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Sunday, January 31, 2016

By the Grace of God

"It is a beautiful country here, but it is very unforgiving."
"When he got off the plane, he was pretty keen on going back right away to Fort Severn [Hudson's Bay]."
"He'd been walking for the last two hours after his snow machine ran out of fuel. He said the road was fine when he left Peawanuck but it wasn't  until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. when he started missing the trail. It didn't help his headlight burnt out. Hence why he was walking around trying to feel for his track [made on the journey in] beneath the snow."
"He said he had difficulty finding his trail and he kept feeling disoriented, fatigue and hypothermia."
"He is a well-known and respected pastor, a highly respected community elder along the coast. He was dressed appropriately but didn't have a tent or stove. His sat [satellite] phone wouldn't work."
"He was tired. You could tell he was fatigued and  you could tell he had hypothermia but he was still in good spirits. He didn't want to go to the nurse's station; he wanted to go to a friend's house to rest and warm up."
Sgt. Matthew Gull, commander, Peawanuck patrol, Canadian Rangers
Sgt. Peter Moon, Canadian Rangers
Photo: Sgt. Peter Moon, Canadian Rangers    Sgt. Matthew Gull, on the left, of the Canadian Rangers, a largely aboriginal Canadian Forces reserve unit, coordinated the local rescue efforts

A man whose knowledge of the geography and weather conditions and how swiftly they change was bred in the bone, and further inculcated through a lifetime of experience, but whose trust in the Divine smiling beneficently down on a messenger of faith might perhaps have convinced him he would have nothing to fear, ever, at the hands of mother Nature.

Setting out on a winter afternoon at four p.m. with the intention of reaching his destination in six  hours' time, with no provisions should his plans go awry.

And they did, badly. He had insisted that he must return to St. Peter's Anglican Church in Fort Severn, about as remote a community as any southern-based Canadian might ever imagine. A community on Hudson's Bay, of 335 First Nations souls, all of whose spiritual well-being the Reverend Moses Kakekaspan, 71, felt responsible for. Not that they were his only charges, for he had been even further afield, on a pastoral trip to the community of Kashechewan.

Having completed his visit he flew from Kashechewan into Peawanuck, the closest destination to his Fort Severn home; from there he would snowmobile the 186-kilometre journey. As he set off for home he informed rangers that he anticipated his arrival time at Fort Severn to be around ten that evening. En route, with the wind chill calculated into the equation, the temperature dropped to a truly frosty -43C, with steadily falling snow.

The good Reverend was repeating his original path in reverse through Polar Bear Provincial Park near the Hudson Bay coast. Rangers in Peawanuck called in to their counterparts in Fort Severn at half-past ten to determine whether Reverend Kakekaspan had arrived safely, then checked with his wife, only to be informed he had not yet arrived. Still absent after another hour passed, a search was launched, calling in the Ontario Provincial Police to assist.

Father Kakekaspan was found eventually after his tracks were followed. He was intercepted by Rangers Maurice Mack and Aaron Isaac, walking 20 kilometres north of Peawanuck around 7 the following morning. He had run out of fuel twelve hours earlier, left his snowmobile and took up his journey by foot. His satellite phone failed to work. And he had decided to turn back to Peawanuck since it was closer at that point, he estimated, than Fort Severn.

Sgt. Matthew Gull, Canadian Rangers
Photo: Sgt. Matthew Gull, Canadian Rangers  Moses Kakekaspan recovers in a nurse‚Äôs station after being lost in a -43C winter storm

After he had recovered following a brief stay at the Peawanuck nursing station, he was escorted back to Fort Severn by two of the Fort Severn Rangers who had been among those searching for  him: Sgt.Mary Miles and Ranger Sinclair Childforever, the latter one of many children fostered by Father Kakekaspan and his wife Thelma, over the years.

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