Goose chase for a moose hide: article by Amanda Follett Hosgood
A Frontier Farwest guest’s misadventures in seeking Indigenous art
In the Frontier Farwest Lodge, Strat Leggat models a well-loved coat for a dozen or so fishing guests.
Its sleeves are a little short (it never did fit quite right), so it hasn’t seen a lot of wear over its 45 years. Now, he’s trying to find a new one, his quest for a replacement hide jacket becoming a comedy of errors that makes for great storytelling around the lodge fireplace—once the fish tales run out.
“I grew up in Vancouver and I graduated high school in 1966,” recalls Strat, who took his first summer job in northern British Columbia stacking lumber at a small mill on Morice Lake. At the time, a co-worker introduced him to someone from the Babine First Nation who made moose-skin jackets. He decided to invest in one.
“It was very expensive. It was $35,” Strat remembers. The cost was equivalent to two and a half days’ backbreaking labour.
Though a size too small, Strat loved the piece. He views the Aboriginal bead and leather work as an art form in its own right. So, when he returned to the region to fish steelhead with Frontier Farwest in 2011—45 years after his initial visit—he brought it with him, and mused to lodge guests that he might like to track down a replacement.
So it was that later that evening Ritchie Pow approached him: “You know, I know somebody who will make you a coat,” Strat remembers the fishing guide telling him. “Let’s go meet her.”
By 8 a.m. the next morning, Strat and Ritchie were bouncing into Smithers in Ritchie’s Jeep Cherokee. They parked below at three-story apartment building, where Ritchie grasped a handful of gravel and proceeded to toss it at an upper-level window. “Doorbell,” the fishing guide explained.
An elderly woman appeared and tossed down a set of keys. Letting themselves in, they went up to meet her and make a plan for Strat’s new jacket.
As they pulled away from the apartment complex on their way back to the lodge, Ritchie’s Cherokee was pulled over by an RCMP officer. The officer turned out to be “vertically challenged unilingual French Canadian RCMP officer who was short on humour but long on the rule book.” Both men were handed $165 tickets for not wearing seatbelts. Feeling badly, Strat told Ritchie to hand him the ticket, which he duly paid on the guide’s behalf.
“Now, I’m 320 bucks in and I’m just happy the policeman didn’t throw us in jail,” he recalls.
Strat returned to BC’s Lower Mainland. Months and then years went by. No jacket ever materialized.
Returning to the area two years later, Strat was fishing Rainbow Alley with his brother, Peter, and guide Derek Botchford when he met someone from the Babine Nation—where he’d purchased his original jacket—who said she could make him another. In lieu of proper measurements, he handed over his favourite Pendleton wool shirt for sizing.
“The long and the short of it is, she’s not going to make me a coat and I’m not going to get my shirt back,” he says.
Now he’s invested $320 and the shirt off his back in the quest for a new moose-skin jacket.
Another six months go by and Strat’s brother, likely feeling bereft on his sibling’s behalf, finds someone in Yellowknife to make Strat a caribou hide coat. He commissions it as a gift.
“It arrived and he gives it to me for my birthday,” Strat says. “I get the coat and it’s mostly not a hide coat.” Instead, the piece contained mostly fabric. The colours were wrong. Once again, it was too small.
“I mean, this coat is made to fit somebody about half my size,” he says.
Now, this coat-finding mission has cost the Leggat family two seatbelt tickets, a shirt and several thousand dollars.
“We’re probably in to this for $2,500 and we haven’t got out of the starting gate,” Strat says.
We wish we could share with you a happy ending, our friend Strat happily united with his moose-skin jacket. But we’re still waiting, along with Strat, on the outcome of his most recent inquiry: Since last year, he’s been on a waiting list with someone in Carcross who may be able to make him the jacket he’s been seeking.
“Everyone is into the carved poles and the carvings but what I think are beautiful are the hide coats with the beadwork. It could be a real cottage industry but nobody’s doing it,” Strat laments.
“Forty-five years later, I’m having real trouble duplicating the original.”