In Honour Of Mechanics
I am not much of a mechanic but I am handy enough to be able to do basic maintenance on my truck and motorcycle.
Like most guys I know from remote First Nation communities, I am more or less like the saying goes, a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.
When you live in a remote area where there are no service centres it is necessary to learn enough to get by in order to maintain any vehicles you might own. That knowledge more or less gets passed down by fathers, uncles and friends. A lot of the knowledge that is spread around when it comes to mechanical know how usually comes from outside professionals who find their way into the community to work on projects. Sometimes these mechanics settle in a remote First Nation for some time and work for the band council public works department to maintain mechanical equipment. At times some of these professionals start up businesses based on mechanical maintenance.
Mechanics and technical professionals are highly valued in remote First Nations. More often than not their expertise is drawn upon for all kinds of work. Much of the time local people become associated with these pros and they learn how to do many things merely through watching and asking questions. Vehicles and equipment need a lot of maintenance in remote northern First Nations. There are few local roads but those that exist are often very rough. You rarely see a car or van in the far north on a First Nation simply because they are not built strong enough to deal with extreme driving conditions. Trucks are prominent. To complicate matters the temperatures dip to minus-40 C in the winter in many northern communities and that can be hard on mechanical machines. For a good part of the year vehicles are driven on winter roads that can be rough and pose challenges when the spring thaw arrives.
I can remember driving tractors and trucks on the winter road during a warm spell. The surface of the road was like an obstacle course with ice and water on the way. At times there would be sections where the ice road had softened and the muskeg posed big problems in that vehicles would get stuck. I can recall seeing trucks abandoned on the winter road due to the fact that drivers simply could not get their vehicle back on solid ground. Muskeg is like black soil quick sand and mostly composed of water. These days the winter roads are more substantial in many parts of the northern country but they still pose a challenge for most vehicles.
If you end up on a winter road and you get stuck or your vehicle develops a problem, you had better have some knowledge of how to cope with being alone out in the middle of nowhere in freezing weather with no opportunity to simply call a tow truck or CAA. Necessity demands that if you are going to drive any type of vehicle in remote First Nation communities you have to learn how to deal with a mechanical problem on your own with little resources to do the job.
Most snowmobile riders who head out onto the land in the remote far north have some knowledge of how to deal with engine problems or anything associated with mechanical operation. The same goes for those who travel on the rivers and the great James Bay by boat. First Nation hunters and gatherers who head out on the land can fix just about any mechanical problem when an emergency arises.
By the time I was a teenager I knew how to perform basic servicing of trucks, four-wheeled ATVs and snowmobiles. I was driving from the age of 12 and as a teenager I drove trucks and tractors along the winter road with my taped music blaring so that I could stay awake on the 10-hour ride.
I have great respect for talented mechanics and I have known many of them over the years. Even my dad Marius was a self-taught mechanic that knew a lot about motors. I also recall real mechanical pros like Willie Dubien and his brother Gilles, Bill Grenier, Norman Lascelle and his dad Gaston, Jeff Madden and Jamie St. Onge. They were all from northern Ontario. My cousin Robert Kataquapit is a legendary self-taught mechanic in Attawapiskat. Even though he never received formal training of any kind, Robert is a magician of sorts who can tear apart, rebuild and get just about any motor running again. More recently I have become acquainted with great southern Ontario mechanics like Kerry and Ryan Marvin of Marvin Tire in St.
Williams and Claude Lord, near Amos in northern Quebec. These guys are at home in their garages surrounded by a hodgepodge of tools, nuts, bolts, spare parts, solutions of all types and the smell of oil and gas. I respect every one of these people for their knowledge, honesty and work ethic. They are the salt of the earth.
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