Q&A with Bert Rose

Maria Canton
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 11/99) - In 1965, Bert Rose moved to the Northwest Territories to teach school in Fort Smith.

Letting opportunities guide him, he married, had two children, moved east in 1968 and lived between Qikqiktarjuaq, Whale Cove and then moved to Iqaluit in 1981.

Just coming off a 34-year career in the field of education and helping to co-ordinate the April 1 celebrations, Rose, who has a penchant for motorcycles and airplanes, is easing into retirement.

N/N: Was it your career that led you here?

Rose Yes, I was teaching in Fort Smith and when I moved east, I was supervisor of schools for the Baffin Division for six or seven years. I was the first director of the divisional board. And in 1987 I became the dean of the college.

N/N: Wow, you've really been involved in all levels of the school system. Did you like your job at the college?

Rose It was a great job, a wonderful job and there were really exciting things happening. And the work that I went onto continued to impact on the college because I got into the area of funding for college programs.

The luckiest thing has been getting the job in '65 in Fort Smith -- you can't get to there from here -- nobody can plan their natural progressions.

N/N: Having lived here for almost 20 years and watching Iqaluit grow as it is, do you think this is the beginning of what is about to happen?

Rose Yeah, I think so. I think it's exciting to live in a community that's as dynamic as this one is, that has to go through what this one does.

I don't like the development at one level, but at another level I think it's important that we see families get established here and Iqaluit become a permanent community.

In the '70s it was impossible to think that there would be more than a 1,000 cars in Iqaluit. It was impossible to imagine that all of this would happen.

N/N: Do you think the setting up of the government is just the natural progression that a new government has to let guide it, even though some people may be impatient?

Rose I think the decisions being made are, in the largest measure, correct.

I'm not sitting at the table having to struggle with money issues -- my window only allows me to see a very narrow range of the issues they're dealing with.

There was a tremendous expectation that on April 1, the streets would be paved with gold and yet the people who are working desperately hard to get ready know that it takes time -- no government can instantly solve problems.

But I don't think in general people are impatient.

N/N: With your work co-ordinating the April 1 celebrations, was there ever a point leading up to the day that you thought things might not come together?

Rose No, this was too important in Canadian history. From the beginning it was very clear that there would be a major celebration of national importance because it was a very important event in history.

N/N: Were you able to sleep at night; were you anxiety ridden?

Rose The work on the party took about 16 months from beginning to end and over that time period we covered almost every contingency.

The only thing -- and people heard me say it repeatedly -- we needed luck on was the weather and we got it.

N/N: Were the preparations and planning all-consuming? Did it become your life?

Rose For 16 months it did. I didn't do very much else and when I took a break, which I did twice, I left the North simply to get away from it.

The biggest challenge was trying to marshal all of the resources that would be required to scale the thing to the level of a national event.

N/N: When was the last time an event like that happened here?

Rose The Northwest Territories being cut down?

In 1905, when Alberta and Saskatchewan were cut out of the Northwest Territories.

This country has been assembled piece by piece. In 1949, Newfoundland came into confederation with an intact legislature and a whole series of structures.

With Nunavut it was a blank slate, it was brand new -- nobody knew how to do it.

N/N: Were people exhausted when the celebrations were finally over?

Rose Within five days, five of the senior people were sick.

The executive producer from Toronto had pneumonia and was hospitalized, I was in bed with the flu for five days, others had stress-related problems too.

N/N: Could you believe that it was over? Or was it over?

Rose It was a 99 per cent stop, but it wasn't a 100 per cent stop.

The public stuff was all over, there was still some wrap-up stuff to be done -- seeing to it that the forward operating location (FOL) was torn apart and things like that.

I still occasionally get phone calls about celebration stuff, not too often anymore, but still a few.

N/N: Do you have a most memorable moment from either that day or any of the times leading up to it?

Rose The stroke of midnight. We were using a computer clock that was set against the official DIAND count-down timer. It felt as though that clock got slower and slower and slower as it moved towards midnight and people were starting to get very impatient.

N/N: What was your family like throughout all of the planning, were they involved too?

Rose One thing that has always been very important to me is that my family is always involved in things with me.

During the planning my wife, Joanne, was my greatest resource. I don't doubt her guidance.

N/N: And now that the celebrations are completely wrapped up and you've retired, are you relaxing?

Rose Sometimes I'm restless, but I've taken over a lot of the household things and I think I have a little bit of work lined up for the winter.

N/N: So you're going to drift in and out of retirement?

Rose There are always things to do, but now I have the luxury of being as fussy as a devil in deciding what I will and won't do.

N/N: I understand that you also have a plane? How long have you been a pilot?

Rose For 21 years. Three of us own a plane and a hangar together, a Cessna 172.

N/N: Do you get out flying much?

Rose Yeah, a few hours a month, it's really just like going for a drive in the country.