industry.
"When I flew there, I fell in love with the land and I wanted to be a guide more than anything in the world. So a guy named Al taught me everything," she said.
"I was number one guide for about 30 years. And even when I was pregnant, I was still guiding. It's a beautiful country. You meet all decent people, nice people, lots of fun. And when you get to work that long, the whole group is just like one big family."
First time instructor's student self-publishes book
Gagnon-van Leeuwen said it's the first time one of his students self-published a book.
"Adults that come back to school after a whole lifetime of experience, they have so much to share. They have so much to give," he said.
"Reading and writing is all about sharing stories and learning other people's stories. That's what's beautiful about it."
Chaffee has enjoyed the process of writing her book and the literacy program, and is encouraging others who might be hesitant to give it a try.
"They're not there to laugh at you or judge you or anything like that, they're really there to help you all the way through. So don't be ashamed. Don't be shy. You know, you only live once. You're only young once, man. If you're going for it, go all the way, don't give up."
The book is available online or at the literacy centre in Yellowknife.
Gagnon-van Leeuwen said it will also be used for other literacy programs in the territories.
"We really want to share this book with other adults who are beginning to read," he said. "Because that's … who could really benefit from it."