February 16, 2016
Tribute to Stuart Milton Hodgson, Former Commissioner of the Northwest Territories
Honourable Senators, I rise to pay tribute to Stuart Milton Hodgson, Commissioner of the Northwest Territories from 1967 to 1979, during a time of monumental change. Mr. Hodgson died on December 18, 2015 at the age of 91.
While Stu did many great things in his life, including joining the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve against his mother’s wishes at the age of 17, and then serving in the Second War as an anti – aircraft gunner on a frigate on the Murmansk run, where he shot down a Junkers 88 enemy warplane, and after leaving the NWT becoming the head of BC Ferries and Translink, Chair of the International Joint Commission and a Citizenship judge; I want to focus today on his lasting legacy in the north.
Commissioner Hodgson, appointed by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, moved the remotely administered territorial administration from Ottawa to Yellowknife in 1967 as one of his first tasks. The entire administration: files and personnel – was transported to Yellowknife in two airplanes: a DC4 and DC7. As George Tuccaro, present Commissioner of the NWT described Stu Hodgson: he was a big man (6 foot 2 inches) who was a big boss – initially he WAS the government of the Northwest Territories. But during his tenure he put the NWT on the national map and paved the way for elected representatives to take over the territorial government.
He did this and is remembered for travelling extensively each year throughout that vast territory – bringing government to the people. David Searle QC, a Yellowknife MLA, who was elected by his peers to replace Commissioner Hodgson as the first elected Speaker of the Territorial Council, said, in a memorial service for Stu Hodgson that I was privileged to attend in January of this year, that community meetings he held were so long that people would go home, have supper, have a nap and return to the meetings, which would still be going on until early hours of the morning.
Stu oversaw Project Surname, which allowed Aboriginal People to be given back their original names, replacing an inhumane system of discs with numbers which had been implemented on the instructions of distant colonial administrators.
He not only developed legislation to protect northern artifacts from being looted and removed from the territory, but he also oversaw the building of a museum in which to house and protect those relics of our history.
In 1970, he made Canadians and the world aware of the north by hosting the Royal Family on an epic visit to the Arctic. He reached out to establish ties with Greenland, our northern neighbour, once bringing the NWT Pipe Band along with him to perform there.
Also in 1970, dismayed at seeing northern athletes consistently beaten at sporting competitions in southern Canada, he became one of the founders of the Arctic Winter Games, which continues to this day and has produced notable national calibre athletes.
He also brought the first elected MLAs into the government’s Executive Council (cabinet) and prior to his departure in 1979, he turned over his position as Speaker of the Territorial Council to an elected Speaker, David Searle, who was chosen by and from amongst the elected MLAs.
That was the beginning of the development of responsible government in the north, replacing the colonial era. Stu Hodgson’s Deputy, who became his successor as Commissioner, John H. Parker, carried on that tradition of empowering elected members of the legislature, by surrendering his gavel as Chair of the territory’s Executive Council to an elected member, the MLA from Nahendeh, Nick Sibbeston, who now sits in this Chamber, willingly collaborating in the final transformation of the Commissioner’s role from running the government to becoming its titular and symbolic head, a Queen’s representative like that of a provincial Lieutenant Governor.
I believe that this peaceful transition from a colonial administration remotely administered in Ottawa to a fully elected government with most of the powers of a province (the NWT took over the management of lands and resources from Ottawa in 2014), took place significantly because of the vision and leadership of Stuart M. Hodgson.
Stu Hodgson was beloved by the people of the north. The Inuit knew him as Umingmak – or muskox – a tribute to his strength and stature in their eyes. His able successor, John Parker, aptly described Stu Hodgson, at that memorial service, as a “…powerful force in the development of government in the north…a big man with big visions, and the energy and ability to carry them out, which he did.’