Bernier understood the need to work together

Create: 12/01/2015 - 19:41

Sandy Lake Elder Jonas Fiddler remembers how his father, former chief Thomas Fiddler, and former MPP Leo Bernier brought modern transportation and communications to his community.
“Leo (Bernier was) one of the few people that understood the needs of the people on both sides of the culture he was selected to represent,” Fiddler said, explaining his father, who was chief for about 25 years, and Bernier were about the same size with booming and commanding voices.
“They worked hand-in-hand on both sides of the culture to help establish the needs of the people up north. These two giants understood each other and they had a job to do.”
Fiddler brought up an incident one day in Sandy Lake before the introduction of airstrips and modern telephones when his father and Bernier witnessed an emergency at the nursing station where a baby was very ill.
“While the nurse was talking to the doctor in Sioux Lookout, the telephone conversation went dead because the battery went dead,” Fiddler said. “Although the doctor knew this child had to be evacuated out of Sandy Lake, the weather that night was so bad there was no chance of a plane coming in and the child died. This was before the airstrip with no IFR (instrument flight rules) flying.”
Fiddler said his father told Bernier that the community needed better communication.
“This must not happen again,” Fiddler said, quoting his fathers comments to Bernier.
“They had a short meeting and Leo understood what was needed. That was when the talk started about the airstrip.”
Fiddler said the community initially received party-line telephones before modern telephones were installed.
“Before there was regular telephone, all we had in Sandy Lake was ... a radio telephone operated on batteries,” Fiddler said.
Fiddler said his father and Bernier, who served as the Kenora-riding Member of Provincial Parliament for 21 years from 1966 to 1987 and passed away June 28 at the age of 81, understood the need to work together and to live in harmony.
“I saw them work, I saw them talk to each other because I used to translate for them,” Fiddler said.
“These two big fellows knew how to approach things that were going to affect the people they were selected to (represent).”
Fiddler said Bernier still has a “lot of respect” for helping bring in modern transportation and communications across the north.
“They didn’t have better communications and they didn’t have airports,” Fiddler said. “That is why we can never forget these two big guys.”
Sandy Lake Chief Adam Fiddler said Bernier had a lot of influence when he was MPP for the Kenora riding but there was not much contact over the past decade.
He said Sandy Lake lost a friend when Bernier died.