Remembering Winston McNeely, revered Fort Good Hope leader and storyteller

The N.W.T.’s Sahtu region has lost a veteran leader and a soft-spoken storyteller who punctuated every tale with a little joke that left smiles on listeners faces across the territory.

Winston McNeely, 77, died earlier in April in his home of Fort Good Hope, N.W.T. His funeral was on April 15.

McNeely was the president of the Fort Good Hope Métis Nation Local #54 Land Corporation and a frequent contributor to CBC Radio’s Northwind programwhere he shared stories and memories of the people who shaped his life and the North, back when dog teams and bush pilots connected communities.

“[He was] pretty much involved in everything in the community,” said his nephew, Charles McNeely, in an interview with Northwind host Wanda McLeod. 

McNeely was born in 1942. His family moved to Fort Good Hope in the fall of 1956, where he would go on to work as a heavy-equipment operator while spending much of his time living off the land.

One of his nephew’s earliest memories of his uncle is of him “logging down the river and bring[ing] rafts down to Inuvik.”

‘Big shoes to fill’

His greatest legacy though might be his resolve to proactively build a better future for his community.

“He always wanted to train the young ones because they’re the ones that are going to be taking over,” McNeely said.

One of his achievements, he notes, was cutting a deal with Canadian Helicopters to allow 10 hours of flying time so the youth of Fort Good Hope would be able to get out on the land to hunt geese. 

“We’re really going to miss him … his leadership because he was always on top of things and always wanted the youth to get involved in it and that part we’re going to miss,” he said.

“Whoever is going to take that role on has got some big shoes to fill.”

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