July 19, 2023 By Emily Blake, The Canadian Press
INUVIK, N.W.T. — Across the pages of a picture book, the northern lights dance over the Arctic landscape with brush strokes of bold colour, as caribou and muskox graze on the tundra and a bush pilot takes to the skies.
As the pilot flies across the Mackenzie Delta, he rescues a stranded prospector from a blizzard, packs a team of smelly sled dogs on board and picks up a pregnant woman who gives birth as he lands.
“Freddie the Flyer” chronicles the real exploits of Fred Carmichael, the first Indigenous commercial pilot in the Canadian Arctic.
Now 88 and living in Inuvik, N.W.T., Carmichael, who co-authored the book with Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, said he hopes it will help kids pursue their dreams.
“If they want to be a pilot or anything else you really want to do, you need to find the people to help you get started,” he wrote in an email.
“There are always people out there like me willing to help. I was able to go from a dog-team to an airplane before I learned to drive a car, thanks to a pilot/preacher who saw that I was interested.”
Metcalfe-Chenail said she hopes young and grown-up readers will be inspired by Carmichael’s story.
“What really struck me talking with Fred is that he was — and is — so humble and hard-working, but nurtured huge dreams,” she said.
“He found the right mentors and teachers at the right time, and continually paid his blessings forward to new generations. Those are fantastic lessons for all of us.”
Carmichael, who is of Gwich’in and Scottish-Irish descent, grew up on a trapline outside of Aklavik, N.W.T. He said he began dreaming of flying when he was 12 after he was able to explore a red Stinson aircraft on skis that landed near his family’s bush camp to deliver supplies.
“That left a huge impression on me and that’s when I caught the aviation bug,” he said.
Later as a teenager in Aklavik, Carmichael said he would watch Pentecostal minister Don Violette work on his plane. Violette allowed Carmichael to take the controls on a test flight and made arrangements for him to take flying lessons.
Carmichael went on to have a successful decades-long aviation career in the North, and still flies today. He also served eight years as president of the Gwich’in Tribal Council and served as chair of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, a partner in a now-defunct natural gas pipeline proposal.
“I’m happy that over the years I was able to give back some support and encouragement to others,” he said. “Through my aviation companies, I’ve supported other northerners to follow careers in the aviation industry and trained pilots, flight attendants, dispatchers, radio operators, engineers and mechanics.”
Carmichael’s work has been recognized through many awards and accolades. He is a member of the Order of Canada, has been inducted into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame and the Order of the Northwest Territories, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Saskatchewan.
Along with featuring highlights from Carmichael’s career, “Freddie the Flyer” includes the Gwich’in and Inuvialuktun words for the months of the year and their pronunciations. The story is illustrated through paintings by Inuvialuit artist Audrea Loreen-Wulf, who was born in the Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., area.
The book is to be released Oct. 24.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
- Canadians’ vacation plans hit by inflation, airline delays: Leger survey
- Canadian wildfires hit Indigenous communities hard, threatening their land and culture