The community of Hopedale is in mourning this week. A longtime resident and respected teacher, Dick Kairtok passed away on Dec. 27. The 63-year-old man fell through the ice on Hopedale Harbour while driving his snowmobile. Several residents of the community tried to save him. One even tried giving Kairtok CPR, but to no avail.
Today, family and friends are remembering Kairtok as a gentle man who enjoyed making things with his hands and teaching children how to do the same.
“He did just about everything,” says Kairtok’s sister Bertha Holeiter. “Soapstone carving, and making komatiks and building his own cabin. He could make about everything.”
Holeiter remembers walking in on one of her brother’s classes at the local school. She felt proud when she saw the interest the kids had in what Kairtok was showing them.
“I went into his workplace and they were making real komatiks…and the children were so eager to learn from him because he was so easy to learn from,” says Holeiter.
Kairtok was a part of a very large family. He was someone that his many siblings, nieces, nephews, and cousins looked up to. He was a knowledgeable man who taught them a lot of practical skills.
The family member that Kairtok had the biggest impact on was his nephew Jako Basto, who says he looked up to his uncle like a father and a best friend.
“He taught me a lot,” says Basto. “He taught me to hunt. He was the first person to take me Caribou hunting and seal hunting. He taught me everything. My father passed away when I was nine years old, and he took me under his wing.”
Basto’s favourite memory of his uncle is the first time they went Caribou hunting together, up in Nain Bay.
“Our machine give out…so we had to camp out there in the woods,” says Basto.
The trip may have started out rocky, but it would turn out to be a fruitful hunting expedition. The men were down in a valley and could see all the caribou up on the hill. Basto and his uncle made the climb up the steep hill and hid behind a big rock.
“My god the caribou, it was just full of caribou,” recalls Basto. “We got all the caribou we wanted that day. It was my first time caribou hunting and the first time he handed me the gun. That’s when I shot my caribou.”
Even though Kairtok enjoyed the company of children, he also enjoyed peace and solitude. He especially enjoyed spending time alone at the cabin he built.
“Being in his cabin by himself is what he liked doing best,” says Holeiter.
Years ago, Kairtok was involved in a hunting accident; he was accidentally shot in the leg. As a result of the injury, Kairtok had a permanent limp. However, that didn’t stop him from walking to his cabin when he felt the need.
“He walked from here to his cabin a lot,” says Holeiter. “That’s probably a one or two hour walk. Sometimes if he didn’t have any gas, or if his Skidoo wouldn’t go or his boat wouldn’t go he’d mostly walk, even though he had a really bad leg. If he found it painful, he did not say.”