Rev. Ken Gaetz returns old firearm to K’atlodeeche First Nation

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A piece of history was returned to K’atlodeeche First Nation on the weekend by a man who himself created a lot of history in Hay River and on what is now the Hay River Reserve.

Rev. Ken Gaetz presented an old gun to Sub-Chief Doug Lamalice in a ceremony at the Hay River Heritage Centre on Sept. 15.

It was Lamalice’s great-grandfather Charles Norn who gave Gaetz the gun 70 years ago as a symbol of friendship and appreciation.

Rev. Ken Gaetz, right, who arrived in Hay River in 1949 as a Pentecostal missionary, presents an old gun to Sub-Chief Doug Lamalice of K’atlodeeche First Nation. Gaetz was given the gun 70 years ago by Lamalice’s great-grandfather Charles Norn.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

“It’s a real privilege and an honour that I can now turn it back to them, because I think that’s where it belongs,” he said.

Gaetz, who is now 91 and living in Kelowna, B.C., played a prominent role in the history of the Hay River area from the time he arrived in 1949 until he left in 1980. After arriving as a missionary, he became the first pastor of the Pentecostal Church in Hay River, administrator of a nursing station when it opened in 1953 and the first administrator of H.H. Williams Memorial Hospital in 1957.

In an address to about 40 people gathered for the presentation of the old gun, Gaetz noted that he became very close to the Norn family.

“The Norn family played a very important part in my life,” he said, noting that he often visited the family in his early days in the community. “Charlie Norn was in bed at that time. He wasn’t feeling well. He was getting near the end of his life. And I would share many hours with him and with the family.”

Norn would tell Gaetz about his life, working for the Anglican Mission, and catching fish and hunting for food for the children at the residential school.

“He was a strong believer in God and we had some very nice talks about the Lord,” Gaetz recalled, noting that Norn knew that his time was near.

“He said, ‘Ken, I want you to look after my family,'” said Gaetz. “Because there was no other minister here at the time. He said, ‘You sort of be the father for my family.'”

And Gaetz said Norn gave him the “wonderful” gun, which he had bought at the Hudson’s Bay Company.

That gift was in 1949, but the gun is believed to be much older. It is a front-loading firearm that shot pellets, and it comes complete with a horn and a powder bag.

“It’s been a real keepsake and a reminder,” said Gaetz. “This gun was used to provide nourishment for the Native people that were in that school at that time.”

Gaetz built a glass-covered case for the gun, which he has never fired.

And he kept it safe for 70 years until he passed it to Lamalice.

“It’s an honour for me to give this back to you, Doug, from your grandpa Charlie Norn,” he said. “And I want to thank God that I had the privilege of knowing the Norn family.”

Lamalice was visibly moved in accepting the gun.

And he praised Gaetz for everything he did for his family and K’atlodeeche First Nation through the Pentecostal Church and the health care he helped provide.

“You see tears in my eyes t

oday, but they’re not tears of sadness,” Lamalice said. “They’re tears of the rough life that I had to go through, and that I had beautiful people like him in the background showing us the way and helping us.”

“So I’ve got nothing but thankfulness, and I’m so happy and we are so blessed that Ken could come up here and return this,” Lamalice added. “It means so much to me.”

K’atlodeeche First Nation has not yet decided where the gun will be displayed.

Gaetz also presented the Hay River Heritage Centre with a collection of framed old photographs from his early days in the community.

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