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There's no place like home in Fort Smith
Resident discusses how he settled down in his favourite townResident discusses how he settled down in his favourite town

Lyndsay Herman
Northern News Services
Published Monday, April 16, 2012

Regardless of how far Phil Norwegian travelled, his heart has always remained in Fort Smith.

NNSL photo/graphic

After spending almost a week in Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife last month for a bad flu, Phil Norwegian shows he's off assisted oxygen, feeling great, and looking forward to returning home to Fort Smith. - Lyndsay Herman/NNSL

Norwegian was born in Rabbitskin River, 25 km east of Fort Simpson, right in the middle of a family of nine. He grew up trapping with his father, Joseph Norwegian, and in 1954, at age 20, Norwegian decided to strike out on his own.

"Some of the guys were saying that Fort Smith was a beautiful place with beautiful girls," he said. "So I decided to see for myself."

He was only in Fort Smith for a few months when the officer of a ship that frequented the waterways offered Norwegian his first opportunity to travel south and experience city life.

"There was a ship returning and he asked if I was interested in being a chef in the future," said Norwegian. "He sent me to a school in Calgary. That was something. I went from the bush, to Fort Smith, to Calgary.

"I remember being at the Edmonton train station, very nervous. Everything seemed different. There were so many things I'd never seen before, the vehicles, lights flashing all over, trolley buses hanging off wires.

"It was fun, but I really missed the North. I wasn't happy," he said. "In the city (people) ignored you or they figured you came from an igloo. A lot of them didn't think there were any houses out there."

By the spring of 1955 Norwegian was back in Fort Smith. He worked various jobs, often using his camp cook skills, in and around Fort Smith.

In the mid 1980s, Norwegian returned to the trapping life outside of Fort Simpson and noticed some big changes to the industry from 40 years before.

"When I was first trapping," he said, "we were using a dog team and snowshoes. Now we were using a snowmobile and that made everything different. You covered distance in no time at all. You could hit stumps, though. There was the noise and the smell. With a dog sled it was guaranteed you'd get home. If a snowmobile breaks down, you might have to walk for miles."

In 1993, Norwegian and his wife, Mary, bid on a maintenance contract for Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park and started on the career path the couple takes great pride in. The pair took care of the park for seven seasons and then bid on the contract for Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park, which is located in central Fort Smith, in 2000.

Norwegian, 76, bid on the four-year contract again this year and will find out this month if he and Mary will be continuing their work.

"I want to be around for another run," said Norwegian. "I don't want to shut 'er down until I'm 80. Not for another four years!"

If Norwegian's past medical history is any indication, he'll be able to keep going for many more years than that. From Norwegian's account, he's overcome arthritis so painful he had to quit his painting job in 1973, survived a broken neck, and outlasted a stent operation for a severe heart attack in 1996. The stent was only intended to last for 10 years, but it's been 15 and all is well, something Norwegian attributes to his and his wife's strong faith.

"It might look like a dead-end sometimes," Norwegian said. "But He will always make a way. For now, my blood is flowing like the Mackenzie River."

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