by Andru McCracken
A new piece by local artist Julia Thrasher pays tribute to her father, a remarkable man who for 20 years captained a ship gifted by Pope Pius IX to serve missions in the Canadian Arctic.
Before raising his daughter in a remote cabin on the Mackenzie Delta, NWT, Billy Thrasher captained Our Lady of Lourdes, a schooner that plied the Beaufort Sea between 1931 and 1957.
“For more than 20 years, Our Lady of Lourdes, guided by Captain Billy Thrasher, braved pounding storms and shifting ice floes to deliver supplies to far-flung Catholic missions in the Arctic, from Tuktoyaktuk to Cambridge Bay in what is now western Nunavut,” according to an online history at caotica.com.
The schooner still sits in Tuktoyaktuk, beside Our Lady of Grace church. It was refinished in 2008 as an historic landmark.
Billy was 53 when Julia was born and was paralyzed on one side but he was still able to care for her, and raised her during the first five years of her life. Using only one arm, he could harness the dogs to the sled and take a dingy out fishing, Julia said.
Her mother stayed with the other kids in Tuktoyaktuk, while father and daughter lived off the land.
“I have precious memories of my dad,” she said.
In the painting, Julia holds a Siberian husky on her lap. Her father bred the dogs for work. She remembers the feeling of her father piling the pups on top of her while she rode in the toboggan.
She said the huskies were her guardians and protectors.
Julia said it was this rich time with her father that contributes to her wellness today. When she turned six she went to boarding school in Aklavik.
“This is in dedication to my father’s work for the missionaries,” she said.