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Mysterious death from '52 explored
Sixty-three years after the fact, woman visits city to find out what happened to her father

Meagan Leonard
Northern News Services
Monday, August 17, 2015

Karen Tigert was only three years old when her father died one frigid evening in 1952 while making the journey from Hay River to Yellowknife by snowmobile.

Shortly afterward, her family relocated to Edmonton and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death were never brought up among them. Her mother remarried and their former life in Yellowknife receded into the past. Although Tigert returned to the North in the 70s for a few years to work as a teacher and reconnect with the place she was born, she didn't inquire into her father's death. When she was young, she said, family history just was not at the forefront of her mind.

"When you're 23 you don't think about stuff like that," she said. "It never even crossed my mind ... when you have children of your own, that's when you start to think about about heritage."

Today, she lives in Sechelt, B.C. It wasn't until a friend of hers was coming to Yellowknife to visit family and asked her to tag along did she start thinking of her father again. She knew he delivered fish by snowmobile between Hay River and Yellowknife and she knew he had been a prospector and trapper.

Armed with what little she could remember, Tigert tracked down an old copy of a story on her father's death published in News of the North in 1952. It provided a little insight, but still left many questions unanswered.

According to the article, Fred Tigert disappeared sometime in early January 1952. His body was recovered three weeks later 13 miles up the Buffalo River - nowhere near his regular route. Buffalo River is about halfway between Hay River and Pine Point and it feeds into Great Slave Lake.

"The location of the body and snowmobile was far from the course ordinarily used in making the trip between the two points," the article reads.

It states Fred was found on the seat of the snowmobile with the carburetor of the engine beside him. Although her three older brothers are declining in health and now have little recollection of the events, she said she remembers one of her brothers mentioning a blow torch, not a carburetor.

"In the paper it didn't mention that, it just said there were rumours," she said.

Determined to find out more, Tigert decided to take her search elsewhere and tracked down Cathy Menard, chief coroner for the NWT. There she discovered her father was born in 1892 in Stockholm Sweden. She also learned she was named after her grandmother.

"When you find out a little bit about your heritage, it's kind of strange," she said. "To find out my dad's birthday and that I'm named after my grandmother just sort of floored me, I didn't know what to do or think."

Menard told News/North she gets a number of requests similar to Tigert's every year. Even though old records can be difficult to track down, she says she does her best to provide some sort of closure.

"We'll do everything we can to assist, but lots of these old records are really, really old," she said. "But we're very pleased and honoured to even be able to give her a tiny bit of information ...we're always happy to be able to help."

Menard said records from before the territory became independent from the federal government are the hardest to find as they have been dispersed between the two archive systems.

"Sometimes we don't have anything, sometimes there is very little in the file, it's disheartening sometimes," said Menard. "At one time ... the Alberta border came way up ... and then government didn't get here until 1967 and lots of archives, whatever files were being obtained at that time were divided up and some went to Ottawa, some went to the coroner and some went to the museum."

Although the information she received was not entirely definitive, Tigert says she is glad she is grateful for what she was able to find out about her ancestry.

"Now I know a little bit more about myself and where I fit in," she said. "I know that I'm named after my grandmother and I know my father's birthday so I can find more information on him. I'd like to track his family now and see where they ended up."

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