NEWS

Two men who drowned 55 years apart honoured at RCMP national memorial service

09/11/2011 01:33 EDT | Updated 11/11/2011 05:12 EST
REGINA - RCMP Special Const. Andrew Ooyoumut once trekked through a blizzard to deliver supplies to starving Inuit families and Const. Michael Potvin went bison hunting to bond with children in the Yukon.

The two men died more than 55 years apart but were remembered together at the RCMP national memorial service Sunday.

Ooyoumut, who was 37, drowned in the Kikatavyuk River in 1954 while helping to catch fish to feed RCMP sled dogs. Potvin, 26, drowned in July 2010 when his patrol boat capsized on the Stewart River in the Yukon.

Potvin's widow, Allison, said he loved children and reached out to them in Mayo, Yukon, the community where he was stationed.

"They really, really took to him and I think it's because Mike was just like a big kid himself," Potvin said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"In Mayo, he actually got a chance to go on a trip with one of the (school) grades, on a hunting trip, and he just had such a great time doing that. The kids really appreciated it, I think, and he had a good time with them. So he was really, I'd say, he got across to kids so well and he was just really great with them."

Potvin said her husband, who was originally from the Ottawa-area, loved being outdoors. He had been a Mountie for just over a year and requested a posting to Yukon.

"He was just always fascinated with the North and, like I said, he was such an outdoorsy guy that it seemed like the perfect place for him."

The North was always home for Ooyoumut.

Ooyoumut's granddaughter, Deborah Kigjugalik Webster, said he left a traditional, nomadic life to move into the new settlement of Baker Lake, in what was then Northwest Territories and is now Nunavut. He was hired by the RCMP in 1946.

Ooyoumut died July 21, 1954 — it was his eldest daughter's birthday. He left behind a wife and four children.

Webster never got a chance to meet her grandfather, but as a heritage specialist, she dug into his past, pouring over service records.

"I found out that as a special constable, he was working during the time of famine in the 1950s and some people remember him very well because in that time he brought supplies to them so that they wouldn't starve. He went to their camps and brought food supplies," Webster said.

"I've heard elders talking about that, that he was a very kind man that way.

"I know from reading the service file, he would even travel in bad weather and I remember his supervisor making note of that in the service file, saying that he travelled during a blizzard. Basically he was risking his own life to get the food to people who were starving."

Webster said special constables played an important role in helping the RCMP patrol the North. She said her grandfather had a lot of duties with the force, but was never properly acknowledged after his death.

She said she has been digging for access to information, "running into brick walls" and fighting for more than 15 years for recognition.

Webster's grandmother passed away a few years ago. But Webster, her mother, and two aunts will be at the ceremony at the RCMP training academy in Regina on Sunday wearing pukiliks — traditional clothing from Baker Lake that her grandmother made. She said it will be an important time for her family.

"It has been a long time coming," said Webster.

"For me when I hear Ooyoumut's name called out, I think that will be the most touching moment for me. For Ooyoumut to be finally honoured properly and shown the respect he deserves, it will mean a tremendous amount. To be there, too, with my mother and her two sisters is special because they lived without their father."

Allison Potvin was pregnant when her husband died. He and another officer were on a routine patrol when he was killed. They were burning off old fuel and doing maintenance checks when their boat began to take on water and capsized.

She said the thing that excited her husband the most was knowing that he was going to be a dad. She gave birth to a little boy who turned one on Sept. 8.

She said she was proud to be part of the event.

"I know that this honour and this memorial is something that recognizes his role as a member," she said. "But his life and legacy and his spirit is something that is always going to live on."

MORE:cpNews