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Life of a working man
Fort Resolution elder worked through tough times

Herb Mathisen
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, November 30, 2011

DENINU KU'E/FORT RESOLUTION
Marcel Norn followed work all over the territory in towns that no longer exist and cities that don't look the same because the realities of life necessitated it.

NNSL photo/graphic

Marcel Norn, 79, speaks about his experiences working across the NWT, from his home in Fort Resolution. Norn said life is easier today and people have more opportunities now, with so much work available up at the mines. He left school to help support his ailing grandfather. "The only way you would eat was to set rabbit snares," he said. "You had to do something." - Herb Mathisen/NNSL photo

Life wasn't easy for Norn early on.

When he was just eight-months old in 1932, his mother died while they were out in the bush. His grandparents raised him and faced an immediate challenge.

"I had no milk," he said. "So my grandfather boiled a fish broth and he put it in a cloth and he made me suck it for a week. I lived on fish broth."

When they returned to Fort Resolution, his grandfather bought him some milk, but Norn apparently wasn't interested.

"He said I wouldn't take the milk," Norn said, laughing. "I just liked the fish broth."

Norn attended school in the fall of 1939, but left to work after his grandmother died and his grandfather fell ill. There weren't any family allowances or old age benefits back then, he said.

"The only way you would eat was to set rabbit snares," he said. "You had to do something."

Norn began cutting wood with his grandfather when he was 10 years old and, at 13, he went to work piling lumber in a sawmill "for a dollar a day." He spent the next nine years working in sawmills across the South Slave, eventually becoming a foreman. His grandfather died in 1944.

When Norn was 22, he took off for Yellowknife, where he found a girlfriend and work at Giant Mine for a year.

"In those days, there was no highway; everything was (transported) by boat," he said. This eventually led him to take a job as a deck hand, where he worked on a transport boat the next two summers travelling up and down the Mackenzie River.

"Just about every day, you would see different towns," he said.

Norn said it took four or five days to travel down the Mackenzie and about two months to return south, upstream.

Norn later met his future wife and moved back to Fort Resolution to trap.

"I built myself a house, I got married and had four kids," he said. "There were no jobs here, so I was just trapping in the winter time."

Norn used to trap mink, marten, fox and lynx.

"It's lots of fun when you trap," he said, smiling. "You sleep out in the open."

In the summers, he would return to Yellowknife where there were lots of jobs. He said he would go down to the lake harbour every morning and find work unloading barges.

Eventually, Norn found steady work as a repairman at the Pine Point mine from 1975 until 1988.

"If something broke down, then you worked," he said. But if everything was running smoothly, he added with a sly smile, he could just "standby."

Norn's children grew up in Pine Point and they enjoyed the town.

"There were all types of people, but they got along really well," he said.

As the mine was shutting down, Norn experienced a major heart attack, which required seven months of recovery in Edmonton.

"I was so weak when I came back (to Fort Resolution,)" he said, adding doctors told him he couldn't work or trap anymore. Norn said he took that news hard.

Norn hasn't been back to Pine Point since the town was closed either, but, as life has a way of doing, his time in the mining town wound up spurring a new interest for him.

The CBC did a story about the town and asked Norn about his experiences there.

"I told them everything," he said. This interview got him interested in community reporting and he has been doing it for more than 10 years now.

At least once a week, Norn hosts a radio show in Chipewyan -- his mother tongue -- telling stories to keep residents mostly elders informed with what is happening in Fort Resolution.

"A lot of elders around here have never been to school, so they can't understand English well," he said.

"They are happy."

A widower for 20 years, Norn lives alone in Fort Resolution, surrounded by pictures of his large family.

Norn speaks proudly of his four children. One of his sons, Dwight, was with the Canadian Forces for five years, where he received electrician training. His other son, Raymond, works for BHP and recently moved into his old home. Norn also has two daughters, Marcella and Trina, a social worker.

Norn has about 20 grandchildren too, he said.

"I'm happy the way I live now."

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