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Ragged Ass Road pioneer remembered
Old Town's Lou Rocher lived a bushman lifestyle, and battled city hall

Simon Whitehouse
Northern News Services
Published Friday, May 3, 2013

If there is one road that has caused the most controversy in the city's history it is surely Ragged Ass Road. Its principal author and defender died at age 79 Sunday with family at his side at Stanton Territorial Hospital's extended care unit.

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Lou Rocher, 79, the man who came up with the idea for Ragged Ass Road died last Sunday. Here he appears at a cabin at Trout Lake, one of many he owned around Yellowknife during the early 1980s. - photo courtesy of Rocher family

Lou Rocher, the "shoot-from-the-hip" pioneer of the Old Town's Woodyard, as some of his children remembered him this week, added plenty of colour to the city's early history.

Despite first naming the road in 1970 while sitting around with a friend one day at the family's former Quonset hut home, his family members are quick to note that there is still no official city street sign reading "Ragged Ass Road."

"There was never an official sign put up from the city or anything, so they named it," said son Mark. "He felt he should be able to name it because he owned six of the nine lots on the road and he thought he could name it appropriately."

After a period of prospecting with no profits, Lou and his chums were sitting around one night having a few drinks, and jokingly said they should call this street Ragged Ass Road, meaning it was "dirt poor."The namesake has been the source of many a headache over the years, with many thefts of Lou's makeshift signs by curious tourists, as well as a long reluctance by city hall to acknowledge the street's given name. The city's reticence couldn't stop the street name's popularity from spreading, however. Ragged Ass Road even became the title of an album by Juno award-winning Canadian rock singer Tom Cochrane.

The name created controversy as recently as last October when a WestJet flight attendant asked a passenger wearing a Ragged Ass Road T-shirt to remove it or cover it up out of fear of offending other passengers. The company was quick to apologize when the story made national news headlines.

But the source of contention surrounding the road name provides only a glimpse into the man that Rocher was and what he contributed to the city's history.

Born on April 24, 1934 in St. Brieulx, Sask., Rocher found himself moving north to Uranium City, Sask., in the 1950s to take advantage of the boom in exploration in that area. The northbound Rocher eventually settled in Yellowknife in 1957, where he raised a family with wife Dorene and built a career largely centered around mineral exploration, selling firewood, commercial fishing - all executed while embracing the Northern wilderness and lifestyle. If there is one thing friends and family remember, it's that he was never that far away from either the land or his home.

"There was a period of time, being a very humble man, where he hadn't even gone up the Franklin Avenue hill in five years," said daughter Shelly Acton. "If he wasn't here at home, then he was in the bush. He had no need to go uptown."

Rocher was also instrumental in providing some of the earliest accommodations in Yellowknife as a "slum landlord" for transient people coming through town, because he often bought shacks and removed others to offer housing during the 1960s and '70s. He also took many people into his home, including foster children, in need of health services.

In 1979 Lou began a sports fishing and hunting camp at Mackay Lake, which the family ran until it was sold in 1989. Mark said Lou established the camp by seeking permission first from the Yellowknives Dene while ignoring the federal government's calls for a lease agreement, which exemplifies his ties to the area and First Nations people.

"He would only deal with the (Dene) people in Dettah," said Mark. "He and my brother Jeff finally organized a meeting with the band council and (former chief) Isadore Tsetta got the old traditional show of hands to establish a sports lodge."

The family also recall his storied battles with city hall during the 1980s over access to Ragged Ass Road and the roadblock he erected across Ragged Ass Road in protest over city surveys of the land.

Rocher is survived by his five children, daughters Donna Gathercole and Shelly Acton, as well as sons Jeff, Mark, and John. He is also survived by 12 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

He is predeceased by his wife Dorene, who died in 1994.

Mark said Lou suffered a stroke in 2003 while alone in one of his wood cabins on Languish Lake, and he never did fully recover. When Lou didn't radio home as expected, family members flew out to see if there was anything wrong. He was found unconscious and close to death inside his cabin five days after his stroke.

In typical stubborn Rocher fashion, when doctors pulled his life support tubes in hospital, Lou began to speak again, and survived another decade.

A funeral service and gathering for Rocher is to be held Saturday at St. Patrick's Parish at 2 p.m.

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